The diagnosis is clear. After the Corona crisis, the world has irrevocably arrived in the digital age. Even with regard to the financial industry, it has become clear to the last doubters that data, algorithms, and virtual communication lay the indispensable foundation for business models and customer interactions in the 21st century. The pandemic has primarily brought a digitalization push with various coercive measures, which has catapulted existing solutions for a decentralized exchange, for automated investment recommendations, or for contactless payment into the mass market. A process that under normal circumstances would probably have taken several years with regard to the cultural foundations of working, consulting, or trading became a stark reality within a few months.
Thus, the crisis was and is also a stress test for the health system, the economy, society - and for the financial industry, relentlessly revealing future potentials, but also limitations. Seen in this light, there is much to be said for understanding the crisis as a monumental global pilot project that offers forward-looking actors the chance to learn.
The obvious conclusion is that the digitalization of the financial industry in the early 2020s was not on the verge of the much-heralded disruption by blockchain solutions or AI-based applications, but rather at the beginning of a much longer and more comprehensive transformation that is not primarily characterized by bits, bytes, and bitcoins. The conclusion for the financial industry:
(Digital) technology alone is not a strategy. It is only a means to an end. As a result, it is becoming clearer than ever that long-term solutions must be based on the future needs of users. In concrete terms: Just because it is possible to publish case numbers on a daily or hourly basis, this does not mean that citizens will be able to better assess risks or make long-term decisions. Similarly, the possibility of sending movements on financial markets to private customers or small savers in real time on a smartphone helps just as little to increase returns or provide an overview. Moreover, especially when it comes to complex issues, direct contact between people is key - whether it is clarifying delicate health diagnoses, or when planning long-term finances. Furthermore, it has been shown - and this insight is also relevant for financial service providers - that it is not the individual needs alone that count, but those of society as well. As useful as the theoretical benefits of contact tracing might have been, it has been of little practical use if the public does not trust sharing their data. Transferred to the world of finance, it is also clear that without the trust of the general public, neither cryptocurrencies from Bitcoin to Libra, nor algorithm-based investment recommendations will be successful in the long term. With a view to the new possibilities of tokenization or NFTs as a future asset class, this requirement becomes even more important - also with a view to the still little-noticed ecological footprint of the exponential increase in the necessary data centers.