The huge social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented. None of us at Worldline can say how long this crisis will last or when the recovery will materialise.
However, I believe that some trends are sufficiently clear to enable businesses to start preparing for the new normal, enabling them to be more successful in the post COVID-19 pandemic world.
Some of these impacts are taking place already and are of critical importance to Worldline’s merchant clients and our financial services clients. Others, such as shifts in social values and changes to supply chains, are emerging more slowly while it is clear they are here to stay.
By looking at these different trends in this blog, I want to reach some conclusions about the evolving role of different technologies and share insights from Worldline that business leaders can use to start adapting their strategies now.
As the European leader in payments and transactional services, Worldline is determined to help our clients not only respond to the immediate crisis but also to prepare for the arrival of the new normal.
The immediate impacts of COVID-19 on business today include essential digitisation, an increase in online retail, an acceleration of cashless payments and a rise in omnichannel commerce. Businesses need to ensure they have the capacity and the flexibility to adapt to these changes so they are ready to respond to evolving customer behaviour and needs.
For businesses which are still able to trade during this crisis, the most immediate impact is essential digitisation: replacing as much as possible their physical services and in-person ways of working with virtual equivalents. Many of today’s digitally enabled operating models will live on even after the crisis has passed.
Meanwhile, on Worldline’s acquiring platforms we are seeing a decrease in POS (point of sale) transactions that is mirrored by an increase in online retail. One of our clients in Spain has seen a three-fold increase in online transactions. In contrast, our clients in the transport, travel and hospitality industry are having to service a huge demand for processing cancellations and refunds.
For all merchants, the urgent need to provide a seamless omnichannel experience with a more contextual and personalised service (from order placement through to collection/delivery) is a new challenge and a new opportunity.
At the same time, the crisis has reduced the number of cash-based transactions and is accelerating the digitisation of banking and the cashless society. We are seeing an increase in the use of cashless payments (e.g. contactless, mobile peer-to-peer, QR codes). Fewer people will want to carry cash, fewer retailers will accept it and legislation may be adapted more quickly to allow businesses to be fully cashless.
I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is catalysing new mindsets in society and business that will outlive the current emergency. For example, a shift in social attitudes and behaviour will create new pressure for governments and companies to invest more in sustainability and the circular economy.
Governments have made interventions at a scale not witnessed before to try and minimise the health and economic impacts. As we return to the era of “big government,” regions such as the EU that have traditionally valued data privacy may start to question whether a more relaxed attitude to data privacy can be justified in specific cases, for example to save lives or secure economies.
One significant concern is that the acceleration of digitization could deepen the digital divide. Although the number of people left behind may be smaller, the gap between the digital haves and have-nots will be wider.
Long-term impacts for business
I believe there will be two long-lasting impacts for business. Firstly, investors will value, and executives will try to build, companies that can be resilient, even in the face of unpredictable global events. Organisations will have to re-evaluate their supply chains and their attitude to cost management. Many businesses have had to reduce costs drastically during the crisis. This experience will cause a lasting change in mindset.
Secondly, there will be a lasting impact on where and how people work, something we characterise as a shift from teleworking (working in the same way, but from home) to smart working (based on high autonomy and results-orientation).
Accelerated relevance for technologies
At Worldline, we believe that the benefit of any technology comes not from the technology itself, but rather from how it is used. This explains why in the COVID-19 crisis we are witnessing the much faster and more widespread adoption of certain existing technologies. I believe that we will see an acceleration in the uptake of technologies that:
- address the needs of the new normal: these include digital currencies, digital contracts, IoT, mobile solutions, AR/VR, non-contact authentication, proximity services, 3D printing, advance encryption and tools for communications and collaboration.
- enable organisational resilience through agility: including cloud and micro services, Big Data, API-first architecture, chatbots and voicebots, and communications infrastructure.
Planning for the new normal
I do not expect the world will return to how things were before the crisis, even if a vaccine emerges that definitely brings the current pandemic to a close. Instead we will see the arrival of a new normal. Many companies will have to reinvent themselves completely.
At Worldline, we believe that the trends described in this blog are already clear enough to enable businesses to start planning for these changes now.
We are now working with our clients to understand the lasting impacts of the crisis for their businesses and help find new and valuable ways of harnessing the full power of all of today’s most promising technologies, to ensure success in the current and post-COVID era.
“Businesses which start planning and preparing now for the new normal will perform better post-crisis than those who make decisions expecting that the old normal will return.”