While this year’s CogX Global Leadership Summit and Festival of AI & Emerging Technology looked very different from previous years—taking place on a purely virtual stage—its ambition remained lofty: to answer the question, “How do we get the next 10 years right?”

With over 1,000 speakers across 17 live streamed stages, the three-day conference, which took place June 8-10, proved through its total digitization that the old way of doing things isn’t required for the future.

Panelists and speakers discussed how industries and societies will need to restructure to meet the challenges of the next decade. On top of this, COVID-19 and global lockdowns have had the effect of accelerating already existing changes, forcing companies and people to rethink their future. Participants discussed a rewriting of lifestyles, including how and where we work and play; a rethinking of the economy to focus on more people-centric metrics; and a reassessment of how and why we learn.

As Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister, said, “We have been driven by necessity in these last few weeks to do things differently, but let’s see how we continue to do things differently.”

Gen Z Prosumers

Generation Z and their future financial power was a particular focus at this year’s CogX. The world of banking has seen drastic change over the last decade with the rise of challenger banks, financial recovery and fintech solutions—but to address the needs of future consumers, experts are calling for a full restructuring of financial institutions.

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At the Fintech: Banking for Gen Z stage, panellists described how entrepreneurial and financially savvy Gen Zers will demand a new way of banking. This is a generation that not only saves more but also makes more, according to Louise Hill, co-founder and COO of Gohenry. Kids and teenagers in the UK have earned over £1 million for cleaning their bedrooms alone since the pocket money start-up launched in 2012. As ‘prosumers,’ Gen Z are both actively making money and spending it. However, old banking structures dictate the need for separate business and personal accounts, not the frictionless experience demanded by these young entrepreneurs.

Challenger banks are aiming to speak to this generation on their level, making concerted efforts to understand their lifestyles and needs. During the session ‘Are Challenger Banks Really Challenging?’ Richard Davis, COO of Revolut, discussed how a superior user experience is fundamental to digital-first generations. In order to resonate with new users, the UX must be seamless, speedy and convenient. Big banks will need to reconfigure or be left behind.

Reskilling the workforce

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt most significantly in how and where people work. Trends in flexible working have been accelerated. With a workforce no longer tied to office desks, the lockdown has forced a reckoning with the purpose of corporate buildings.

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Facebook's Menlo Park campus

During the ‘Optimizing living and working: How remote working will change our cities and homes’ session, Gabriela Hersham from Huckletree, the London-based co-working space, spoke about how in the future the type of task will dictate where employees work, with solitary tasks done at home but collaboration happening at offices. Anna Strongman from the business real estate company Argent highlighted the disadvantages of working from home, particularly with regards to mentoring and knowledge sharing. Companies will need to rethink their operations to adjust to this new work style, taking into account the positives and negatives of both home and office working.

Already an issue in many industries, automation and digitization are likely to impact even more jobs post-pandemic as companies work to have safer, less crowded factories and offices, looking to technology for solutions.

There needs to be a reframing of the challenge of unemployment if governments and businesses hope to create a more beneficial society for all. According to Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder of OVO Energy, it’s not about ‘saving jobs’ as that would just be ‘prolonging the inevitable’, but rather embracing the change brought by new technologies and managing the social impact of this change in order to share benefits across society. Technology is both the challenge and the solution. Workers will need to be retrained to face the future, as echoed by Tony Blair in his talk entitled COVID-19: Lessons for the world.

Rethinking education

Coronavirus has highlighted the issues with the current education system adopted by many countries, but in particular, that of the UK. Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education and External Officer at TES thinks that governments need to re-design the school curriculum to focus more on life skills and work skills and less on academia, so that young people can be prepared for a breadth of careers.

He notes the decline in appetite among young people to pursue a degree due to the crippling debt they will incur, but also points out that since universities will now struggle to attract as many lucrative foreign students, it is time to look at other ways to prepare young people for a much longer and more diverse career. In future, he suggests, a student might sign up to a university via a subscription.

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Courtesy of Unsplash

David Hughes, CEO of Association of Colleges UK wants to see a revamp of how we assess and grade students. “This year suddenly teachers are being trusted to make judgments on their students, and those judgements will be much more rounded because they’re done in a human way” he says. “One of the things I’m hoping is that we can do a proper review of qualifications to think much more about how they can be assessed through a course and can be much more about the capabilities that employers talk to us about wanting in their new recruits.”

Both Hughes and Knight agree that lifelong learning is a must for this generation. Knight suggests a new model that sees the individual and their employer both financially contributing to education, enabling the individual to pay for any training or education they may need throughout their working life.


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Photography by Ryoji Iwata, courtesy of Unsplash
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Looking to tackle the whole system, the next 10 years will require a total shift of our economic priorities, according to Caroline Lucas, a member of the British parliament speaking on the Planet, Smart Cities and Space stage. Governments will need to reorient economies to focus not on GDP or financial growth but rather on wellbeing, says Lucas. This type of system defines success by looking at metrics like equality, mental health and natural capital.

Governments should take the opportunity forced upon them by COVID-19 and the subsequent economic shutdown to rebuild better. She says, “This is the moment that we need to repurpose our economy to give top priority to the health and wellbeing of people and nature rather than GDP. We need a goal that is better.”

Crucially, people in the UK agree, with 61% saying that the government should prioritize improved social and environmental outcomes even after the pandemic is over, according to YouGov data from May. In order to get the next 10 years right, the goal must be a people and planet first economy.

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