The question every bank should ask itself is "Am I a creator or a remover of friction?"
John Hagel hit the nail on the head in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post: "The cost and difficulty of coordinating activities across entities, on a global scale, is far lower now." Today's hyper-connectivity not only makes it possible to coordinate across entities in a more efficient way, it also causes a deep disintermediation of players that were able to maintain their monopolies through sheer scale and power.
A really good example of this is Uber.com, the well-publicized peer-to-peer limousine and taxi service directly connecting drivers and customers, disintermediating completely the dispatching taxi companies that proved to be the friction in the system.
The same phenomenon is now happening everywhere, including in banking, as we see the advent of more peer-to-peer (mobile) payment systems.
Besides disintermediation, we have disintegration. What we witness is the end of highly vertically integrated organizations, and the birth of organizations whose chief strength is to pick and choose best-in-class functionality from outsiders and mix and match those with their own internal world-class capabilities. For that to happen, you need a decomposition of previously highly integrated functions into smaller chunks (for example risk management, payments, securities, reference data, even identity and trust) and the ability to expose those functions through application programming interfaces. Externalizing your core competencies has become an economic imperative.
Sean Park from the Anthemis Group suggested all this five years ago. Back then, you still could create a competitive advantage with these methods. Today you are a plain loser if you do not have this in place yet.
So if all this is commonplace, what's the next big disruption? In my opinion it's peer-to-peer, the ability of two or more entities to share data and do business without a central orchestrator. P2P changes everything. It changes product and service offerings, it changes how companies are organized; it fundamentally changes the business models we are used to. This is very quickly leading to a "fragmentation of everything": the fragmentation of work, of applications, of hierarchies, of states.
To illustrate how deep the change is, I'd like to use the metaphor of a camel in the ocean. The camel is the bank, and the water is data. Until now, the camel was carrying its own water through the desert. Now the camel is in the ocean, surrounded by data. We will require a new kind of species that can survive in this data ocean, can cope with the advent of trillions of nodes on the grid, all hyper-connected, hyper-fragmented and 100% distributed.
The world needs a new kind of bank, way beyond a money-bank, probably a "trusted data bank" that can help human beings store, change and transact data, and in doing so create new authentic value. Not just gimmicks, tricks, quick wins, or dirty fixes.
We seem to live in a "perpetual crisis," jumping from one incident to another, where there is no room anymore for building a story with a beginning, middle, and an end; no room for reflection, no room to assess and, like a surfer, scan the waves of change on the surface of the data ocean. It's like the camel is under water, 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 anymore by conventional, binary, linear thinking. We need new tools, capabilities, and more non-linear ways of thinking, to be prepared to open up for more options. These new tools are about forecasting and assessing in different ways, deciding our options in different ways, ambitious design thinking with focus on what needs to be achieved versus what is the problem to be solved, and richer ways of expressing our options through visual thinking and other techniques.
This is way beyond the flashy designs of hyper-tech branches and "punchy-music-cool-sexy" apps or product videos.
The bank of the future is a humanizing bank, where "I am not my device" and where the focus is on relationships, intimacy, depth, and human connection supported by technology. It's about deep human behavior, about deep culture change. But that does not happen through top-down instruction. What is needed is viral change at scale of specific behaviors, seeded and nurtured bottom-up from deep within the fabric of the organization. Behavior creates culture and not the other way around.
Peter Vander Auwera is co-founder of Innotribe, a team that promotes innovation at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. He blogs at http://petervan.wordpress.com. Twitter @petervan, email email@example.com