Guest blog: The age of data abundance (and time poverty)

“Data is the new oil” – you’ve probably heard this quote all too frequently by now. I can’t deny this is an interesting parallel, given data (just like oil) can be mined, stored and transformed in order to power other technologies and create value. However, I think this parallel is not only misleading, but dangerous when you consider the broader consequences to society and financial services.

Oil became one of the largest and most profitable industries in the world and, over the course of history, created wealth, whilst enabling new technologies to come to life. However, oil simultaneously became a source of political power, corruption, war and environmental disasters. Data, as a digital commodity, is following a similar trajectory. The concentration, use and access to data is one of the most pressing issues of this digital age. When stored and consumed in excess, data, just like oil, creates new social and economic challenges (as well as imbalances); second-order effects if you like, that whilst largely unpredictable, are potentially harmful to the environment, humanity and global financial stability.

The availability and monetary value of these commodities reflects an important aspect of our age: the age of abundance. In the same way that we have too much oil, we have too much data. In the same way oil (and its by-products) pollute nature, the abundance of data “pollutes” our time. In the same way we urgently need new, clean and renewable sources of energy, we also need to ensure the use of clean, trusted data in a cyberspace full of noise, misinformation and fake news. In the age of data abundance, we are time-poor and, ironically, less informed.

The sheer volume of information available to us is overwhelming, making it incredibly hard to identify reliable, trustworthy and useful sources of information. We have too many digital distractions; a constant flow of data-driven stimulus, alongside an excessive, often unhealthy, competition for eye-balls. We now effectively live under a regime of extremely high cognitive load, which consumes our precious attention and time.

I would propose a better parallel: “Time is the new Oil”, although admittedly this is not entirely accurate, as time cannot be stored, or transformed. High quality, consent based, real-time data is just an enabler that helps us make better decisions through insight and intelligent automation. This, in turn, helps us manage the increasing complexity of our digital lives, leading us to make the best use of our time.

The financial services ecosystem represents the economy bedrock that allows individuals and businesses to exchange value. Over the last couple of decades, with the advent of the internet, the core nature of value exchange changed, to reflect the new market dynamics of digital goods and services. It is paramount that financial data is leveraged in a way that empowers individuals, and business owners to make better, easier, faster, safer and wiser decisions. If this is done, the natural result will be more time available to focus on things that really matter - more time with family, more time for self-improvement, more time to think about creative ways to grow the business, more time to enjoy life.

The structural constraints and complexities within the financial services industry, whilst gradually disappearing, still do not allow this kind of innovation to flourish naturally. Open Banking is the first significant step to make this complexity a little bit more manageable, through the definition of industry standards, establishing a common “language” amongst industry players. As UK banks race to develop, test and deploy Open Banking APIs, a lot of energy has been concentrated into making these APIs compliant, however this is not the end point (no pun intended). The real challenge moving forward, beyond compliance, will be to leverage these APIs, through meaningful use cases, to remove friction and automate elements of the relationship with customers.

As the industry shifts its focus from Open Banking compliance to competition and collaboration, we will see a proliferation of even more use cases aiming to remove friction from customer journeys and, at the same time, monetise customer data. This market movement is necessary, given the urgent need for banks to create new revenue streams. Having said that, the successful and profitable propositions (the “killer apps” if you like), will be the ones that helps customers make the best use of their time, leveraging data to understand the customer’s context and streamline their decision making process. Going forward, being able to help customers save money will not be enough for banks, as consumers begin to expect them to also help save time.

 

(Any questions, please contact Julie Watson – Julie.watson@cgi.com)

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