It is customary to feel joyous at new beginnings, even if it is just the turn of a calendar. But really, what a dead end of a year-end it feels like.
There is no one who is not sick of COVID-19, even if they are not really sick of COVID-19. It all feels so strained -- the effort to celebrate the positives -- remote work, proliferation of education or fintech due to forced digital adaption and unprecedented funding to start-ups, making unicorns look as common as popcorn!
Yet, the pathos and glory of the human condition lie in our capacity for joy, positivity, and optimism, sometimes against all reason.
Glimmers of hope are needed to help us tide through this collective despair and because we will survive, we might do better taking stock of our lives and learnings.
I'll go first. The year 2021 was possibly the most significant year of my life yet; becoming an entrepreneur and learning the ropes of starting up. I spent more time on social media, which ate into my reading time but also introduced me to people I would have possibly never met in the physical world.
At least two of them I also met in person and was amazed at the warmth of these new relationships. Touché!
Beyond my own life, I want to recall some of the broad trends and events that hold meaning for future.
1. DYI and digital community creation continue to fuel commerce, business, social networking and political change. However, one cannot but ask if this is also somehow responsible for the trend of some people taking the law in their hands to 'punish', even kill people. Civilised discourse and institutional integrity will never go out of fashion and I hope we will keep that on the radar.
2. In the world of finance, an important macro trend is playing out as 'cryptocurrency vs CBDC'. On the one hand, blockchain technology allows individuals to democratise trust and conclude contracts or transactions regardless of borders; on the other hand, it faces backlash from governments as bans, taxation or Central Bank Digital Currencies.
3. Depending on your ideology, you may think of crypto as a scam or as the most empowering thing ever created. We will only know in hindsight, as application of blockchain/crypto in metaverse collide or evolve with the headwinds in the real world. But the excitement crypto created in the last couple of years will leave its impact, not just on actual purchase of cryptocurrencies, but in learning about investing and wealth creation in general. Of course, the state of equity markets, the IPO lineup and low rates on bank deposits helped sustain that interest as much as the huge advertising budgets of Indian crypto exchanges.
4. Even as the depressing reality of the pandemic showed us the limitations of money, it made people more aware of the need for financial security. Discussions around financial freedom, financial goals and investing were all the more interesting because they involved young people. It was amusing and enlightening to hear teenagers talk confidently and wisely about their financial future.
5. Plugging into the above, there is also great traction in the creator economy and the start-up ecosystem; generating more content, more visibility and more vibrant communities around money. It is heartening to see that many of these are targeting more women. This portends well for the future of finance, where gender gap has been a chronic problem.
I will be watching all these trends and more, but also some specific ones as below:
1. The fintech ecosystem is becoming more mature and hopefully will start to solve problems beyond payments and BNPL. Because the opportunity is not just a relative shift of market share from traditional financial services, but an absolute growth of the target market.
2. To that end, solving the KYC problem continues to remain to be a priority. India has created the most complex KYC AML regime, thanks to the overreaching goals of establishing not just identity, but also residential addresses. Despite eKYC, vKYC, cKYC, CAMS and the UIDAI infrastructure in place, this problem is yet to be fully solved. I will watch out for the Account Aggregator framework, consent architecture, data privacy bill and their implementation to assess if this becomes an easier or a more difficult journey overall.
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3. This has indeed been the year of unicorns. India minted 33 unicorns, some in record time. But like Uncle Ben said, great power brings great responsibility. And money is power. So, the start-up industry now needs to use that money to solve real problems, of which there is no dearth in this country. Will watch out for this with optimism.
Serendipitously, the last film of the year for me is Adam McKay's 'Don't Look Up', an obvious restatement of unfortunate truths we have long known -- those who can change things do not care and the rest are distracted by the glamorous packaging of lies, scandals and vacuousness.
The future of the world has become a tragic joke. The young are caught between the hopelessness of it all and the tremendous sense of responsibility that they feel to save the world, something that young Kate Dibiasky personifies in the film. At the cusp of this year, let's hope for better. Let's do better.
(Shinjini Kumar is co-founder, SALT (@mysaltapp) and is contactable on firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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