Is this the end of cash?
From the growing potential of digital money to technology initiatives in dealing with COVID-19, here are some updates for the week of March 29th to April 4th
The first quarter of 2020 was all about how the world is dealing with the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One potential scenario is how digital money will replace cold cash as the preferred mode of payment, thus bolstering digital money and cashless initiatives. Here are some updates for the last week of March, and the impact on the technology and digital world.
Is this the end of cash as we know it?
Digital-first and digital-only businesses have had a head start in terms of addressing the impact of COVID-19. Around the world, brick-and-mortar businesses — especially small and medium enterprises — are feeling the brunt. Those that are not deemed “necessary” during these times of pandemic have suspended operations, affecting the lives of many entrepreneurs and employees.
Meanwhile, those that operate digitally or have successfully transitioned into digital operations, have found a way to thrive amid today’s social/physical distancing policies.
Here, we find that transacting with cash may not be as viable anymore — both for online and offline transactions. For one, physical money is found to be a potential vector for spreading pathogens like the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
To put things in perspective, even banks are going digital. “Certainly, this pandemic … amplifies the need for all banks to go digital now,” says the CEO of UnionBank in the Philippines, in an interview with EuroMoney.
The bank was an early adopter in digital transformation among traditional financial institutions, and it provides a high level of digitalization in transactions. Thus, while FinTechs may have had a head start, this also means that traditional banks will also need to make the big shift to digital, as many banks already have discovered with the onset of decentralized finance.
TeleHealth initiatives will bolster support for HealthTech companies and professions
HealthTech startups have been disrupting various areas of health and medicine industries, from the collaborative genome-driven discovery of COVID-19 cures to online prescription fulfillment.
On a simpler note, today’s social distancing policies have opened a big opportunity for one area of HealthTech, which is telemedicine. This industry is certainly not new, as there have been apps that provide a way for online consultations with medical professionals, mostly for simpler and non-emergency cases.
In recent news, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has enacted a US$200 million support fund for telehealth initiatives in order to ease the burden on already-overloaded hospitals. This is part of the CARES Act, which the U.S. Government recently passed in order to support industries and individuals negatively impacted by COVID-19.
With the telehealth initiatives, the government will support eligible healthcare institutions in the acquisition of devices, technologies, and training for internet-enabled healthcare. This includes consultations through videoconferencing. But on a more tech-driven note, it will also include internet-connected monitoring devices.
There will be some challenges, such as privacy, although this is certainly a good opportunity to further innovate in the field of HealthTech. Telemedicine is just the start.
It’s time for retail to go digital
There’s no question as to the significant impact of e-commerce on retail, as it opens new channels for customer engagement, and it also opens businesses to new potential markets beyond their localized ones.
One of the hurdles in going digital is the potential cost, which not many businesses have the budget for — especially small retailers. Thus, in an effort to encourage retailers to go digital, e-commerce giant eBay is waiving its joining and subscription fees.
With eBay’s “Up & Running” program, new sellers don’t have to pay a fee, and they can avail of the basic online store package free for three months. eBay has also promised to put a highlight on small businesses on its homepage to support storefronts to buyers. The package will also include lower fees, and discounts on shipping supplies, as well as one-on-one support, educational webinars and access to mentorship from more experienced online sellers.
In 2019, e-commerce accounted for 14.1 percent of retail, according to Statista. In 2020 this figure will grow to 16.1 percent, although with social distancing, there is a likelihood that this percentage could grow to a higher figure.
Privacy vs. public good
Data protection has been one of the biggest topics in the past couple of years, and regulators have enacted measures to improve on how user data is protected and kept private. There were some concerns about how social networks have been found to utilize identifiable data as targeting mechanisms for advertising.
Now, with the further spread of COVID-19 on the horizon, some telecommunication companies and startups are trying to utilize location-based data in keeping the contagion at bay. The BBC cites how Israel-based NSO Group is pitching its services to governments in tracking and forecasting infection based on location data gleaned from mobile phones.
This includes contact tracing, cluster forecasts, and movements. This is supposed to aid in decision-making, too, such as where to move ventilators, as the demand increases.
Surely, there are privacy concerns here, although the company is reportedly working with regulators in order to comply with privacy rules like the European GDPR. What’s interesting at this point is finding a point in which privacy and public welfare intersect — does our privacy end where public good starts? Or can we achieve balance? There are, of course, legal, societal, and scientific arguments for and against this. But time will tell how such technologies will play a part in dealing with the pandemic.
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The Elevate Ventures Team curates a weekly roundup of news and developments relevant to technology, innovation, and business. Get in touch with us to contribute, engage our experts, or become part of our network.