Monday, January 01, 2018

The ageing industry is in a rut. Let’s hope it gets out of it in 2018

My first blog post of 2018 - a few moments of musing about the year just gone and hopes for the year ahead.

One of the many joys of travelling is the time it gives you to think and read. I have been doing lots of travelling and lots of reading and thinking.

Most of the conclusions I have reached are a tad depressing. Maybe that is an effect of age or just how it is?

During 2018, the ageing blob has grown and matured. For those of you who haven’t heard the term ‘ageing bob before, it is the combination of the consultancies, think tanks and academics, who pay their mortgages by being experts in some facet of ageing, so it includes me. During 2017, the blob produced lots of reports and ran a few conferences. The reports were mainly rehashed research from the past, spiced up with some some new ‘revelations’. The tone and content of the blob's output was increasingly more 'public sector and academia' than  corporate. Invariably the conclusions were that policy makers should ‘do something’ and that more research is required. The content was about 95% analysis and 5% actionable recommendations.

I expect that 2018 will not differ that much from 2017. A refreshing change would be to see the blob focusing on how it makes change happen, rather than providing yet more ‘evidence’ that will, metaphorically, sit on some digital shelf.

I am delighted to see so many start-ups trying to profit from the ageing population, but so far I don’t see much evidence that many (any) will gain enough traction to thrive. I don’t have that much visibility of what is happening in the US. Maybe the Facebooks and Googles of the ageing industry are already in place. I doubt it. I once thought that the step-change to expanding the ageing industry would come from small companies. I think that was wishful thinking. Change will come from the commutative effect of large companies making small changes in their marketing and operations – maybe helped along with the a few acquisitions of start-ups.

It has been a year when governments thought a lot, talked a lot (about ageing) and did very little. Nothing new there. The ability of the state to provide healthcare and care services continue to deteriorate. In the UK, the word ‘care’ is invariably accompanied by the word ‘disaster’.

Is there any good news from 2017? Some but not much. Trump and Brexit revealed huge differences in the attitudes of the old and young, rural and urban and rich and poor. I think that making visible these differences is a good thing. They have been there and evolving for years, but it needed a catalyst, like the UK deciding to leave the EU and Americans deciding that Hillary wasn’t for them and Donald was, to force the establishment to recognize the scale of the divisions. The media has greatly simplified the reasons these two events occurred, but at least it has focused minds on having to understand the huge attitudinal differences that exist in society. A start was made in 2017. Hopefully, it will gain some refinement in 2018 as US companies begin to understand that their domestic market contains behavioural difference similar to those they expect in their international business. The coastal cities behave in a very different way to the fly-over states.

At long last the fissures that exist in the financial and well-being of the older population are becoming visible. Hopefully, even the dimmest commentator will appreciate that the older age cohort is divided into a minority who are financially prepared for ageing but with many, many more who are not.

At best you could say that 2017 was a ‘stable’ year for the ageing business. Fingers crossed for 2018. Dick Stroud

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