The rising influence of individuals is transforming economies and societies. The demands of personalization and shifting corporate expectations have put exceptional pressure on companies to adapt, leaving many of them vulnerable to disruption by new technologies and business models. The increasing strength of individuals’ digital voices has empowered the masses to seek change and demand more from those who serve them, but these digital tools are double-edged, and society is currently confronting the damage being done in what many call the “war on truth.”
Blockchain. Touted as the new internet, blockchain is poised to disrupt any industry that acts as an intermediary. The invention of Bitcoin in 2008 cracked one of the toughest challenges, using blockchain for digital money without a central authority. Over the next several years start-ups introduced hundreds of other peer-to-peer applications, “tokenizing” a wide variety of processes and tasks. Some start-ups have taken aim at big moonshot projects like the Iota Foundation, which is seeking to establish a “machine economy” through the transaction of internet-of-things (IoT) data distributed via micropayment transactions.187 Another example is the Steemit social media network, which is reimagining the way online content is generated and monetized using blockchain technology.188
The evolving gig economy. According to the Gig Economy Index™, nearly 40% of U.S. workers now generate at least 40% of their income from the gig economy – a labor market consisting of short-term contracts, tasks and freelance work. And experts believe this market will continue to grow.131 Additionally, the gig economy is more than just the dollars it generates. According to a McKinsey study on independent work,132 workers who voluntarily engage in the gig economy as their primary source of income were happier than those working traditional jobs. In a separate Freelancers Union study, up to 84% of gig workers are living their “preferred lifestyle” compared with 64% of traditional workers preferring their jobs.133 Unsurprisingly, technology has been the big enabler of the gig economy. While Uber and Airbnb may need no introduction, websites like Fiverr and Upwork are also enabling freelancers and companies to connect, facilitating the outsourcing of specialized tasks like graphic design, web development, video production, translation services and more. The effectiveness of the gig economy has prompted over 80% of large organizations to make plans to increase the use of a flexible workforce.134 Although the recent California gig-worker law may have broad implications on market dynamics, gig work can be expected to continue to grow.
Democratizing investing. Previously inaccessible segments of the capital markets are opening to the masses through increasingly affordable and simple alternative investment and trading platforms. Industry experts claim an emerging “new class of investors,” referring to people traditionally priced out of markets because of high fees, account minimums and legal restrictions. Investing start-up Robinhood disrupted the trading market through its zero transaction fees, zero minimum deposits and easy-to-use mobile app. The passage of Title III of the U.S. JOBS Act opened the private equity markets to non-accredited investors for the first time since 1933. With the combination of loosening regulations and greater visibility to opportunities for alternative investing via the internet, capital markets have seen greater diversity in participants.
Aided by a variety of new technologies, individuals and companies will take greater control of their financial futures, create novel revenue streams and business models, leverage new opportunities in capital markets to generate wealth, and adjust to the dynamics of new workforces that will change the face of work and employment.
Blockchain will provide new means of doing business and create new revenue streams. Smart-contract use is expected to grow over the next five years, becoming a common contract execution method, and new micropayment-enabled services will emerge to incent positive collective action. Examples could include strangers seamlessly sharing a hotspot in a pinch at a minor cost to the user, or individuals selling laptop computing power to form supercomputer networks. Blockchain should remove many barriers to collaboration.
Employment market dynamics will also benefit from blockchain and AI. Regarding compensation, instead of weekly or monthly payments, workers may soon be compensated for incremental time blocks and milestone completion, powered by blockchain-enabled micropayments and smart contracts.135,136 Companies will no longer need to depend on intermediaries like banks to process transactions. This will increase the transparency of pay and the measurable value of work for both organizations and workers. Smart contracts will ensure that gig workers and companies are on level playing fields, with each party assured of getting their promised outcome. This will encourage more workers to take up gig work, especially in developing economies where trust issues can be a deterrent. With a larger gig economy, accessing talent across the globe on ad hoc projects and compressed timelines will be easier. Expertise could be hired at a moment’s notice, leveraging public ledgers as verified work credentials and smart contracts for facilitating transactions. Experts believe such flexible work could be commonplace within this decade.137 With this shift will also come new forms of business management. Gig-economy workers will increasingly work with AI on manual nonrepetitive tasks like computer coding, design or strategy work. Many workers will have some form of “software supervisor” that measures productivity, suggests improvements, checks quality and approves deliverables according to company standards.138 For organizations, alongside managing their traditional hierarchies, they may need to learn to manage a community of flexible workers, and these new management methods could subsequently be leveraged with full-time staff.139
Last, individuals looking to grow their net worth will find greater opportunities to participate in segments of the capital markets previously inaccessible due to regulation and lack of visibility. With market interest rates at all-time lows, alternative asset investing can expect to see greater enthusiasm as a source of higher returns. More start-ups and companies will be enabled by this greater access to alternative capital sources.