The challenge of (financial) mobility of the future

I had the great pleasure to join the “Impulse Apero” on Feb 6th organized by Kellerhals Carrard and Implement Consulting Group featuring the head of the SBB’s board of directors Monika Ribar. Monika walked the audience in her inspiring presentation through the challenges and opportunities of mobility of the future.
  • Transparency is the new currency – people estimate transparency. Its about enabling people to reach their goals independent of the provider and about being informed in good and in bad times.
  • Openness is the new norm – we are living in a network economy. Openness is the key to unleash the combined potential of all services in the network. Closed and monolithic systems are relicts of the past.
  • Holistic services – users want to have an end to end service and an broad overview. There is just the choice of providing it or let somebody else do it.
  • Simplicity  – the different pricing schemes used by the various service providers are hard to understand for the consumer. But all this complexity can be hidden using smart technology – either by offering a flat rate scheme which enables general usage or by simply billing the actual consumption with the optimal price for the consumer.
These points are very true for a mobility provider and also for financial services and other industries as the relate to big shifts in society. There is one huge difference – the SBB has a huge logistic challenge with a lot of infrastructure which is required to realize the desired degree of mobility. Financial services companies in essence just deal with information and have a simpler problem to solve.
I also would like to highlight a few other aspects which I found very interesting:
  • Empowerment – the people who are in contact with the users must be empowered to solve problems in creative ways.  They see the problem and they can directly engage and solve them with  their creativity. The SBB has allocated a budget at discretion for the ‘railway companions’ – this are the people in the train who make sure that the travelers have a smooth journey. This empowerment of employees at the point where the company engages with the clients is just cool.
  • Team – the rail clean organization is now a part of SBB again and wears he SBB logo. In more an more automated railway stations they are often the only people. Now the wear an SBB logo again and can help support travelers in case of problems. This is a win-win situation as the job has become more interesting and as clients have a further human touchpoint with the brannd.
  • Development –  all roles are changing due to the evolution of the environment and the technology. It is of strategic importance to think about the roles and their evolution paths. SBB grows and moves together with its employees into the future of mobility.
  • Data – SBB as a provider collects a lot of data about its users. Monika stressed that the data belongs to the client and not SBB. So the client decides when and how this information is used.
Again four aspects which can be translated very well into financial services. The empowerment of the staff is key, every employee is a part of the brand management and client data belongs to the client and not the service providers.

Banking Today

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The word bank immediately depicts the picture of queuing in branches, limited quality products, and legacy processes ( e.g. time to process transfer or payments, etc…). The list goes on and on whether it is overdraft charges, processing/ service fees, overseas call centre. Although in the past, prior to the digital revolution, communication and processing were performed physically and was an important valued service appreciated by its consumers (Change is inevitable, Importance of a brand’s digital behaviour). However in the digital age, this will change with the introduction of financial capabilities not through new capabilities from existing incumbent banks but by new players outside the financial sector.

What will these players offer? Will they offer radically different products, new approach(s) to customer service and radically different ways of integrating to the customer’s ecosystem offering customers genuine and value added financial services? Or will these new ventures, like many of our existing banks, simply pay lip-service to such ideas?

What would we expect these new ventures to provide? To say the least the following:

  1. Fewer but relevant and value-based products base on the customer’s preferences. Keep it simple, make it fun, empower the customer.
  2. Financial services anywhere anytime (Omni-digital). Ubiquitous and available when we need any forms of financial services through the customer’s ecosystem. Services that interstate with their connected life.
  3. Personalized services and recognition. Knowing the customer personally. Listening to the customer
  4. QR code a standard for payments where payments happens instantly with limited to no infrastructure required
  5. Work the way customers work. Be where they are, be there all hours, respond now.
  6. Be the kind of financial services that I want to work with: be involved.
  7. Rate and fee sensitive/ free
  8. Be the overall financial caretaker. True advisory relationship.

What are your expected capabilities?

Giving direction …

The world continously evolves and changing exponentially (see Change is inevitable ….). Not long ago the pace in companies was much slower. Propagation of information took time and the production of goods was typically labor intensive. The main challenge was organizing processes and workforce efficiently towards maximal outcome. These mechanisms which used to work well in the industrial age increasingly fail to produce beneficial effect in the information age.

Today’s environment routine work is automated and commoditised whereas engagement and creativity have become major assets of organizations. Great organizations have a shared goal, a state they want to reach. This reason d’etre has become more important than ever before. The vision is the mechanism to create a pull into one direction. A practical guide for creating plans, setting goals and objectives, making decisions, and coordinating and evaluating the work on any project, large or small. It is the source for motivation within the organization.

A vision captures clear and inspirational long-term desired change(s) resulting from an organization or program’s work. The vision is important – it expresses why the organization is required and provides guidance and direction to all who engage.

  • Alzheimer’s Association: A world without Alzheimer’s

It is obvious that the people engage here want to contribute to a world free of Alzheimer. They can do this however as they want as the vision does not say what has to be done. Everybody can contribute with his skills and abilities. People will have different perceptions on the importance of this organization,  but nobody will be against this vision.

You may now say that this is just a simple and straight forward special case. Indeed – it should all start with a ‘why?’ which leads to people sharing the idea forming an organization. The vision is what makes this organization special and different from others.

Below is a list of vision statements of some other organizations

  • We create the technology to connect the world
  • We believe in what people make possible
  • Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
  • To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online

You engage and be part of only if you agree with the vision . Shaping a vision is not easy – it requires creativity, setting standards and enforcing clear decisions. People may like it, dislike it or find it irrelevant.

Many incumbent companies in the financial sector started with a clear vision. Some of these goals were reached and the companies just continued to do what they are doing. They just repeat what they have done in a better and more efficient way. Without having a vision it becomes difficult to be innovative and cost efficiency starts to become the main goal.

As a little exercise look at the web pages from incumbent organizations in the financial services industry and try to find their vision statement. It’s interesting that only a subset of the companies have one.

  • XYZ’s vision is to be recognized as a leading manufacturer of protective materials for high reliability applications throughout the world.
  • XYZ’s main commitment is to provide its customers with the best solutions possible
These two examples sound really trivial and the vision can be used for most types of organizations. Or is there a company who does not want to be reliable or provide the best solutions? This lack of purpose is dangerous – as there are many organizations with the same aim there is no evident reason, why this specific one is really required.

This lack of a vision is also dangerous as the new organizations all have vision – typically not talking about themselves but about the state they want to reach.

  • We believe everyone should be able to enjoy a healthy financial life.
  • We’re building this bank for you. We’ll learn and adapt to you, celebrating your individuality in every way.
  • By solving your problems, treating you fairly and being totally transparent, we believe that we can make banking better.

Compare the examples – which one is more appealing? Where would you like to engage as an employee or become a client? The incumbents benefit from their history as people are quite slow in changing their habits. But “time to change” is not the factor we should rely on in this “game” as when change happens it will be instantaneous.

Many incumbents relax on the fact that they are today systemic relevant – but the system could change and the relevance vanish with it. It feels much better to have a clear vision of the future than to rely on the past.

So it’s time for many incumbent organizations in financial services to hit refresh …

 

Simplicity in a complex environment possible?

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In all of our sophistication(s), humans react to the world in simple ways as our ability to cope with its complexity is limited. Do we seek simple solutions that hide or ignore the complexity?

Human senses are constantly producing far more data than their brains can process. Our brains cope with complexity by identifying important features and filtering out unnecessary detail(s). An example such as on seeing that the space you enter has four walls, a floor and a ceiling, you know you have entered a room and usually ignore the details. As individuals we deal with complexity by removing or hiding it. Our mental schemes are one way of doing that. Habits are another.

We also simplify complex decision-making by using received wisdom (e.g. advice of others, conforming to the beliefs and attitudes of what we may be associated to).

Society has many ways of managing complexity, one common approach is “divide and rule” approach to management which leads to hierarchical division of large organisations. Hierarchical breakdown introduces its own issues as the need to define early what are the decisive factors. Although structural changes can take place but only of rather limited value. Such systems have a tendency to go for the local optimum in each branch (see “The first step is key…”).  Another approach is to define laws, rules, commercial standards which creates limits and restrictions.

New technologies are usually introduced to simplify our lives, but inevitably they have unexpected side effects on society. An example is the introduction of robotics/ labour-saving systems set off cascades of social change, such as the decline of the nuclear family. In addition instead of addressing and replacing the complex systems with more efficient adaptable ones, we add additional layers of complexity by keeping legacy systems and integrating them with the so-called new and simpler ones. On top of that there is a continuous addition of business process which makes consolidation almost impossible. It makes life simpler to rely on others to provide solutions to complex problems.

This inability to fathom complexity leads to a belief that any worthwhile solution to a situation must be simple. Any change introduces complexity into people’s lives. Rather than face issues that are complex, some retreat into denial, preferring to believe in a simpler future in which there is no change and continue with their paradigms.

In an era of post-truth and pseudoscience, avoid dismissing uncomfortable facts out of hand. Complexity arises from the richness of interconnections between things. Can we continue to ignore the wider context and the side effects of actions and ideas? The continuous adoption and extension of programs are vital to humans over time.

“Our brain is not to think – it is to keep us alive”

 

The first step is key …

In the previous post we looked at Getting in and out of the box at will …. Thinking and acting outside the box is not easy at all.

The post Three Things You Need To Know About The Brain To Build Great Teams by Everett Harper shows some reasons for this based on Ellen Leanse book, The Happiness Hack. We all want to be happy. Our brain experiences two forms of happiness:

  • One, “hedonic” happiness, is associated primarily with fast reward dopamine cycles
  • The second “eudiamonic” form seems to rise from longer, slower reward cycles associated with serotonin

The post states that we have been hacked and are now flooded with hedonistic fast reward happiness. We must break free when we go out to explore the boundaries of our box to finally start thinking and acting outside of it. Once we manage to leave the box this triggers new insights causing ‘eudiamonic’ happiness but also fear.

Fear is the natural response of the brain to new experiences. The brains main purpose is not to think but to keep us safe. Keeping us safe works best by following routines and patterns. So the safe place is in the box where we follow what used to work. To get outside and break with routines and habits requires explicit action, it’s hard.

And finally once you have left the box it will be hard to convince others to move. They comfortably sit in the box. The perceived good place is in the box, talking about better alternatives is perceived as negative. But routine tends to be boring – a convincing and exciting vision may help to get things going.
People often say that execution makes the difference. Maybe it is the decision to make the first step ….
References:

Getting in and out of the box at will …

I recently read Don’t Just Think Outside The Box — Go In And Out Of It At Will by Bruce Kasanoff. The post was about Eric Lee, a specification writer who started to successfully paint on glass motivated by his wife.

  • “Here’s what I find most fascinating: Eric never stops thinking about what’s possible and how he might stretch the boundaries of where and how his art finds its way into the world.”
  • “I don’t think out-of-the-box,” says Eric. “I believe in knowing where the box is, and going in and out at will. I don’t want to be pressured to always be edgy. Sometimes there are classic techniques that work best.”

Do you know what and where your box is? Do you know its boundaries? This is actually a very interesting and also challenging question. Do you know the boxes of the people you interact with or the boxes of team members at work?

Thinking and acting outside the box and experiencing the world from different perspectives with fresh eyes is increasingly important in our fast changing time. Start by thinking about your box(s) as you can only step outside the box if you understand the boundaries, the paradigms and habits which make the box your box.

Thinking outside of the box allows you to get rewards outside of your reach.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo