Central Swiss companies defy the crises

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Despite several global crises, Central Switzerland’s economy is robust and companies are optimistic about the future. The shortage of skilled workers and the increasing strength of the Swiss franc continue to cause concern. These are the findings of a new study by Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Central Switzerland (IHZ).

2023 was a turbulent year with several crises. Inflation, the collapse of Credit Suisse, the energy crisis and various conflicts that affected the import and export business. There were also existing challenges such as a shortage of skilled workers and climate change. Against this backdrop, it is surprising that companies in Central Switzerland are not letting the mood dampen: The latest edition of the Central Switzerland Financial Monitor published by Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU) and the Central Switzerland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHZ) paints a positive picture of Central Switzerland’s economy.

Around two thirds of all companies in Central Switzerland rate their own economic situation as ’good’ and around one third as ’medium’. Only three percent of companies describe it as ’poor’. ’Companies in Central Switzerland show remarkable robustness and resilience. Against the backdrop of multiple global crises, this stability was not to be expected,’ says study author and HSLU lecturer Stefan Behringer. The figures have remained almost unchanged since the first edition of the Financial Monitor Central Switzerland 2022.

Problem children: shortage of skilled workers and strong franc

However, the shortage of skilled workers remains a perennial issue for companies. Companies are responding to the lack of qualified personnel by stepping up their own efforts to train and develop employees. They are also trying to increase their attractiveness as an employer through flexibility, fringe benefits and other measures.

Another area of concern is the increasing strength of the Swiss franc. The issue was weighted much more heavily by companies than in previous years. ’The actual problem has not worsened that much. The higher inflation in the eurozone puts the high nominal exchange rate into perspective,’ Behringer concludes. However, the fact is that the respondents are concerned about this and the majority expect the exchange rate to continue to rise.

Sustainability perceived as an opportunity

The companies surveyed were more concerned with sustainability issues and ESG reporting than in the previous year. While 37% of companies published a sustainability report in 2022, 44% did so last year. Around 44% also want to become CO2-neutral. However, almost half of them do not even know how high their emissions are today. ’There are still considerable uncertainties regarding the rules and methods for preparing the reports,’ says Behringer. The authors of the study see a need for action not only among companies, but also in research: ’We need to develop better methods for measuring emissions and clearly assigning them to individual companies,’ says the HSLU lecturer.

However, climate change does not only mean complex reporting and bureaucratic documentation requirements for companies, but also opportunities: Overall, more companies stated that their business model will be positively affected by climate change (37.5%) than negatively (33%). The remaining 30 percent of companies do not expect climate change to have any impact on their business model. This was surprising for the authors of the study: ’Many companies see the climate crisis as an opportunity to establish sustainable products on the market,’ says Behringer. ’This is a very entrepreneurial response to the challenges of climate change.

AI is changing companies

Around a quarter of companies in Central Switzerland are already using artificial intelligence (AI) in the financial sector. A further third of the companies surveyed are planning to use AI in the next three years. In many cases, companies expect AI to reduce the number of jobs. This will particularly affect administrative areas of companies (accounting, controlling, payment transactions or compliance). ’Repetitive administrative activities can be automated with AI. Such jobs will disappear in the coming years,’ says Behringer. Specialists who analyze and think creatively will be all the more in demand.

Financial Monitor Central Switzerland 2024

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts has developed the Central Switzerland Finance Monitor in collaboration with the Central Switzerland Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHZ). The Finance Monitor examines the mood among financial managers at companies in Central Switzerland. The study is supported by Luzerner Kantonalbank, KPMG and other sponsors. The survey was conducted for the third time in 2024.