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UBP in the press 03.12.2021

"The Web consumer is king"

La Regione (29.11.2021) - The year that is about to end has been marked not only by the persistence of health alarms linked to the coronavirus pandemic, but also by a strong economic recovery in the United States and Europe, chiefly driven by the gradual reopening underpinned by the advancement of vaccination campaigns.


A scenario that has benefited investors in the financial markets. Will this also be the case in 2022? According to Norman Villamin, CIO Wealth Management at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP), “We will see a normalisation of the global economic cycle after the post-pandemic recovery phase. Investors will need to be ‘nimble’. We are facing a transformation process that will define the coming years”. Villamin was in Lugano last Friday attending an event carrying a rather emblematic title: ‘Embracing Change’. Looming ahead is, however, a slowdown in economic dynamics (from 6% in 2021 to 4% expected in 2022, ed.), while “the emergence of inflation, driven by the surge in energy prices, is now a fact” added Villamin. What to expect then? “Central banks are preparing to withdraw monetary stimulus and are already talking about interest rate hikes. Hence causing the spectre of stagflation to raise again (rising prices and economic stagnation), a challenge for economic policy.” 

But it is the technological paradigm shift that will characterise future decades, not just next year. Sebastiano Barisoni, the renowned Radio 24 economy journalist, clearly outlined what challenges lie ahead. 

Author of the essay ‘Terra incognita, una mappa per il nuovo orizzonte economico’, published by Solferino, Barisoni explains that the pandemic-driven technological leap was in fact already underway. “We are witnessing a real revolution from which there is no turning back. Assuming that sooner or later we will return to a lost golden age is just wishful thinking.” 

Why are we witnessing a revolution and not a cyclical situation that will eventually end?

We all recall the crises of recent decades, including major ones. The 2008 slump or the sovereign debt crisis that followed in Europe were all endogenous to the economic system. The crisis brought about by the health emergency is exogenous in nature and has drastically heightened the workings of a process already underway. There is therefore no point in blaming globalisation or even making attempts to push it aside. We must seize the positive aspects of the Web revolution, which has ultimately changed the balance of power between consumers and producers.

How? Actually, there is a tendency to imagine the digital world as a universe dominated by large corporations imposing their worldview, standardising tastes and consumption.

It depends on which side of the screen — in this case of a smartphone or a computer — you are on. The Internet and the underlying algorithms have put the consumer at the centre. From this side of the screen, everything is just a click away, whether you need to book a flight or a hotel, choose a restaurant or buy a pair of shoes or a set of clothes. The view of those who were on the other side, who saw the ground crumble from under their feet, is a different one. I am talking about taxi drivers who curse Uber but then book their holidays on booking.com; travel agents who complain about websites selling airline tickets but at the same time do their shopping on zalando.com. We should bear in mind that the Web is a place that allows us to continuously search for added value and that has placed consumers at the centre, giving them a power they have never had before.

In your book you talk about young people, digital natives, as dowsers of value. What do you mean by that?

One of the questions listeners and readers ask me all the time is “When will this crisis end?” Yet the real crises of 2008 and 2011 are long past. The thing is that we invariably refer to a vanished golden age we constantly yearn for. Well, that age will never come back, a fact that is causing distress to over-40s. Today’s 20-somethings and those who will be in their twenties in the next few years are simply natives. Period. While grown-ups walk on a ‘Terra incognita’ [uncharted territory], for the youngsters this is the only reality they know, where they move about with ease to seize the opportunities that this world and this time afford. That’s why they are formidable value seekers. 

How do we cope? What are the survival strategies in a world where you can compare the cost of any good and service?

The keyword is empathy. Providing advice in a somehow friendly but truly empathic way will allow you to provide a more insightful view as compared to a mere web-based review, where you are selected passively. It allows you to react and therefore offer something more, i.e. added value, something the Web alone cannot give. If we manage to understand that everything that is empathic cannot be provided by the Web, and that empathic advice can make a difference, then we shall rise from subjects to sovereigns.

The issue is not limited to retail landscape, where interaction with the end customer takes place. Think of the banking sector, which could also face a tough time due to big Web players like Amazon or Alibaba offering financial services themselves. The Web will outdo any physical counter. Journalism is also experiencing a revolution along these lines. We can all get free news aggregators on our smartphones. Nowadays readers no longer ask us journalists questions like “What happened today in Switzerland or worldwide?”, but “What do you think about what happened in Switzerland or worldwide?”. It is no longer enough to hold a monopoly of information sources, which has been destroyed by the Web, you need to explain rather. Every time listeners or readers ask us questions like “What do you think about this or that?”, they come across like lifesavers because they’re seeking our advice and counting on us to be empathic.

UBP Lugano
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