The rise of the “CEO Statesman”
2018 is the year in which we will see a major increase in the engagement of CEOs with social issues. The conditions are ripe for this. We have a millennial workforce that is very socially conscious. CEOs know they need to boost public trust in the corporate world. Some people are calling this trend “CEO Statesmanship”. Essentially this is activism and philanthropy being harnessed to achieve business goals. We are no longer talking about mere corporate social responsibility as a sort of obligatory internal sideshow within a company. This trend goes far beyond that. It’s a much deeper social engagement on the part of CEOs that we will be seeing this year and beyond.
Cryptocurrency embraced by major players
2017 might have been the year that we all marvelled at the price of Bitcoin exceeding all expectations. 2018 will be the year that we see major players embracing cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. There is still a sense that they feel they missed the boat on social media and they won’t want to miss it again with cryptocurrency. We saw Accenture appoint Iliana Oris Valiente as managing director and global blockchain innovation lead for the company’s emerging technology group. Big players like Accenture are clearly developing blockchain practices. We also see that IBM announced a blockchain collaboration with food giants including Nestle, Unilever and Walmart, explaining that blockchain would enable food businesses to trace the source of contaminated produce in mere seconds. Blockchain technology will no longer be something on the fringe that we marvel at.
The spark between Generation Z and the Millennials
Generation Z, as we call young people born in 1995 or later, will be entering the workforce or higher education. In the workforce they will encounter that other “generation”, the Millennials. The Millennials are reaching their mid-thirties and could even be in management positions supervising their new Generation Z colleagues. It will be fascinating to watch what this dynamic between the two generations brings to the business world.
Positive change for women in the workplace
2017 was the year of #MeToo, a wave of women speaking up about abuse and discrimination, not least in the workplace. I hope and believe that 2018 will be the year that the business world in particular responds to that campaign with real and tangible positive change in the workplace. We have begun the year with a high profile dispute between the BBC’s China Editor Carrie Gracie who resigned over unequal pay in comparison with her male BBC colleagues. As Marianna Fotaki, professor of business ethics at Warwick Business School said to the New York Times: “She’s a competent woman, she’s highly qualified. It gives courage to other, less prominent women to come forward.” As the battle moves from hashtags on social media to specific, high profile cases such as this one, there is a strong hope that the benefits will filter down into society and the business world. Unfortunately, as Ms Gracie’s case shows, this positive change will still be hard-won.
A more challenging year for the financial markets?
It could be said that investors had it pretty good in 2017. Strong growth and low inflation meant that 2017 was something of a bumper year and global stocks gave their best yearly performance since the post-crisis recovery. The question many people are asking is whether 2018 can possibly be such a good year for investors? The truth is that is does look more challenging. We could see a change in the investment cycle. There are concerns about global growth. We hear worries about rising US valuations. Key players say they will be closely monitoring China in 2018, with particular concerns about how the Chinese government will keep up growth while dealing with a large debt.
The rise of open banking?
In the UK, ‘open banking’ services launched on 13 January. Open banking will force UK banks to open up their data. This is accomplished by a set of secure “application programming interfaces” (APIs). This will transform personal banking and banking for small businesses. No longer will the bank be the exclusive platform for their financial services. Instead we will start to see open platforms where consumers can take a modular approach to banking. This is because open banking will allow verified third-parties direct access to their data. I predict we will see a period of great innovation, with secure apps being developed meaning banking customers can get personalised services. All their financial requirements will be in one place, and make it easy for people to find out what bank account is best for them. It will be fascinating to see the apps that are developed and the impact on the sector.