The Financial Express

Post-Covid era megatrends: The new normal

Post-Covid era megatrends: The new normal

Covid-19 has definitely shaken the humankind to its core. We have not seen or imagined anything like it and will probably not see anything like it in our lifetime. The impact of it is so large that it is really going to change the world and human behaviour forever. So, this new era will definitely usher in a lot of changes and we will all need to embrace those changes to be relevant and useful. Most aspects of these changes will have something to do with technology. A lot of these changes were already happening, but Covid-19 is just going to make these changes come much faster and make those much more permanent.

Technology companies will rule the world:  Technology adoption will become much faster. For example, work from home concept, which was frowned upon by a lot of the managements of the companies is going to become a commonplace. So, usage of products like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Messenger Rooms will become much more prevalent.

Ecommerce will get a lot of traction very fast. So, the efficient e-commerce companies and delivery companies will be doing a lot more business. Recently, Facebook also launched Facebook Shops, which will enable businesses to set up online stores. Traditional retail industry will have a long-term impact and thus should also focus on transition to online business at least for some of its businesses.

Covid-19 will force a lot of companies to find a solution for automation sooner than later.  Robotics equipped with artificial intelligence will replace a lot of jobs in factories and in many other industries.

On demand entertainment will become more prevalent. People will spend more time on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV, Disney+ for entertainment and information. This shift will make regular TV programmes, Dish TV, traditional newspapers, magazines less and less important. Thus, advertisement dollars will be spent differently. 

Tech giants such as Amazon, Google/Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Alibaba, Tencent etc., equipped with invaluable user data and artificial intelligence, will keep expanding their services to almost all sectors. These seven tech companies are already more powerful and richer than most countries with a combined market valuation of staggering USD 6.5 trillion. Just to put this in perspective, this combined market valuation is around 7.5% of the world economy ($86 trillion in 2019). Governments across the world will need to be careful on how to regulate and tax these corporations when these companies will start penetrating any country with any of their services. 

World will move towards cashless economy:  Covid-19 has forced a lot of people to think that cash handling is a potential risk factor. A significant number of people have started using digital wallet products such as bKash, Rocket, Nagad etc. Our government is also pushing towards salary payment of garment workers through mobile financial services and the government will be providing 5 million poor families impacted by Covid-19 Tk 2,500 each through bKash, Rocket, Nagad and SureCash.

China has just started trial of its digital currency eRMB and if successful, it will be a game changer. This is going to be the first digital currency by a major economy. 

Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP are gaining more momentum across the globe as more institutional investors are buying those.  Libra by Facebook is also planning to join the race from this year. 

Education will shift online: Covid-19 has forced schools, colleges and universities to go online. Some of these shifts will be permanent as social distancing will be staying for a long time and learning online will prove to be quite a productive and effective process. Online edutech platform businesses are thriving during Covid-19 time. A lot of people are becoming jobless and a lot of them should take up online courses on various subjects to make them ready for the future jobs.

Rich will get richer and poor will get poorer: Millions of SMEs are going to go out of business and thus will create unemployment on the scale that the world has not seen before. The businesses that were performed by these SMEs, will be taken over by local conglomerates, new innovative companies and surviving companies.  Innovation, flexibility, proper usage of technology will be essential for companies to survive and prosper in the post-Covid era. 

Access to Internet is now synonymous with access to knowledge. So, access to internet will be the deciding factor of whether someone can climb the economic ladder. The bottom of the pyramid without access to internet will have very difficult time to equip themselves for the future and thus will remain poor and exploited.

Fake news epidemic: With people spending more time on social media apps/messaging apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat etc.), fake news epidemic is becoming more prevalent. Photo and video editing software is becoming more sophisticated and user-friendly and thus it is getting easier to make fake contents. This fake news is causing psychological problems, social unrests, political problems etc. Social media companies will have to take more responsibilities in fighting this fake news phenomenon. 

Healthcare and agriculture will get renewed focus: COVID-19 has put an unprecedented strain on the healthcare system across the globe. Every country is scrambling to get enough masks, PPEs, ventilators etc. All the big pharmaceutical companies are trying to come up with vaccines or medicines to cure this virus. Governments are trying to bolster their healthcare system through funding and technology intervention.

Recently World Food Program (WFP) chief warned about a possibility of hunger pandemic that could result in millions of deaths in the near future. In addition to COVID-19, locust attacks are also bad news for the world in terms of food security. So, naturally governments across the globe are making it a priority to be able to feed their citizens. Thus, focus on every aspect of agriculture such as production increase, harvesting, storage, supply chain, food processing will get renewed focus all over the world.  

There will be big lifestyle changes:  At least in the short term, less people will be visiting cafes, restaurants. Thus, food delivery services and cloud kitchens will become more popular. 

Both personal and business travel will become much less. It will take years to come back to the pre-Covid level. So, virtual meetings will become part of regular business practice and social life. Hotel, airlines, tourism sector will be hit hard. 

People will become more health conscious. So, healthy food items, exercise equipment, indoor sports gear will be sold more.

Consumers and businesses will spend less and save more. This is bad for the economy, but this will be the reality at least for the foreseeable future. So, even though factories will be in operation sooner, slower consumer demand will keep the economy slow for the time being.

Supply chain diversification and on shoring for important industries will get priority: Japan Government has recently announced a USD 2.2 billion as part of its economic stimulus package to move its factories from China to Japan. 10% of that amount will be earmarked for Japanese companies that are going to move out of China to countries other than Japan. Similar action will be taken by many governments in order to shift sensitive items back to their own countries and also diversify supply chain by reducing their dependence on China. Bangladesh, through BIDA and BEZA should try to take prompt and prudent action to offer the right incentives in order to attract many of those companies to come and invest in the economic zones of Bangladesh.

Governments will get more powerful: Across the world, governments have imposed lengthy lockdowns due to unprecedented health crisis caused by Covid-19. A lot of governments are also utilising advanced surveillance technologies such as face recognition, contact tracing, storing health related data that are usually thought to be intrusive. How these surveillance technologies will be used in post-Covid era will need to be carefully reviewed by the governments and conscious citizens.

Governments across the globe are coming up with trillions of dollars worth of stimulus packages. Bangladesh government has also declared packages worth about BDT 1.0 trillion (1 lac crore) (approx. USD$12 Billion). Proper design and successful implementation of these stimulus packages will become essential to lessen the economic shock and sustain during the difficult time ahead. So, government stimulus packages and projects will be the main driver of the economy in the near future.

Tareq Rafi Bhuiyan (Jun) is the Managing Director of NewVision Solutions Ltd., a research and consultancy company.
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