Many use the term “disruption” to describe the upheaval we’re seeing in the financial services industry. But I believe we are witnessing a “phase-change”—a deeper transformation of how banking and business in general are done, caused by the fragmentation of everything and an unprecedented and unsurpassed period of evolutionary innovation-—what might be called a “Cambrian explosion.”
In the run-up to Techonomy 2012, I contributed an article entitled “The Six Ways Organizations Can Survive Until 2100.” Six months later, my essays “Dystopian Futures” and “Drowning In Data, Banks Must Learn To Surf” elaborated on my thinking. Now I think we need to get back to our human sense of analog time.
We see the Net-driven fragmentation of work and hierarchies, even as sovereign states are stealing data and intruding into systems worldwide. We see the fragmentation of trust, privacy, and secrecy. Our organizations are no longer vertically integrated but fragmented into orchestrators of highly specialized functions, sourced from a diverse group of both incumbents and aggressive newcomers.
We need stories about the humans we try to reach and move—narratives, as John Hagel puts it so well in Edge Perspectives-—that have a beginning, middle, and end and convey a clear purpose and call for action and progress.
At the same time, we see an explosion of nodes on the grid, with trillions of “things” joining the digital conversation; an explosion in the volume and types of data. Digital currencies are erupting with decentralized and distributed models. States engage in surveillance and companies deploy what Jaron Lanier calls “Siren Servers”: online powerhouses that betray our trust for profit. In banking, we see the advent of network-only banks, and peer-to-peer money exchange solutions like Paypal’s Cash solution-—a simple way to email money between people.
Value is being redefined, and many are rethinking what constitutes real wealth and well-being, beyond money and GDP. We have to rethink how we measure wealth. Robert Kennedy said: “GDP measures everything … except that which makes life worthwhile.” Happiness indicators like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, the OECD’s Better Life Index, and the UK’s Happy Planet Index are already helping the world define well-being and wealth beyond money. The H(app)athon Project wants to go one step further by “hacking happiness,” and shifting the world’s view of value beyond the lens of GDP.
In the financial industry, “shareholder value” and “profit maximization” remain the main criteria for investment. Nevertheless, new investment trends are emerging as a result of global changes and new ways of thinking. Investors are starting to look for criteria beyond maximizing profit, shareholder value, and pure financial return.
We have to think about what may in fact be intangible assets, along with how to account for them and invest in them. We have to re-assess the role financial markets play or should play, and their future “design principles,” so that over time we can develop more transparency, self-empowerment, and permissive not restrictive organizations.
Recently, Michell Zappa published a fantastic piece of research on “The Future of Money” documenting recent changes accelerating transactions, leveraging crowds, undermining fiat currencies, and explaining how banking is evolving into just a layer, embedded invisibly in many sorts of daily conversations. These phase changes pose fundamental questions about the role and identity of networks, institutions, and individuals.
Zappa’s timeline infographic is illuminating.
The phase-change from centralized to decentralized to distributed networks is shifting how power is distributed: from favoring the connected few to an irregular distribution that favors some individuals, to a horizontal distribution of power that favors the whole of the network.
We seem to live in a state of perpetual crisis, jumping from one incident to another, with no room to reflect or to assess. It feels like we are drowning in tactics and ad-hoc firefighting, incapable of interpreting the tsunami of change. The world enters a level of complexity that cannot be addressed any more by conventional, binary, linear thinking.
With all these parts moving at once, we need new tools for monitoring change. We need new capabilities and more non-linear ways of thinking, and openness to new options. We need new tools to forecast, assess, and guide our choices. They should offer richer ways to express our options through visual thinking and other techniques.
This is way beyond flashy hyper-tech bank branches and punchy, sexy banking apps or product videos. This is about bringing the analog, humanizing aspect back into banking. I am not my device. The future of banking is analog not digital, and its focus needs to be on relationships, intimacy, depth, and human connection.
Peter Vander Auwera is the co-founder of Innotribe and is a thinker, creator, and “sense-maker.” He will be a participant at the Techonomy 2013 conference in Tucson, Ariz., November 11-13. Follow conversations about the event @Techonomy and #Techonomy13.