Thank you for being with us during the challenging yet exciting times of 2019. Thank you for being part of our journey. Here’s to a joyous Christmas and a fabulous 2020. May the season usher in a period of joy and hope. Let’s indulge in loads of quality time with family and friends and what matters most to you and get away from Linkedin, social media and work! Country Acuity Advisors
As I head into the Christmas season, part of me eagerly looks forward to celebrating the festivities with family and friends. Creating new memories, especially with my kids and family is sure to make Christmas an amazing and joyous time. This is also the last Christmas my eldest is likely to believe in the magic of Santa, which makes it extra special. But, unlike years gone by, as I prepare to celebrate Christmas 2019 and ring in the new year, I find myself reminiscing and trying to make sense of the year that was and more importantly about what 2020 holds. 2019 has been tumultuous, a year marred in turmoil, unrest, uncertainty and violence.
But you might say, 2019 wasn’t that bad. Maybe its just how I recall the year. Maybe it’s just me. Part of it is me, I realize that. I am a risk professional. I am paid to anticipate and think of worse case scenarios. As such it’s natural for me to spend time following what’s happening in the world around us. Most of what’s written and talked about in the media and public domain has been negative. It could be the 24-hour news cycle and endless social media streams that tend to amplify negative stories. After all, alarmist bad news gets clicks. However, I am convinced that despite these biases, 2019 stands out as a pretty grim year in many respects.
Let’s try, for a moment, to set aside political and business interests aside, at least for the next 3 to 4 minutes, it takes, to go through this article. Here’s what’s nagging at my mind and heart. In the United States, we have kids as young as 2-years-old being separated from their parents and forced into foster care. Protests seem to be spreading like wildfire across the world, mostly to be met with pretty harsh crackdown. A bit closer to home, we can’t escape what’s happening in Hong Kong. High school and university students –sacrificing or throwing away their own lives and that of Hong Kong’s future depending on your viewpoint. Protests in India, Indonesia, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq have all turned very bloody and deadly. There is no end in sight for several of these protest movements. There is growing international concern about the detention of perhaps at least 1 million of minority Muslims in China. The Middle East, where conflict and bloodshed have been a mainstay, has witnessed an intensifying of tensions when Turkish forces invaded parts of Syria. The Jammu and Kashmir region in India has been under lock down. I’ve not touched some of the tensions flaring up in Africa. The last time the world experienced so much human turmoil, spanning the globe was in 2010-11, during the Arab spring uprisings. Aside from political turmoil, we’ve had a rise in climate related disasters, trade wars, impeachment proceedings, geopolitical tensions and the list goes on. It tends to drag your spirits down, even if one were an optimist.
You may ask, so what? Why bother about these “Debbie downer” stories? I am fine, my family is fine and my work or business is fine. So, let’s get on with our lives and focus on our own positives. But the choices we make, decisions we take today, to ignore and not care has consequences, both at a personal, professional and financial level. Eventually, it all comes back to bite you even if there is a short-term gain.
At a more pragmatic level, uncertainty and bloodshed, are not good for investment, business and making money. Yes, you may say, what happens in Iraq may not have a direct impact on selling your stuff to a client in Indonesia. But it is good to remind ourselves that turmoil in Iraq can push up oil prices, which in turn can reduce the amount of money your customers in Indonesia can spend on that stuff you want to sell. In an extreme example, the impacts are direct. Look at Hong Kong, which remains mired in economic malaise with no clear sight into the future. If you are in a B2C or even B2B segment in Hong Kong, you are likely to feel some of the strain in a very direct way. Capital markets and investors may see tactical investment opportunities, but that’s not what gets the bread buttered for most of us.
Amidst this gloom and doom, human society is also at the cusp of some amazing and revolutionary discoveries and technological change. Innovation hubs and artificial intelligence to solve the world’s toughest problems are all the rage these days. Smart cities and smart governments are planning to solve many of society’s problems. There’s a palpable sense of euphoria and positivity when we talk about technological innovation. Just scroll on Linkedin, you can’t be blamed for thinking we are about to reach nirvana through artificial intelligence and through digital optimisation. So many investors, employees, and governments, want to do good through impact investing, using environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in their investment decisions. Millennials, seek purpose we are told and no longer work for the sake of earning a pay check.
Perhaps, 2019 was just an aberration. Technology, innovation, and drive for positive change will save the day? At least that’s what many a tech optimist likes to tell. I remain skeptical about technology being the savior. Technology in general and social media in particular, has led us down a path of social breakdown, polarization and the poisoning of civil discourse. However, being the optimist that I am, I remain hopeful that human ingenuity, human perseverance and the common humanity that binds us all, will eventually turn the tide. If we so eagerly welcome the invisible hand in markets and business, what’s the downside in hoping and praying for a bit of a Christmas miracle to lift the spirits and tame the many firs that burn. Indeed, tis the season to be merry and believe in a bit of magic and star dust. Here’s wishing for a more optimistic 2020 and precious time with family and friends.