Trend update 2017: Futurist Craig Wing chats populism, bitcoin & long knives


At the turn of the year, futurist Craig Wing wrote a piece where he postulated an increase in three seemingly unconnected developments all aligned with the central tenant of trust and transparency in a connected world. As we approach the middle of the year, Craig has updated it, adding local context particularly within the changing landscape of credit downgrades.

1: Increase in Populism away from the status quo: While Trump and Brexit started us down a precarious road, seemingly to threaten a connected world, the defeats of Netherland's Geert Wilders and France's Marine La Penn demonstrate that this may not be the case. In both countries, the relative voter bases rejected the premise of total national self-protectionism and extremism of another kind. However, in both instances, the "rightest" support increased from their previous election, and, in Holland's case, the abstain vote increased. Consider the local elections, where a similar non-voter turnout handed the opposition control of the major metros.

2: Bitcoin's run: My view was that Bitcoin would break the $1,000 ceiling - what an abundantly understated view. Bitcoin recently broke through $2,400! This is twice the price of gold. From another perspective, a currency with no physical assets now has more than double the value of the bullion standard. This shift must cause a rethink on the possibilities of financial reform and the impact of FinTech and crypto currencies. Locally, with countless accounts of corruption and mismanagement, imagine how the use of crypto currency would virtually eliminate this.

3: Companies beyond the bottom line: While nothing extraordinarily happened in these six months to highlight this shift, it will surely increase in importance. Undoubtedly the turmoil at United Airlines demonstrates the change leaders must make by doing more than justifying their actions by adhering to an industry-wide standard that protects their earning potential. Customers rightly turned away from United and, in return, brought down its market cap by anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion.

In South Africa, "the night of the long knives" detonated the credit downgrades bomb with repercussions that will take years to repair. Make no mistake: the decision led directly to this eventuality, contrary to what some commentators may say. Why? Simply, credit downgrades (without looking at risks, repayment terms, cap tables, etc.) are essentially international investors' views of "trust" in the government, economics and society - a proxy for leadership.

Additionally, consider the social grants dilemma, Eishkom and Molefe's unclear situation and the on/off nuclear deal. None of these instill trust of a congruent leadership and direction.

Allow me to digress and talk about self-driving cars. Indisputably, this is a question of "when", not "if". When it becomes the de facto standard (more forward-thinking countries like those in Scandinavia, I anticipate by 2025, in South Africa by 2030) there is a "period of transition" when self and normal cars will both occupy the roads. During this time, more accidents will occur as people accustom themselves to the shift in transport. This transition period is usual for any major adoption of technology with the change in behavior coming to the fore.

This is analogous to South Africa: we are in a transitionary period. The leaders that will rise are those with the ability to address the underlying increasing prevalence or the above three forces: lack of trust. Authentic leaders, ready to be scrutinised from every angle and accountable for present AND past actions, will be the ones to rise. One of these key tenants is admitting to mistakes while committing to a path of correction for the greater good of your constituents. Likewise with business leaders: those that will rise are those committed to creating enterprises of trust, that underpin the delivery of value to customers by putting them in the center of all decisions aligning systems, ecosystems, products and services.

Related articles

CFOs should be Road Runners, not a Wile E. Coyote, says Ray de Villiers

Future of work guru Ray de Villiers says that, as the role of finance teams changes due to generative AI taking over their number-crunching responsibilities, it’s up to CFOs to make sure their people understand what the new future will look like, and the power they have to impact it.

How to be an optimistic CFO in 2024

The CFO Centre’s Rowan de Klerk reveals how CFOs can remain optimistic in the new year despite the challenging business environment South Africa is in.