In the midst of a global health emergency, it’s difficult to find the positives. Maybe because we’ve all been in crisis mode for much of 2020, there’s been more time to get some perspective, to better understand the true impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had (and is still having) on society. While 2020 has been challenging on many fronts, it has rapidly driven acceleration of digital transformation trends and these new capabilities will deliver positive impacts deep into the decade. We decided to look back on 2020 and reflect on some of these trends.

eCommerce significantly increased

COVID-19 resulted in what seemed like an overnight shift to a digital-only world. While at first glance this seemed like a major opportunity — as evidenced by a recent Salesforce report that found a 71% global increase in online sales in the second quarter of 2020 — it also introduced significant challenges.

"It is not hard to see why the crisis might provide fertile ground for fraud. The combination of financial and health threats makes people more vulnerable and creates opportunities for fraudsters," stated a recent Deloitte article. Cyberattacks are at an all-time high, with IDC predicting global spending on cybersecurity to reach $133.8 billion in 2022. This only reinforces the fact that fraudsters are looking for unique opportunities to exploit COVID-19-related fears and steal valuable information from businesses and consumers.

Work from home became the norm

As the crisis hit, many organizations mandated work-from-home policies and many have not yet returned to workplaces. According to Global Workplace Analytics, “56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work.”

When life does return to “normal,” many of these jobs will still be done at home. In fact, many workers prefer that option. There are also significant financial and environmental benefits and studies have shown no losses in productivity from remote work. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will work from home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.

To ensure operations are secure, communications are effective and employees get the support and training they needed requires employers to change processes and procedures. But with many of these processes now fine-tuned, moving forward with remote-work in 2021 and beyond can become standard.

As Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, states “the shift is massive and very consequential: people are making new choices about where they want to live and creating new expectations about flexibility, working conditions and life balance that can’t be undone.”

Marketplaces adapted

As in-person social interactions dropped, social media usage saw major growth. At the time the first wave was hitting the U.S., a Harris Poll found that between 46% and 51% of U.S. adults were using social media more. Entertainment-focused social platforms were especially popular; TikTok grew weekly users by 75% this year. People wanted to be distracted, to fight isolation and boredom.

Other marketplaces that provided solutions that were in the physical world had to react quickly to the changed dynamics. In the second quarter of 2020, while Uber saw less demand for its ride-share business, Uber Eats revenue grew 113%.

Whichever market is being served, the ongoing need to ensure trust and safety is essential for any provider; even more so during a pandemic, when people’s underlying need for security is magnified and marketplaces must demonstrate that they have effective protocols and safety standards in place.

Fintech continued to grow

According to the Global COVID-19 FinTech Market Rapid Assessment Study, fintech companies worldwide have been resilient in responding to the challenges of COVID-19. In the first half of the year, transactions grew by 13% overall and the digital asset exchanges, digital payments, digital savings and wealthtech sectors all saw growth of over 20%.

Unsurprisingly, the economies that were most locked-down saw the most growth; for example, digital payments transaction growth was 50% higher in those countries that had stringent lock-down rules than in less restricted countries.

As Trulioo COO Zac Cohen said:

Online transactions and interactions, and access to fintech services, are must-haves today, not nice-to-haves. Adoption is currently maybe segmented by certain target populations — or folks that are more comfortable with certain technology layers. Now this is the only path we need to take, and that’s going to create a huge amount of innovation in very short order.

Cryptocurrencies became more prevalent

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the global economy. As a result, central governments have created massive amounts of fiat currency. For example, the U.S. Government created over $3 trillion in new funds earlier this year, inflating the money supply. Many financial experts expect this to continue and some are looking at safe ways to store value like Bitcoin, which has a hard limit of 21 million units that can ever be issued.

The price gains of Bitcoin during 2020 have been phenomenal, approaching 300% for the year and interest in decentralized finance (DeFi) has attracted interest from investors and big fintech players. Wall Street veterans such as Stanley Druckenmiller and Paul Tudor Jones are now positive on bitcoin and Square and PayPal are adding crypto to their product offerings.

It’s important for any company in the crypto industry that wants to continue to grow and prosper to seriously consider their compliance requirements — like the need to provide identifying information to help comply with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations.

digital transformation 2020 - health

Digital health initiatives and vaccine debates swelled

The ability to provide remote healthcare services has been fairly limited until this year. But suddenly, these services have ramped up, as patients want to avoid contact with potential virus carriers. This has also driven challenges in properly collecting and managing identity information to verify patient identities for compliance regulations (such as HIPAA), prevent medical identity theft and meet other Know Your Patient requirements.

As vaccines are about to be distributed widely, the immunity passports debate has been heating up. These tools provide an identity verification check confirming the person is immune to COVID-19. Just as age verification ensures a person is old enough to participate in an age-restricted activity, an immunity verification certifies that the person has been deemed incapable of spreading COVID-19. This debate involves complex legal, social, ethical and technological considerations, and now that proven vaccines are available, it’s no longer theoretical.

A hope for digital voting emerged

One news event that drew attention around the world was the U.S. election in November. As results started to be tallied, baseless accusations of voter fraud were widely spread.

This spurred interest in the topic of digital voting. A technology that can be proven safe and trustworthy, can maintain voter anonymity while ensuring only valid voters participate and can produce results quickly and verifiably, would be a major benefit to democracies around the world. Enabling voters to vote by mobile or web would also make the process quicker and help to increase voter participation.

It’s important to note that while some digital voting systems do exist, their widespread acceptance has not happened yet.

Digital onboarding improved

One common thread throughout all these different types of transactions and interactions is the need for a foundation of trust. Online and mobile audiences need to ensure that the services they use keep their private information and payment details secure. Organizations need to ensure that their customers and activities on their services are legitimate, compliant and aren’t fraudulent.

This trust must also be formed quickly and seamlessly. While customers want security, they are won’t accept unnecessarily slow or cumbersome onboarding processes. As Zac points out, “that first interaction point that a consumer, an end user, has with your service becomes the most critical piece in the entire relationship.” Many consumers pointed to onboarding as the “make-or-break” point and it shows a tremendous opportunity for those companies that get it right.

2020 and beyond: building trust, privacy and inclusion

Over the course of 2020, Trulioo has been working on helping build these better onboarding processes. We launched EmbedID, a low-code identity verification solution that makes it easy for non-technical customers to access the Trulioo GlobalGateway identity network.

We’ve made many other advances, offering more country coverage (Nigeria and Ghana, Pakistan) and data sources, continually improving our back-end systems and significantly updating our ID Document Verification and Mobile ID products. We’ve even won a few awards, including:

And our COO, Zac Cohen, received Business in Vancouver’s 2020 Forty under 40 award. In other executive news, Steve Munford was appointed President and CEO and Leigh Ramsden joined as CFO.

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. While the optimistic view we outlined for the decade at the start of the year might have been delayed, the vision and hard work continues. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the overriding need for digital trust, privacy and inclusion is more important than ever.

Stay safe, stay calm and be kind.