Upwardly mobile: Andrew Hopgood on the corporate relocation sector

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• Can you give us a brief career history and tell us about your new company?
 
"I've worked within the corporate relocation and real estate sectors for over 20 years, in a variety of local, regional and global environments. After developing and leading successful teams, creating lean and agile processes and consistently achieving both budgets and stretch goals for a number of the largest service providers in the international mobility sector, I launched Bloom to help deliver these skills to the wider industry."

"With a thorough understanding of our sector and a unique perspective into the strategies that support the successful delivery of international mobility and business travel programmes, Bloom offers impartial consultancy to service providers looking to deliver added value to clients, and to clients looking to maximise the efficiency of their mobility or travel programme spend."
 
"In an environment where corporate budgets are being challenged to deliver demonstrable return on investment, our consultative approach will help to ensure each Pound, Euro or Dollar of programme spend is utilised and tracked effectively. From operational excellence within service delivery, to the selection of vendors, policy reviews and programmes audits, Bloom is there to make achieving the desired results easy."
 
•  How have you seen the awareness and use of serviced apartments in the relocation industry change over the years?
 
"Almost beyond recognition. When I first entered the international mobility sector, serviced apartment provision in Europe was in its infancy; there were a limited number of providers and no way to compare standards across brands. Over recent years, the use of serviced apartments has increased greatly due to a number of factors; the awareness of the sector within in-house mobility and travel teams; an increasing supply of serviced apartments in both key and secondary locations; and an increase in the number of short term assignments - typically three months to a year in duration - since 2007."

"This family of short term assignments (also including commuter and rotational assignments, and extended business trips) evolved in response to the need to control assignment costs at a corporate level; shorter term assignees are typically unaccompanied, and move into a serviced apartment for the duration of their stay in the host location. This reduces the need for additional support services - home search, school search, household goods moving, etc. - and means the assignee can quickly move into the new location and focus on their new role or project. The increasing supply and quality of serviced apartments in all markets, has meant these shorter term assignments can be used on a consistent basis globally."
 
• What are apartment operators doing well in dealing with relocation companies, and what could they be doing better?
 
"The standards of serviced apartments across the board have risen over the last few years, and supply has increased in both primary and secondary locations across the globe in line with the increasing demand from corporates, although new locations for mobile employees continue to grow."
 
"With the rise of short term assignments and global programmes, relocation companies are making increasing numbers of serviced apartment bookings, and their buying patterns are changing accordingly; many relocation management companies now follow a single-source route for booking serviced apartments globally. This single source approach brings a number of benefits to the relocation management company; it delivers consistency of approach (both in terms of process and reporting) globally, reduces the number of suppliers that need to be managed, and effectively outsources an area which is not a core activity for a relocation company."
 
"While individual operators may be frustrated at this change, they will not ultimately lose business in their local market. The option of being able to connect through a third party that manages all aspects of the booking and the guest stay provides great value to the buyer."
 
• Have you seen any effect on relocation business as a result of Brexit or is it too early to tell? If too early what effect do you think it is likely to have in the medium and longer term?
 
"There was a noticeable reduction in the level of relocation activity in Q1 and Q2 in the run-up to the referendum, with the usual summer peak season for relocation activity starting later than usual. It has been interesting to note some of the recent corporate announcements - such as by GlaxoSmithKline - that investment in the UK will continue as it is still seen as an attractive location to do business. I would also expect the professional services sector - traditionally an area with a high number of mobile employees - to be very active in helping to shape the UK post-Brexit."
 
"In my view, the economic downside of Brexit has perhaps been over-estimated. Many corporates - while perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of the referendum - have reconfirmed their commitment to the UK, while the reduced trading value of Sterling may create opportunities for exporters. Negotiators will be seeking the best possible outcome during the Brexit negotiations, perhaps with some form of EEA-type compromise which continues to allow the UK access to the single market - although I note the lack of skilled negotiators to conduct these talks has already been highlighted by the government."
 
"We know it will take at least two years for the UK to complete negotiations to disengage fully from the EU; this process can only start once Article 50 has been triggered, and whilst some EU member states have publicly stated their desire for the UK to trigger Article 50 quickly, the new UK government seems in no rush to move forward without careful consideration of the next steps. Equally, the suggestion by the previous chancellor of a further reduction in corporation tax to make the UK more attractive to inward investment, is an indication of the type of strategy the government may employ to ensure the UK remains a headquarters location of choice for multinational corporations."
 
"For the mobility professional today, there are too many unknowns to be able to determine the full impact of Brexit. There are some short-term considerations which can be addressed by mobility teams, such as reviewing housing and COLA allowances for assignees paid in GBP due to the drop in the exchange rate of the pound against major currencies, but major policy changes should wait until hard facts, rather than educated guesses, are available."
 
"At this stage, our advice is above all, don't panic."
 
• What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the relocation sector over the next five years?
 
"All of the key indices covering the mobility sector suggest that the number of globally mobile employees will continue to increase, but that the definition of mobility continues to evolve in line with the need for corporations to attract and retain talent globally."
 
"One of the key debates in the mobility industry today is about how technology can be leveraged to support millennials, but also around the benefits of the full service model versus self-service. With improved technology products, will millennials need the full service offered by a relocation company, or will they be able to manage their move themselves?"
 
"New market entrants - regarded as 'disruptors' - have introduced their own industry-specific technology platforms over the last couple of years with increasing success, as an alternative to the traditional relocation management company. These platforms tick all the boxes when considered against the continual focus on improving ROI within global mobility, to which an increased reliance on technology is seen as one of the solutions. They also seem to be targeted at the millennial customer who requires minimal hand-holding, and is able to make informed decisions about their move with the support of on-demand technology."

"One of the unknowns in our sector is how millennials needs will change as they get older. While they may favour the self-service approach today, will they be looking for the full service from a traditional relocation management company when they have a family and need help finding a school?"
 
"My view is that enhancements in technology are welcome, and the influence of the disruptors will raise the bar across the board with traditional relocation management companies revisiting their approach to, and investment in, technology. Ultimately this will only benefit the assignee and corporate customer."
 
"At the same time, we should recognise that the mobility sector is about people, helping people. No matter how useful an App or a new technology offering is to support the mobility process, today there is no substitute for experienced professionals who can empathise with a relocating family, offer expert advice in the appropriate context and provide creative solutions to problems as they occur."

www.bloommobility.com

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