I was looking forward to representing my company this week at a European conference in Paris… until I realised that social housing finance was the theme. I gritted my teeth anyway – and I’m glad I did.
To my surprise, it was fascinating.
The conference took place on Wednesday in the former headquarters of Le Monde at the foot of Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement. Speakers and participants came from all over Europe, from Finland in the north to Italy in the south.
What was so interesting about the conference was how different – but how similar – the challenges were in each country.
Housing providers in France and the UK, for example, have both seen their governments impose rent cuts. So, instead of being able to predict an annual increase of, say, 3% in their income, they have seen a 1% drop.
The accountants at the conference viewed this, in effect, as a 4% reduction in expected revenues.
The impact on the sector has been massive – mergers have become commonplace as providers seek to trim back-office expenditure. My own job was on the line a couple of years ago as my employer went through a big merger.
But if I feared that gloomy economic forecasts would cast a shadow on the hospitality shown, I was very much mistaken. Our Parisian hosts were not going to let us down – dreary balance sheets do not dull the palate.
Lunch was a selection of delicious finger food, including small foie gras and olive delicacies, seared beef morsels and savoury macarons. All this came served with wine, of course.
“If I feared that gloomy economic forecasts would cast a shadow on the hospitality shown, I was very much mistaken. Dreary balance sheets do not dull the palate”
Our evening – at Les Grandes Marches, a stylish restaurant overlooking Place de la Bastille – was even better.
Champagne and canapés accompanied speeches from the deputy mayor of Paris and the head of the membership organisation that had organised the event. Then we got down to the serious business of dinner.
Even the Peter Klasen artwork (pictured, with me beneath it) didn’t put us off.
The starter was more foie gras. It was followed by filet de bœuf with a morel mushroom cream sauce and pommes darphin, a sort of potato crêpe. Dessert was a rum baba – with almost as much rum as baba.
As a wine buff, I was pleased to see no slip in standards on that front either, with a Pouilly-Fumé for our white and a Saint-Émilion for our red.
In London the following day, my colleagues asked how the conference had gone. I assured them, quite truthfully, that finance has never been so interesting.
As for the foie gras, well, I chose to keep that detail to myself.