Can we use the next decade to harness big data better, balance privacy concerns equitably, and embrace fintech unreservedly?

As 2019 draws to a close, I find it useful as a business leader to reflect on key developments and lessons learnt over the course of the year. This year, however, warrants a slightly longer reflection as we close the chapter on a decade packed with the most astounding developments in technology, all of which have fundamentally altered the way we live. 

Going back to the start of the decade, 2010 was when we first laid eyes on the iPad, back when manufacturers were competing to come up with prototypes of anything that was not a traditional laptop. Nokia and Blackberry still reigned king, and Samsung had only just embraced the Android platform with the release of its first-ever Galaxy S phone.  

As consumers, it is hard for us to grasp how quickly things have changed. But as business leaders, we must stay on top of these developments and trends to ensure that organizations evolve and keep up with the latest technological innovations and ever-changing expectations from our customers. With that in mind, here is my take on the top three trends that will matter most to business leaders at the turn of the decade. 

Trend #1: Suppressing the data beast 

While some might argue that the conversations around big data as a technology trend have waned in recent years, organizations recognize its potential and are investing heavily in data solutions and products. The financial sector, for example, is one of the top investors by industry in big data and business analytics solutions. The amount of data generated by the financial industry—credit card transactions, ATM withdrawals, credit scores— will only increase in the coming years.  

The ability to put that data and process it effectively to make business decisions will be critical to staying competitive in the future. In the coming years, we will see financial institutions investing more time and resources into developing the right data strategies, encompassing three elements: developing the right analytics methodologies that will help classify the data to be used; developing the right modeling techniques and utilizing deployment platforms to test the usability of collected data.  

Promised business benefits saw many buying into the big-data dram only to find that they still cannot unlock the value of the information they possess. In 2020, through advanced methodology, orchestration and modelling techniques, we will see a top-down mandate to break down the data logjam and develop cohesive strategies that will help organizations harness massive amounts of information better.

Trend #2: Privacy concerns gain steam 

As much as big data has created enormous benefits, the past decade saw significant challenges to privacy. It is sad to note that a barrage of news about data breaches, government surveillance, and corporate misconduct has soured consumer sentiment on current data practices. In the coming years, businesses will need to find the balance between making the most out of consumer data without upsetting their customer base.  

Regardless of whether it happens via technology, sentiment, lawsuit or regulation, the result will be the same: Consumers will distrust businesses that are not transparent with how they collect and store their data. While they can appreciate the value that businesses deliver from gaining access to their information, it will not supersede the premium that customers place on privacy. Ultimately, if they do not feel in control, they will simply not transact with the company or seller. 

However, the same narrative regarding data privacy might not be applicable in the corners of the world. The way the regulatory landscape will evolve in APAC will be especially interesting, given the diversity of the region. If you zoom into the traditional financial sector, for instance, will tighter regulations benefit one billion of the unbanked population? Probably not. If financial institutions cannot use personal data to reach out to these consumers, how will they ever get into the system? In short, the regulatory frameworks like EU’s GDPR will simply halt financial inclusion in certain markets. Some countries in the APAC region will need to strike a balance and develop a regulatory framework that benefits the consumers across all socio-economic groups.

Trend #3: Fintechs vs. traditional players 

The later part of this decade saw the arrival of financial technology (or fintech) with startups sprouting just about everywhere and anywhere. For a long while, many financial institutions looked upon fintechs as unwelcome disruptors and even existential threats, putting them on the defensive. Today, most companies have pivoted to accept engaged and proactive collaboration, recognizing that by working together, both sides will eventually benefit and deliver solutions that match consumer demand.  

The 2020s will see financial institutions and fintech startups alike trying to take this collaboration to the next level. Significant challenges remain, ranging from demonstrating the value proposition of a proposal to overcoming organizational constraints. To advance collaboration, financial institutions and fintechs need to be more open-minded, tolerant and accommodating to facilitate rather than hamper innovation and transformation. How both sides go about it will be the question of the day. In the end, it is all about consumer. And when fintechs and traditional financial institutions collaborate, consumers win.