insights

Aspirational predictions for 2020

December 17, 2019

Stealing from the best songwriters, I also think that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and following other marvellous traditions, I thought I’d write down more than 6 but fewer than 7 of my aspirational predictions for the world of Financial Services (FinServ) in 2020:

1. Customer-led firms will beat the rest

Customer Experience (CX), User Interfaces (UI) and human-centric design will increasingly dominate the thinking of the whole FinServ sector. For too long now, Financial Services has devoted all its efforts to the ‘Financial’ bit and in 2020, it will remember the key to market leadership is to differentiate with your ‘Services’. Most people (including those in the industry) are tired of bigger, better, faster numbers and will steadily vote for smoother, easier and more tailored products and services. Every other sector has done it, it’s time to see FinServ evolve too.

2. Graph Data will make sense of your relationships

We all love good relationships, and, over the years, we have been forced to love data. Graph data combines them both to deliver insights and predictions. In the past, graph technology was unscalable, overcomplicated, but it’s been slowly teased into the limelight with the right business needs and is now ready to rumble. Add in some clever artificial intelligence and you have a compelling engine of perceptiveness. We’ve all been using its predictive qualities when we buy on Amazon (with Recommendations) and LinkedIn (for suggested new best friends) so watch out for better insights into what your clients really need, what new relationships you can foster and how best to respond.

3. The Rise of the Insurers

Continuing the theme of customers first, and better understanding of what they need, I believe that Insurers will launch new services through FinServ. They keep risk and disaster away from our door, enjoy great connections within the industry and have an enviable client distribution network. And yes they have money to invest. Being the safest pair of hands will give them an advantage in introducing new risk-mitigated investments, lifestyle and family-oriented and usage-based products.

4. Standards in ESG will help promote sustainability

The rise of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) and sustainable investing in asset management will continue to grow. We will be able to view and analyse a bewildering array of fund and company analytics in the pursuit of good investments. All we need are formal market wide ESG standards, to safeguard the quality and veracity of the numbers.

More controversially, however, the simplest school of thought is that rather than analysing precisely how, for example, any given oil firm is relatively sustainable, true ESG funds could limit investment to a small, only just conceived band of pure (digital/green/eco) firms. Maybe real ESG is impossible in the public markets, and only viable in the direct PE world? Something to think about in the new year.

5. Smart Contracts hit the market

I know it’s unfashionable, and even Gartner back in July positioned Smart Contracts at the peak of their Hype Cycle, but I foresee several market-ready smart contract-driven (distributed ledger/blockchain) solutions in 2020. I have direct insight into a few maturing initiatives. I’ve highlighted the smart contracts subset because they capture the formal legalities and standards that will drive tokenisation across all asset classes. We will see the nascent collaborations gather market share, particularly in the investment space, and demonstrate cost savings, transparency and accessibility.

6. Digital Wealth & Asset Management 2.0 conveniently on the Cloud

Now, this one is really exciting for me. We’ve had Robotic Process Automation, roboadvisors and even IBOR as incremental efforts, but I believe we will see some carefully constructed initiatives starting to build a Wealth/Asset Manager from scratch. They will feature human-centred design, data-led insights and be cloud-native from day one. They will be a hybrid of technologies, not excluding face-to-face interaction and focused on providing investment solutions for clients as conveniently as possible.

I’m sure you’ve realised by now, that working at 6point6 compels me to include the extra 0.6 of a bullet point. So, here is my own personal prediction and appeal:

6.6 Collaboration across FinServ and beyond

I believe that we can more rapidly improve our collective capabilities through collaboration, through bringing our best thinking from far flung parts of the market and also from learning from more advanced sectors. I run a regular series of breakfast events, catchily titled ‘FinServ 4 Breakfast’ or FS4B if you prefer, and, under the Chatham House rule, we discuss the issues of the day and start the process of solving some of our hardest problems. We’ve seeded FinServ conversations with the digital lessons from the Government Digital Service, the cloud transformation of the Home Office and total reinvention from paper to smartphone of the Telegraph Group. We will see more of this, more collaboration, more sharing and more joint ventures. The private independent initiatives will continue, of course, but I love the buzz from hearing real war stories and accelerating the FinServ of 2020.

Ending how I started, I’ll steal from another classic tune to welcome in 2020. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good.

Dishonourable mentions:

I had to include one or two more themes that will increase in 2020. They’re dishonourable mainly for editorial reasons, but also because they’re either only just starting or simply protective rather than aspirational innovation.

Firstly, Cyber Security. This is now a must-have for all firms in the FinServ sector. Under the banner of Operational Resilience, the government is encouraging the regulators who will encourage their respective regulated firms who will put increasing demands on their entire supply chains. Even the cloud providers are likely to fall under regulatory scrutiny, which is expected given they will increasingly underpin the vast majority of the technology infrastructure. I see some canny cyber offerings in 2020, and it’s now a fundamental cost of doing business.

Quantum. This is where the robots really do take over the world. Supposedly, the right quantum computer can undo most of the good cryptography work we’re using to protect our data and with Google’s 53-qubit version ‘acing an impossible test’ back in October, we have the beginnings of practical delivery.

My final plea is that through the admirable Open Banking initiative, “Banking for the Unbanked” matures into “Investing for the UnInvested”. I’d far rather that people of all levels of wealth had access to appropriate investment and were easily enticed to save for their rainy days. We know how to do this, and I believe that we’ll see more initiatives to bring low-cost & low-risk investment solutions to the people on the street. Expect more projects like The Big Exchange…

Chris Mills
Director, Financial Services