If there is one lesson from the pandemic of 2020, it may be this: We are biological beings in a digital age.

No matter how much technology we have, we’ve discovered we cannot escape nature’s grip. And yet, no matter how humbling this crisis has been, it should remind us that even a massive jolt to the planet cannot change the trajectory of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If anything, we’re emerging from this crisis with an even greater desire to harness smart technologies, artificial intelligence and vast pools of data to transform pretty much everything we do. COVID did not crush the future. It merely brought it forward.

In the short term, the economic recovery won’t be as fast as the consumer and social changes that are hitting every business and community. The scar tissue will take time to heal. We estimate that even with a modest recovery, the Canadian economy will operate below pre-crisis levels until 2022, and the loss of economic output for Canada may exceed $500 billion.

But when the recovery takes form, entrepreneurs will find pearls of opportunity. Yes, the novel coronavirus that swamped us economically can also unleash waves of innovation as we change the way we work, shop, eat and travel. And companies, old and new, that are seizing on this sea change will be the stars of the 2020s.

In this report, we look at eight major trends underway in the world, and pinpoint the possibilities for savvy business operators, investors and innovators.

As history likes to remind us, with unprecedented times come unprecedented opportunities.


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1. How we work

More home-offices, more blended workforces, more local suppliers

What we’re seeing

  • A parabolic curve of productivity for remote work, with efficiency and morale growing initially and then declining. A new OECD study identifies a “sweet spot” for home and office that employers need to find.1
  • Friction between employers and employees over terms and conditions of remote work. Half of employees now working from home expect to maintain at least a hybrid model, while far fewer employers want to continue with current arrangements.2
  • A growing gap between organizations and their ability to manage distributed workforces. Some 48% of Canadian businesses feel they are unprepared for the technological changes forced by COVID, including their ability to support remote work over the long-term.3

What this means

  • Blended models of home-offices and office-homes, requiring employers to invest in distributed tools and technologies to retain talent and enhance productivity.
  • New agreements between employers and employees to share costs and benefits of home-based work models.
  • More workplace PPE and office reconfigurations to accommodate more flexible work arrangements.

+ Up

  • Remote technologies. Cloud security, video conferencing, chat platforms.
  • Home/office technologies. Smart speakers, laptops, fitness equipment.
  • Distributed service providers. Neighbourhood childcare, home cleaning, food delivery.

Down

  • Meeting centres, banquet services, business hotels.
  • Food courts, public transit, fitness centres.
  • Photocopiers, paper, A/V devices.

2. How we shop

More shipping, more local, more driving

What we’re seeing

  • Mass acceptance of online shopping and shipping, including for “soft” goods such as groceries and pharmaceuticals. Nearly 3 in 10 Canadians are now shopping online for things they normally bought in stores, and nearly half placed an online order for pick-up.4 In the U.S., more than two thirds of consumers purchased products online for the first time and over half are spending more online.
  • A blended model for pick-up to cut delivery costs. More than half of consumers have used “Buy Online and Pickup in Store” models. BOPIS has grown more than 500% during the pandemic, and accounted for 42% of orders in June, double what it was 2019. 5
  • Consumer spending hasn’t declined; it’s just shifted. Canadians spent 3% more this July than last, with increases in food, home improvements, golf, lotteries and hobby stores. In-person entertainment, concerts and restaurants remain challenged.6

What this means

  • Brick-and-mortar business models, including malls, will remain challenged. This may extend to grocery models that don’t focus on consumer experience and neighbourhood convenience.
  • Consumer loyalty is in play. In the U.S., 36% of consumers have tried a new product or brand over the course of the crisis.7
  • Retailers and brand companies will need to invest more in data analytics to connect with shoppers before they begin shopping, and to improve the consumer experience.

+ Up

  • E-commerce platforms and aggregators.
  • Blended delivery and pick-up models.
  • Online loyalty models.

Down

  • Department stores.
  • Secondary and tertiary malls.
  • High-density commercial property.

3. How we watch

More binging, more culture, more global

What we’re seeing

  • Shift to at-home entertainment. Nearly half of Canadians say they won’t go to an arena, stadium or concert venue until there’s a vaccine. Netflix added 26 million subscribers globally in the first half of 2020.8 Disney+ reached 60 million subscribers in Q2, four years ahead of plan.9
  • More interactive. Time spent on video gaming increased 39% during shelter-in-place periods. Fortnite embedded a Travis Scott concert in a video game that attracted 12.3 million viewers.10 Amazon’s live platform Twitch saw a 60% increase in hours watched (5 billion total) in Q2.11 Facebook’s actively monthly users rose 12%, to 2.7 billion.
  • Culture has moved online; ticket sales haven’t. Royal Ontario Museum expects in-person visits to be down by half in 2020. British Museum went from 2,000 daily online visits to 75,000. U.S. museum traffic was up 20-50% when tickets were subsidized.

What this means

  • Personalized arts and entertainment content will become more important, along with recommendation engines and targeted advertising.
  • Arts and culture providers will need to develop new immersive experiences. Sales of AR/VR headsets are projected to grow nearly 25% in 2020, and 10-fold over five years.
  • Professional leagues and teams will need to accelerate their “augmentation” strategies through gaming and streaming, including from fan-less venues.

+ Up

  • Global streaming platforms.
  • Star performers and athletes with global followings.
  • Virtual and augmented performances.

Down

  • Museums, art galleries.
  • Sports arenas.
  • Cinemas.

4. How we share

More bandwidth, more data, more hacks

What we’re seeing

  • Massive growth. Global internet traffic increased nearly 40% between February 1 and April 19.12 Data creation will grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, 10 times the amount of data produced in 2017.13
  • Massive concentration. Market cap of the Big Five U.S. tech companies – Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet and Facebook – was roughly US$7 trillion in early September, up 50%+ in the crisis.
  • Massive risks. Active phishing sites went up by 350% between January and March, as individuals interacted with connected devices, on average, five times a minute. Over 1,000 “malicious imitation” websites were taken down by the Communications Security Establishment, most of them claiming to be the CRA or connected to CERB.14

What this means

  • Greater demand for data services, data strategy and connectivity (Internet of Things) strategies.
  • Large investments in bandwidth, especially for smaller centres and older multi-tenant buildings.
  • More flexible approaches to privacy to balance safeguards against new and existing threats.

+ Up

  • Cloud security.
  • Business continuity planning.
  • Distributed software protection.

Down

  • Communities without strong and consistent bandwidth.
  • Businesses without resilient platforms to support remote work and sales/service.
  • Companies that can’t capture and analyze consumer data.

5. How we travel

More local, more modest, more active

What we’re seeing

  • A collapse of international travel. Global flight frequency was down 47%, year over year, as of late August, and not projected to return to pre-crisis levels until at least 2024. Overseas visitors to Canada dropped 95% from Q1 to Q2.15
  • Tourism spending fell 14%, while tourism GDP decreased nearly 15% in Q1.16
  • Canadians say they are significantly less likely to travel to other provinces, with 63% preferring to drive than fly. Only 32% are willing to stay in a hotel or resort, and 10% to take a cruise.

What this means

  • Staycations. Strong growth in recreation product sales (trampolines, pools, bikes, snow equipment).
  • Road trips. Growth in real estate sales and rentals in small centres within driving distance of large cities.
  • More demand for localized adventures and experiences. Less for festivals, events, and major attractions.

+ Up

  • Home-based recreation equipment.
  • Wilderness experiences and agro-tourism.
  • Rural rentals.

Down

  • Large hotel complexes, cruise liners.
  • High-volume destinations.
  • Cross-border communities.

6. How we heal

More protection, more screening, more spending

What we’re seeing

  • Public health security as a dominant concern. Three out of four Canadians said they won’t feel safe until a treatment or vaccine is available.17
  • More remote delivery technology. Patients and professionals have come to accept, at scale, video consultations. Telehealth expected to exceed US$175 billion globally by 2026.18
  • Long-term care as a focus for heath budgets. By 2030, Canadian government spending on elderly benefits will triple to $99 billion, from $35 billion spent in 2010. The U.S. “active aging” industry is expected to triple in the next three years to US$30 billion.19

What this means

  • Health and screening tech set to grow rapidly, especially for work and consumer settings, e.g. thermal cameras for airports and train stations, biometrics for offices, malls and schools.
  • Centralization of clinics for digital capacity and 24/7 service, with field teams to serve work-from-home populations and isolated seniors.
  • Increases in telehealth, e-prescription, at-home solutions, and other alternative delivery methods of healthcare.

+ Up

  • Smart-living technologies, home testing kits.
  • Facial recognition technology, infrared body scanners.
  • Contact tracing technologies.

Down

  • Traditional seniors’ communities.
  • Healthcare providers without a digital-first culture and infrastructure.
  • In-person consultations for minor or routine issues.

7. How we learn

More remote, more personal, more interactive

What we’re seeing

  • Fewer international students. Globally, as many as 5 million international students could not return to campus this fall. In Canada, they represent a quarter of many student bodies and $22 billion in economic activity.
  • More online learning. Traffic in June for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) was 2.5 times larger than January.20 Canada’s largest online-only school, Athabasca University, saw April enrollment grow by 12.3% for undergraduates and 10.7% for graduate studies.
  • More education technology and corporate learning management systems. In 2019, digital spending was 2.5% of all education budgets. By 2025, it’s expected to reach 4.3%. Ed tech investments surpassed US$18.5 billion in 2019, with more than half venture capital activity occurring in China over the last decade.21

What this means

  • Transformation of post-secondary education to a hybrid model, with a blend of traditional course design and pedagogy with interactive and personalized online offerings.
  • More global learning platforms, with more new education providers, including companies with subject-matter expertise.
  • More employers turning to colleges and universities to develop micro-credentials and online courses, to train and upskill workers.

+ Up

  • Menu-based degrees, with more transferable credits.
  • Corporate learning management systems.
  • Digitally-augmented internships, coops and apprenticeships.

Down

  • Schools with weak digital teaching capabilities.
  • In-person international student enrollment.
  • In-person corporate training.

8. How we trade

More protectionism, more techno-nationalism, higher prices

What we’re seeing

  • Less global trade, with merchandise trade dropping 15% in Q2 year-over-year, although container shipping picked up through the summer. WTO’s services trade barometer hit a record low on September 17, with financial services the only bright spot.
  • Growing pressure in North America to reduce China trade, even as it increases through the pandemic. Canadian imports from China grew 33.7% from February-July 2020, while exports to China rose 20.9%, while trade with Europe and the U.S. was relatively flat.23
  • Increased focus on technology as a strategic priority and more government interventions, e.g. TikTok and Huawei cases. China appears to be pivoting inwards with a “dual circulation” strategy to develop domestic tech. China’s inbound FDI was up 18.7% in August over 2019, as global investors looked for growth opportunities.24

What this means

  • Increased focus on economic nationalism and supply chain resilience, which can be two sides of the same coin. Japan, India and Australia are trying to repatriate factory production from China; South Korea and Taiwan have increased IP protections.
  • Strategic stimulus. As governments look to re-engineer supply chains and support national production, they may use new policies, including border carbon taxes, to limit purchases from foreign suppliers.
  • More “Buy Local” initiatives. Governments have launched campaigns in Ontario, B.C., Quebec and Ontario. Nearly 80% of Canadians say they’re more likely to choose Canadian brands/products.

+ Up

  • Strategic procurement.
  • Regional trade agreements.
  • National technologies.

Down

  • Foreign procurement.
  • Low-cost, carbon-intensive consumer goods.
  • International air freight.

This report was updated on September 24, 2020.

Researchers:Trinh Theresa Do, Senior Manager, Thought Leadership Strategy and Ben Richardson, Research Associate, Office of the CEO.

1. OECD, Productivity gains from teleworking in the post-COVID-19 era http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/productivity-gains-from-teleworking-in-the-post-covid-19-era-a5d52e99/
2. Angus Reid Institute, Two-thirds of Canadians who work from home expect it to continue after pandemic
3. OVHcloud, Half of Canadian businesses not confident they can support remote work long term https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/half-of-canadian-businesses-not-confident-they-can-support-remote-work-long-term-861395251.html
4. Numerator, Impact of Coronavirus on Canadian Consumer Behaviour https://www.numerator.com/resources/blog/impact-coronavirus-covid-19-canadian-consumer-behaviour-3
5. Digital Commerce 360, Online merchants gain an extra $107 billion in 2020 thanks to pandemic https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/article/coronavirus-impact-online-retail/
6. RBC Economics, COVID Consumer Spending Tracker
7. McKinsey & Company, The great consumer shift: Ten charts that show how US shopping behavior is changing https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/the-great-consumer-shift-ten-charts-that-show-how-us-shopping-behavior-is-changing?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=662fae90955f4e70aebc251eeac9a6b9&hctky=12122190&hdpid=06773494-9e6c-4383-b8fa-81632a08b56b
8. Netflix, Q2 2020 Letter to Shareholders https://s22.q4cdn.com/959853165/files/doc_financials/2020/q2/FINAL-Q2-20-Shareholder-Letter-V3-with-Tables.pdf
9. Disney, The Walt Disney Company Reports Third Quarter and Nine Months for Fiscal 2020 https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/app/uploads/2020/08/q3-fy20-earnings.pdf
10. Billboard, Travis Scott’s ‘Fortnite’ In-Game Concert Draws More Than 12M https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/9366303/travis-scott-fortnite-in-game-concert-draws-12-million-viewers
11. TechCrunch, Twitch breaks records again in Q2, topping 5B total hours watched https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/01/twitch-breaks-records-again-in-q2-topping-5b-total-hours-watched/
12. Sandvine, COVID-19 Global Internet Phenomena Report https://www.sandvine.com/press-releases/sandvine-releases-covid-19-global-internet-phenomena-report
13. Seagate, Data Age 2025: The Digitization of the World (November, 2018) https://www.seagate.com/files/www-content/our-story/trends/files/idc-seagate-dataage-whitepaper.pdf
14. Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, Cyber Threat Bulletin https://cyber.gc.ca/en/guidance/cyber-threat-bulletin-impact-covid-19-cyber-threat-activity
15. Statistics Canada, The Daily, Leading indicator of international arrivals to Canada by air, Q2 2020 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200714/dq200714c-eng.htm
16. Statistics Canada, The Daily, National tourism indicators, fourth quarter 2019 and first quarter 2020 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200630/dq200630b-eng.htm
17. Ipsos and RBC CXDI, Coronavirus – Canada Tracking #7 (April 23, 2020)
18. Global Market Insights, Telemedicine Market 2020-2026 https://www.gminsights.com/industry-analysis/telemedicine-market?utm_source=prnewswire.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=Paid_prnewswire
19. RBC Thought Leadership, Navigating the 2020s (January 2020)
20. Holon IQ, 2.5x Global MOOC Web Traffic https://www.holoniq.com/notes/global-mooc-web-traffic-benchmarks/
21. Business Insider, Global Ed Tech Investments Reach a Staggering $18.66 billion, https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/2019-global-edtech-investments-reach-a-staggering-18-66-billion-1028800669#
22. CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, CPB World Trade Monitor June 2020 https://www.cpb.nl/en/cpb-world-trade-monitor-june-2020

Download the Report

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If there is one lesson from the pandemic of 2020, it may be this: We are biological beings in a digital age.

No matter how much technology we have, we’ve discovered we cannot escape nature’s grip. And yet, no matter how humbling this crisis has been, it also should remind us that even a massive jolt to the planet cannot change the trajectory of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If anything, we’re emerging from this crisis with an even greater desire to harness smart technologies, new forms of intelligence and vast pools of data to transform pretty much everything we do. COVID did not crush the future. It merely brought it forward.

In the short term, the economic recovery won’t be as fast as the consumer and social changes that are hitting every business and community. The scar tissue will take time to heal. We expect the Canadian economy, as measured by GDP, to decline 7.1% for 2020, as international trade limps along, unemployment remains elevated and consumers stay home, literally and figuratively. Even as provinces allow for businesses, community groups and eventually schools to reopen, a quiet nervousness will give the economy a collective pause, and people everywhere will focus anew on income security and health security.

This new age of insecurity will do more than pervade the Canadian psyche. We estimate that even with a modest recovery, the Canadian economy will be operating below pre-coronavirus levels until 2022, and the combined loss of economic output for Canada may exceed $1 trillion. The setback is already holding back investors and entrepreneurs, and may also give government leaders pause as they allocate unprecedented sums to kick-start an economy that may be reluctant to rev. Our regular tracking of small- and medium-sized business owners shows caution across the board: three-quarters have partially or fully closed, and a third have laid off staff. More worrisome, a quarter are not very confident they’ll make it. And while one in five Canadians feel they’re “sinking” economically, small business owners are twice as likely to hold that sentiment.

Who will be first back in the water is always a tough question, but that’s when the pearls of opportunity are most plentiful. Yes, the novel coronavirus of 2019 has unleashed a massive global recession – but it’s also unleashing waves of innovation as we all change the way we work, shop, eat and travel. And companies, old and new, that are watching this sudden sea change in human behaviour are starting to grow.

In this report, we look at eight major trends underway in the world, and pinpoint the possibilities for savvy business operators, investors and innovators. We all know how much our lives have changed, and how we’re not likely to go back to our old ways. We’ll be more cautious but we also may be more creative. As history likes to remind us, with unprecedented times come unprecedented opportunities.

1. How we work

Fewer offices, less paper, more productivity

What we’re seeing

  • Nearly 5 million more Canadians (~40% of work force) are working from home. WFH-ers are likely to be highly educated and concentrated in Finance, Real Estate, Professional Services, Management, Wholesale, and IT. 1
  • 75% of Canadians would prefer to work from home a little or a lot more often once restrictions ease.2
  • 37% of U.S. jobs could be done from home. Pre-pandemic, only 4% of Americans worked from home.3
  • 57% of Canadians are unwilling to go to a business conference until there’s a vaccine.4

What this means

  • Distributed technology and security will be competitive advantages. Remote work will be highly tech-dependent requiring mobile collaboration and virtual conferencing tools.
  • Employers will need to develop new ways to manage distributed workforces, including for employees who don’t have tools, space or comfort to work actively from home.
  • Employers and office landlords will need to invest heavily in workplace PPE and office reconfigurations.

+ Up

  • Technologies for remote collaboration. Video conferencing, digital white-boarding, communications/chat platforms.
  • Home/office technologies. Smart speakers, coffee makers, fitness equipment.
  • Flex and neighbourhood service providers. Childcare, cleaning, coffee delivery.

Down

  • Conferences.
  • Co-working spaces.
  • Office equipment providers. Photocopier rentals, paper.

2. How we shop

More shipping, more local, more expensive

What we’re seeing

  • Nearly 3 in 10 Canadians are now shopping online for things they normally would have bought in a store.5
  • 70% of Americans expect to avoid some public spaces after the lockdowns ease:
    • More than half say they expect to stay away from shopping malls.6
  • “Buy local” has become a clarion call: 78% of Canadians are more likely to choose Canadian brands/products as a result of the pandemic.7

What this means

  • Traditional brick-and-mortar business models, including malls, will be challenged while social distancing measures are in place.
  • Digitally-enabled retailers can capture more customers outside their home base.
  • Realignment of value chains. Fewer aircraft, less international shipping, more local supplies, potentially higher prices due to lost efficiencies.

+ Up

  • E-commerce platforms and aggregators.
  • Businesses pivoting to online services, such as online orders for delivery and pick-up.
  • High quality local providers.

Down

  • Department stores.
  • Secondary and tertiary malls.
  • High-density commercial property.

3. How we watch

More binging, more culture, more global

What we’re seeing

  • Less money on books and public entertainment and more on home entertainment:8
    • Users of Amazon’s video live streaming platform, Twitch, streamed 50% more hours between March and April and now up to 1.6 billion hours per month.9
    • Netflix added 16 million subscribers in Q1.10
  • Collapse of live events has led to a surge in virtual competitions:
    • Esports audience estimated to be 500 million people in 2020.11
    • 43% of Canadians won’t go to an arena, stadium, or concert venue until there’s a vaccine.12
  • In-person arts and culture purveyors saw a spike in online traffic:
    • British Museum went from 2,000 daily online visits to 75,000.13
    • Vancouver Symphony Orchestra received more than 120,000 views for recent virtual performances.14

What this means

  • Arts and culture providers will need to find creative ways to deliver entertainment to consumers, rather than expect them to leave their homes.
  • Consumer spending on AR/VR is expected to be US$7 billion in 2020.15 AR/VR headsets projected to grow 23.6% in 2020, and grow 10-fold over five years.16
  • Professional leagues and teams will need to accelerate their “augmentation” strategies through gaming and streaming, including from fan-less venues.
  • Content creators need to work with platforms to build global audiences.

+ Up

  • Streaming services.
  • Star performers and athletes with global followings.
  • Challenger teams and leagues with global markets.

Down

  • Museums, art galleries.
  • Sports arenas.
  • Cinemas.

4. How we share

More bandwidth, more data, more hacks

What we’re seeing

  • Big increases in cross-border data flows.
    • Data creation will grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, 10 times the amount of data produced in 2017.17
    • Individuals are expected to interact with a connected device 4,800 times a day (five times per minute).18
  • Big Tech is getting bigger:
    • Market cap of the Big Six U.S. tech companies was close to US$5 trillion in early May, up ~20% in the crisis.19
  • More cyber hacks:
    • WHO experienced a 5-fold increase in cyberattacks since the start of the pandemic.20
    • Since 2013, records are stolen from breaches at a rate of 44 per second.21
    • Active phishing sites went up by 350% between January and March.22

What this means

  • Greater demand for companies that transmit and store data safely:
    • Alibaba plans to invest US$28 billion into cloud business over the next three years.23
  • Big investments in bandwidth for regions and centres, and shared buildings.
  • More flexible approaches to privacy to balance safeguards against new and existing threats and the need for health security.

+ Up

  • Big Data vendors.
  • AI cybersecurity.
  • Distributed software protection.

Down

  • Breachable, data-rich organizations.
  • Firms without scale or culture to analyze data for market advantage.
  • Companies that do not demonstrate a commitment to privacy protections.

5. How we travel

More local, more modest, more active

What we’re seeing

  • 68% of Canadians are unlikely to take a vacation in 2020.24
  • Canadians say they are significantly less likely to travel to other provinces due to COVID.25
  • Once pandemic has ended:26
    • 63% prefer to drive than fly, and 62% prefer to Stay in Canada.
    • Only 32% willing to stay at a hotel or resort, and 10% to take a cruise.

What this means

  • Slow and thinly distributed recovery to tourism, with more road-based vacations to smaller centres.
  • Decline of festivals, events and major attractions.
  • More desire for localized adventures and experiences.

+ Up

  • Car rentals and audio tours.
  • High-end destinations within driving distance of major population centres.
  • Curated wilderness experiences and mixed offerings, such as agri-tourism.

Down

  • Large hotels, cruise liners.
  • High volume destinations, such as theme parks and beach resorts.
  • Border communities reliant on international travellers.

6. How we heal

More protection, more screening, more expensive

What we’re seeing

  • 3 out of 4 Canadians said they won’t feel safe until a treatment or vaccine is available.27
  • Screening technology such as thermal cameras in airports and train stations, as well as hospitals, clinics and possibly schools.
  • “Active aging” industry in the U.S. is expected to triple in the next three years to US$30 billion.28

What this means

  • Mass shift to remote healthcare through video-consultations.
  • Centralization of clinics for digital capacity and 24/7 service, with field teams to serve WFH population and isolated seniors.
  • More advanced tech in seniors’ homes due to worker shortages:
    • By 2030, Canadian government spending on elderly benefits will triple to $99 billion, from $35 billion spent in 2010.29

+ Up

  • Smart-living technologies.
  • Biotech companies specializing in biometrics. Facial recognition technology, infrared body scanners.
  • Contact tracing technologies.

Down

  • Traditional seniors’ communities.
  • Businesses without sufficient health and safety protocols for customers and employees.
  • Healthcare providers without a digital-first culture and infrastructure.

7. How we learn

Remote, interactive, personal

What we’re seeing

  • In March, 1.4 million Canadian university students shifted to online learning, and many universities now moving to a blended model for the fall term:30
    • Canada’s largest online-only school, Athabasca University, saw April enrollment grow by 12.3% for undergraduates and by 10.7% for graduate studies.31
  • UNESCO estimates nearly 1.6 billion learners worldwide have been affected by school closures, representing 91% of all students.32
  • In 2019, digital spending was worth 2.5% (or US$142 billion) of all education expenditures. By 2025, it’s expected to reach 4.3% (or US$350 billion).33
  • Global EdTech investments surpassed US$18.5 billion in 2019, with more than half of venture capital activity occurring in China over the last decade.34

What this means

  • Universities and colleges will spend more on technology infrastructure.
  • Traditional course design and pedagogy will turn to alternative delivery methods, as past resistance to online learning fades.
  • The need for reskilling/upskilling will be immense, leading to an increase in adult learning. Companies and institutions are beginning to provide experiential learning programs catered to adult learning styles.35

+ Up

  • Menu-based degrees, with greater student choice and sharing between schools.
  • Integration of micro-learning as partial credit within programs.
  • Digital internships and other forms of work-integrated learning.

Down

  • Schools with weak digital teaching cultures or that lack the scale to invest in digital and data capabilities.
  • International student enrollment.
  • Employers that don’t provide high-touch digital experiential learning.

8. How we trade

More protectionism, fewer imports, higher prices

What we’re seeing

  • Protectionism growing in political importance, largely for offensive positioning:
    • WTO identified more than 100 protectionist measures in place.36
    • Japan offering incentives to repatriate factory production.
    • Korea, Taiwan protecting IP rights in semi-conductors and other tech.
    • India has banned the export of “key” medicines.
  • Baltic Dry Index – a key measure of international trade – is down 2/3 since December and down 80% since last summer.37
  • Saskatchewan, B.C., Quebec launched marketing campaigns to promote local purchases.

What this means

  • Countries re-evaluating economic security and restructuring supply chains, with more talk of economic nationalism.
  • Shift to strategic stimulus may lead to more aggressive steps, including procurement restrictions.
  • Consumers to eventually face higher prices and less selection.

+ Up

  • Strategic procurement.
  • Bilateral and regional trade agreements.
  • Higher value exports, such as specialized food.

Down

  • Canadian firms relying on procurement from other countries.
  • Low-margin producers that lack scale.
  • Low-income and remote populations.

1. Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: COVID-19 and working from home, Statistics Canada, April 17, 2020
2. Canadian Consumer Sentiment & Behaviour During the COVID-19 Crisis, RBC CXDI, May 8, 2020
3. How Experts Are Rethinking The Workplace, National Geographic, April 30, 2020
4. Ibid., 2
5. Retailers scrambling to respond to a surge in e-commerce orders during pandemic, Financial Post, April 10, 2020
6. Why the Economic Recovery Will Be More of a ‘Swoosh’ Than V-Shaped, Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2020
7. Coronavirus –Canada Tracking #9, Ipsos and RBC CXDI, May 7, 2020
8. COVID Consumer Spending Tracker, RBC Economics, April 16, 2020
9. The lockdown live-streaming numbers are out, and they’re huge, The Verge, May 13, 2020
10. Coronavirus: Netflix adds 16M subscribers worldwide amid COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Press, April 21, 2020
11. The Global Esports Audience Will Be Just Shy of 500 Million This Year, Newzoo, February 25, 2020
12. Ibid., 2
13. Six museums to explore virtually during lockdown, DW, April 13, 2020
14. COVID-19: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra rescinds layoffs and looks to online offerings, Vancouver Sun, April 15, 2020
15. Worldwide Spending on Augmented and Virtual Reality Expected to Reach $18.8 Billion in 2020, IDC, November 2019
16. Worldwide Quarterly AR/VR Headset Tracker, IDC, March 2020
17. Data Age 2025, Seagate; IDC, 2017
18. Ibid.
19. Big tech has strong first quarter, CNN, May 6, 2020
20. WHO reports fivefold increase in cyber attacks, urges vigilance, WHO, April 23, 2020
21. 15 Alarming Cyber Security Facts and Stats, Cybint Solutions, September 23, 2019
22. Email, text message attacks surge during COVID-19 crisis, CBC News, March 30, 2020
23. Alibaba Cloud will invest $28 billion more into its infrastructure over the next three years, TechCrunch, April 20
24. Ibid., 2
25. Ibid., 2
26. Ibid., 7
27. Coronavirus –Canada Tracking #7, Ipsos and RBC CXDI, April 23, 2020
28. Active Aging: Perceptions and Attitudes, Consumer Technology Association, June 2019
29. Navigating the 2020s, RBC Thought Leadership, January 2020
30. Provided by Universities Canada, May 12, 2020
31. Provided by Athabasca University, April 30, 2020
32. This peaked on April 3rd at 1.59 billion, by national closures, UNESCO COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response
33. $87bn+ of Global EdTech funding predicted through 2030. $32bn last decade., HolonIQ, January 28, 2020
34. Ibid.
35. Seniors Need Support More Than Ever. One Startup Shows They Can Also Provide It, EdSurge, March 31, 2020
36. Supply Chains in a Deglobalized World Webinar, Foreign Policy, May 8, 2020
37. Dry bulk shipping rates poised to hit a new all-time low, Hellenic Shipping News, February 5, 2020

Trinh Theresa Do
Senior Manager, Strategy & Business Architecture, RBC

Andrew Schrumm
Senior Manager, Research, RBC

Ben Richardson
Research Associate


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John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His latest book is Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, which explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.

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