Designed to respond to the consumer's every wish, the on-demand economy is transforming companies and the labour market, and its rise is undermining the strength of the traditional players.
The term "on-demand economy" was made popular by the rapid success of the new Silicon Valley start-ups led by Uber and Airbnb, and now everyone is talking about it. It refers to business activities where companies use new technologies to bring goods and services to consumers virtually immediately, and is experiencing staggering rates of growth. And so, scarcely seven years after it began, Uber is worth over 60 billion dollars. In the United States, 42% of people have used an on-demand service at some point. This is a trend set to continue.
Aside from the most well-known services that allow customers to order a driver, a meal, a doctor or lawyer, the on-demand economy now seems able to satisfy the consumer's every whim, even the most outlandish. Booster offers a mobile petrol pump service allowing drivers to fill up at any time. Through Techy you can request the services of an IT expert to fix your computer. FriendsTonight finds its users companions for any trip, such as to the cinema, a bar or nightclub. Pamper lets you order a manicure and Soothe brings you a massage. With Trumaker, you can find a tailor to cut you a suit. Washio will do your washing. And finally, Wag! walks your dog for you. There are even start-ups in California that deliver cannabis on demand, plus for Roman Catholics with an urgent need to confess, Scooterino Amen can bring a priest on a scooter to your door. It seems that the economy is more directed towards the immediate gratification of the consumer than ever before.
A new phase of capitalism
The arrival of the on-demand economy marks not only an anthropological development, but also the beginning of a new phase of capitalism. At the start of the 20th century, the introduction of assembly and production lines meant that Henry Ford could mass produce the Ford T at a reasonable price, a development that began to make the automobile more accessible to all. Today, the on-demand economy is allowing ordinary people to access services that were once the preserve of the privileged.
Several factors have converged to allow this revolution to occur. The first is the boom in new technologies. Powerful microcomputers available at low prices mean entrepreneurs can achieve a great deal by working alone from their own home. The spread of smart phones is also enabling autonomous workers to react quickly and move around with ease. And thanks to the internet, complex tasks such as programming or drawing up legal documentation can be outsourced to professionals working remotely.
In short, new technologies are creating relationships that are more fluid: large companies with very strong hierarchies and a stable workforce located in physical premises are giving way to less precisely structured entities composed of a small team of leaders and a constantly fluctuating mass of contractors. They may not even have an office, but those at the top direct the business while their staff work flexibly to meet customer requests.
The swift rise of the on-demand economy has also been facilitated by the financial crisis, which led to an availability on the labour market of young, flexible workers with good access to technology. Today, 34% of US workers are self-employed. Finally, the on-demand economy is the consequence of a shift in the balance of power in society. As The Economist states, whereas Karl Marx once laid out the opposition between the owners of the means of production and their workers, the dichotomy that stands out today contrasts individuals who are cash rich and time poor and those who have less money but much more time. The on-demand economy means transactions can take place between these two kinds of economic agents, and the latter can be paid to provide the former with services that they have no time to carry out themselves.
The winners and losers of the on-demand economy
The on-demand economy has changed the capitalist paradigm, bringing about far-reaching changes within society, the world of work, and even the lives of individuals. There are positives and negatives, as with any radical change. This is why it causes so much passionate debate, as illustrated by the many legal challenges and demonstrations against Uber and the aborted attempt to legislate to limit the expansion of Airbnb in San Francisco. Its opponents regard it as a reversal of social progress and a return to the brutal capitalism of the 19th century, when long queues of workers waited every morning in the hope of picking up a day's work.
But the supporters of this new reality emphasise the flexibility it gives workers, who are free to work wherever and whenever they choose. They also highlight the freedom consumers now have to choose from a wide range of services accessible on demand at prices they can afford. The defenders of the on-demand economy also say that it enables a better allocation of resources in society. For example, many rooms that would otherwise remain empty can be offered to tourists temporarily through Airbnb, and Uber allows several passengers to share the same vehicle.
Consumers certainly appear to be holding all the cards; for workers, however, the picture is more mixed. Those who value flexibility over security benefit from the new reality. This is the case for students wanting to earn a bit of cash, those who loathe office hours, young parents who would like to work part-time while raising their children, or older people nearing retirement who want to reduce their working hours. On the other hand, workers who favour security over flexibility, such as families with mortgages and tuition fees to pay for, stand to lose out in the new economic environment. It is therefore up to governments to adapt their welfare systems to better reflect society's needs in the light of the rapid rise of the on-demand economy. The American model, where health insurance is provided by the employer, is not at all appropriate for these circumstances and ought to be reformed so that every worker is covered.
Traditional actors forced to catch up
The on-demand economy also implies a significant shake-up on the majority of markets. This is firstly because companies offering on-demand services naturally launch on existing markets, where they proceed to impose very stiff competition on the traditional players. The most striking example of this is of course the arrival of Uber on the taxi market. But secondly, the heavyweights of the on-demand economy, which have the benefit of their brand names, capital and the latest technology, can swallow up sectors other than that of their principal and initial line of business.
If we remain with the example of Uber, the company quickly realised that drivers were extremely busy in the mornings and evenings, but had far fewer jobs in the middle of the day. And so to fill the off-peak hours, it began to offer additional services. First came the food delivery service, UberEATS, then the company delivering anything, UberRUSH. From a taxi company at the forefront of technology, Uber has gradually transformed itself into a service platform devoted to nothing in particular, able to turn its hand (or its vehicles) to various types of requirements.
Besides taxis, start-ups delivering food such as Caviar or Munchery are the ones facing competition, as well as longstanding firms on the delivery market such as FedEx and UPS. The name that Uber quickly built for itself, combined with its solid IT infrastructure, has allowed it to rival institutional players in a field where it was initially an outsider. And so these firms are obliged to respond to demand and follow the lead of Uber, or to at least adapt what they offer to meet the new rules of the on-demand economy. This is why UPS has just invested 28 million dollars in the start-up Deliv, which provides a same-day delivery service. The fast food brand Taco Bell has also established its own system for delivering food. And taxis are using smart phone applications modelled on Uber ... Little by little, with missionary zeal, the on-demand economy is converting its competition rather than taking them out.
Optimise your working capital with factoring
How can you keep your working capital healthy while incorporating the requisite financial flexibility? Factoring helps you to finance your cash requirements in a proper, timely and suitable way.
Securing liquidity is the key to financing your working capital requirements and keeping your business running smoothly at all times. That's exactly what factoring offers.It is a structural solution for optimising working capital. In the video below (in Dutch) in less than half an hour you will gain a clear picture of what factoring has to offer.
If you prefer to watch the video in French, click here.
Factoring: a tailored structural solution
In exchange for transferring your invoices to an external factoring company, you can count on fast, flexible financing, monitor the collection of your invoices, and protect yourself against potential bankruptcy among your customers. Each factoring solution is tailored to fit the needs of your business. This includes companies operating at international level. In Belgium, one in six companies currently outsource their invoices to an external factoring company. The same trend is evident in other European countries.
Will you be Entrepreneur of the Year 2021?
Will you succeed Stow and I-care as the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2021? Why shouldn't you? Apply before mid-May and your company may just win this prestigious award.
A dazzling event honoring the very best companies
This annual award ceremony is an EY initiative in collaboration with De Tijd and BNP Paribas Fortis. Last year the event had to be celebrated online. The advantage was that the general public was able to live stream the event and watch Prime Minister Alexander De Croo present the Onderneming van het Jaar® award to Stow and Entreprise de l'Année® award to I-care. Jan Jambon presented the Flemish government's Scale-up of the Year award to Robovision and David Clarinval the French version tot Proxyclick. The new winners will be announced on 6 and 7 December, 2021.
Big picture and little picture
The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting businesses this year. The new Entrepreneur of the Year and Scale-up of the Year will have undoubtedly shown excellent growth, innovation and governance as well as a sound approach to the pandemic. Bill Schley's book The Unstoppables calls this the big picture and the little picture. Successful entrepreneurs always keep a close eye on their core business and the financial side of things as well as on the little picture. This is the right emotional mechanism for properly dealing with obstacles, failure and risks.
From an entrepreneurial viewpoint
Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis, is proud that his company has been a partner of this event right from the start. “Alongside the current pandemic, two major challenges that businesses have to address in 2021 are new technologies and sustainability. Companies that want to remain relevant need to be flexible and creative and must keep reinventing themselves. Our mission is to guide them through this transformation process in the best way possible, because those entrepreneurs are the driving force behind the Belgian economy. Therefore, we like to put these innovators in the spotlight every year and is why we encourage Belgian companies to apply."
Why take part?
Winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award or Scale-up of the Year award offers your company many benefits. These awards have a strong national and international reputation that will help you to strengthen your company's brand awareness. The awards ceremony attracts a great deal of media interest in the winners and finalists, and offers excellent networking opportunities. A place in the finals is also a great way to boost employee motivation at your company.
So don't wait any longer: apply for the Onderneming van het Jaar® 2021 award, Entreprise de l’Année award or Scale-up of the Year award via the Dutch EY website or the French EY website before mid-May. All information on the criteria, selection procedure and registration process are available there. The finalists will be selected in June.
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.