Ireland remains the fastest growing EU economy for the fourth year in a row.
However, PwC’s recent survey of finance leaders highlights caution over the prospects of our economy in the year ahead.
While growth is on the agenda, many are struggling with cost competitiveness and maintaining the bottom line.
For example, most believe that costs will increase in the year ahead while less than half expect profits to rise.
Clearly finding new profitable growth opportunities will be critical in the year ahead.
This is even more important as a small, open economy dependent on international markets.
Commentators are suggesting global growth will slow.
Uncertainties of Brexit, the potential for global trade wars, and the changing tax landscape are likely to disrupt Irish businesses.
In these more uncertain times, it is important that businesses remain
resilient and to prepare for the shocks and manage the challenges that are within their control.
There are some key actions for Irish businesses to get right.
First, intensify plans for no-deal Brexit.
Over two-thirds of Irish finance leaders say they are either not prepared or have yet to make extensive plans for the fallout of Brexit.
With continuing political uncertainty, we cannot assume the UK parliament will support a deal with the European Union.
The risk of Brexit without a deal would seriously disrupt trade between Ireland and the UK.
We advise businesses to step-up their plans because doing nothing is not really an option.
Then look for opportunities for new markets or new products or adapt the products you have for new markets.
While expanding into new markets needs investment and time, in the context of Brexit, there may be demand for your products in places you never thought of, involving only a bit of adaption.
And embrace disruption because it looks like it’s here to stay.
Organisations that have flexible and nimble operating models will be the winners.
Our research highlights that top performing companies take disruption more seriously than their peers.
Set your priorities and have strategies that can cope with change.
Many Irish finance leaders predict that automation will shrink the payroll in their finance functions in the next three years.
While the majority of businesses recognise the capabilities for their future success, many fail to take action.
These actions include using data analytics to make workforce decisions and creating a compelling work experience for employees to retain talent.
And seize the opportunities of automation and artificial intelligence.
It will be really important that organisations have the tools and skills to embed emerging technologies into their businesses.
Understanding your customers is key: Consumers are complex, conflicted and highly segmented by age.
Consumer habits are being reshaped and being replaced at an almost frantic pace driven by mobile and artificial intelligence.
Recognising the value of culture has emerged from all the research as a key to attracting skilled staff.
We suggest firms focus on adopting the few critical behaviours that matter most, including tangible actions such as enhancing collaboration and teamwork. If practiced, it can help change the culture.
Notwithstanding the external risks, Ireland’s foreign direct investment continues; Ireland has a strong export sector, as well as robust job growth and low inflation.
With a strong international and domestic economy; a highly talented skills base and, as the only English speaking country in Europe after Brexit, Ireland is in a good position to manage any global slowdown.
However, we need to continue to work hard on our infrastructural shortcomings including housing; watching competitiveness, including wage inflation; and ensuring we are as prepared as we can be for a possible no-deal Brexit.
Anthony Reidy is assurance leader at PwC Cork