Disruption reveals B.C. market full of innovative opportunities

We've seen remarkable change in our lifetimes, but what we’re experiencing now is different. It’s not just evolutionary change; it’s transformative change that requires us to alter our patterns of behaviour and learn new skills.

We recently wrapped up the 17th annual B.C. Middle Market Growth Conference, where we tackled the overwhelming topic of disruption. This concept wasn’t new to our audience, but so much of what we hear and read about disruption is conceptual – about things that could happen, or technologies with disruptive potential.

What’s missing from the conversation is how disruption is already transforming industries here in B.C. and reshaping the lives of the people who do business here. So, we gathered local entrepreneurs, deal-makers, financiers and financial executives – along with internationally renowned speakers – to talk about the trends unfolding in our market right now.

Here’s what we learned.

Transportation has already shifted gears. One of the big highlights of the day was the panel on autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs), which have the potential for a large ripple effect – disrupting other industries along the way. For example: How does insurance work with driverless cars? Or car dealerships: will we still own our cars and SUVs? How will our urban landscape change: what becomes of parking lots? While it might be 10 to 15 years before AEVs become ubiquitous, the technology has already become inextricably linked to city planning, safety and logistics.

Investing requires unprecedented flexibility. Today’s investors have to capitalize on opportunity as the landscape shifts before them. This means client demands are changing rapidly. Mainstream institutional and high-net-worth clients want to explore alternatives to traditional asset management. This means using previously under-represented asset classes like exchange-traded funds, hedge funds and private equity. More traditional asset managers have responded by reassessing every aspect of their business, from fees and operating models to diversifying the products in their portfolios. To stay nimble, firms are relying on emerging technology, including big-data analytics and artificial intelligence to generate higher risk-adjusted returns.

The deal-making landscape is shifting. The role of a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) adviser has not fundamentally changed in more than 30 years. After years of stagnation in innovation, data-room providers are now bringing technology to the forefront of deals. Using big data, providers can “score” the marketing memorandums crafted by M&A advisers. What’s more, these same groups are keeping track of the bidding behaviours of buyer groups – including private equity – providing data on bidding patterns to help advisers qualify potential buyers in the global marketplace.

Financial crime is getting harder to pull off. This year’s keynote speaker was Christine Duhaime, founder of the Digital Finance Institute and partner at Duhaime Law. The discussion began by educating attendees on blockchain and its application in digital currency. Until now, blockchain has mainly been used by those who try to transfer money illegally, but the double-sided ledger will change everything when it comes to fighting financial crime and corruption. The next step, according to Duhaime, is working together on a global set of values that allow for increased protection. She used Vancouver’s fentanyl crisis as a case study to illustrate how blockchain could be used to make an impact beyond serving as an alternative form of payment.

When it comes to disruption, first-mover is not an advantage. While many companies are innovative, few are disruptive. One of our panels featured Matt Switzer, chief operating officer of Hootsuite; Penny Green, co-founder and director of Glance Technologies; and Tony Guglielmin, chief financial officer of Ballard Power Systems – all from disruptive local businesses influencing change globally.

All agreed that, when it comes to disruption, first-mover advantage is overrated. Instead, it’s better to be the ninth or 10th player in the market to learn from what others have done and where they have made missteps. Many first-movers are so far ahead of the curve, they launch before the market is ready for their product or idea. Those who come later are often better positioned to reap the rewards.

The B.C. Middle Market Growth Conference revealed a number of interesting dynamics, but the common thread was that B.C. is full of opportunities to innovate and inspire. We’re not just following the status quo. We have some of the greatest minds and all kinds of companies innovating across different sectors, searching for that disruptive moment. We have a lot to learn from each other and a lot to accomplish by working together. 

Aleem Jinnah is director of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) and chairman of the B.C. Middle Market Growth Conference, the signature annual event put on by the ACG. He’s also vice-president with Deloitte Corporate Finance Inc.