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Who Will Be The First Ones Against the Wall Come the Digital Revolution

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I present regularly to retail, commercial and investment banks, wealth managers and fund managers, insurance companies and more about how technology is transforming everything. I often can feel a sense of cynicism in the room. We’ve heard all this before and yes, I’ve pointed this out several times:

But I now feel confident enough to let their cynicism wash over me. It’s their loss, not mine. In fact, what I sense, and cannot be sure, is that they’re thinking: “this is happening over there, not here”. What I mean by this is that retail bankers definitely now get it. Digital is the real deal. They have to do it. But wealth managers think that clients still want the personal human touch from a relationship manager. Corporate clients want a go-to person that can sort out any issues. Insurance is still an annualised market of premiums. They don’t feel the urgency I feel.

I was having this conversation specifically about wealth management, and recounted the story that the average private banker in Switzerland is aged 62 but that’s because their average private bank client is aged 75.

OK, I’m being extreme, but most wealth is owned by older people as young people haven’t yet earned it. There’re the obvious exceptions to that rule but, as a generalisation, older people are the ones who need wealth management and they like dealing with humans. Or so I’m told.

And yet two things are mistaken in this discussion. One, older people are very comfortable with technology once someone shows them how it works. Therefore, the view that older people want to deal in older ways is a stereotypical view that is wrong. Two, older people have kids and, if they’re 75, they’re not that long for this world so their kids will get that wealth. How do the kids feel about their 62 year old private banker?

In fact, I can pretty much point to any area of finance where something innovative is happening with open platforms, code and tech. It is the reason why so many billions is being invested in FinTech firms, because they can code to address one single issue in the market: the thing I keep talking about as doing one thing brilliantly well.

Related: The Future World Will See Technology Democratize Work and Life

Therefore, this idea that it’s affecting them and not us is just old school thinking. In fact, I usually end up talking about how the issue is legacy leadership and if the firm is not transforming the culture to being digital from the top, then they won’t be around a decade from now.

Now, financial institutions have heard their demise being foretold on many occasions. Yet one day it will come true and, for me, that day is just around the corner as artificial intelligence kicks in.

The more we automate to give value to the customer, the more the analogue institutions will stumble and fall. And if they think that conversion to digital is appointing a Chief Digital Officer who reports to the Chief Information Officer who reports to the Chief Financial Officer and that will get it done … well, you know what I’m thinking. They will be the ones first against the wall come the revolution.

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