Business Irish

Tuesday 6 December 2016

We're taking account of the shape of things to come in the public's mind

Paul Stanley

Published 24/11/2015 | 02:30

Our survey asked Irish people what they expected the nation to look like – and what will matter to them – a decade from now
Our survey asked Irish people what they expected the nation to look like – and what will matter to them – a decade from now

As we near the end of 2015 with more confidence than many of us have felt in years, the time feels right to look to the future. For businesses in particular, it is essential that we plan for the long-term, to ensure we are innovative and offer the solutions needed to empower our customers and businesses.

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Ulster Bank recently supported the launch of a unique nationwide study which asked ordinary citizens what they expected and thought the 'Future of Ireland' would be in ten years' time. There are lessons and insights in the findings for all of us in business.

As a business, we recognise the importance of listening to both our customers and our wider society about what matters to them. It might seem simple but the importance of doing this cannot be underestimated.

The Future of Ireland research began by asking people a series of in-depth questions to understand what their hopes and ambitions are for the future and how they see it changing from today. It didn't seek to sell a product, to get feedback on a new service or to check consumer preferences for a brand. It was simply asking over 1,000 people from across the country of different ages and backgrounds about their thoughts.

What people told us has relevance for the vast majority of companies in Ireland. Some of it is to be expected, such as the view from half of all adults that they will spend more online than offline in shops by 2025. So those of us involved in financial services need to be planning for what it means for our own digital payment services both for consumers and businesses. And retailers need to look at their business models, from current online capabilities to premises. Consumers need to understand their options and rights if they are going to buy goods unseen, from different countries and online using debit or credit cards.

In healthcare, businesses ranging from hospitals to nursing homes to technology companies are increasingly providing services and advice to our more health-conscious nation.

The findings in this area show that our ageing citizens are concerned about their health and prepared to embrace technology and services that will help reduce their risk of illness.

For anyone in the wearable device industry or considering entering it, over half of us, 54pc, would be willing to wear a device that monitored our health if it reduced our health insurance premiums. This apparent openness to sharing personal health information would have significant implications for the health insurance model in Ireland where there is no allowance for adjustment of price based on an individual's health status.

Wedding planners and hotels won't welcome the view from 60pc that marriage is becoming less important, although, as we see the first same-sex marriages taking place, this decline may take longer to come to fruition.

Those who woke up to the recent howling wind and rain each morning and wished the sun was shining is not alone. One in five of respondents would be selling up and opting for a simpler life in ten years' time.

There is a clear recognition from the study that what matters to people first and foremost is their health, spending time with their friends and family and then financial security.

It's not surprising then that two-thirds plan to take up new hobbies and make new friends - good news for the many companies focused on hobbies whether it is cycling, photography, music, baking or swimming. There could be opportunities here for the nearly quarter of adults saying they expect to set up a business by 2025.

Most people felt that Dublin would be less important, both commercially and politically, compared to other Irish cities, although notably 60pc of us don't expect the differences between urban and rural to narrow. That indicates an expectation that other cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford should grow in importance. Whether planners agree with this or not, they need to look at our infrastructure for ten years' time and beyond to ensure that whatever Ireland looks like, we have the necessary transport facilities, housing and employment in these areas to build sustainable communities. The study also reveals expectations from some of our large utility and infrastructure companies. Renewable energy companies like Mayo Renewable Power will welcome the view from 69pc of people that it will be more important to use energy from renewable sources.

On the other hand, telecoms companies won't have been pleased to hear that although 83pc of us would welcome high speed interest access across the country, only 31pc think it's likely to become a reality.

The research was commissioned by OMD, a media buying agency. Its role is to advise companies on the best options for targeting consumers, whether it's in a newspaper, on a billboard, online or on TV. Consumers predict significant decline in the influence of our indigenous media, with over 40pc of us believing that RTE and our national daily newspapers will have declined in influence.

This has big implications. Where do people expect to get their news from in 2025? What will they trust? How will businesses in Ireland communicate with customers in Ireland?

Lastly, the study revealed key insights into identity. Today 69pc of us think of ourselves as Irish first and European second. But we expect this sense of identity to diminish. As a country which earned almost €3.6bn from tourism in 2014, retaining our sense of identity is key.

For Ulster Bank, this study has revealed fascinating predictions that we will use as we head towards the future. Ireland is a different place from 10 years ago, and no doubt it will be a very different place 10 years from now.

Right now though, we'll be embracing the optimism that emerged from this study and seeking to do our part in contributing to a greater Ireland in 2025.

To share your view on the Future of Ireland, please join the conversation using the hashtag #futureire or visit www.futureofireland.ie

Paul Stanley is interim chief executive of Ulster Bank

Irish Independent

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