With block management changing and developing all the time, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to host some of its most knowledgeable people in a dinner and debate in London recently. The topics of discussion were extremely wide-ranging but, with block management in such a state of flux, it would have been remiss of us to not ask them to make impossible predictions about the state of the industry in 2025. So that’s what we did - but what did they say?
One attendee kicked things off very succinctly with what he thought the future would look like:
“I think there is a lot there that can be automated. There will be a lot more self-service. We haven't really embraced apps yet. I haven't seen a system yet that I just pick up my phone and go, ‘The light bulb’s gone’, and then somebody else comes in and it gets repaired...Our customers will be ever more demanding, there is no question; speed will continue...I think you're absolutely right that the PRS generation will come through and demand very difficult levels of service...Regulation in seven years, I am actually guessing 21, 22 that's the time I think it will come in...I think consolidation will happen with, I think, fewer players - there will be consolidations at the bottom end or just people will give up at the top end. I think once regulation comes in...we can offer people proper careers, proper remuneration, people will want to come into [block management], there can be university degrees in it.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but in a nutshell, he predicts there will be more automation, which might scare some block managers but, as we’ve always said, this should increase capacity for humans to do the tasks that only humans can, rather than taking away jobs. He also predicts a greater impact on the industry from the PRS sector, where the overall level of service is considered much better than in the block industry. PRS in general was cited as an exciting part of the future because “it turns the focus onto community and community engagement and the importance of community.” It is also an element of the industry that inspiration can be derived from in terms of the pushing up the EBITDA margins as far as “the ability to monetise the customer journey” is concerned: “the margin comes from concierge-style services and add-ons across the customer journey, but you have to work in the best interests of the customer”, as PRS has demonstrated.
Regulation was a hot topic all the way through the discussion, and our attendee predicted that it will come in earlier than 2025 - perhaps in 2021 or 2022. As a result, he thought that there will be a decent level of consolidation where smaller companies at the lower end of the market drop out or are bought by bigger companies. With regulation, more professionalism can be injected into the industry, with university degrees and higher salaries paid to the most talented people.
All of this sounds extremely positive from an industry and customer service point-of-view, but there was a note of pessimism from one attendee, who said: “I honestly worry that nothing's going to change, but we all know what the solutions are.” Another attendee agreed, but didn’t think the overall answer lay with regulation:
“It is in some respects disheartening to think that we're saying the same things as we may have done ten years ago. I'm worried that the fear of change is the thing that is stopping change in itself. I'm worried about the change. I personally don't see that regulation is the key to this but I think that regulation is most definitely necessary, I do concur with that.”
In many ways, although it is disappointing that some of the attendees didn’t think any progress or improvements had been made and the industry was still wrestling with the same challenges, it is at least heartening that that was recognised and acknowledged.
There were calls for challenging convention in terms of the way things are done throughout the industry, but it was also acknowledged that perhaps that the challenge needed to come from persons or companies outside the industry. One attendee said “I think there also needs to be some courage for, potentially, institutions to come along and invest in our industry. The only way we are going to change this and the only way we are going hear us talk about different things in the next 10 years is if people challenge convention.”
The closing remarks from the evening’s moderator nicely echoed this point of view, summing up the mood in the room and the point to which things seem to be heading.
“I think a few of us have to be brave. I think a few of us have to step forward and say, ‘Actually, it can change, we can do it differently,’ but it potentially needs a bit more investment….We probably don't have the answers and maybe we haven't got the right people sitting in the room. The ‘old guard’ potentially are maybe not the right people to address that solution. It needs people who are not beleaguered by 20-30 years of doing it one way to drive this change. But we have to encourage it and I think that's one thing that we should be doing as an industry, and we should all be coming together to do, is encouraging people to change and not returning to type. That's why it takes all of us to do that.”
To read more of our panel’s thoughts, download our eBook for free here.