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Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2021

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2021 Predictions: What Experts See in the Year Ahead

Making predictions is a tricky business at the best of times, but especially so after a year of upheaval. Even so, that didn’t stop people from trying their hand at reading the crystal ball. If anything, the uncertainty creates a stronger temptation for us to try to forecast the year ahead.

Out of the thousands of public 2021 predictions and forecasts available, there are plenty of one-off guesses. However, things really get interesting when a desperate majority of experts begin to agree on what might happen. In some ways, these predictions from influential experts and firms have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies, so it’s worth paying attention even if we’re skeptical about the assertions being made.

This year, we more than doubled the number of sources analyzed for our 2021 Predictions Consensus graphic, including outlooks from financial institutions, thought leaders, media outlets, consultancies, and more. Let’s take a closer look at seven of the most popular predictions:

ESG reaches a tipping point

It seems like only recently that the term ESG gained mainstream traction in the investment community, but in a short amount of time, the trend has blossomed into a full-blown societal shift. In 2020, investors piled a record $27.7 billion of inflows into ETFs traded in U.S. markets, and that momentum only appears to be growing.

prediction consensus esg

Fidelity, among others, noted that climate funds are delivering superior returns, which makes ESG an even easier sell to investors. Nasdaq has tapped ESG to be “one of the hottest trends” over the coming year.

China has a strong 2021

Financial institutions that issue predictions generally hedge their language quite a bit, but on this topic they were direct. The world’s most populous country has already left the pandemic behind and is back to business as usual. Of the institutions that mentioned a specific number, the median estimate for GDP growth in China was 8.4%.

prediction consensus china

A souring outlook on SPACs

Much like any hot trend, once enough people get on the bandwagon the mood begins to sour. Many experts believe that special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are going to enter that phase in 2021.

prediction consensus spacs

SPACs had a monster year in 2020, raising $82 billion in capital. That’s more funds in one year than in the last 10 years combined. Of course, now that these 200+ companies are flush with capital, they’ll need to find a target. Scott Galloway argues that SPACs “are going to vastly underperform over the next two to three years” since there aren’t enough good opportunities to satisfy that level of demand.

Brands must be authentic and values-driven

Over the past few years, brands have become increasingly values-driven. In their 2021 predictions, experts see this trend being pushed even further.

Millennials, which are now the largest generation in the workforce, are shaping society in their own image, and the expectation is that companies have an authentic voice and that actions align with words. This trend is augmented by the transparency that the internet and social media have enabled.

prediction consensus values-driven companies

Being a “values-driven” company can mean many things, and often involves focusing on a number of initiatives simultaneously. At the forefront is racial inequality and diversity initiatives, which were a key focus in 2020. According to McKinsey, nine out of ten employees globally believe companies should engage in diversity and inclusion initiatives. When the chorus of voices grows loud enough, eventually actions must follow.

A great rethinking of office life is underway

The great work-from-home experiment will soon be approaching the one-year mark and a lot has changed in a short amount of time.

Even firms that were incredibly resistant to remote work found themselves in a position of having to adapt to new circumstances thanks to COVID-19. Now that the feasibility of at-home work has been proven, it will be tough for companies to walk things back to pre-pandemic times. Over 2021, millions of companies will begin reengineering everything from physical offices to digital infrastructure, and this has broad implications on the economy and our culture.

prediction consensus rethinking office life

Individuals and employers start taking wellness seriously

The past year was not good for our collective mental health. In response, many companies are looking at ways to support employees from a health and wellness standpoint. One example is the trend of giving teams access to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.

prediction consensus wellness

This focus on wellness will persist, even as people begin to return to the office. As commercial leases expire in 2021, companies will be re-evaluating their office needs, and many experts believe that wellness will factor into those decisions.

Lastly, this trend ties into the broader theme of values-driven companies. If brands profess a desire to impact society in a positive way, employees expect actions to extend inward as well.

Big Tech backlash continues

Among experts, there’s little doubt that the Big Tech backlash will bleed over into 2021. There is a divergence of opinion on exactly what will happen as a result. There are three general themes:

    1. 1. Regulators will admonish and threaten Big Tech publicly, but nothing concrete will happen.
      2. Facebook will be broken up into parts (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp)
      3. Companies will proactively change their business practices and look for ways to settle quickly
  • prediction consensus tech-backlash

    Aside from the thread of regulatory action, the tech sector is facing a bit of an identity crisis. Silicon Valley is grappling with the reality that the center of gravity is shifting. Pitchbook notes that Bay Area will fall below 20% of U.S. deal count for first time, and there have been very public departures from the valley in recent months.

    Faced with pressure from a number of different angles, the technology sector may have a year of soul-searching ahead.

    The Elephant in the Room

    COVID-19 is the one factor that impacts nearly every one of these 2021 predictions, yet, there were few predictions–and certainly no consensus from experts–on vaccine rollouts and case counts. It’s possible that the complexity of the pandemic and the enormous task of dealing with this public health crisis makes it too much of a moving target to predict in specific terms.

    In general though, expert opinions on when we’ll return to a more “normal” stage again range from the summer of 2021 to the start of 2022. With the exception of China, most major economies are still grappling with outbreaks and the resulting economic fallout.

    It remains to be seen whether COVID-19 will dominate 2022’s predictions, or whether we’ll be able to look beyond the pandemic era.

    The Good Stuff: Sources We Like

    Of the hundreds of sources we looked at, here were a few that stood out as memorable and comprehensive:

    Bloomberg’s Outlook 2021
    : This article compiled over 500 predictions from Wall Street banks and investment firms.

    Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway’s Big 2021 Predictions: Swisher and Galloway combine their deep understanding of the technology ecosystem with frank (and hilarious) commentary to come up with some of the most plausible predictions of 2021. From Robinhood to Twitter, they cover a lot of ground in this interview.

    Crystal Ball 2021: Fortune’s annual batch of predictions is always one to watch. It’s comprehensive, succinct, and hits upon a wide variety of topics.

    John Battelle’s Predictions 2021: John Battelle has been publishing annual predictions for nearly two decades, and this year’s batch is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated. His predictions are thoughtful, credible, and specific. It’s also worth noting that Battelle circles back and grades his predictions – a level of accountability that is to be praised.

    Like this feature? An expanded look at 2021’s predictions will be shared with our VC+ audience later this month.

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    The Biggest Business Risks in 2021

    We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant. Which are the top ten business risks to watch out for?

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    The Biggest Business Risks Around the World

    We live in an increasingly volatile world, where change is the only constant.

    Businesses, too, face rapidly changing environments and associated risks that they need to adapt to—or risk falling behind. These can range from supply chain issues due to shipping blockages, to disruptions from natural catastrophes.

    As countries and companies continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 risk management experts were surveyed for the Allianz Risk Barometer, uncovering the top 10 business risks that leaders must watch out for in 2021.

    The Top 10 Business Risks: The Pandemic Trio Emerges

    Business Interruption tops the charts consistently as the biggest business risk. This risk has slotted into the #1 spot seven times in the last decade of the survey, showing it has been on the minds of business leaders well before the pandemic began.

    However, that is not to say that the pandemic hasn’t made awareness of this risk more acute. In fact, 94% of surveyed companies reported a COVID-19 related supply chain disruption in 2020.

    Rank (2021)% ResponsesRisk NameBusiness Risk ExamplesChange from 2020
    #141%Business InterruptionSupply chain disruptions
    #240%Pandemic OutbreakHealth and workforce issues, restrictions on movement
    #340%Cyber IncidentsCybercrime, IT failure/outage, data breaches, fines and penalties
    #419%Market DevelopmentsVolatility, intensified competition/new entrants, M&A, market stagnation, market fluctuation
    #519%Legislation/ Regulation ChangesTrade wars and tariffs, economic sanctions, protectionism, Brexit, Euro-zone disintegration
    #617%Natural CatastrophesStorm, flood, earthquake, wildfire
    #716%Fire, Explosion-
    #813%Macroeconomic DevelopmentsMonetary policies, austerity programs, commodity price increase, deflation, inflation
    #913%Climate Change-
    #1011%Political Risks And ViolencePolitical instability, war, terrorism, civil commotion, riots and looting

    Note: Figures do not add to 100% as respondents could select up to three risks per industry.

    Pandemic Outbreak, naturally, has climbed 15 spots to become the second-most significant business risk. Even with vaccine roll-outs, the uncontrollable spread of the virus and new variants remain a concern.

    The third most prominent business risk, Cyber Incidents, are also on the rise. Global cybercrime already causes a $1 trillion drag on the economy—a 50% jump from just two years ago. In addition, the pandemic-induced rush towards digitalization leaves businesses increasingly susceptible to cyber incidents.

    Other Socio-Economic Business Risks

    The top three risks mentioned above are considered the “pandemic trio”, owing to their inextricable and intertwined effects on the business world. However, these next few notable business risks are also not far behind.

    Globally, GDP is expected to recover by +4.4% in 2021, compared to the -4.5% contraction from 2020. These Market Developments may also see a short-term 2 percentage point increase in GDP growth estimates in the event of rapid and successful vaccination campaigns.

    In the long term, however, the world will need to contend with a record of $277 trillion worth of debt, which may potentially affect these economic growth projections. Rising insolvency rates also remain a key post-COVID concern.

    Persisting traditional risks such as Fires and Explosions are especially damaging for manufacturing and industry. For example, the August 2020 Beirut explosion caused $15 billion in damages.

    What’s more, Political Risks And Violence have escalated in number, scale, and duration worldwide in the form of civil unrest and protests. Such disruption is often underestimated, but insured losses can add up into the billions.

    No Such Thing as a Risk-Free Life

    The risks that businesses face depend on a multitude of factors, from political (in)stability and growing regulations to climate change and macroeconomic shifts.

    Will a post-pandemic world accentuate these global business risks even further, or will something entirely new rear its head?

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    RCEP Explained: The World’s Biggest Trading Bloc Will Soon be in Asia-Pacific

    The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) covers 30% of global GDP and population. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

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    RCEP Explained: The World’s Biggest Trading Bloc

    Trade and commerce are the lifeblood of the global economy. Naturally, agreements among nations in a certain geographical area help facilitate relationships in ways that are ideally beneficial for everyone involved.

    In late 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed, officially creating the biggest trade bloc in history. Here, we break down everything you need to know about it, from who’s involved to its implications.

    Who’s in the RCEP, and Why Was it Created?

    The RCEP is a free trade agreement between 15 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been formalized after 28 rounds of discussion over eight years.

    Member nations who are a part of the RCEP will benefit from lowered or completely eliminated tariffs on imported goods and services within the region in the next 20 years. Here are the countries which have signed on to be member nations:

    CountryPopulation (M)Nominal GDP ($B)
    🇦🇺 Australia25.7$1,359
    🇧🇳 Brunei0.5$12
    🇰🇭 Cambodia15.7$26
    🇨🇳 China1404$14,723
    🇮🇩 Indonesia270.2$1,060
    🇯🇵 Japan125.8$5,049
    🇰🇷 South Korea51.8$1,631
    🇱🇦 Laos7.3$19
    🇲🇾 Malaysia32.9$338
    🇲🇲 Myanmar53.2$81
    🇳🇿 New Zealand5.1$209
    🇵🇭 Philippines108.8$362
    🇸🇬 Singapore5.8$340
    🇹🇭 Thailand69.8$502
    🇻🇳 Vietnam97.4$341
    RCEP Total2,274.2M$26,052B

    Source: IMF

    But there is still some work to do to bring the trade agreement into full effect.

    Signing the agreement, the step taken in late 2020, is simply an initial show of support for the trade agreement, but now it needs to be ratified. That means these nations still have to give their consent to be legally bound to the terms within the RCEP. Once the RCEP is ratified by three-fifths of its signatories—a minimum of six ASEAN nations and three non-ASEAN nations—it will go ahead within 60 days.

    So far, it’s been ratified by China, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore as of April 30, 2021. At its current pace, the RCEP is set to come into effect in early 2022 as all member nations have agreed to complete the ratification process within the year.

    Interestingly, in the midst of negotiations in 2019, India pulled out of the agreement. This came after potential concerns about the trade bloc’s impacts on its industrial and agricultural sectors that affect the “lives and livelihoods of all Indians”. India retains the option to rejoin the RCEP in the future, if things change.

    The Biggest Trading Blocs, Compared

    When we say the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is the biggest trade bloc in history, this statement is not hyperbole.

    The RCEP will not only surpass existing Asia-Pacific trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in size and scope, but also other key regional partnerships in advanced economies.

    This includes the European Union and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, formerly known as NAFTA). How does the trio stack up?

     Nominal GDP, 2020Population, 2020
    EU$15.2 trillion445 million
    USMCA$23.7 trillion496 million
    RCEP$26.1 trillion2.27 billion
    World$84.5 trillion7.64 billion

    With the combined might of its 15 signatories, the RCEP accounts for approximately 30% of global GDP and population. Interestingly, the total population covered within the RCEP is near or over five times that of the other trade blocs.

    Another regional agreement not covered here is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is now the largest in terms of participating countries (55 in total), but in the other metrics, the RCEP still emerges superior.

    Implications of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

    The potential effects of the RCEP are widespread. Among others, the agreement will establish rules for the region around:

    • Investment
    • Competition
    • E-commerce
    • Intellectual property
    • Telecommunications

    However, there are some key exclusions that have raised critics’ eyebrows. These are:

    • Labor union provisions
    • Environmental protection
    • Government subsidies

    The RCEP could also help China gain even more ground in its economic race against the U.S. towards becoming a global superpower.

    Last, but most importantly, Brookings estimates that the potential gains from the RCEP are in the high billions: $209 billion could be added annually to world incomes, and $500 billion may be added to world trade by 2030.

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