Ten developments shaping business in 2023 and beyond
Robots, reframing, revolutionary green tech… CA magazine takes a look at the new directions and developments likely to influence business, accountancy and the wider world of work
1. VR and automation level up
In November 2022, Amazon held its Delivering the Future media event, unveiling a parade of robots for roll-out in the near future: the item-picking Sparrow, the warehouse-whizzing Proteus and the package-delivery drone Prime Air. What this means for employees of a tech goliath planning to axe 10,000 jobs is anyone’s guess. But these innovations – along with Elon Musk’s Optimus humanoid robots, which he claims can make dinners and mow lawns; production slated for 2023 – are at the forefront of next-level automation.
As for virtualisation, the kind of hologram technology that reanimated Abba for their 2022 London “concert” residency may soon be seen in banks or high-end fashion retailers. Billions of pounds are also being poured into touch-based haptic technology: Spanish start-up OWO has created a sensor-studded jacket that enables gamers to feel hugs, while Japanese tech firm H2L is working on an armband that mimics pain such as that caused by a bird pecking your skin (its popularity is yet to be proven). Meanwhile, VR continues apace: new headsets will be launched this year by Sony PlayStation and Apple.
2. Learn to love AI
You may have noticed lots of hyper-real retouched “portraits” of friends appearing on social media late last year. Most were created by an AI-powered app, such as Lensa or Dall-E 2. Known as generative AI, this type of technology sees images, videos and even speech created from a few written words, or plausible essays and articles whipped up in minutes thanks to AI text generators such as ChatGPT.
Rapid uptake has led experts to herald a new age for content creation, but also to raise fears over authenticity – that video of a CEO resigning might have been made by a teenager on their phone. AI regulation will be a hot topic in 2023, when the EU plans to introduce a world-first Artificial Intelligence Act. It isn’t all Armageddon-by-algorithm, though; promising AI innovations in healthcare include an AI eye check that can assess your risk of heart disease in less than a minute.
3. Web3: metaverse or "betterverse"?
This time last year, tech trends articles were salivating over the metaverse. Yet the wattage of this much-hyped virtual world has dimmed recently – not helped by Reality Labs, the metaverse division of Meta (aka Facebook), losing $3.7bn (£3bn) in Q3 of 2022, contributing to the parent company’s share price falling by around two-thirds from the start of that year.
On an optimistic note, the decentralisation of Web3 has led some future-gazers to predict the fostering of an ethics-and-people-first metaverse – a “betterverse” if you will. Simply put, Web3 is the third iteration of the worldwide web (the first being 1990s-era static websites; the second the age of user-generated content) and a place where blockchain and digital currencies can blossom free from state or corporate intervention. In 2023, however, instead of a utopian betterverse we can expect to hear more about Web3’s newest poster child, decentralised autonomous organisations, where people (mainly investors) can mint their own cryptocurrency.
4. Accountancy - the next frontier
In 2020, Dr Hank Alewine, Associate Professor of Accounting at the University of Alabama, wrote: “High quality career paths within the accounting profession have really diversified and proliferated in the past few years, and space accounting possibilities represent yet another exciting avenue.”
Accountancy and space might seem unlikely bedfellows, but some serious number-crunching of costs will be crucial for advancing the ever more commercialised £387bn space economy. The UK’s first launch, Virgin Orbit’s satellite-deploying LauncherOne, may have failed to make orbit in January. But its mere existence is evidence of the growing domestic industry – the UK boasts more private space start-ups than anywhere bar the US.
Some entrepreneurs have set their sights on mining the metals in the asteroid belt, which contains $700 quintillion (that’s a one and 18 zeros, in case you’re wondering) worth of resources according to Nasa. But this growing industry is riddled with financial questions. As Alewine noted: “If a sales transaction takes place in space, who has tax jurisdiction for determining a sales or a value-added tax?”
5. Employees in charge
For obvious reasons, the past three years have witnessed an epochal shift in the way we think about work – primarily where we work, but also how, and even why. On the one hand, remote working helped to fuel the Great Resignation of 2021. On the other, WFH also fostered a new appreciation for the holistic needs and wishes of employees.
According to McKinsey, 2023 will see hybrid workplaces, blending home and office working, becoming both the norm and the expectation. Work-life “integration”, rather than “balance”, will be the key phrase, with fluid contractual terms: putting in the hours when it’s convenient, not as a rigid nine-to-five. Success will be measured by output. We may see more employees moving around departments to reskill via on-the-job training. And, as retirement during recession becomes unattractive, we’ll also see more instances of older “boomerang” workers returning to previous roles.
6. Closing the loop on capitalism
Amid widening financial inequality and the environmental consequences of consumerism, there’s a growing sense that capitalism isn’t working. At the same time, a new generation of HNWs and UHNWs are looking to use their wealth as a force for good. Will 2023 be the year capitalism does a one-eighty? Take closed-loop recycling, which describes products or materials that can be turned into new ones after their use – indefinitely.
Yvon Chouinard, billionaire founder of outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, recently gave the firm to a charitable trust; any profit not reinvested in running the business will go to fighting climate change. “This is not ‘woke’ capitalism,” wrote board member Charles Conn. “It’s the future of business.”
After last year’s Great Reset at Davos, we can expect more grappling with the goals of capitalism. Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley is also among those who think we urgently need to reshape business by making profit and purpose work together. His solutions involve making directors equally responsible to all stakeholders of a company; widening capital ownership; and generally making leadership more inclusive, ensuring business more accurately represents a diverse society. This may feel like a pipe dream as recession bites, but expect a lot more “reframing” conversations during 2023.
7. Regulating crypto
As more details emerge about the collapse of FTX, the fallout could result in further regulatory developments around cryptocurrency and blockchain. FTX was the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume before its bankruptcy in November 2022. Accusations of serious flaws in basic financial reporting have put the auditors in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission and sparked a series of lawsuits, as well as the arrest of its founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
Rishi Sunak may talk of Britain becoming “a global hub for crypto-asset technology”, but there is also new regulation coming down the UK pipeline with the Financial Services and Markets Bill.
8. The war on greenwashing
One of the most welcome developments in 2023 will hopefully be authorities cracking down on companies that indulge in greenwashing.
As ICAS Director of Sustainability, Sarah Wilkin CA, says, some companies are exploiting the opacity surrounding sustainability to mislabel funds as ESG or impact investment. “The FCA is trying, with a consultation on naming conventions, to address the greenwashing that has unfortunately been going on in the industry,” she says. “Funds are being labelled as sustainable, and then when you dig a little bit deeper, you find that actually they’re worse performing in terms of emissions than maybe some average mainstream funds.
“There are also developments in assurance. The EU is going to be mandating assurance on the sustainability-related information that companies are disclosing. That’s a really valuable next step.”
9. Inclusion auditing
Disabled people make up one in six of the global population, with 83% owing their disability to accident, illness or genetic condition. With inclusion auditing due to become a key part of the UN’s sustainable development goals, companies will be under increasing pressure to show how they are being inclusive.
The luxury travel industry may be a surprise leader in this field. Glamping specialist Canopy & Stars has set up an “accessibility hub”, providing compulsory disability awareness training to employees, while IncluCare recently announced the first luxury hotels anywhere to be certified for their all-round support for disabled travellers. According to founder Richard Thompson (who has a spinal cord injury): “All businesses in all sectors will need to have an inclusion audit within two years… Most disabled people don’t identify as ‘disabled’, so the default marketing about ramps and accessible hotel rooms doesn’t resonate. What disabled travellers need is inclusion and for businesses to listen to their needs and be willing to adapt.”
10. Lean, green and robotically keen
In 2022, the dreaded 1970s portmanteau “stagflation” came roaring back. With the combination of recession and spiralling inflation, 2023 will undoubtedly see businesses tighten their belts and seek less costly ways of making a profit. For some, that will mean going green – and embracing robots.
AI could help with more recycling, repurposing and reusing to reduce waste and unnecessary investment. Intelligent automation and robotic process automation will lead the way in combining business management with AI across a range of sectors. We’ve already seen the shift to paper-free banking and certain applications in healthcare.
Meanwhile, predictions of “collaborative” robots interacting with humans at work – for example by helping to lift heavy objects in warehouses – abound. More practically, an increased hybrid working culture, including more online meetings and conferences, will result in huge savings in travel expenses.
For further developments on many of these trends, check out the ICAS events page throughout 2023