Amy Webb, quantitative futurist and founder of The Future Institute, encouraged financial services firms to look beyond immediate needs and to focus well beyond the industry itself, as she provided insights on the near—and not-so-near—future during the 2021 DTCC Forum.
“We need to look beyond what is directly ahead and to future uncertainty and opportunities,” Webb said, encouraging firms to recognize the many vectors of change and to widen their gaze regarding emerging technologies.
Many firms focus their resources narrowly Webb noted, obscuring emerging inflection points. Taking a more expansive view of forces, signals and trends, financial regulators and financial institutions can plan and prepare for what’s happening on the periphery, which can be a launching point for harbingers of disruption. Fractional investment, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), biometric data and even synthetic biology will impact firms as those technologies mature. Firms should ask how these themes will introduce new tensions, partnership opportunities, or future regulations into the industry?
To prepare effectively and plan for the future, Webb said companies should consider a much wider array of data to challenge current beliefs and look at forces beyond the financial industry—such as public health, infrastructure and the environment—to determine how they might impact the future.
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Preparing for New Opportunities
The financial services industry needs to widen its lens, see how disruptors of change relate to the present and find a better way to shape the industry’s future. Webb noted the numerous aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic—an unexpected force, but not a Black Swan event—include the broader acceptance of remote work, digital payments and AI.
Webb suggested that the industry closely monitor potential disruptors, such as collaborative hacktivism––organizing and sharing information on algorithm-assisted platforms––and systems that automatically determine ETF factors and update algorithms within fractions of a second.
Webb believes that a constellation of wearable devices, including smart glasses, wristbands and earbuds, will compete with smartphones for consumer use. “Financial firms need to consider how information will move faster with these new technologies and how having data in your field of vision could impact trading,” she said.
Webb noted new synthetic media technology is being used to create “synths,” or digital extension of a person. Synths can evolve based on data input, such as conversations, emails and text messages. Synths can process information and adapt to personal details, which have been found to be behavioral triggers. Synths can be engineered to be likable and compliant and can provide benefits such as corporate training programs and human relations. Firms also need to consider the repercussions of a malicious synth in spreading misinformation and manipulating markets. How would a synth that could replicate itself and communicate on social media impact future trading and settlement? And how long would it take for firms and regulators to figure out there is a problem?
Webb concluded with a series of questions for the audience consider:
- “What are the next order impacts of these new technologies?”
- “What will future office environments look like with noise canceling buildings or with workplace synths?”
- “Will rogue synths be able to manipulate situations using conversations?”
- “What does trust look like in an altered reality? We have a shared belief in the integrity of the system—what happens if that erodes?”
She argued that there are lots of signals being missed by firms, which makes them vulnerable to disruption. “The companies that survive and thrive are those whose executives ask a lot of questions in pursuit of understanding emerging signals,” Webb