Monday, 29 April 2013
Emerging trends: What will be the big changes to impact on the consumer movement?
We live in a constantly changing world. As an organisation working to advance the interest of consumers everywhere, CI has to make sure it is constantly adapting to new realities and anticipating future challenges, says CI campaigns officer Tom McGrath.
That’s why every year we undertake a process to identify emerging consumer issues which could become future priorities for us and our member organisations.
So what issues are emerging? Advances in technology are bound to be a key influencer.
In financial services, technology has driven many recent innovations such as mobile services and near-field payment systems.
With consumer trust in traditional service providers at historic lows, and hundreds of millions of consumers as-yet unbanked around the world, many predict further new developments in this sector in the near future.
Alternative currencies such as Bit-Coin, for example, are now being accepted by some major online retailers.
With benefits including the ability to make international transfers free of charge, will alternative currencies become a significant global phenomenon in the next few years?
3D printing is another hotly anticipated new technology. Increasingly affordable, there is talk of a new era of ‘personal fabrication’, where consumers will be able create products at the push of a button.
What about technology which takes power away from individuals?
Self-driving cars, once confined to science fiction, are now viewed by many as the future of personal transportation.
Recent years have shown that technologies can evolve at break-neck speed and governments have not always kept pace.
It is vital that consumer organisations monitor developments closely and are in a position to respond to new issues.
At the same time, we must be careful not to neglect ‘older’ issues that can resurface, or indeed existing challenges which are evolving.
Consumer credit will continue to be a big issue – with ‘payday’ loans charging exorbitant interest rates causing concern in the US and UK.
Similar ‘payroll loans’, where repayments are deducted directly from the salaries of borrowers, are becoming increasingly widespread in places like Mexico and Brazil.
Emerging issues have to be viewed in the context of longer term trends. For example, many countries are experiencing profound demographic change.
In advanced economies this tends to be driven by migration and ageing populations, while in many developing and emerging economies the proportion of young people continues to swell.
Perhaps of even more significance, the middle class in many of these countries is growing in size and influence. Urbanisation and suburbanisation, while not new, will also continue to change the way people live around the world.
Increases in wealth and access to technology will empower more and more people to demand consumer rights.
At the same time, hundreds of millions of consumers around the world will continue to lack access to the most basic goods and services.
One key factor will be how well governments are able to fulfil their duty to protect consumers.
In the most recent Euro crisis, consumers in Cyprus came disturbingly close to taking a haircut on their savings despite EU laws to protect deposits below 100,000 EUR.
Many countries are pinning their hopes on bilateral trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership and
Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
As the negotiations eschew contentious points like tariffs and quotas to focus instead on ‘regulatory harmonisation’, there are real concerns that ‘lowest common denominator’ outcomes will weaken important consumer safeguards.
Our recent global assessment of the state of consumer protection showed that many CI members are not only concerned about the lack of consumer protection measures, but also the failure to implement them effectively.
Will consumer organisations need to focus more resource on holding regulators to account in the next few years?
With so much work on our hands to address consumer concerns right now, it is easy to concentrate on the present.
But making sure to take a step back every so often will help all of us to make sure we are still moving in the right direction.
Do you have any answers to the questions posed here? What are the key emerging issues in your country?
Let us know in the comment section below.
Focus on... emerging issues