Key takeaways from the ING Think Forward initiative

The Think Forward initiative from ING Group was an opportunity for academics, economists, banking and technology leaders to address the issue of the complexity of financial decision-making.

The economic and geopolitical uncertainties in the world have led to a previously unknown level of consumer confusion in decision-making, and this has had a significant impact on how people plan and budget for their financial future. Several discussion groups at the program attempted to identify key challenges and areas of further exploration to understand more about consumers’ changing patterns of decision-making.

The task of the day set forward by Ralph Hamers, CEO of ING, was that we unravel the irrational element of this decision-making, and understand how we can attempt to empower the population with better decision-making.

The amount of insights that came out of the discussions was tremendous. I have summarized my biggest learnings below.

The power is now solely with the consumer.

Every breakout stream spoke about consumer desires. Consumer expectations around transparency, tailoring of solutions, usefulness and relevance of information, financial literacy and simplicity came up again and again as topics to address. It was clear that the industry needs to achieve a simple shift in thinking. For example, we need to address the fact that any kind of borrowing causes emotional distress to the borrower, rather than about loan products or mortgages or fees that a financial firm offers. We also spoke about how important visualizing the future is, for customers to make the right financial decisions, and how empowering customers with a simulated future can be extremely valuable.

We need trusted facilitators rather than suppliers of information.

The power of the peer group was discussed often, and regardless of whether or not we personally like social media, we agreed that the peer group has tremendous power of influence. The role of the financial services firm as a facilitator of trusted information within the peer group was expected to be far higher than it is today. Any facilitator who can help provide trust in peer-to-peer information can help immensely in the decision-making process.

Financial well-being isn’t related to income level, geographic location, market, gender or age group.

It is indeed a universal problem. The level of well-being varies from group to group, but it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed from various angles. This is something that was felt could be addressed only with highly diverse task groups, with representation from different ethnic and demographic groups. We heard that women are quicker to admit they have limited knowledge of a financial product, but how do we use this honesty and transparency to ensure we give them the confidence and knowledge to come into the financially literate group?

The ‘millennials’ as a homogenous group does not represent the future consumer.

Noreena Hertz spoke about the ‘new millennials’ constituting the age group 15-21, and how 79% of these young millennials are worried about the economic future, 40% worry about debt (teenagers worried about the economy?), and how this will invariably affect their financial decision-making. The important thing to note here is that the millennials themselves have different sub-styles of decision-making, and clubbing them together sometimes isn’t a good way to understand the future consumer’s behavior. This new generation is highly attuned to the dangers of technology, credit and online banking, and can react to new technology developments in a completely different way to those in their 20s and 30s. The innovative technology developments of today could be looked at suspiciously by this upcoming generation. It’s important to understand their motivations better.

We don’t have enough information on the future consumer.

Leading on from the above point, it was clear that we as an industry don’t have enough knowledge to understand the new millennials, nor current teens. Every industry expert in the room felt that there’s a lack of information on the future consumer and what their desires and behavior will be.

“I don’t think we’re ready for disruption yet. We don’t even know what today’s teenagers want in terms of retirement and financial security” — Annamaria Lusardi