Food for Thought: Five Things I learned at the BBH Fintech Breakfast

BBH recently had the pleasure of hosting some of the Irish Fund industry’s best and brightest minds for an IF Fintech Speaker Series session, “Designing for Decision Making.” Covering topics from UX design to how asset managers can practically harness the value of emerging tech and design thinking, the event sparked some interesting questions and thoughts. Here are five things I learned from listening to the assortment of fintech and design experts.

Scaling automation often requires a helping hand

We all know that the asset management industry is grappling with how to effectively use emerging technology to automate rote tasks, manage scale and complexity, and streamline processes. There is a tremendous drive toward efficiency, but a few good models for how to achieve it. Alan O’Sullivan, BBH European Head of Sales, shared a story about the “City in the Sky,” discussing how the Dubai airport used technology to meet the demands of rapid growth.

For years, Dubai struggled with an influx of flights (and passengers) as it emerged as a central travel hub between the East and West. Dubai airport authorities knew they could not manage the growth themselves. They had to learn to scale. Enter Siemens, the multinational business services company, who was tapped initially to help fully automate the airport’s baggage handling system. Using artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to track and load, Siemens delivered impressive results: 80 million bags loaded on 90 kilometres of conveyor belts are delivered seamlessly to 57 million travelers each year.

The Dubai story is analogous to the current challenges facing financial services providers when it comes to data, complexity, and client expectations. It is important to have trusted partners who can help with the exponential growth in data volume and throughput which must pass swiftly, efficiency, and securely through the data chain and onto its final destination, where it can be analyzed to drive better business outcomes.

Digital users have great expectations

Adnan Khan, BBH Head of Digital Strategy Europe, spoke to the need for a positive user experience in every aspect of a business. He described the digital expectations of the modern-day asset manager or investor who needs near real-time, transparent data accessible in a user-friendly format. They also expect to be able to customize easily and intuitively. Asset managers, at the end of the day, are service providers. Therefore, they are no longer benchmarked against one another, they are benchmarked against digital leaders outside of financial services – think Google, Facebook, Apple. And since expectations are set by digital stalwarts, asset managers are tasked with upping the ante, or at least matching, the very best digital customer experiences in the world. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Andrew Quinn, Course Director of Accounting, Finance, and Financial Technology at Dublin Business School, expressed a slightly contrarian view on fintech adoption by suggesting that the compulsion to announce “digital disruption” may be a little misplaced:

“I look at it very simply. Nothing much has changed since the introduction of money. People have always borrowed, lent, bought, and sold things. The mechanism of delivery and how you get to the desired outcome has, of course, changed dramatically. However, the underlying principles have remained the same. It sounds controversial, but financial services remain basic – provide the customer with the financial services they need to live their lives. Expectations are slightly higher, but nothing fundamentally has changed.” 

Design thinking drives better business

Fiona Murphy, Co-Owner and Director of Frontend.com, said that applying user experience (UX) and design thinking to technology has never been “buzz-ier.” Since she’s worked in the space for over 20 years, she sees a need to demystify the concept. She said UX is really about putting the user at the center of the design process and creating innovative solutions that meet their needs. Design thinking is also based on user-centered innovation, but has an added strategic element: answering the fundamental question “what is the real problem we need to solve here?”

While the methods of design thinking have advanced, and the technological change is unquestionably rapid, the fundamental principles of good design are the same: research, innovate, build, and validate. Think: what does your client want and need? How can we build something that is intuitive and engaging? Then look back: does the target audience interact with the solution the way we expect and want?

One way or the other, good UX and design thinking makes sense for business. Meeting customer needs will help build stronger relationships. For asset managers, it’s important to ask if their customer interface is matching customer expectations?  And is it helping retain and grow their customer base? Finally, are the digital solutions meeting real needs and leveraging potential opportunities? 

Unconscious bias could be a threat to AI

Across the room, most attendees agreed on one thing: data has never been more important than it is now. Data is considered the fuel that will drive the technology engines including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). However, Dr. Marisa Ronan, Managing Director of Psynapse EU, warned of some of the dangers of AI and non-diverse workplaces. She described how product testing and design environments can create suboptimal outcomes for some applications.

For instance, AI is only as smart as the people that teach it. If they have unconscious bias, so does the computer. One example, she said, was when an automatic soap dispenser only reacted to white skin tones. Dr. Ronan agreed that while AI can help automate tasks and rapidly process data, there is a growing body of research calling attention to the negative way unchecked AI can reproduce and amplify human biases – a warning asset managers should heed throughout their technological transformation.

Looking forward

In this fast-paced, evolving landscape technological advancements matched by an increasing client demand for data and digital solutions, sessions such as this are more important than ever. It is an area all firms are laser focused on, including BBH. You can see BBH’s latest thoughts here.