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The Clash of Digital Vision and Harsh Realities

Craig Weber | September 22, 2014

I recently spent an energizing day with a client at a Silicon Valley innovation center. We were there to collaborate on a digital vision for the firm. I think the location helped, because we put pen to paper and came up with some fairly out-there ideas that were plausible enough to put the firm on its path to the future.

New products and new technologies were prominent in our thinking. As a group, we agreed that automation, machine intelligence, social, and mobile would all play roles in the business models of 2025 and beyond.

But a higher-level theme of the exercise seemed to be rethinking the entire user experience.  What will consumers want from their providers? How will they expect to engage? What types of models will fit the lives of tomorrow’s buyers, when today’s buyers already seem to be shedding models that have endured for 30 years?

We left our session with lots of questions, but also a fundamentally optimistic view that we know enough about tomorrow to start preparing for it today.

For a few days, I felt the warm glow of being a technology visionary. But then came a deluge of cold reality. I went online to pay the annual premium for a term insurance policy I bought from a Top 10 insurer more than a decade ago.  In short:

  • Of course I couldn’t remember my password or ID (I do this once a year!), and the reset process required a phone call and 10 minutes of listening to smooth jazz. Ugh.
  • The main screen I got to after a password reset immediately warmed my heart. The headline, in bold type:  “Welcome, null weber.”
  • While searching for policy info (no, it was not obvious where to find it), I clicked on a Tools link and went instead to a “Link Not Found” screen.
  • The Contact Us page recommended email as a medium, which sounded suspiciously modern. But the next sentence betrayed the chaos that likely lies beyond the email server: “If you have not received a response within 3-5 days, or if you require a faster response, please call us at … ”

The experience reminded me how much work remains to make our digital visions a reality. It is hard to reconcile this with the digital future that seems to be arriving for everyone else (that is, everyone outside financial services).  Unless something changes drastically, and soon, I may be null Weber before our financial digital future arrives.

(Craig Weber is CEO of Celent.)

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