AI, Aging Millennials, and Asset Tokenization: What trends will define financial services in the decade to come?
For our second RH FutureAtelier focusing on financial services, we identified top trends for 2021 and beyond, outlined the practice of corporate foresight, and explored what it will mean for the sector.
Financial services are a pillar of society. As such, their foundations have not changed for centuries: payments, lending, insurance, accounts—financial service providers offer individuals and organizations the opportunity to pursue their aspirations and ambitions, while managing risk and safeguarding rewards.
However, like the societies they serve, the financial service industry cannot stand still. From the untapped power of AI to the emergence of white-label banking, the industry must continue to innovate and optimize, not only to meet evolving customer needs and expectations, but to also increase resilience and ensure regulatory compliance.
In the latest installment of our virtual event series, RH FutureAtelier, we ventured into the exciting world of the future of financial services and insurance. Joined by Maren Kottler, Head of Corporate Foresight at die Mobiliar, Switzerland’s oldest insurance company, as well as industry experts from banking, insurance, and consulting, we enjoyed an engaging and collaborative session. Participants learned how foresight is a tool and capability instrumental for future-proofing the financial services and insurance industries against the tides of change.
The top trends to watch in financial services and insurance
The event began with an overview of our corporate foresight methodology and identified nine current and future trends that will define financial services in the years (and decades) to come. The top rising trends for financial services and insurance include:
- Increasing (private) data ownership regulations – Data may be the “new currency,” but what does increasing government oversight mean for banks?
- AI in banking – The potential to save on operational costs is tremendous, but what are its unforeseen implications, such as bias?
- Rise of decentralized finance – Could banks offer a more secure way to engage new consumer behaviors such as cryptocurrency exchanges and peer-to-peer lending, mitigating the risks of hacks and scams?
- Embedded finance – With financial services embedded into a wide variety of software and services, ownership of the customer experience shifts elsewhere. What will this mean for traditional industry gatekeepers?
- Retail investments replacing retail savings – Low-interest environments mean retail investment is replacing retail savings, but do consumers need more guidance?
- Rise of asset tokenization – New ways of monetizing and tracking the ownership of assets create investment opportunities and ways to securitize, but how will this be regulated?
- Consumer-centric banking – As new consumer groups mature and earn more money, and older generations live longer, what new services and products might they want and need?
- Women in finance – The changing face of the banking industry means space to grow: how will a new diversity alter product offerings and operational practices?
- Green finance / Eco-investing – Climate change is one of the biggest risks out there. Will the financial services industry meet the challenge with green initiatives and sustainable investments?
Identifying trends: how is it done?
Foresight is, in its essence, a discipline to anticipate and act upon change.While many companies have adopted a mature practice when it comes to planning technology roadmaps, supporting innovation teams, and venturing and accelerating new ideas, these activities account for only one part of corporate foresight practice.
At Rohrbeck Heger we’ve identified three stages that cover the whole span of foresight and innovation management: perceiving, prospecting, and probing (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Perceiving, Prospecting, Probing
● Perceiving: the anticipation of change and identifying trends. Seeing what’s out there, what could happen, and what is happening.
● Prospecting: understanding what these trends mean for us as an organization or an industry.
● Probing: executing on these insights to gain a competitive advantage: innovation, venturing, accelerating, and roadmapping.
While the aforementioned “mature” steps (listed under “Probing”) are essential in order to convert strategy into practice, in this installment of our FutureAtelier we instead focused on the “Perceiving” stage, pictured on the far left of the above illustration.
An essential element—the foundation, even—for foresight is trend management and change detection. Plenty of teams are concerned with keeping abreast of trends within their industry, but often struggle to approach trend management with a structured and coherent practice. Our methodology begins by scanning widely for trends across a spectrum of issues: technology, politics, society, economy, and the environment.
“Plenty of teams are concerned with keeping abreast of trends within their industry, but often struggle to approach trend management with a structured and coherent practice.”
The signal in the noise: which trends matter?
Foresight-mature organizations, those that are really, truly future-proof, scan widely for trends and strictly manage them. To do so, they typically use a tool such as a trends radar to visualize, prioritize, and finally feed relevant trends into their strategy and innovation activities. But how to filter and prioritize identified trends in the first place? One method we use is a straightforward mapping exercise where we evaluate trends based on two parameters: impact and uncertainty. At the RH FutureAtelier we crowdsourced opinions to work with a variant of this exercise: impact and certainty:
● Impact: what impact do you expect this trend to have on your industry?
● Certainty: how certain are you about the evolution and/or trajectory of this trend towards reaching its impact?
To give participants a taste of what it’s like to put this methodology into practice, we polled all those present at the FutureAtelier event to evaluate the nine trends we identified for the financial services and insurance sector. We then mapped the results on a graph and participants split into two breakout groups to discuss the results.
An Impact-Certainty Assessment of Trends in the Financial Services Sector
To understand the map below (Fig. 2), we divide it into four quadrants. At the top left, we have the high impact/low certainty trends, which we call our “hedged risks.” These trends, potential threats and opportunities, require further research, thinking, and testing before being introduced into a strategy roadmap, for example. In contrast, those high impact/high certainty items show trends that we call “sure bets,” and should be quickly acted upon, directly incorporated into strategy. So, which were the “sure bets” and “hedged risks” among our top nine trends in the financial services and insurance sectors (Fig.3)?
Figure 2: Prioritizing trends
Figure 3: Results from our 2nd RH FutureAtelier on Financial Services
Based on what we see in Fig. 3, our crowdsourced “impact/certainty” matrix determined that AI, consumer-centric banking, more women in finance, embedded finance, e-commerce boom due to COVID, card-based transactions replaced by real-time payments, and increasing (private) data ownership regulations will be the seven trends to classify as “safe bets”—that is to say, these trends rank as both high impact and high certainty. (Participants had the option to name their own trends in addition to the nine we originally identified.) While both regulation of cryptocurrency and climate change-specific trends (climate agreements, net-zero initiatives, green finance, and eco-investing) were rated as relatively certain to happen, they fell short of convincing the group of their high impact on the financial services and insurance sectors. We at Rohrbeck Heger were surprised by this result and would challenge this assessment. Considering how deeply most financial services, especially investment, are intertwined with the availability and flow of natural resources, the massive shifts we anticipate as a result of pressures to mitigate climate change (not to mention potential natural disasters, including pandemics) will have a great effect on the industry.
Foresight: making it work for you
It’s vital to evaluate what trends mean for an organization and to filter and prioritize what happens next. Rohrbeck Heger advises on several methods to derive insights and define actions using foresight.
But in general, we advise that our clients do four things in executing a foresight process:
- Collaborate and co-create. Bring together dissimilar opinions to develop true insights and challenge conventions. No-one has a monopoly on understanding the future.
- Structure it. The future is uncertain, but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable. Use tools like radars and decision portfolios to drive the discussion forward and keep it action-oriented.
- Prioritize. Recognize that you can’t do everything all at once. Bring wisdom to bear and decide on what is a ‘“sure bet” or a “hedged risk.”
- Commit to the longer-term. Ensure that key trends are addressed in your strategy processes and innovation activities. To take a long-term view, it helps to build scenarios to immerse your teams in ‘future worlds’ where they can imagine and grasp what a future world looks like.
Foresight in action: A new way of thinking at die Mobiliar
Our RH FutureAtelier event with a focus on financial services and insurance concluded with a thoughtful talk given by Maren Kottler, Head of Corporate Foresight at die Mobiliar, Switzerland’s oldest insurance provider. She shared her team’s journey in recent years as they replaced an older internal trend process with a new, more comprehensive foresight approach; one that better leverages both the breadth and depth of such a large and complex organization.
“When the forecast is showing rain, you take an umbrella with you in the morning,” explained Kottler. “But how do you prepare your company for different seasons, like economical thunderstorms or technological flooding?” As the head of die Mobiliar’s Corporate Foresight team, wrestling with big, unwieldy questions such as these are just another day at the office. “For us, thinking about the future means thinking about uncertainties…it’s a game of thoughts. It’s the introduction of new perspectives and new insights.” The company’s approach to innovation strategy was due for an update, and in 2019 Kottler’s team introduced a semi-automated platform to explore possible futures. “Everybody in our company has access to add a new inspiration,” explained Kottler, describing the platform. “We want to bring the future to everyone’s desk.”
“If you are not writing your own future stories, you’ll be living in those of others.”
In addition to introducing the platform, die Mobiliar invested in both internal colleagues and external consultants such as Rohrbeck Heger to evaluate trends, speak to C-suite executives, and consult topical experts. This project, in the form of interviews and interdisciplinary workshops, took place over the course of about five months, and resulted in die Mobiliar’s first-ever “future scenarios for the insurance industry,” envisioning life in the year 2030 and beyond. “It’s really fun,” said Kottler, “but I can only recommend continuing your work after that. It’s best to keep going after building the scenarios.” The resulting scenarios are now the basis for die Mobiliar’s internal corporate foresight efforts and have since led to workshops with end customers and business clients to identify their future needs. With help from Rohrbeck Heger, Kottler and her colleagues distilled the list of over five hundred possible client needs to its essence: down to just five high priority innovation focus fields.
Armed with the identified needs, die Mobiliar’s Corporate Foresight team presented the innovation focus fields to its C-suite and board, analyzing the “new innovation areas by applying systemic design methods to get a deeper understanding of the real leverage points of each of these new innovation clusters—the new customer needs of the future.” By advising leadership on these needs, the Corporate Foresight team made sure these insights would help mold company strategy. Kottler reports that Corporate Foresight has become an integral institution at die Mobiliar, a “central hub for horizon-free thinking.” Above all, she explains, it’s a mindset—teams now consider the future of the company in a different way. “The magic lies, I think…in that I’m thinking back from the future…it enables [you to consider] what are your values, what company would you like to be?… It helps you to realize your vision. Because if you are not writing your own future stories, you’ll be living in those of others.”
Financial services and the insurance industry, though both well-established sectors in society and commerce, could do well to introduce the practice of corporate foresight into their strategy and innovation roadmaps. A constantly changing world demands that companies keep up with and ultimately integrate solid trend analysis into their strategy; we identified nine top trends in financial services to watch in the coming decade, ranging from increased data regulations to eco-investing. Corporate foresight – the discipline of anticipating and acting upon change – keeps companies and teams nimble, sensitive to changes around them and most importantly, ready to assess these changes (trends) in a systematic, thoughtful way that translates into actionable steps for futureproofing in an uncertain world. Through working with clients such as Swiss insurance company die Mobiliar, Rohrbeck Heger equips innovation teams with a skillset and methodology to encourage a culture of collaboration and adoption of a future-forward mindset for success. To learn more about this event and our Financial Services and Insurance portfolio, download our report here.
Visit our events page for upcoming Future Atelier sessions in 2021!
“Rohrbeck Heger equips innovation teams with a skillset and methodology to encourage a culture of collaboration and adoption of a future-forward mindset for success.”