Why Financial Services Firms Need To ‘Fight The Present’ To Innovate

Among Steve Jobs’ leadership skills was an ability to project what colleagues called “the reality distortion field.” If Apple’s best scientists and designers told Jobs that something he wanted to achieve was impossible, he would skillfully and repeatedly reject their arguments until the team left the room convinced of a new reality in which Jobs’ bidding was totally doable.

In Jobs’ hands, this phenomenon was a powerful tool for good. In our industry, unfortunately, reality distortion prevents some advisors and firms from reaching their full potential.

The financial services field is full of innovative thinkers, who are adopting new technologies and embracing innovation. But there is still an Old Guard that insists on holding on to the present, which is equivalent to holding onto the past. These folks insist that technological innovation won’t impact our business in any meaningful way. They argue that clients don’t expect or want us to implement new technologies. Instead of embracing or even considering how technology could benefit their firms, the nay-sayers just keep fending off innovation.  The old ways, they insist, are the best ways.

This kind of thinking is reality distortion to the max. Innovation within our industry has just begun, but it’s growing at an exponential pace and will continue to expand at breakneck speed into the foreseeable future.

There is simply no denying that the financial services business is in the middle of a makeover courtesy of new technology.

I suspect some of our colleagues who struggle to reconcile their worldview with the reality of this new age, are concerned about the human aspect of our work. They are perhaps afraid our noble profession will become less personal, more robotic. That’s an understandable concern. But let me offer a different view.

The financial advisory business will always be a service business based on human connections. And, because we deal with some of the most intimate details of a client’s life, this will remain a profession based on trust and relationships. Technology can’t change what we do. But it can enhance our performance. Properly implemented technology and process innovations can free us from time-consuming routine tasks, enabling us to focus on building our client relationships with clients and serving their unique wants and needs. Innovative new systems can also allow us to help more people and scale our businesses faster and more efficiently.

What’s more, contrary to what the Old Guard thinks, clients do expect us to adopt technologies that will make things easier, faster and cheaper for them. Don’t believe me?  Can you name any business that hasn’t been transformed by those same customer demands?

Every leader and influencer in our industry should keep their head and both feet in reality as they move their firms forward. That reality is the transformational opportunities offered by technological innovation. 

I’m no Steve Jobs, but I hope I’ve convinced at least one doubter to see my point of view. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Is your firm ahead or behind the tech innovation curve?  How is that situation affecting your operations and business?


image: zdnet