Reflections on 2020
Reflections of 2020
2020 has been a truly extraordinary year. Christmas is upon us and we are closing the book on 2020. How then to reflect on such an unprecedented year?
Two stories have utterly dominated the national conversation, the UK’s departure from the EU, four years and three Prime Ministers after the Brexit vote on 23rd June 2016. Although, there was a second world altering vote, just five months after the first in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. A story that was similarly world changing and that is also destined to reach a conclusion, however dramatically, January 2021.
And on the same day that the UK formally withdrew from the EU (31st January 2020), the very first cases of COVID-19 were reported in York, when two Chinese nationals staying at a local hotel tested positive.
Could anybody have foreseen then the staggering impact of the Coronavirus? An event that from March onwards came to dominate the news for the entire year.
An event that challenged and disrupted our daily lives, from the notion of social distancing to major shifts in economic policy. Perhaps most importantly and tragically, a virus to which (at the time of writing) 68,307 people in the UK have lost their lives.
Here are our reflections on 2020, and our predictions for 2021.
“We saw a global recession as a result of COVID-19 and the imposed periods of lockdown. When the global economy stutters or falls into recession, the financial services sector in the UK suffers. All those lucrative corporate transactions – mergers, acquisitions, IPOs, debt issuance – which feed the UK’s financial services sector, slow down abruptly, so it is a highly cyclical component of the economy.”
The UK relies heavily on its financial services engine, it contributes some 7% of GDP (House of Commons Library, Financial Services: contribution to the UK economy 2019). This is a double-edged sword: when times are good and the global economy is firing on all cylinders, the UK financial services industry does very well.
My prediction for 2021 is simple. I expect that we will return to the same level of output, especially now that a vaccine has been found. I expect that the economy post-vaccine will closely resemble the economy pre-COVID. It is easy – and it makes for more prolific headlines – to cast COVID-19 as a paradigm shift. The safer bet (as almost always) is to assume that things will get back to the way they were.
In 2021 we may see a few “upside surprises”: consumer behaviour might be more exuberant than expected, as we all rediscover the pleasure of partying with our friends and families. Carpe diem could be the defining motto of the post-COVID generation, and a roaring twenties might follow, a century after the original.
In the meantime, while we are all stuck in the waiting room, we muddle along with a remarkable level of efficiency.
I believe I’ll remember 2020 for the massive level of governmental support that ensured that the engines of broad economic output were kept intact, and hopefully ready to fire up again as soon as that becomes possible.
“For UK businesses the ability to adapt, stay positive and evolve will be the story of 2020. The biggest take away for me from this year is just how tremendously important it is that British businesses stay objective when it comes to the facts, especially in an age where bad news (particularly) can spread very quickly.”
It was little surprise, for example, that ‘2020 saw the worst economic downturn since the second world war’. It was. Shutting down the UK’s economy in a week will always have that level of impact. Similarly, there was a lot of talk about how retail is failing, and the move towards online shopping. That’s not really news. It’s been happening for 20 years. COVID-19 has acted as a huge catalyst and accelerant to change.
So the UK did enter a recession for the first time in more than a decade. The economy shrunk by more than 20% in April 2020 – and we all continue to speculate in terms of what ‘shape’ the recovery will take and further, what the impact of Brexit will be as we move forward.
Holistically, we need to consider that the recovery will not take one universal shape. It will be a collage of shapes by sector. We must hope that those sectors that are driving forward, and growing in the ‘V-shaped’ recovery, continue to propel the other sectors into recovery also.
Businesses need to be most considerate of the fact that this is a time of change.
It is tremendously important that businesses and business owners stay positive and adapt. Business owners need to be more available than ever to innovation.
We must stay vigilant and prepare for a lot of hard work ahead.
Managing Director – Woodsford RxBridge, Commerical Director – Woodsford TradeBridge
“My immediate reflection on the pharmacy industry in 2020 is how it has stood up to the considerable challenges posed by the pandemic and how the critical role it plays in servicing and maintaining public health has been recognised both in the community and in government.”
Initially, in the spring and summer, the already essential task of providing prescription drugs and basic healthcare advice to patients, extended to supplying other critical supplies such as hand wash, sanitisers, and PPE at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. We saw pharmacies required to operate a one-in-one-out door policy and some needed to refit or configure their premises to cater to the surge in demand caused by COVID-19.
This winter, a combination of the pandemic, flu-season and now the vaccine sees an unprecedented level of stress on UK pharmacies and their staff. With the triple threat of two significant illnesses, each with the capacity to reinforce or accelerate the negative impact of the other, and the potential disruption to vital supply chains that deliver the essential medicines to fix them, there was (and still is) a perfect storm facing pharmacies large and small, all over the UK this winter.
While of course it is no time to run out of working capital or medicines, I am most alarmed by the very human cost of the pandemic on pharmacies in 2020. It’s indicative of an extraordinary year when working in a community pharmacy is considered one of the UK’s most stressful jobs on the front line in the fight against Coronavirus.
Head of Global eCommerce Financing
In a year like 2020, it seems inappropriate to talk about unprecedented growth and staggering success. Outside of the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, I don’t think any industry has been as successful as eCommerce this year.
It’s astonishing to consider that an estimated two billion people will buy something online in 2020. Today, Amazon has over 300 million customer accounts. The global marketplace has around two million sellers, of which 169,782 are new sellers that joined Amazon’s marketplaces in 2020. Whilst the global economy shrank to worrying lows, the eCommerce industry has grown by nearly 19% in 2020. In a year like 2020, it seems inappropriate to talk about unprecedented growth and staggering success. Outside of the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, I don’t think any industry has been as successful as eCommerce this year.
Strange then to also consider the changing fates of the giants of the tech industry in 2020. For the last 20 years, the industry has grown with limited regulation and a bull market, aspiring tech entrepreneurs are the subject of our conversations, as celebrities in their own right and as we watch the incredible acts of philanthropy of the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, and titanic efforts in the interest of diversity, equality, and inclusion of businesses like Google.
Tech company valuations represent the wealth of our times.
However, this is the year big tech’s “big three” – Amazon, Facebook, and Google are all the subject of anti-trust lawsuits at a federal level. In the UK the Online Harms Bill, passed in December, will mean fines of up to 10% of annual turnover for any breach of duty of care rules.
However, in December 2020 online marketplace Air BNB, a facilitator, a business that doesn’t own a single property, or rent a single room went public for close to $100 billion.
Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky was left speechless live on national television. So while tech looks likely to be more heavily regulated in 2021, is the cycle of success set to continue for tech in 2021? One thing I’d be comfortable predicting is that the acceleration in the shift to eCommerce or digital retail, will continue at pace, the events of 2020 have definitely really given it real momentum.