The Euro conundrum
Much has been written in the press about the Euro recently, especially in light of the recent referendum in Denmark. Britain's position on the ERM looks set to be one of the hottest topics at the next election on which a political party could stand or fall.
We are all familiar with the arguments presented on both sides but to what extent does it affect us professionally as qualitative researchers? The UK has traditionally been a centre of excellence in international research, and many multi-country studies have been commissioned out of London, irrespective of where the client is based. As companies continue to centralise their marketing efforts, multi-country qualitative studies continue to be one of the most buoyant sectors of our industry.
However, the strength of sterling against other European currencies (and particularly the Euro) means that a study initiated in the UK, and quoted in sterling is relatively expensive. So by remaining outside the ERM, are we pricing ourselves out of the lucrative market for international qualitative? Are clients suddenly going to get wise to the fact that projects commissioned from other countries are significantly cheaper?
More projects are being commissioned from Paris or Stockholm or Brussels than ever before. I believe the UK's pre-eminence is potentially being challenged should we just stand by and let it happen?
Take the plunge
There are a number of potential solutions open to us. At a macro level, the most obvious is that we could just go ahead and join the ERM a solution I'd personally favour as I believe passionately that Europe is where our heritage, common culture and future interests lie. This seems increasingly unlikely, however, in the light of the mood of xenophobia whipped up by the tabloids whenever the Euro is mentioned, and the craven desire for public approval on behalf of the present government.
At a more micro level, another option is to run a bank account in Euros, as my company currently does. This has a number of benefits. Firstly, we can quote for international studies in Euros. This reduces the price differential against European currencies mentioned earlier, because we receive costs from all our research partners in Euros, and quote the total project in the same currency, thereby avoiding any artificial inflation owing to exchange rates. On a small practical note, this makes international costings much easier and quicker as one is only dealing with one currency instead of several and it is possible to compare like with like across countries. The second benefit of a Euros account is that it also simplifies credits and debits amongst European research partners. No more worries about exchange rate fluctuations here either though it took some time to convince our bank that we weren't 'running a huge risk' by being bold enough to take this 'radical' step!
The present government strategy of sitting on the fence may mean that we're relegated to the second tier in Europe, when we could be leading the way. So don't wait, international quals, embrace the Euro and strike a blow for European unity now before we literally 'miss the boat'!
Managing Director, Green Light Research Ltd
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, November 2000
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2000