Outlook 2021: Emerging Technologies Have Potential to Spur Growth

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Thursday, February 25, 2021   /03:40 AM / By Proshare Research/ Header Image Credit: EcoGraphics


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Technology in 2020

The side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on world economic activities have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for some of the Information Technology (IT) based businesses as there was an increase in their revenue during this period when other businesses had to be closed due to the lockdown imposed by various countries all over the world. While airline companies were either cutting staff salaries or relieving some staffs of their jobs, Amazon's revenue for Q2 2020 grew by +17.8% to $88.91bn from $75.45bn in the preceding quarter. 

 

Also, video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype became popular as people used them to hold meetings, learn from home, or to keep in touch with friends and family. This specifically imparted positively on the price of Zoom's stock on the Nasdaq, as it had a positive outlook given the increase in the number of users of the platform. The total number of participants as of December 2019 was almost 10m, this number was reported at 300m+ by April 2020. As of January 2, 2020, before the coronavirus became full-blown, its price was a mere $68.80, but by April 30, 2020, its price opened at $139.99. Furthermore, it came to an all-time high of $572.50 on October 16, 2020, which is a whopping +732% increase in share price within ten months. Its revenue for Q2 2020 was $5.5m from a mere $0.2m a quarter earlier.

 

Although the coronavirus pandemic also hit Nigerian businesses, IT firms, telecommunication firms, companies, and banks that were quick to adopt the use of IT in their operations were able to stay afloat and record improvements in their top and bottom line. MTN Nigeria recorded a leapfrog in its revenue in Q2 2020, as the company's revenue increased by +48%. Its revenue increased to N638bn in Q2 2020 from N329bn in Q1 2020. The Q3 result was even more outstanding as MTN posted almost N1tn as revenue (see Chart 82).    

 

Chart 82: MTN Nigeria Revenue and PAT (N'bn) Q1 2020 - Q3 2020

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Source: MTN Nigeria financial statements

 

The coronavirus pandemic adversely affected the interest income of banks. But as banks adapted to the "new normal" by focusing on their e-channels, they recorded improvements in their non-interest income as bank customers switched to online platforms. Therefore, banks were able to generate revenue through the fees and commission charged on electronic transactions. The top five banks in Nigeria by market capitalization which include First Bank, UBA, GTBank, Access Bank, and Zenith Bank (FUGAZ) recorded improvements in their fees on electronics products as a percentage of their non-interest income in Q3 2020 Q-o-Q. In Q3 2020, FBN, Zenith Bank, and GT Bank recorded a reduction in non-interest income Y-o-Y, while Access Bank, UBA, and GT Bank recorded improvements (see Table 42).

 

Table 42: E-Products Revenues of Tier 1 Banks in Nigeria Q1 2019 - Q3 2020

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The fintech firms in Nigeria have blazed the trail in many stands. Nigeria is now home to over 200 fintech standalone companies, plus there are several fintech solutions offered by banks and mobile network operators as part of their product portfolio. Nigeria's youthful population, increasing smartphone penetration, and a focused regulatory drive to increase financial inclusion and cashless payments, are combining to create the perfect recipe for a thriving sector. To further add spice to the fintech community in Nigeria, the news of the acquisition of Paystack (a Nigerian e-payment start-up) by Stripe for $200m which broke out in October, was met with a lot of excitement.

 

Illustration 48: Macroeconomic Reactions and Impact on Fintech Landscape

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The year was not just a sweet ride for all Fintechs in Nigeria. Some fintech companies in Nigeria were affected by regulations that hindered the flow of their business and hence kept them out of business e.g., Lagos State Government banned the use of motorcycles on major highways in the state which led to e-hailing companies like O-ride, Max.ng, and Gokada having to close businesses hence a loss of investment for the owners and employments for the riders. This ban came after the government had already welcomed them into the state with open arms assuring them of cordial relationships and a conducive business environment. In the same vein, the state came up with other controversial regulations for e-taxi hailing companies. This was however reviewed, and a compromise was reached (see Table 43).

 

Table 43: Lagos State Government's Ride-Hailing Regulations

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As if the regulatory impediments by the Lagos State government were not enough, the lockdown which was triggered by the coronavirus made it even tougher. For over 6 weeks, OCar, Taxify, and Uber did not work due to the lockdown. Even after the lockdown was suspended, people were still sceptical about using public transport out of fear of contracting the virus which affected the demand for ride-hailing services and hence led to a decline in their revenue.

 

Digital Currency

The use of digital currency like cryptocurrencies also received a massive boost as people see them as an investment hedge against inflation and as the "future" for means of payment. Bitcoin (BTC), and some "altcoin" witnessed upticks in their prices in 2020. The increase experienced by BTC was attributed to varied reasons ranging from supports from influential people like the co-founder and CEO of Twitter; Jack Dorsey as well as the purchase by institutional investors, and the information by Paypal that it will allow its users to make payments with it on its platform. Furthermore, the rise in bitcoin price could be attributed to the unwillingness of BTC whales to sell their holding of the coins which caused excess demand and led to the phenomenal increase in its price. Towards the end of the year, BTC recorded a YTD increase of +270% (data as of December 28th, 2020) in price. It also rose to an all-time high of $24,000 in December 2020.

 

Also, in the year, Facebook backed digital currency "Libra" was rebranded "Diem" which is a Latin term for "day" in readiness for its potential 2021 launch of a single, dollar-pegged stablecoin. Also, a major headline that made waves in 2020 was China's ambitious test of a digital version of the yuan. Experiments have begun in four Chinese cities where transactions totalling more than 2bn yuan ($300m) have already taken place.

 

The best top five cryptocurrencies reviewed in 2020 based on YTD performance were Kusama (KSM) +4,464.01%, SwissBorg (CHSB) +2,891.65%, Celsius Network (CEL) +2,751.47%, CyberVein (CVT) +2,490.91%, and Band Protocol (BAND) +2,202.61%. On the flip side, the five worst cryptocurrencies reviewed in 2020 based on YTD performance were Revain (REV) -71.99%, Orchid Protocol (OXT) -30.44%, Ontology (ONT) -14.57, USDC -0.53%, and Paxos Standard (PAX) -0.51% (see Table 44).

 

Table 44: The 5 Top Best and Worst-Performing Cryptos YTD

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The top five (5) cryptos by market cap in 2020 were Bitcoin (BTC) $27,266.12, Ethereum (ETH) $736.74, Tether USD (USDT) $0.9993, XRP $0.2866, and Litecoin (LTC) $130.63 (see Table 45).

 

Table 45: The 5 top cryptos by market cap performances YTD

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The Top 10 Emerging Technologies of the Year 2020

According to a special report done by the World Economic Forum, the top 10 emerging technologies below have the potential to spur progress in societies and economies by outperforming established ways of doing things. They are novel yet likely to have a major impact within the next three to five years (see Table 46).


Table 46: Top 10 Emerging Technologies of the Year 2020

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It is noteworthy to mention that the future of technology will likely be quantum computing. Quantum computers are machines that use the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform computations. This can be extremely advantageous for certain tasks where they could vastly outperform even our best supercomputers. Classical computers, which include smartphones and laptops, encode information in binary "bits" that can either be 0s or 1s. In a quantum computer, the basic unit of memory is a quantum bit or qubit.


For instance, eight bits is enough for a classical computer to represent any number between 0 and 255. But eight qubits is enough for a quantum computer to represent every number between 0 and 255 at the same time. A few hundred entangled qubits would be enough to represent more numbers than there are atoms in the universe. The race to Quantum Computing superiority between the US and China is note-worthy. President Xi funded a multi-billion-dollar quantum computing mega-project with the expectation of achieving a significant quantum breakthrough by 2030. However, thanks to investments by tech giants - IBM, Google, and Microsoft - the United States has maintained its lead in quantum computing. Google recently achieved quantum supremacy by solving a problem in 200 seconds that would take a classical computer 10,000 years to solve.


Technology and the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has given prominence to the technology sector as technology firms recorded a remarkable increase in their profit in 2020. Companies like Zoom, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook were major gainers despite the ravishing effect of the coronavirus on other businesses.


Some analysts have predicted that there might be a reversal in the profit trends of some companies that have benefited from the pandemic. For example, it is predicted that when countries inoculate their citizens and fewer people work from home, there will be lower demand for the use of video conferencing applications like Zoom, Google meet, etc. On the other hand, a company like Amazon would likely record a continuous rise in profit as its services rendered remain relevant regardless of the presence or absence of a pandemic.


Technology is the future. Therefore, companies, countries, and individuals who are quick to adopt technology to operations and governance are likely going to remain relevant in the future.


Tech Firms

There are fears that the surge in revenue experienced by tech firms because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown won't be sustained in 2021, but the 2nd wave of the virus seems to suggest the opposite. Major European countries are on lockdown while some states in Nigeria have threatened to lockdown their economies if the numbers of infections continue to rise and citizens do not adhere to the protocols put in place to curb the spread. Furthermore, some company's decision to retain the work from home principle seems to suggest that some tech companies in Nigeria will remain profitable as video conferencing app like Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet and telecommunication companies like MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9moile would record an increase in data usage. This suggests that there might be a repeat of 2020, where some employees would need to work from home, official meetings will be held online, and webinars would continue to be the order of the day. Also, it implies that internet data would be needed for official and personal reasons. E-commerce companies, therefore, are likely going to remain profitable, as gain in online sales prominence will likely be retained. Therefore, 2021 promises to be a good year for the tech firms (GSM service providers, fintech companies, e-commerce businesses, etc).


Fintech companies, however, should quest for opportunities that exist within the education and health sector to address societal challenges such as student financing, digital learning, and affordable health insurance. Also, fintech companies can spread their tentacles by coming up with products to cater to the unbanked as most of their customers seem to be banked. This will drive financial inclusion significantly in Nigeria.


Going forward, it is expected that regulators do their due diligence while formulating policies to avoid the policy summersault like that which was experienced in Lagos State last year where the investors in the ride-hailing business were welcomed with open hands and within a short time, a pronouncement was made which capitulated their businesses. Inconsistency in government policy is a disincentive for the inflow of FDI, as investors tend to flock to economies where there is consistency in government policies.


Banks

With an increase in the use of electronic channels (USSD, mobile and online Banking, ATMs), by Bank’s customers, it is expected that the share of e-products revenues as a percentage of non-interest income (NII) would continue its upward momentum in 2021. The likely increase would be attributed to the maintenance of social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols in the bank to halt the spread of the virus. Thus, it is expected that customers would find it more convenient to access alternative banking channels provided by their respective banking institutions. On the flip side, if Nigeria's economic woes worsen in 2021, Nigeria banks might be adversely affected and hence they might need to either restructure their loans to avoid an increase in their non-performing loans.

 

Digital Currency

It is expected that the unprecedented increase in the prices of some cryptos last year will continue this year as many people now see them as a store of value or investment. It is forecasted by some analysts that Bitcoin (BTC) could get to $100,000 by the end of 2021. Their forecast is hinged on the persistence of low-interest rates and the rise in BTC buyers. However, it should be noted that the cryptocurrency market is very volatile, therefore investors should always diversify their investment portfolio. Furthermore, investment in cryptos could be used as a hedge against naira devaluation.

 

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing could spur the development of breakthroughs in science, medications to save lives, machine learning methods to diagnose illnesses faster, materials to make more efficient devices and structures, financial strategies to live well in retirement, and algorithms to quickly direct resources such as ambulances. The development of quantum computing is slow as of now as commercial use is not expected until decades from now. However, with the huge investment by the US and China, this could be sooner than expected. Business organizations like banks, pharmaceutical companies, business consulting/advisory firms, and financial analysts are therefore expected to acquaint themselves with this next big thing in the technology world so as not to be left behind. 

 

Adapting Technology to Cope with Uncertainty

A new year comes with new aspirations and plans by individuals and corporates organizations alike. It is therefore expected that businesses in Nigeria adapt the use of technology to their operations as there are still uncertainties as well as opportunities that the new year will present.



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Downloadable Version of Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021, Understanding the Mega Trends of a Crucial Year for an Economy Report (PDF)

1.     Complete Report: Outlook 2021: Understanding the Mega Trends of a Crucial Year for an Economy- Jan 28, 2021

2.     Executive Summary: Outlook 2021: Understanding the Mega Trends of a Crucial Year for an Economy- Jan 28, 2021


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