The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has dominated headlines as employment and consumption have plummeted around the world. But while the stream of bad news may have felt endless, new findings from an international survey of 12,000 people tell a more nuanced story, and even point to reasons for optimism.
We know that people across the world are facing severe economic strain, and our survey confirms this. Globally, one-third of workers are already earning less due to the pandemic, and more than half expect a significant impact on their income or employment in the future, including reduced pay and hours, early retirement or the threat of redundancy.
While everyone faces a similar challenge, not everyone is reacting in the same way. Two groups that stand out for their confidence in response to the crisis are people living in fast-growing or emerging markets, and the young (18-34 year-olds) everywhere.
Greater willingness to upskill and adapt
Our study, carried out in July in Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Mainland China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan, UAE, the UK and the US, shows nearly 9 in 10 people in fast-growing or emerging markets are confident in their ability to thrive in an increasingly digital world post-pandemic. Amongst the young, 80% per cent say they are confident, despite a greater proportion in this age group expecting a worsening of their income or job prospects.
"Behind the confidence appears to be a willingness to embrace challenges – and work harder or adapt in other ways – to life after COVID"
88 per cent or more of people in Kenya, Mainland China, India and Pakistan - and the percentage increases among the young - say they prefer to work harder to get ahead, than working fewer hours for less pay. This is in sharp contrast to markets such as the UK (62 per cent) and US (67 per cent).
In emerging markets, an average of 78 per cent would be willing to retrain or adopt new skills in order to increase their potential earnings within the next six months, while 79 per cent would consider pursuing a second income stream in the near term.
Likewise, young people are highly willing to reskill, with three-quarters saying they would consider this, and 72 per cent saying they would take on a second income stream. Just over half would consider setting up a new business.
While recent resessions have shown that the youngest members of the labour force are often hit the hardest, our study reveals young people’s willingness to upskill, adapt, and embrace entrepreneurialism, which will hopefully help them emerge stronger than in previous downturns.
New ways of working
Across the board, there is a strong sense among people globally that things should not go back to what they were: 77 per cent say they would like to work more flexibly in future, and 71 per cent say they would like to work from home at least two days a week.
Taken together, these findings suggest that changes to how people work and earn may be quicker, more impactful, and more permanent than first thought at the onset of the pandemic.
"We may be witnessing a giant leap to completely new ways of working and a full embrace of digital technology, which could help the world recover faster and ‘build back better’"
In banking, too, we are seeing an almost universal, fast-paced adoption of digital. This is borne out by our survey: over half of people, across the 12 markets we surveyed, have started to use online banking more in recent months, with 60 per cent accessing banking services from their mobile phones more than before. And 69 per cent tell us they would like to get better at managing their money digitally, which points to a desire for lasting change.
People around the world have been hit particularly hard by the economic impact of the pandemic. Many are in insecure employment and the young are graduating into a tough job market. Yet their confidence, adaptability and willingness to work hard, especially in fast-growing markets, provides hope for the recovery.
Many are showing strong will to upskill, adapt and set up new income streams in the wake of the pandemic but want to learn how to manage their finances better. They must be supported. Banks have a role to play both by helping them manage their money and providing tools that make banking easier so they can focus on leading the way to recovery.
We are still in the middle of a global health crisis with an uncertain outcome, but our survey offers some glimmers of hope.
The speed of adaptation to the new normal, and the confidence among the young and those living in fast-growing markets, could be a silver lining to an otherwise cloudy global outlook.