Eric Noël is Senior Vice-President, North America for Oxford Analytica. He is an author, speaker and media contributor on global trends, industries and markets. He is also a visiting expert on global trends at IESE Business School in Barcelona and New York and has a background in business strategy, economics and M&A for international media and finance companies. He has served eight Fortune 50 companies and 12 of Canada’s 25 largest ones, worked on projects in some 40 countries and has advised on transactions totaling more than $30B.
At the CVCA annual conference last week in Montréal he presented on “Investing toward 2030: anticipating the future business environment through four megatrends.” We had the chance to interview him.
“We can’t extrapolate the past to anticipate the future,” he explains. “We suffer from information bias not simply because of bad sources, but also because of where we are in time and space. And we miserably fail to distinguish between reversible and irreversible trends.” The four megatrends are:
1. Population’s effects.
2. Governance and politics.
4. Science and technologies.
In this article, I discuss the first two megatrends.
“By our population size, Canada will remain small (4.5 million more people in 20 years), thus marginal,” Eric says. “But we’re also like a good convenience store, filled with food and energy and a few fun and smart products that will make the stop worth it.”
Canada has an aging population, like most developed countries. This will have an effect on the working population and could slow or shrink the GDP potential of Quebec and the Maritime provinces in the coming decades.
Retirement age will be postponed by a few years, young people will start their careers earlier, immigration will increase, and the “very old” (85+) will become a nice market (fastest growth segment). But we should expect more poverty amongst the elderly population and some political status quo as well at a time when policy changes will become a must.
He also warned us about the mirage of growth without labour. “On one side, some countries will have too much new workers (110 million in India before 2020), while other nations will be understaffed,” he says. “Business will face labour scarcity because entrepreneurs create business models for which there will be no or not enough people” This global, urbanizing, and healthier population will harm the environment and stimulate a “commodity bonanza.”
“But the other mirage here is to forecast that a long–term super-cycle of demand for commodities will be a super-cycle of prices,” he adds. “Maybe will have enough supply, smarter importers and users and non-traded resources.”
He is hopeful that the clean tech industry can leverage this population megatrend and provide more, cheaper and better access to energy, food, water, transportation and a cleaner environment. Big global opportunities reside in new urban technologies and those applied to agriculture, health care and waste management services for example.
GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS
According to Mr. Noël, there will be limited success of public policies in managing these megatrends.
“Politicians and bureaucrats won’t have the brain and bandwidth to face it all,” he affirms. “The fewer items on the political agenda, the better are the outcomes, but I am afraid that the world in 2030, with its politicization of everything, will be hard to control.”
It will involve too much complexities and our democracies were not conceived to deal with so many items (debt, pension, medication, terrorism, unemployment, crime, environmental and new tech risks to name a few)—“particularly in an age of disinformation and speedy protests.” Geopolitics will mostly be dictated by black swans, mini-lateralism and “religionalism,” creating new risks and maybe opportunities for business, and consuming political time.