Can your bank serve the digital self?

As banks we are used to looking at digitalization from our own point of view.

We ask ourselves what it means for our organization and our business. We look at ways we can digitize and automate our processes to gain efficiencies and improve our offering. We employ cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and big data to understand our clients better and to serve them in new ways.

While these are crucial questions for our organizations, as a futurist I worry that we are neglecting the other side of the equation. In working to become digital banks, are we spending enough time understanding the needs of the digital client?

A brand new being

The truth, of course, is that banks are not the only ones digitizing. Our whole society is, and so are we as humans.

The process has already begun. Since the invention of the Internet, we have gotten used to digitizing and uploading information about ourselves to various networks.

At first this was just the basics: names and addresses, credit card information, birth dates uploaded to ecommerce sites, or as registrations in government and other databases.

More recently we have gotten used to digitizing more personal information. Services like Spotify, Facebook, or Google collect data on our likes and dislikes, our habits and our moods, and use it to build increasingly sophisticated online versions of our identities.

And these are early days.

With the advent of new technologies like the Internet of Things or face and voice recognition, the number of data points that will be available and collectible about us is set to explode.

As networks become more interoperable with technologies like blockchain, and more intelligent with AI, it will become easier to aggregate this information into ever-more detailed, ever-more rounded digital pictures of who we are. This will include information about things like emotions and beliefs that we used to think were unquantifiable.

The logical endpoint of such a process is the birth of fully digital selves. Considering the pace of technological development, it is not unreasonable to imagine that these digital selves will be both self-aware and autonomous.

This may sound farfetched, but for those of us who spend their time looking at these developments, it is actually quite plausible.

Banking the digital self

The digital self will have profound implications for us as people. We will become “amplified” as our digital selves extend our capacity to gather and sift information, and as they learn to act on our behalf, taking decisions for us and – who knows – perhaps even earning our livings for us.

This in turn will have profound implications for society. As these digital selves take on a life of their own they will become not just a new kind of being but also a new class of citizen. Society will have to make room for them. And service providers will have to learn to cater to them.

Banks will need to be ready for these changes. In my opinion, there are three things in particular they will have to prepare for:

  • The digital client. On a practical level, we will need to learn to deal with these new beings. Fully digital selves will require new processes for onboarding, new channels for communication, new methods for authentication and compliance.
  • The amplified client. We have seen how the internet has made our clients much more knowledgeable, forcing us to up our game when it comes to adding value in client discussions. This will be even more challenging when dealing with fully digital selves that are connected to global networks. Such amplified clients will not only be more knowledgeable, they will also have access to far more capabilities than their predecessors. Banks will need to be prepared to interact with them in very different ways.
  • The transparent bank. While we are used to using data to try and better understand our clients, we shouldn’t forget that they will increasingly be able to use data to better understand us. We must learn to work and compete in a world of high transparency, where what we do and what we offer will be easily comparable to others, and clients will have far easier access to far more choices.

There is no doubt that digitalization is changing almost everything in our world. To compete, banks will need to understand what this means not just for them, but for the rapidly evolving world around them.

Markus Iofcea

Markus Iofcea is the head of the UBS-Y Think Tank.

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