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Tech for the new reality

  • Conor Moore, Partner |

Two key messages caught my attention at this year’s Collision conference. First, some of the best technology companies of the future are likely being created today because of this pandemic. Second, never has it been more important to pay attention to customers … to spend more time with them and really listen to their needs.

We at KPMG Private Enterprise have always believed in the tremendous possibilities for entrepreneurs and emerging growth companies and the impact these can have on society. Our current health, social and economic crises only serve to reinforce that belief. This aligns well with our longstanding strategic alliance with the Collision conference, Web Summit (Lisbon) and RISE (Hong Kong). We look forward to every opportunity to listen to founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs about what they’re working on, and to share our own insights and perspectives on the related opportunities and challenges.

Even though we had to meet virtually this year, Collision was another great opportunity to hear and contribute plenty of fresh ideas. Despite the numerous global uncertainties, I would say there’s plenty of optimism out there. As several conference speakers said, many of the tech stars of the future were “in the room”. Getting to know them now, and watching them emerge and grow is exciting to think about.

We joined more than 32,000 innovators from around the world who welcomed the 2020 Collision conference into their homes for 3 days and 100 hours of online content from some of tech's biggest names. I heard several common themes: the vital importance of company culture, values, and purpose in bringing people together to manage through a crisis; the rise of empathic selling, artificial intelligence, sustainability, and business transformation; the future of private/public sector partnerships; and the urgency to really listen to customers and hear what they need.

On that note, I’m pleased to share some of what I heard and learned.

Changes are being accelerated

We heard from Uber, Spotify and Netflix how their business had to adapt very quickly. Pierre from Uber discussed the dynamic of the rides business being down significantly but the Uber Eats business growing as a result of everyone being at home and how that has evolved to Uber delivering other items, not just food. Content creation at Netflix was significantly impacted too.  Even the conference itself and the quick change from 100% in person to 100% virtual over the course of 2-3 months. The Mayor of Toronto’s comments on this pivot further underscored the “needs must” impact that our various current crises are driving.

Customers are key

Never has it been more important to listen to customers. Consumers are being way more intentional about who we interact with, whether it is the Company that is delivering food to your doorstep or the entity who is teaching our children. All companies, KPMG included, must double down on listening to customers and adapting accordingly.

An important, but imperfect union

In a session with former Cisco Systems Chairman John Chambers, now the founder and CEO of J2 Ventures, he said that the tech industry has really stepped up to fill many of the gaps in the COVID-19 response. Several tech companies created a supply of more than 20 million face masks at the beginning of the outbreak. They repurposed their supply chains and have been producing face shields and other vital PPE equipment throughout the pandemic. The fact that the private sector had to step in on an emergency basis like this was a reminder of how much every country relies on its public institutions.

John went on to say that while governments around the world have risen to the occasion to provide liquidity for citizens and companies, they will likely face their own difficult financial recovery over the next several years. This means they’ll likely need to reassess what they can realistically provide to their citizens going forward and where private sources may need to step in.

He reminded everyone that the financial institutions that underpin the public sector are lenders of last resort. They need to stay that way to support the system that has sustained us to date. However, the private sector could have a role to play as well in the public sphere.

The role of public institutions has evolved over the past few years and the public sector is being redefined. Institutional owners of public equities have been advocating for managers of publicly traded companies to adopt a new mindset … to broaden their view beyond shareholders and customers to include the broader community and address some of the economic and environmental challenges those communities face.

The KPMG Private Enterprise flagship quarterly publication Venture Pulse features investment trends leveraging data provided by PitchBook. PitchBook’s Garrett Black added his views on the public/private balancing act, and pointed out that the private markets operate on longer timelines with more impunity than public markets, and they have an important role to play in helping to foster innovation in the short- and mid-term. They can also be instrumental in building a longer-term foundation that’s supported by a solid legal and regulatory framework.

This might not be a perfect union, but only governments can act as the best agent to unify the public will and to create the legislative framework for the private market to operate efficiently.

A wake-up call for insurtech

John Armstrong, the National Industry Leader, Financial Services at KPMG in Canada, told us that COVID-19 has been a wake-up call to insurers. The virtualization of the insurance industry is accelerating, and they need to start making changes now. Patients are becoming more empowered. They won’t ask … they will demand more transparency to make informed choices.

As we move ahead into the new reality, many insurance CEOs will likely plan to increase their investment in innovation and emerging technologies. These companies need to find efficiencies in their business and better insights into the new customer segments that are surfacing as well as geopolitical trends and disruptive channels. John emphasized that insurers need to accelerate their transformation efforts even more if they hope to meet the ambitious goals for growth they’ve set for themselves.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the latest trends on the fast-moving digital insurance landscape, you can find them on the KPMG Insurtech Insights page.

Venturing forth

Looking ahead, I heard several of the Collision presenters talking about the need to return to venture capital (VC) fundamentals. Many believe that fundamental technology will survive and e-commerce will perform extremely well. While a lot of new product ideas (and brand new companies) are emerging out of our crises, long-term investors are staying away from companies that have created products or services that have been created exclusively as a response to COVID-19. There is currently a lot of fundraising activity in that area, but many VC investors are keeping their distance.

Traditional VC investment is expected to slow. The Q2 2020 Venture Pulse report was released on July 22, 2020. In looking at the preliminary report, I see that jurisdictions across the globe continued to grapple with the challenges of COVID-19. But as countries began to re-open their economies, both VC investors and startups have been working hard to understand the ‘new normal’ and how it might affect business operations.

VC investment has continued to show some resilience compared to broader economic trends, particularly in the US and Europe. There are several niche segments of the market that could remain attractive to investors because they provide goods and services that are really needed in the current environment. Health and biotech, for example, having interesting prospects, including companies that are focused on digital health, pharmaceuticals and life sciences. AI modeling to predict the spread of diseases, medtech and other related areas are also getting more attention. Companies focused on productivity solutions, logistics and delivery, and online entertainment could also see some investment, along with cyber security and data protection companies thanks to the incredible increase in the use of online services.

In short, investors will be focused on what is critical for the times. They will be careful to probe the fundamentals of the business and its customers and VC investors will want to see multiple plans for businesses that are looking for investments.

To learn more about the outlook for venture capital investing, download a copy of the KPMG Private Enterprise Venture Pulse Q2 2020 report.

We appreciated having the opportunity to contribute to Collision 2020 and to join sessions featuring leaders from the venture capital community, technology giants, entrepreneurs, tech startups, and emerging growth companies.

The themes were familiar, but with a COVID-19 twist: the need for transparency, trust, communications, and growth. The difference was the focus on the new reality we face in responding to the COVID-19 global health, financial and supply chain crisis. I am confident that we will be continuing this dialogue in the days and months ahead.

I encourage you to follow our regular KPMG Private Enterprise series of blog posts as we share insights from across the KPMG global network on the impact that COVID-19 may have on your business strategy and operations, and how to embrace the new reality of a post COVID-19 world.