Only a third of us are looking forward to growing older – and the biggest worry about old age globally is simply not having enough money. Why the doom and gloom? Living longer brings great opportunities, including the possibility of rethinking how our entire life course might unfold.
At the recent Longevity Leaders conference in London, a number of global experts from pioneering companies like Insilico Medicine, AgeX Therapeutics, Elevian, and Life Biosciences convened looking at the opportunities for living longer. They highlighted the quickening pace of developments in genomics, AI-driven drug-discovery and understanding of the cellular basis of aging that is disrupting the $3 trillion healthcare system in the process.
The commercial gains for business are exciting too, and the sheer magnitude of the +50-market staggering (in the U.S.A alone worth $7.6 Trillion a year) – and with today’s demographic trends it will be growing faster than the overall economy too.
While these commercial opportunities are exciting, they are very dependent on people maintaining good health into older age. One of the 16 sustainable development goals of the UN is “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, but where are nations around the globe with their strategies to promote healthier aging and longevity two years on since WHO published their Global strategy and action plan on aging and health in 2017?
One expert, Jose Cordeiro, Director of the Millennium Project and founding faculty member of Singularity University, affirms that the “longevity escape velocity” (the point at which life expectancy is being extended longer than the time that is passing) will be reached in 2030- meaning that by 2045 we will be immortal. Compelled to act with the dawn of immortality in sight within our lifetime – and governments slow to respond to this – Cordeiro has created the new Longevity Party and now running as an MEP for the European elections in May.
Nations around the world are agonizing over how best to tackle the “challenges” of the aging society- but it is the progressive, enlightened governments who are seizing on the opportunities of living longer and leveraging the “longevity dividend”.
Japan is one. It has a population that is expected to decline, from 128 million in 2004 to 109 million by 2050 and already has more than 8% of its population aged over 80. According to Andrew Scott, author of The 100 Year Life and Professor of Economics at London Business School, Japan’s Plan for Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens and the Council for Designing a 100 Year Life Society – together with an optimistic and positive narrative -have helped Japan perform better than expected.
Singapore is another progressive country in the East which has embraced a “multistage stage life” including a 70-item initiative to make the country “a nation for all ages”. Singapore recently unveiled a national development plan in longevity, including a preventive and active aging program that starts for citizens at the early age of 40. Companies like Prudential Singapore are also leading the way here – allowing its employees beyond the retirement age of 62 to continue to work.
Andrew Scott says the U.K. should take lessons from these countries. For a start, we need to shift our economy to enable more people to work for longer. Calculations for the U.K. suggest every increase in working age by one year is a permanent one percent boost to GDP.
There are big issues for government and policy to wrestle with to harness this “longevity dividend”. Anna Dixon, CEO of the Centre for Ageing Better, says, ‘‘old age is not a disease and we should see longer lives as an opportunity. However, there are huge inequalities with an 18-year gap between lowest and highest healthy life expectancies across the U.K. There are many things to be done with housing, workforce, and transport. We need national regulations for housing and legislation to support age-friendly practices in the workplace.”
While governments struggle, consumers will help force the change. “Who pays?” is the age-old question. Business models will need to adapt and vested interests dismantled. In pensions and insurance, new thinking is urgently needed to move risk and de-risk longevity, for example, by adopting insurance linked securities where risk can be converted into longevity tradeable assets, providing access to trillion-dollar markets.
Luca Tres, Head of Life at Securis Investment Partners, adds, “in the U.K. the stock of longevity risk is at least £1.2 trillion. This compares to £40-50 billion of annual traditional reinsurance capacity. Clearly there is a big gap between the stock of the fast-increasing longevity risk and the size traditional risk takers can take. A gap that becomes even larger if we zoom out geographically, and a gap that only capital market investors can fill. Of course this brings both opportunities and challenges.”
More flexible products are also needed to meet the changing needs of people living longer. John Godfrey, Corporate Affairs Director at Legal & General, observes, “while concepts like ‘longevity escape velocity’ are exciting, there is a need now to focus on the mainstream. There are significant political choices to be made. Intergenerational fairness needs to be addressed and long-term saving needs to improve. Housing needs to be better, with more focus on positive urban environments and tech-enabled support to promote independent living. Equity needs to be liberated (there is currently £1.5 trillion in housing equity in +65 population). We need to move away from what is a national sickness service to a preventative health model – and connect up health and care with data sharing. We also need to raise cultural awareness around lifelong love of learning- starting with education”.
A key technology to harness is artificial intelligence, with Britain the 3rd largest AI hub in the world after China and the U.S.A according to a recent report. China is aiming to be a global leader in AI research by 2030 with its data infrastructure and social credit system mining data on its citizens– and another example of the East leaping ahead of the West. AI-driven preventative health can reduce the financial burden of an aging population through leveraging insights from genetics, biological, behavioural, environmental and financial data. There are significant opportunities to use AI to predict disease and incentivize healthier living through harnessing such “life” data.
Andrew Scott concludes, “we need an asset-based strategy to excite citizens and business to harness the longevity dividend, reframing the narrative around the positive aspects of living younger healthier and longer lives”.