Opinion

Amy Creeden
Senior Marketing Manager

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and this old English proverb seems to be proving true during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our lives in lockdown have been transformed by the mass rollout of digital tools to support remote working, online education and virtual get-togethers for everything from workouts to singalongs.  Industries are also reinventing themselves to support the fight against the virus – breweries are making hand sanitiser, car companies are manufacturing ventilators and anyone with access to a 3D printer or sewing machine has become part of the PPE production line. 

 

For many businesses, though, it’s a case of adapt or die, as social distancing is expected to undermine their ability to operate as usual for the foreseeable future; if they can’t adjust their business models or reinvent their approach, they won’t have a business to return to when we come out of isolation.  As some of the market leaders have already discovered, these pandemic problems often have digital solutions and, while they may be inspired or accelerated by current events, the impact of these developments will be anything but short-lived. Here’s how COVID-19 has already changed how we do business in 2020.  

  

Safe card sharing

Under normal circumstances, if you shared your bank card and PIN number with anyone, you’d be taking an enormous risk.  And you’d have no recourse with your bank if your trust turned out to be misplaced – because there are other, more secure, ways to share funds and make payments.  But, in these unprecedented times, none of the normal banking solutions provide a way for people that are self-isolating and relying on friends and neighbours to shop for them to safely pay for these purchases.  That is, until Starling Bank introduced Connected cards.  The bank’s account holders can now share a Connected card and PIN with people they trust to give them access to a limited amount of money that can only be spent in physical shops, providing a safe solution to this unexpected problem.     

 

Digital loan applications 

Applying for a loan generally means filling out and signing loads of paperwork – normally in person – so when the US government started rolling out their $350 billion small business loan programme to support companies impacted by COVID-19, banks were under enormous pressure to develop efficient processes for digitally signing and processing enormous numbers of loan applications in record time.  While other financial institutions struggled to meet the demand, Valley Bank enlisted the help of partner ORM, and wider teams at Paragon Customer Communications, to design DocuSign templates for various customer segments, incorporating validation checks and collaboration fields, and implemented a system that allowed applicants to e-sign all the required documents. The whole process took less than two weeks and has put Valley Bank at the cutting edge of digital technology and ahead of some larger banking institutions during the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

Virtual real estate

While the high-end property market was one of the early adopters of VR and 360-degree videos, the majority of property sales have remained dependent on photographic listings followed by site visits and physical walk-throughs.  Now that in-person property viewings aren’t possible, not only are the technologies that enable virtual tours seeing a surge in interest, but even more advanced functionality looks set to become commonplace – like using a property’s floor plans to create interactive tours where potential buyers can manipulate everything from the furnishings to décor. 

 

Exclusive online shopping

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all leading fashion brands are already available online, but some of the most exclusive labels (including Chanel) pride themselves on only being available in-store where the shopping experience can be as carefully crafted as the merchandise.  Until recently the ultra-exclusive watch brand, Patek Philippe, was one of these companies but, with retailers forced to shut up shop due to the pandemic, they’ve decided to relax their policies and are allowing authorised dealers to sell their timepieces online for the first time.  While Patek Philippe insist that this is a temporary measure and other brands have yet to follow suit, only time will tell if Covid-19 will mark the end of the resistance to luxury online shopping.

 

Contactless health services  

In recent years drones have been used by health services to make deliveries to remote and inaccessible areas, transporting emergency blood products to rural hospitals in Rwanda and Ghana and vaccines to islands stretched across 1,300 kilometres in Vanuatu.  But it was their speed and ability to reduce human contact that made unmanned drones an ideal way to transport medical samples and quarantine materials between Xhinchang County People’s Hospital and the county’s disease control centre during the COVID-19 outbreak in China’s Zhejiang province earlier this year.    
 

Using data to fight disease

While drones can help stop the spread of the virus by reducing human contact, the NHS is working with Apple and Google on an app that aims to do the same by tracking devices owned by people diagnosed with COVID-19 and issuing alerts to those that may have come into contact with these users.  While it could be an invaluable tool in the fight against the spread of the virus, the development of this and similar tracking apps has provoked a global debate about digital surveillance and the balance between safety and privacy which will, no doubt, have ramifications beyond the current crisis.  The mobility data trends tool from Apple Maps may be successfully satisfying both these concerns by sharing information about the volume of people driving, walking or taking public transport in a given area without associating the data with users’ Apple IDs.  The information gathered could be used as a foundation for public policies as well as an aid for local governments and health authorities as we transition out of isolation and in the future. 

 

The impact of this pandemic has been underestimated from the outset and every week brings new and unexpected repercussions.  These are just the first flurry of business evolutions that have resulted from the pandemic and there’s no doubt there will be more significant digital transformations in the coming weeks and months.  With the US already experimenting with voting over the internet, might Michelle Obama’s new attempt to make it easier to vote by mail, vote early and register online for the next US elections simply be a precursor to the mass adoption of online elections?  And will concerns about the spread of COVID-19 be the final nail in the coffin for hard currency and the incentive we need to become a cashless society

 

Watch this space for more updates on digital developments during these unprecedented times and get in touch to chat about how ORM can help you adapt to these new ways of doing business.