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Transforming Financial Services – A Panel on Fin Tech Innovation

Nitin Sumangali |

Financial services are the target of a lot of technology attention as there are increasing efforts to innovate new products and solutions. At a recent panel discussion moderated by frog design, I got to hear from key industry players at companies like MasterCard, Venmo, Fidelity and Moven about what this future of financial services innovation is going to look like, and some of the ideas were quite surprising.

Early on in the discussion, a key framing question was asked: what is financial services innovation for? To me this was question is a crucial one and came as a relief—too often innovation is pursued as a goal in and of itself, innovation for innovation’s sake.

The panelists homed in on a broad, but useful, answer—financial services innovation is about creating a greater degree of autonomy for people in using their money. It means building products and solutions that make it easier for people to understand their money and to use it to pursue their goals.

In perhaps a moment of self-reflection from the product designers in the room, they also admitted that sometimes innovation is centered on what product designers like and what they think is cool (it was suggested that this is why there are so much software and so many apps created around music, because music is such a passion for so many engineers and software developers). Those innovations will not succeed if they are out of sync with how real users want to use technology. This is a lesson for all members of the financial services ecosystem: innovation cannot arise from what companies are capable of, but must instead focus on what problems users have.

When asked what the big opportunities are in the future, John Sheldon, Group Head of Innovation Management at MasterCard Labs, and Jaime Punishill, Head of Digital Marketing & Channel Management at TIAA-CREF had very passionate responses that were related, but distinct.

Punishill contends that contrary to the belief that people want more tools to more actively manage their money, more would rather automate more deeply that process and not think about their money—they’d rather build systems that protect us and make more non-human decisions.

He suggests that that decision fatigue sets in at a point, and people would rather think about money decisions only at big moments, and not have to deal with many small decisions.

That point was picked up by John Sheldon, who said that “cognitive offloading”—turning over simple and routine decisions over to intelligent machine agents, would be a bigger trend in the future. He said that if people believe they can automate decisions to digital media that express our own preferences via smart data, it would make people feel that their lives had improved.
The other big issue Sheldon identified was the one of authentication. He notes that we’re living in an age where we are constantly asked to authenticate ourselves to gain access—to our money, to our information, and to physical spaces. The opportunity for technology to make secure and simple ways to persistently authenticate ourselves to gain the access we want (and just as importantly prohibit others from having access to those spaces) is a huge chance for technology.

Topics: Big Data, Economic Outlook, Mobile, Payments Strategy

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