Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
There's a lot of insanity in financial services right now. Consumers are making significant changes in all of their financial needs areas, but institutions insist on pretty much continuing to do what they have always done. There appears to be almost no appetite to try something new, to expand their horizons or to look beyond short-term, immediate needs.
It's understandable; after all, when consumers are faced with the huge uncertainties, traditionally they do nothing. But as Will Rogers might say, "Consumers ain't doing nothing no more." Like it or not, financial providers need to take some chances, place some bets and dare to succeed.
The type of change we're seeing in consumers' use of financial services, based on the underlying shifts in their attitudes, is major, pervasive and disruptive. Like the impact of a major new technology (think printing press, electric light, refrigeration or the Internet), we are experiencing a macro inflection point that will completely change financial services, shifting the winners and losers in the next generation.
This is not a normal recession, turn of the business cycle or market up-and-down that institutions have experienced before and can simply adjust to. The confluences of events that bring us to this point include demographics, sociological arcs, economic shifts, technologic revolution and cultural evolution. Now is not the time for narrow focus — what you don't know can hurt you.
These times call for an approach that initially gathers information from everywhere, both within and outside the industry. Next, this massive amount of information needs to be structured, simplified and masticated in a process that creates insights from across the spectrum of knowledge, regardless of its relevance to the financial services industry.
Finally, these insights must be applied to the challenge at hand to clarify the uncertainty, identify key components to monitor and provide direction for immediate actions.
With what the financial services industry is facing today, only those organizations that look broadly at what is happening to form an appropriate strategy and integrate that strategy into a definite plan for implementation will gain the understanding that will enable them to thrive in this environment.
And in the face of this unprecedented challenge, most financial services firms continue to take a product-oriented, incremental, cut-costs and don't-take-chances type of approach. Why? Because it's working so well? Just like consumers, they have shifted from a "risk-return" mind-set to "loss-aversion" mind-set.
For consumers, this approach makes sense (especially after what they learned during the "Uh-oh's"). But for the financial services industry, this approach will inevitably lead to a smaller, commoditylike, utility industry with thinner margins and profits.