I came across this quote while surfing info on my i-pad the other day and it caused me to pause for a moment and think about it. The pace of change driven by technological advances and the resulting opening of communication/information is having profound and life altering effects on governments, businesses and individuals. I recall as a kid, going through drills where we would hear sirens and then be instructed to curl up under our desks as if that would protect us from the nuclear bomb attack from the USSR…remember them? A lot has changed since then. But it is the pace of change today that has got most businesses and business models playing catch-up rather than leading it.
Of all the businesses enduring change today, none is more impacted than financial services. Technological advances, new regulations/tax laws and shifts in consumer demographics and attitudes are forcing some business models to become obsolete while also creating the opportunity for new ones to emerge. There was once a mindset that rather than leading change which has risk, it’s better to be a “fast follower”. The problem is with todays fast pace, following puts you at greater risk of falling behind more than ever before. Fast followers are becoming latent laggards.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to predict the future? When 1984 came and went, it looked nothing like George Orwell’s version. And in 2001, we didn’t end up all living a “Space Odyssey” like the movie. I suppose this may be why we cling to the tried and true; the known. Change is hard and as the quote above infers, very frightening. But now more than ever, it is necessary for survival.
Just as I get all futuristic and philosophical, I am drawn to start thinking, okay, what specific business moves do we need to make today to survive and thrive into the future? It is here where I start drawing on past experiences and thinking about history repeating itself. Back in 2007, before any of us could even conceive of what was to unfold in the financial chaos of 2008, a speech was given at the annual AALU (an organization of elite life producers) meeting by Tony Gordon who has a successful practice in the UK. His message was simple. He explained what had happened over the past 20 years in the UK financial services business and warned that if we in the US didn’t get more proactive about cleaning up our business practices and defending our respective way of business life, that what has happened there would no doubt occur here “across the pond”. What he described in his cautionary speech is almost exactly what we are seeing unfold today with Dodd-Frank. (Send me a note if you would like a PDF copy of the speech) A result of what looks a great deal like what the SEC is attempting with “harmonization” moving to a uniform principle based standard for advisors/brokers/agents is that the population of practitioners was reduced by 75%, the middle markets were no longer served by advisors and banks became the primary distributor of financial products and services. Could this happen here? Absolutely. Will it happen?...we’ll have to see. But it does present a dose of reality and a picture of what the financial services business here in the US may look like if we continue on the current trajectory.
An interesting and fearful time to live, no doubt.