Breakfast in Milan. Lunch in London. Dinner in New York. Just a few short months ago, we skipped over time and place as if neither really existed at all. Whether for work or play, we went anywhere, bought anything, did anything with anyone from anywhere. The free flow of goods, services and people across national boundaries seemed to be the irreversible wealth creation and spending story of our times. Until, one day in March, it all came to a screeching halt.
The great global lockdown is the most dramatic and disruptive force most businesses have faced and probably ever will face. Unlike the dot.com crisis, whose effect was largely restricted to tech, or the global financial crisis, which was centred on the banks, Covid-19 has upended most sectors of the global economy. With countries accounting for almost 75% of global GDP closed down for months, no business, no matter how small or large, has been left unaffected. The way we make money and spend it will never be the same again.
Entire new industries and market sectors have been created and existing ones turbocharged. Take green energy — indeed green anything. The combination of clear skies and clean air during lockdown, coupled with the bushfires in Australia and California earlier this year, is a tipping point for green business, argues the former Bank of England governor Mark Carney. Green innovation will be “the greatest commercial opportunity of our time”, he says.
Wealth managers are scouring the world to find the best investments. Expect to become more of an expert than you ever imagined in batteries and solar outfits in the US, German and China. The same goes for electric cars — and not just Tesla. Aston Martin is pioneering electric supercars and high-performance SUVs.
Another sector that will boom, certainly in the short- to medium-term, is health. Pharmaceutical companies are looking forward to reaping the rewards of Covid-19 treatments. Rival outfits GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi are teaming up to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and produce it on a global scale. GSK is also joining forces with major UK competitor AstraZeneca and the government to fast-track new anti-viral drug testing — a process that often takes years and costs up to £1.5bn per treatment. “The world is learning from this pandemic,” says GSK boss Emma Walmsley.
Health tech — especially online medical services — has had a kickstart since lockdown. In just 48 hours in the UK in March, 11 suppliers were chosen to provide video consultations to the NHS and 7,000 GP practices were ordered to conduct as many video and phone consultations as possible. “We’ve achieved more in 20 weeks than in the previous 20 years,” says Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Remote monitoring of patients is also increasing.