I have had a bit of a holiday from blogging over the last couple of months due to a variety of reasons but now I am back.
Last week I did a presentation for the Cambooya Family Education Day on what the future looks like. This was both for them to look at how they should think about future investments but also to think about the future of their children and grandchildren.
We had an interesting discussion on a variety of issues and it prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the major disruptors in our global society. This was because part of my premise was that we are facing increased levels of change and disruption and therefore we need to rethink our views and measures on investments and their returns.
First of all this needs a definition. By disruption I mean a sudden change that alters a sector or industry rapidly and extensively. The definition of rapid here can be quite misleading. It took the iPhone years to really disrupt the sector and Airbnb took several years to ramp up to the size that it currently sits at but these are rapid changes when looked at form a historical perspective. Other changes such as turn by turn navigation being available on Google maps were a single individual change which revamped the GPS industry overnight.
By major I mean the capacity to completely transform large slabs of our entire society and economy.
So what do I believe are the major disruptors in the next decade.
The first of these is the driverless car. My last post:
was on how I believe there is a business case for government subsidies to implement a widespread adoption of driverless car technology given the savings that accrue to government in the process.
Given the promise that driverless cars could eliminate 90% of all accidents lets look at the industries and sectors that could be changed by such an implementation, some obvious, some not that obvious:
The obvious one here is that car insurance as an industry would shrink enormously due to the reduction in accidents but there are a number of other interesting angles:
- What happens to insurance of a vehicle where you are not driving – where do the risks lie and how do you insure those risks? If an accident is due to the failure of an algorithm then who is to blame if that algorithm has reduced the risk by 90% but still causes the accident? There is a case here for a comprehensive insurance of the system as a whole.
- If there is wide scale implementation of driverless cars what does it cost to insure your car if you still want to drive? If you are 10 times more likely to have an accident or kill someone will anybody share those risks? If the government has implemented wide-scale adoption and is relying on the business case of reduced medical costs to fund that change are you liable for any costs incurred, including all medical costs? If so would only the super rich be allowed to drive and would we actually allow it?
Taxis are an obvious one – put a fork in them they are done. There are some large legacy issues here. In Melbourne we are seeing protests from taxi licence holders because the government is going to issue extra annual licences which the current owners believe will devalue existing licences. Now I have little sympathy on anyone that builds a business and borrows money based on government policy on issued licences and then complains when government policy changes but there are political considerations here when taxis licences become worthless. I would not be buying one as a long term investment.
The estimates are that we will need 30-40% of the vehicles on our roads if a complete system of driverless cars were implemented (Toward a Systematic Approach to the Design and Evaluation of Automated Mobility-on-Demand Systems: A Case Study in Singapore)
We have already started to talk to councils about what this might mean for road building and maintenance. It is clear that if we drastically reduce the amount of cars on our roads then we will need both less new roads built and less road maintenance. Of course there are all sorts of variables here about what might happen. It is likely that there would be a significant shift from public transport to private transport and that would be significantly different in different cities.
We also do not really know what happens to demand when we move from a cost that is largely embedded to one where costs are directly related to an individual decision. For instance I no longer have a car and use a car sharing service called Flexicar here in Melbourne. I estimate that it has reduced my car costs by about 60% but every time I use a car the cost is right in my face rather than being involved in my annual registration and insurance costs, or the costs of capital involved in owning a car, so I am much more likely to walk, cycle, or use public transport. The reactions of people around me are similarly different. People offer me a lift or ask me “will you have a car” or say “don’t go to that expense” when I talk about coming over when they would never do so if I owned a car. A full scale implementation of driverless cars will be an interesting experiment in people’s reaction to those costs.
What is clear is that road building companies and their supply chains will have far less demand in the long term future.
Please join me in the next installment where I will discuss some of the less obvious changes including effects on real estate prices.
Section 2 of this series can be found at