Wednesday 30 December 2020 4:29 am

Tech predictions for 2021

Bindi Karia is founder and chief executive of boutique advisory firm Bindi Ventures and an ambassador for Innovate Finance.

2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the pandemic. 

The economic fallout was felt by millions of people and businesses around the world, across different sectors.

The tech industry, however, has proved remarkably resilient. The big tech story of 2020 has been how many companies actually thrived during this unprecedented period, surpassing expectations. 

Read more: Tech jobs are an engine at the heart of our 21st century economy

Success stories include digital money transfer firms such as Azimo and Transferwise, which recorded a surge in customer numbers, as more people bypassed costly banks to send money home. 

Some companies, meanwhile, attracted record-breaking investment, including Starling Bank, fintech infrastructure player Thought Machine, virtual tech events firm Hopin (currently valued at £2bn), and used car marketplace Cazoo — reportedly the fastest ever British company to achieve unicorn status. 

And Revolut’s chief executive Nikolay Storonksy became the UK’s first tech billionaire, while gaining $500m of investment for the firm. 

So, as we approach the end of the year and the beginning of 2021 beckons, what is next for the UK’s tech industry?

Digital doctors

Let’s start with something we’ve all become hyper-familiar with over the past year: healthcare. 

The use of so-called “medtech” by healthcare providers and the public for health and wellness self-management was on the rise before the Covid pandemic began. That, of course, has now been turbocharged.

According to CB Insights, telehealth, continuous and remote diagnostics, teletherapy, virtual fitness and gyms, senior care and ageing are all categories that will emerge as winners after the Covid-19 pandemic. Health and wellness services are now well and truly online.

“More healthcare providers will make use of apps in the mix of curative treatments for patients, as acceptance grows for digital options that have been scientifically proven to be clinically effective,” says Richard Latham, chief executive of Wellmind Health, which provides NHS-approved digital courses Be Mindful and Pathway through Pain. “As the industry expands, I also expect to see calls for the setting of clinical standards for medical apps.” 

The power of video

“Widespread office working looks unlikely next year, so long-term solutions to enhance compliance risks and other remote working challenges will be adopted,” says Ludre Stevens, cofounder of intelligent business email system platform iNBOTIQA.

What sort of long-term solutions? “Video conferencing, collaboration tools, AI-driven automated solutions, analytics — and more — will be ramped up to help operations to continue and to improve productivity and management insights.” 

Kay Lack, head of training at software bootcamp Makers, agrees about the rise of video conferencing, but suggests it could have another purpose too: online training.

“The pandemic led to more people making the most of video conferencing for work, but it also provided access to remote education, which gave a boost to the edtech sector,” she says. “Online learning will continue booming as the numbers seeking flexible job training post-Covid will rise.”

The AI office

For those returning to an office setting next year, AI and machine learning could also help to promote back-to-work safety. Adam Gibson, cofounder of AI Ecosystem Builder Skymind, explains. 

“This could look like an automated check of someone’s body temperature at reception via a personal mobile device, followed by a mobile alert to wash their hands before they enter the office — and a palm scanner that checks for bacteria for secure hygiene monitoring. Only clean hands will deactivate a locked office door.”

5G, fraud, and finance

What about the impact of tech on our everyday lives? The biggest change here starts with the rollout of 5G, which will boost online and mobile payments and improve fraud detection. 

“The speed of 5G networks, and the further release of 5G compatible devices, will offer better performance of existing apps, websites and enable faster and simpler payments and proactive fraud detection,” predicts Evgenia Loginova, cofounder of payment processing firm Radar Payments. “This will make mobile and digital payments even more appealing to the masses and merchants alike, further boosting usage.”

And speaking of digital payments, the massive acceleration towards online retail driven by Covid-19 will see a resulting surge of online fraud platforms to help banks and payment processors prevent theft and fraud.

“Fraud platforms are like banking’s ‘nervous system’,” explains Vinoth Jayakumar, partner at London-based VC fund Draper Esprit. “The volume of fraudulent transactions around the world is just staggering, at $72bn per annum. Merchants spend around $9bn per annum solving it. This fits into our wider thesis around the invisible layer behind financial services, specifically in three verticals: fraud, payments and core banking systems — we call this the ‘spinal cord of banking’.” 

Finally, we should not forget the boom in alternative financing and software tools designed for helping businesses survive and thrive in a post-Covid world. “Startup leaders will be planning for growth while actively looking at technology to help them build financial resilience and to develop realistic contingency plans for hiring, fundraising and determining revenue projections — all while leading their teams remotely,” says Sara Green Brodersen of Canaree, a platform that helps early-stage businesses build financial models. 

Few things are certain in such unpredictable times, but tech, so often seen as its own specific industry, looks set to become ever more integral to business of all shapes, sizes and sectors. So bring on 2021.

Read more: UK tech jobs bounce back as investment hits record high

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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