One photograph sums up the challenge facing client-facing companies everywhere, writes Ed Dymott.
There was an incredible image taken from the 2013 conclave where the crowds were awaiting to greet the newly-elected Pope: as he emerged, at least every other person was holding a mobile phone or tablet, trying to take a picture.
Amazingly, there is a similar image taken just eight years earlier at the previous conclave in 2005, where only a handful of people were doing the same.
These two images sum up just how much the globe has changed over such a short period of time. The most substantial challenge our industry is facing is not from regulation, new competitors or alternative products, but from fundamentally different consumer behaviour.
How one photograph sums up the challenge facing firms
There are now some 30 million smartphones in the UK, at least half of which have apparently been used to purchase something. It is estimated that more than half of all smartphone users, when browsing in a shop, have used their phones to search for a comparative service or price. An increasingly time-poor consumer now wants a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week experience, where they can act on the move.
It took almost 40 years for the radio to reach an audience of one million people. You can now reach the same number through a YouTube video in days, if not hours. There are 400 million Tweets sent each and every day, which works out at a remarkable 4,500 every second.
You also have Trip Advisor and a host of many similar services, which can make or break a company based on feedback alone. Companies are increasingly moving from owners of their brands, to mere custodians.
The telecommunication and mobile phone giants used to see each other as the competition, now the competitors are the smaller internet start-ups. I saw a senior executive at Everything Everywhere state that the ten-man team at ‘WhatsApp’ is its most significant competitor. This really is David versus Goliath.
It’s not just technology. What happens now if you are feeling unwell? Well, the first thing most people do is to Google it to self-diagnose the problem and then go to the doctor for validation. Although many individuals self-diagnose to the extreme – usually something akin to the bubonic plague – the fact is that this is changing the relationship patients have with their doctors.
A similar trend is following advice. According to the regulator, the three most popular sources for financial advice are: friends and family, newspapers and the internet.
Clearly there is a question around the regulatory definition of financial advice and that of an individual, but the trend is increasingly for investors to self-diagnose and then seek financial advice when they need validation of their decisions.
We are seeing the emergence of a new customer. One who is more mobile, more interactive, deploys technology to their advantage and who is more willing to gather their own information before seeking an endorsement for their decision.
Dismissing these trends as being purely those of the next generation is dangerous. We are seeing the same among the baby boomers. For our industry to stay relevant and engage customers, we must embrace these changes.
Ed Dymott is head of business development at Fidelity
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