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The Top 4 Threats to Asia-Pacific Growth Economies

18 April, 2019
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“Digital transformation offers APAC the ability to connect workforces to a global surge in technological advances, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Asia-Pacific (APAC) economies experience fluctuations in the global economy in unique ways, because each is defined by particular geographic, societal and financial circumstances. However, the accelerated pace of digital transformation and tightening geopolitical tensions have connected the fates of all APAC growth economies to the ubiquitous effects of globalization.

Though APAC economies are projected to experience solid growth of 5.6 percent over the next two years, this optimistic forecast for the region remains prone to serious vulnerabilities.1 The areas of exposure can be organized into four categories: economic, geopolitical, technical and environmental. Let's take a look at each and how they may create challenges for nations poised for growth in the near future.

1. Economic: Debt & Housing

 

In 2016, APAC surpassed North America as the largest contributor to global debt. In fact, APAC accounted for 35 percent of the world's debt, marking a steady and significant rise since the financial crisis of 2008. This debt makes regional economies susceptible to increased interest rates and a potential default crisis.

Each economy has specific areas of exposure. In China, for example, nonfinancial corporations and household debt are rising, while in Japan, the primary concern is public debt that exposes its sovereign bond market to risks. India is also facing the impact of US$210 billion in spending on nonperforming assets in state banks.

Figure 1: Nonfinancial sector debt as a percentage of GDP across APAC.

Housing prices across APAC have been growing faster than income since 2010, especially in places like Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and India — where families in Mumbai find affordable housing nearly nonexistent. Though the costly housing situation has the region feeling anxious about a looming asset bubble on the verge of popping, each country has unique credit lending mechanisms and household debt numbers that determine their risk levels. These economies must heed lessons learned from the 2008 U.S. housing market crisis, where private households unable to pay their debts contributed to a global economic crisis that continues to haunt the international banking industry.

In fact, Australia currently has one of the world's highest levels of household debt. Considering that Australian bank portfolios are majority grown from mortgage lending — now at levels far surpassing the U.S. housing market just before the 2008 crash — many U.S. and global investors are more inclined to hedge the Australian market.

Figure 2: Compound annual growth rate for real residential property price and GDP per capita for selected countries across APAC, 2010–2017 Housing price data from Bank of International Settlement, GDP per capita data from Economist Intelligence Unit.

2. Geopolitical: Protectionism & Inequality

 

In an interconnected global economy, every region is affected by international trade dynamics and tariffs. The escalating trade war between China and the U.S. threatens supply chains across APAC, and a trend toward protectionism could infiltrate the area's closely intertwined network of economies as some countries struggle more than others.

Fast-paced geopolitical developments create uncertainty. That anxiety often compels businesses and policymakers to contract and insulate their economy's exposure to negative consequences. In fact, as China and the U.S. redefine their priorities, nations in APAC are forced to decide where and how they fit into this continuously evolving situation. From Australia to India, APAC economies must navigate the complexities of cooperating and competing with other nations without alienating business partners or sacrificing growth opportunities.

Figure 3: Wealth GINI coefficient in selected countries in APAC, 2012–2017 Data from the Global Wealth Data book (Credit Suisse).

While APAC seeks stability in chaotic geopolitics, many are experiencing seismic demographic shifts internally as a result of global trade and commerce. Access to trade-friendly seaports, modern technology hubs and high-skilled job opportunities has led to the rise of metropolises and megacities. The continued migration of younger generations to urban areas that offer innovative cultures, ideas and infrastructure is marginalizing peripheral and rural communities. This widening disparity between the haves and the have-nots could lead to income and wealth inequality, widespread resentment and civic unrest.

Policymakers are attempting to manage the prevailing attitudes and regulations that shape human capital management in APAC. Josephine Teo, Singapore's Minister of Manpower, recently addressed the need for Singaporeans to travel and work in surrounding countries — asking her fellow Singaporeans to keep an open mind about opportunities in other growth economies in APAC, particularly as Singapore strengthens business ties with China.2

3. Technological: Miracles & Menace

 

Technology will shape the future of the global economy. Emerging devices and technologies are developing faster than governments can regulate them, and this gap in oversight will create unprecedented opportunities for economic growth, innovation and crime. Technology has helped APAC increase workforce productivity, advance social reforms and champion environmental sustainability. The impact of digital transformation for ASEAN nations is tremendous, especially in e-commerce, where ASEAN nations accounted for 40 percent of global sales in Q1 2017; in Southeast Asia alone, the number of people with access to the internet and all of its possibilities is expected to triple from 200 million to 600 million by 2025.3

While new technologies will result in the loss of some jobs, these same technologies are set to create many new jobs. In fact, many companies building AI systems have found that human employees play an active role in designing and running AI.4 History reveals that innovation leads to job creation. Take the advent of the computer as an example. While the demand for typist-related roles may have decreased, the demand for computer-based work created new jobs related to developing, operating and programming. These gains, however, come with modern challenges, too.

Sophisticated cybercriminals from around the planet will continue to seek and exploit weaknesses in governments, institutions and enterprises of every size. As data and information become as valuable as natural resources, state-on-state cyber-attacks will increase in frequency and complexity. The confluence of alliances between governments and multinational corporations will have life-changing ramifications for populations and their rights to privacy. As different countries adopt different policies regarding human rights and access to personal information, a new generation of cyber-laws will emerge to set protective boundaries and mitigate human fallibility as people become more intertwined with their technologies.

Figure 4: Weighing the benefits of technology against its various risks.

4. Environmental: Natural Disasters & Man-made Solutions

 

Environmental factors will determine the future economic prospects and overall quality of life for APAC. Geographically, APAC is the most disaster-prone area in the world. Environmental events, such as floods and tropical cyclones, inflict tremendous damage on coastal areas — where most people, infrastructure and institutions are located. The unpredictability of natural disasters often results in the sudden — and sometimes massive — loss of human life, displacement of populations and widespread social and economic disruption.

In the aftermath of such trauma, individuals and communities must navigate their way through emotional grief and destabilized healthcare operations until governments and other agencies can provide relief. APAC must be proactive about implementing integrated policies and systems that can mitigate the devastation natural disasters pose to their people and economies. This is already happening: More mature markets, like Hong Kong, have exponentially increased the ability to align resources and swiftly respond to events, such as hurricanes. As technologies and business interests continue to connect APAC more closely, governments will have to decide what, exactly, their responsibilities are to other nations and the region.

Figure 5: Projected vulnerability changes for Asia and the Pacific.

Data from UNESCAP
 

On a global scale, APAC plays an integral role in curbing harmful emissions and pollutants. Antiquated infrastructure and lax regulations must be replaced with modern technologies and policies. Change, however, can be slow and expensive. Many APAC economies are still dependent on legacy energy resources, such as coal and other fossil fuels. Yet, strong progress has been made on regional and local levels.

China, for instance, has made remarkable progress in implementing green fuel technologies to replace coal and oil and reduce airborne pollutants.5 China's new initiatives to supplant fossil fuels with clean energy resources, such as wind and solar, has led to vastly improved air quality in cities, like Beijing — without negatively impacting the country's economy. In fact, China considers sustainable resources to be the future of energy and is aggressively investing in green businesses, such as high-tech solar panels (two-thirds of the world's solar panels are manufactured in China) and electric vehicles—surpassing even Tesla with a projected 7 million annual sales by 2025.6

APAC, as a region, has also agreed to frameworks and new technologies that promote renewable energy sources to combat air pollution and water scarcity issues that pose a direct and immediate threat. Balancing economic development with progress on climate and sustainability initiatives will be challenging but necessary.

Climate change, as with other challenges in the region, will require a new era of cooperation among APAC nations, governments and workforces. With the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017, APAC was compelled to consider a more regional approach to solving global issues. APAC leaders, however, persevered and, in 2018, signed a revised version of the TPP with commitments from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The new agreement, named the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), represents about 14 percent of the global GDP (down from the 40 percent the original TPP represented) and not only details new trade dynamics and oversight regulations among the participating nations but also compliance with mutually agreed-on environmental protection laws. Some of the clauses around intellectual property, arbitration and investment dispute resolution have been left out in the new treaty to allow for continuing reliance on ongoing multilateral collaboration on specific issues and local interventions by individual governments needed in public interest. The new treaty does not regulate movement of workers in the region, and member countries have ensured the interests of their agrarian and services economies are protected.

An increasingly internally focused U.S. may compel APAC to strengthen their ties to each other, opening up more avenues for business opportunities, talent exchange and shared participation in worldwide digital transformation. With most members set to ratify the new treaty, this represents a glowing bastion of free trade amid an increasing protectionist rhetoric elsewhere in the world.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of APAC. Digital transformation offers the economies of APAC unprecedented growth opportunities and the ability to connect workforces to a global surge in technological advances, entrepreneurship and innovation. The pressing need to address environmental concerns and financial headwinds is creating a sense of urgency throughout APAC. The collaborative approach to solving problems bodes well for the future of APAC, as its committed leaders and locally based organisations coordinate their collective strengths to create prosperity throughout the region. As the global economy continues to evolve, APAC is poised to play an increasingly influential role.

Read Marsh & Mclennan's 14 Shades of Risk in Asia-Pacific report to learn more.

1Evolving Risk Concerns in Asia-Pacific:, http://bit.ly/2APQVlZ.
2
Lee, Pearl. "Ties with China Multifaceted and Strong: Josephine Teo." The Straits Times, 2 Mar. 2017, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/ties-with-china-multifaceted-and-strong-josephine-teo.
3
"Asean the 'next Frontier' for e-Commerce Boom." Bangkok Post. https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/news/1249798/asean-the-next-frontier-for-e-commerce-boom.
4
Mims, Christopher. "Without Humans, Artificial Intelligence Is Still Pretty Stupid." The Wall Street Journal,https://www.wsj.com/articles/without-humans-artificial-intelligence-is-still-pretty-stupid-1510488000?mod=article_inline.
5
Song, Sha. "Here's How China Is Going Green." World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/china-is-going-green-here-s-how/.
6
Jeff Kearns, Hannah Dormido and Alyssa McDonald. "China's War on Pollution Will Change the World." Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-china-pollution/.

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Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc. Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand. 4.  Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success. Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year.  Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%). The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program. 5.  An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education. In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries. Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. Amid rising tuition and mounting debt, HR professionals owe it to companies and employees to offer solutions to the challenges they both face. This can be done through loan repayment education that helps employees strategize to pay off loans as quickly as possible. Taking it a step further, some HR departments may be able to convince companies to offer loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs. When employees are worried about finances, they may have to switch jobs and find an employer willing to give them the tools and monetary compensation they need. Offering loan repayment advice or support offers employees a solution to a personal problem they face. They will likely become more invested in the company, which can translate to boosted morale and productivity across the company’s workforce. Tuition reimbursement and the encouragement of further education can also go a long way in helping companies thrive in the digital transformation and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Amid digitalization, the workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of today’s prized technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years. As the skill gap grows, companies won’t have the luxury of easily recruiting new hires. They will instead need to focus on upskilling and recruiting lifelong learners who have a passion for integrating new technology into business operations. Offering tuition reimbursement or education planning advice will help attract and develop a talented workforce for the digital age. People around the world are experiencing record amounts of stress, according to Gallup’s Annual Global Emotions Report, and finances are certainly among the greatest stressors. As the stress escalates, more companies will find their employees’ personal bottom lines eroding the company’s bottom line. Without intervention, employees’ financial stress will rise, and companies will suffer drops in productivity, increased absenteeism, and low engagement levels. When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company. The HR department is in a unique position to make this connection, sending the message that employees and companies are in this together.

More from Voice on Growth

Fiona Dunsire | 05 Sep 2019

The markets across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are some of the most exciting in the world, amid a backdrop of economic growth and changes in demographics, investment markets and regulations. Mercer's Growth Markets Asset Allocation Trends: Evolving Landscape report examined retirement plans in 14 of these markets, with a look at current investment positions and changes over the past five years. The study included retirement fund assets of almost $5 trillion across markets in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres. These areas offer exciting potential for asset owners, managers and investors, as almost 70% of global growth now comes from these economies, according to the World Bank. We are also seeing a rapid expansion of the middle class, creating different patterns of consumption and savings. In addition, half of the top 50 global institutional investors are located in these markets.1 The Global Investment Landscape Is Becoming More Robust   Because the economies of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are large and growing, with a rising share of wealth being held by individuals, they are of particular interest to investors around the world. These markets are also becoming increasingly open to foreign investors. At the same time, regulatory changes within these regions are allowing domestic investors to invest more broadly and outside their home markets. All these developments translate into a more open and robust investment landscape, with increasing opportunities for investors across the globe. The pension and savings systems in these regions are also undergoing reform, with the same trend toward increasing individual responsibility for retirement savings as seen in Western countries. Overall, we are seeing a shift to defined contribution (DC) plans at the expense of defined benefit (DB) plans across both corporate and government-sponsored schemes. These changes further emphasize the need to deliver effective investment solutions to meet future savings needs and ensure trust in the systems. 3 Ways Investors Are Responding   Investors and plan managers are responding to the changing environment in three key ways: 1.  More investors are putting money in equities. In the past five years, equity allocations rose approximately 8%, from 32% to 40%. For investors in many jurisdictions, the shift was intended to increase expected returns on the portfolio. Investors across the world face challenges amid an increasingly competitive investment landscape and a low return environment. Adding equities to the portfolio mix should offer greater return expectations over time. 2.  Market liberalization is enabling more diversified portfolios, through increased exposure to foreign assets at the expense of domestic assets. On average, foreign exposure in retirement plans increased from 45% of the overall equity portfolio to 49% in the past five years. Investors sought greater geographic diversification, especially in Colombia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. In some countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru and South Africa, recent changes in legislation now allow increased foreign asset exposure. In Japan, the Government Pension Investment Fund has seen a move to more foreign equities at the expense of domestic equities in recent years. The shift to foreign assets was also present in fixed income, with the proportion of foreign allocations rising from 16% to 23%, in part due to less attractive local interest rates, as well as a search for increased diversification. Significant home biases remain; however, we expect this trend to continue as regulatory changes support broader global investment. 3.  Investors are showing slightly more interest in alternative investments. More investors are including alternatives in their portfolios, and Mercer expects that trend to continue on an upward trajectory. Among those investors who provided details on their alternatives asset allocations, more than 70% of the average allocations went to property and infrastructure, and approximately 20% went to private equity. Changing regulations have made alternatives more attractive for investors in some areas. For instance, in Chile, a 2017 reform to the investment regime passed, allowing pension managers to invest in alternatives up to 10%, though specific limits vary by portfolio. The main objective of this enhancement is to boost returns and ultimately retirement incomes. As investors seek to diversify their portfolios and seek return enhancement, we expect alternatives exposure to continue to grow over time. We hope investors use our report's findings as an opportunity to review their own portfolio and determine where they can improve their asset allocation to achieve even better investment outcomes. To learn more, download the full report here. Sources: Top 1,000 Global Institutional Investors." Investment & Pensions Europe, 2016. https://www.ipe.com/Uploads/y/d/w/TOP-1000-Global.pdf

Jackson Kam | 05 Sep 2019

Over the past few years, China has emerged as a powerhouse in the increasingly digitized, e-commerce-driven world. Its digital economy accounted for 38.2% of its GDP growth in the first half of 2018,1 and it also happens to be home to 9 of the top 20 internet companies in the world, including the search engine Baidu, e-commerce behemoth Alibaba and internet services provider Tencent.2 China's success can serve as a lesson for companies and economies around the world that are pushing to remain relevant and keep a competitive edge. Policy Initiatives Help Drive Digitization   One driver behind China's success is the government's focus on shifting to a digital economy. In 2015, China's State Council, the highest organ of state administration, issued a report called "Made in China 2025." The document outlines its strategy for transforming China's manufacturing base through digital innovation. Its strategic goals include greatly increasing manufacturing digitization and "informationization." For instance, within the category of integrating IT and industrialization, the report lists a goal of increasing broadband penetration from 37% in 2013 to 82% by 2025.4 That said, the initiatives outlined have also prompted concern among policymakers across the globe.5 Some fear that an industrial policy directed by the government will include financial assistance to Chinese companies, creating an uneven global playing field. Some also worry about China's investments in foreign technology firms. At the same time, the goals and strategies outlined in the report signal that China's leadership intends to focus on ensuring the country is prepared for an increasingly digital world. Investments Are Bringing the Digital Future Into Focus   To that end, investments in research and development from Chinese companies, research institutes and the government have skyrocketed. Since 2000, it's gone from about $40 billion to $443 billion, just shy of the $484 billion invested within the U.S., according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.6 China is also working to minimize any digital divide between citizens in its major cities and more remote areas. Several provinces have developed plans to digitize their economies. For example, the province of Guizhou plans to grow its digital economy by 20% annually.7 The World Economic Forum also explains that, in what are known as Taobao villages, at least 10% of households run online stores for Taobao, which is the shopping site for e-commerce behemoth Alibaba. Across one such village, this generates e-commerce revenues of at least $1.6 million, and more than 1,000 of these villages dot the Chinese countryside.8 Along with financial investment, policies that enable technology companies to thrive are essential to an economy's digital transformation and success in an e-commerce world. This includes an educational model that helps students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as digital literacy. Moreover, education shouldn't stop once students graduate — instead, it needs to continue through training programs that help those employed stay abreast of advancing technology. Robust capital markets, solid protection for intellectual property and mechanisms to prevent and detect corruption are additional requirements for a strong, innovative technology sector. Collaboration between private and public sectors, such as programs that nurture new businesses, also contributes to a thriving digital environment. Start with Your Employees to Build a Digital Workforce   Businesses, as well as governments, can prepare for a growing digital environment and remain relevant and competitive. Somewhat surprisingly, it makes sense to focus on the workforce first and then the technology. Employees can make or break even the most advanced technology solutions. Here are three requirements for an innovative work culture: 1.  Means: This refers to the tools and authority employees need to conceive an idea, establish the right team, build the business case, and develop and test it. 2.  Motive: Organizations provide motivation by encouraging employees to think beyond their immediate job function and even take risks within a predefined framework. They can also enable them to participate, perhaps through a bonus, in any financial upside resulting from their work. 3.  Opportunity: Employees need time, tools and space for brainstorming and innovation. Agility is also key to an innovative digital workplace. Employees should feel confident collaborating with colleagues across functions and sharing ideas without encountering undue criticism. A solid budget for training will also ensure employees obtain the skills they need to contribute to their employers' success on an ongoing basis. Invest in Technology to Keep Pace with Innovation   Of course, technology plays a vital role in digital success. Constraints, such as inadequate network capabilities and legacy applications that can't integrate with new systems, have impacted the digital transformation activities for three quarters of brands, according to a survey by manufacturing services company Jabil. Fortunately, 99% are investing in new technology to replace outdated platforms that hinder their operations.9 China's rise as a digital power is the result of planning, investment and work — and both companies and countries can learn from their digital efforts and e-commerce successes. Sources: 1 China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), Xinhua News, December 23, 2018,http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-12/23/c_137693489.htm. 2 Heimburg, Fabian von, "Here are 3 lessons Europe can learn from China's flourishing start-ups," World Economic Forum, September 15, 2018,https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/3-lessons-europe-can-learn-from-china-flourishing-start-up-ecosystem/. 3 World Payments Report 2018," Capgemini and BNP Paribas Services, https://worldpaymentsreport.com/non-cash-payments-volume/. 4 State Council of China, "Made in China 2025," IoT One, July 7, 2015,http://www.cittadellascienza.it/cina/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IoT-ONE-Made-in-China-2025.pdf. 5 The Made in China 2025 Initiative: Economic Implications for the United States," Congressional Research Service, August 29, 2018,The Made in China 2025 Initiative: Economic Implications for the United States," Congressional Research Service, August 29, 2018,https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10964.pdf. 6Gross domestic spending on R&D," Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), accessed on April 1, 2019,https://data.oecd.org/rd/gross-domestic-spending-on-r-d.htm.https://data.oecd.org/rd/gross-domestic-spending-on-r-d.htm. 7CAICT under MIIT, "China's digital economy surges 18.9%, drives growth," China Daily, July 20, 2017,http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2017-07/20/content_30179729.htm. 8Wenway, Winston Ma, "China's mobile economy, explained," World Economic Forum, June 26, 2017,https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/china-mobile-economy-explained. 9Digital Transformation Strategies: How are They Changing?" Jabil,https://www.jabil.com/insights/blog-main/how-are-digital-transformation-strategies-changing.html.

Editorial Staff | 23 Aug 2019

Blockchain has potential to make a huge impact. Learn about fascinating blockchain trends that are emerging in 2019 and beyond. Blockchain technology was invented to safeguard the cryptocurrency infrastructure (e.g. Bitcoin), enabling secure financial transactions without the need for a bank or a middleman. But blockchain’s ledger technology is now expanding beyond digital currency and financial services, offering great potential to improve upon many areas of our lives.  As blockchain matures and becomes more accessible, companies across various industries are finding compelling use cases for blockchain to make businesses processes more efficient. For example, banks can now reduce infrastructure cost by 30% throughblockchain solutions. This is achieved by encrypting millions of storage points, none of which contain a full name or an account number.  While blockchain is currently only being used by 0.5% of the global population, emerging trends are making it more scalable. It is anticipated that 80% of the population will be using blockchain technology in some capacity within 10 years.  Because the HR department is charged with managing so much sensitive data, blockchain technology will be integrated directly into the HR function through a multitude of possible use cases—adding transparency and trust to an organization’s operations. The evolution of blockchain will also mean companies need a workforce with new skills, so HR will be kept busy with recruitment and talent management.  The following blockchain trends are lifting ledger technology from the obscurity of cryptocurrency and making blockchain part of the mainstream conversation.   1.  More potential real-world uses on the horizon will raise the visibility of blockchain.  While cryptocurrency and financial institutions are the pioneers of blockchain, it is important to note that tokenization and securing payments are just precursors to many potential real-world uses for ledger technology.  Every transaction on the blockchain is on public record and its enhanced security makes it a virtually incorruptible platform. Because no central party will ever be in control of all of the record keeping, blockchain can be used to mitigate financial, political and institutional corruption in corporations and governments, alike.  Blockchain may also be able to improve the political sphere in terms of voting systems. Because records cannot be altered in any way, blockchain is ideal for voter registration, identification and vote tallying. Election corruption and voter fraud would be eliminated, ensuring a more accurate, fair electoral process.   The general public will also be drawn to blockchain’s ability to eliminate transactions fees. Owing to decentralization, sending and receiving money can be expedited and enhanced. This has implications for automated legal procedures, customs payments, ownership transfers and business transactions—allowing widespread disintermediation across industries and economies.  Another mainstream use could be in public records of ownership, citizenship and identity. Even in the thriving digital era, these records are stored in centralized databases for security. However, this exposes them to tampering because of the intermediaries it engages. Blockchain opens up the possibility of a decentralized, public, fixed and consensus-driven ledger of records that could nullify the need for intermediaries. A groundbreaking example of this is Estonia’s E-Citizenship Program, which stores citizens’ information on a blockchain.  The application of blockchain can also be extended to include organizational information for the HR department, where one day a company can maintain one identity stored in a master Blockchain. This could be safely accessed by all stakeholders including vendors, employees, customers and tax authorities. 2.  Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) will facilitate business adoption. A Blockchain-as-a-Service (BAAS) platform is a full-service cloud-based solution that connects developers, entrepreneurs and enterprises on one platform. On the BaaS, stakeholders can develop, test and deploy blockchain applications and smart contracts. Moreover, the BaaS platform provides all the necessary infrastructure and operational support, ensuring that the applications run efficiently.  BaaS providers include major companies like Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Amazon, Oracle, and Hewlett Packard. These providers are nurturing blockchain adoption among business because the platforms enable companies to engage blockchain projects without having to spend anywhere near as much money as they would developing customized blockchain solutions independently.  As more businesses look for convenient and cost-effective ways to implement blockchain technology, BaaS collections will most likely continue to expand. Keeping an eye on the emerging BaaS space can help an HR department choose the right provider for (future) company needs.  3.  Blockchain will be less associated with cryptocurrency & possibly rebranded.  Blockchain was born and bred to protect Bitcoin’s infrastructure— but now ledger technology is leaving the cryptocurrency nest to explore more business endeavors.  Blockchain’s association with the volatile cryptocurrency market has potentially diluted its reputation. There are still negative connotations with cryptocurrencies, including wild price swings and the perceived link to people buying illegal items from the dark web.  But mainstream industries, such as manufacturing and retail, are proving the power of blockchain to improve supply chain management and ownership tracking. To break out of the cryptocurrency pigeonhole, it is expected that the blockchain industry will make a concerted effort to establish an identity that’s separate from cryptocurrency—and better educate the business sphere on the advantages it offers, beyond financial transactions.  To take the rebrand a step further, research from Forrester suggests that it might be beneficial for the blockchain industry to drop the name blockchain and replace it with distributed ledger technology (DLT).  4.  Blockchain enabled Internet of Things (IoT) systems. Gartner predicts that the number of installed Internet of Thing (IoT) will exceed 20 billion by 2020. As HR departments integrate more IoT into companies, there is growing concern because these connected devices often open the door for hackers. The same vigilance applied to computers is sometimes overlooked when ensuring the security of the IoT infrastructure. As a company’s digital ecosystem expands to include more IoT devices, they can be left vulnerable to hacks. Blockchain offers strong protections against data tampering by locking access to IoT devices and shutting down compromised devices within the IoT infrastructure if a security event is suspected.  Blockchain serves to effectively decentralize data, which provides a safety net from hacks and fraud. In the digital age, data is fast becoming the most prized asset a company has. If you store all your jewelry, cash and other valuables in one location of your home, what happens if a burglar enters your home and is able to find this location? Because it spreads data across a large network of computer storage spaces, storing records on a blockchain network is like placing your most valuable digital assets across a multitude of places to mitigate your risk of being severely impacted or wiped out by a hacking event.  One of the first blockchain IoT-specific platforms is IOTA, which provides transaction settlements and data transfer layering for IoT devices. IOTA has launched its  Tangle platform, which developers describe as “going beyond blockchain.” This serves as a blockless, cryptographic, decentralized network, where, rather than outsourcing network verification to data miners, users verify transactions of other users. Such IoT platforms promote greater scalability while also eliminating the need to pay transaction fees to data miners. These are both essential factors in a practical IoT network, which could potentially require the processing of billions of micro-transactions between devices daily.  5.  Hybrid blockchains are promising the best of public & private networks.  As blockchain rapidly comes of age, there are generally two communities that have been established. On one side of the tracks, there is a large community supporting public blockchains and arguing for decentralization. On the other side, there is a more niche community—comprised mostly of businesses and their clients—pushing for private blockchains operated by a single entity that also grants permissions to users.   Traditional blockchains (e.g. Bitcoin and Ethereum) are public and completely open, meaning anyone can join the consensus protocol and participate in maintaining the shared ledger. Users often join public blockchains because, apart from operating in a decentralized system, they can offer incentives for mining or staking.   But public blockchain have limitations, including visibility. Data is completely transparent so anyone can access it, presenting a privacy concern for many uses. In some blockchain use cases, data would need to be restricted and a public blockchain cannot do this. Public blockchains also demand high computational power and consume large amounts of electricity. There are also scalability concerns for public blockchains because the consensus protocol places limits on speed and the number of transactions it can process.  Private blockchains operate similarly to public blockchains with an important exception: they are not open to everyone and require an invitation to join. These blockchains are also permissioned networks and can be customized to interact with certain users differently than the general users. Unlike in the public blockchain, provisions can be outlined to determine who is allowed to participate in the network and what specific transactions they are authorized to conduct. While private blockchains address some data security concerns, the main drawback is that they are not as decentralized as the public blockchains.   To build a bridge, hybrid blockchains are being developed to offer decentralized platforms that can restrict visibility of some information on the network. In particular, this model is appealing to regulated markets because it offers the benefits of public and private blockchains in one network.   Through a hybrid blockchain solution, a company can conduct transactions from certain short-term partners and vendors on the public blockchain side. Since the transaction timeline of these partners is shorter, public blockchain is an ideal solution. It would not require the level of trust needed with a private blockchain. The private side of a hybrid blockchain solution can be used to conduct transactions with long term partners. It would operate with a classic permissioned setup, where authorized parties can view, transact and make changes based on permissions they are given. This private network is fast, scalable and secure. However, adding more parties and establishing their trust takes longer than on a public blockchain so it would only be reserved for transactions with designated users.   6.  Sidechains are improving scalability. For all their power and complexity, blockchains face challenges in scalability and speed. These limit some applications of the relatively new technology. One solution that seeks to improve blockchain efficiency and scalability is the sidechain. As its name indicates, a sidechain is a type of blockchain that accompanies a master chain. In the relationship, the master chain is the parent chain and the sidechain is the child chain.   In order to trade assets from the master chain for assets from the sidechain, the user would first need to send their assets on the master chain to a certain location. This would effectively place a lock on the assets for the time being. After the transaction completes, the sidechain would receive a confirmation and release a designated amount of the sidechain to the user—equivalent to the amount of assets locked up by the main chain times the exchange rate. This also works in reverse to trade assets from the sidechain to the master chain.   As sidechains store data and process transactions, they help to uphold the integrity of the master blockchain while making it smaller and more agile. When implemented correctly, sidechains relieve the master chain of some of the work, helping to solve the inherent scaling problem associated with blockchain solutions. Sidechains have practical applications for stock exchanges.   7.  Artificial intelligence (AI) & blockchain are teaming up.   While both AI and blockchain involve high levels of distinct technical complexity, there is potential for these two technologies to team up and score major technological victories in the next five to ten years.   The first change win might be in optimizing data management. Blockchain currently relies on hashing algorithms for data mining and these operate in a brute force style, meaning the algorithm inputs all possible sequences of characters until it finds the one that matches with the verification process. This demands extra steps, lags and effort. AI can step in to offer an intelligent data mining system that streamlines the entire process and cuts down total costs exponentially. This streamlining also has implications for improved energy consumption for blockchains.   AI can infuse natural language processing, image recognition and multi-dimensional real-time data transformation capabilities into a blockchain’s peer-to-peer linking. This allows data miners to turn a large-scale system into a series of micro-economic environments. In turn, this can optimize data transactions in a secure and effective manner. Most importantly, machine learning intelligence adds flexibility to the process.   On the flipside, blockchain’s data decentralization technology can help AI step up its game in creating better machine learning models. Introducing secure data sharing across systems, which have traditionally stored and operated data in an isolated manner, introduces higher quality data. Richer data means better models, better predictions and better insights.   Data decentralization will offer companies of all sizes access to analytics and insights they could not possibly generate from an individual data source. When AI’s deep learning algorithms gain access to multiple data points from multiple data pools that have been standardized by blockchain, the competitive advantage of an AI technology will no longer be about finding the data itself. Nor will it be about having the resources and funds to gather the most data. Instead the focus will be on writing the most innovative algorithms. This evolution ushers in a new era of scalability for deep learning where AI finds itself in new marketplaces, opens doors for smaller players and gains trust with the public at large.   The future looks bright for blockchain and it will likely innovate business processes in many industries, including human resources. However, its widespread adoption and full potential have yet to be seen. The next phase of development for blockchain will be in addressing scalability and accessibility challenges, which will pave the way for more applications and varied use cases across more industries.   Amid the rapidly evolving digital landscape, one thing is clear: blockchain is in a state of metamorphosis with many disruptive trends on the horizon. For HR professionals, it is important to keep an eye out on how this nascent technology is impacting various industries and making its way to the world of work.  

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