I posted a joke the other day. The joke was that we had not ordered anything online yesterday, and our usual delivery guy called by today to check we were OK. The joke made me realise something. The realisation is that we really have pivoted from a world of stores and streets to a world that is decentralised, digital and delivering to the home.
This theme of democratisation and decentralisation applies to retail and work, just as much as it does to banking, commerce and government. During the 2020s lockdown, we have all moved to work-from-home, order-from-home, entertain-at-home, deliver-to-home and so on. The thing is that this really is reconstructing our society from physical to digital in real-time and turbo-charged.
We see the statistics almost every day where retail sales are down massively, whilst online orders have gone through the roof, but do we consider what this means? It means that society has gone truly digital, not just a small step, not just an incremental change, not just an evolution, but a true revolution of society in just a year.
For banks and financial services, this has meant at least two major changes. The first is the move to cloud; and the second is the move to cryptocurrencies.
For years, banks have discussed cloud computing, as have regulators. The fact the latter have conflicting policies – you must secure customer data but can use third party technology services – has made many banks fearful of moving to cloud. The result in the 2010s is that most banks used cloud for non-critical services like marketing, but avoided using the technology for customer and mission-critical operations.
Then 2020 arrived and almost every day a major bank announced a cloud partnership with one of the major providers. They had to in order to enable work-from-home for service-at-home. Yet, my question is this: did you really change your business model or just move it to the cloud?
There is a big difference of a bank built to be cloud-native and born-on-the-internet, and a bank that evolved to become cloud-based and available-on-the-internet. It is the difference between a digital immigrant and a digital native. Did you change your business in 2020 to be truly cloud-native? If not, you should, as you still have time and, if you do, you can build a truly fit bank for the next decades. Take that opportunity now.
On the second point, cryptocurrencies, I cannot believe how many banks have committed to cryptocurrencies, and particularly bitcoin, in the last year. Morgan Stanley offers crypto custodial services, Goldman Sachs offer bitcoin for high net worth clients, PayPal will process your crypto payments, MicroStrategy’s treasury services moved millions into bitcoin reserves, and more.
This is all in a year and is the reason why bitcoin’s price has risen ten times in 12 months. A year ago, a bitcoin was worth around $6,000; today it’s around $60,000. Bear in mind that ten years ago it was worth just a dollar and, also, bear in mind that this is the currency who all bankers claimed was useless. Jamie Dimon called it “worse than tulip bulbs” and yet his very own research people in JPMorgan Chase now forecast it will triple in value over the next months.
This is a massive change, and it amazes me how much bankers are starting to commit to bitcoins and, more widely, cryptocurrency today.
Because the customer demands it. If the customers, particularly the wealthy and corporate customers, demand service digitally – which they are in 2020 – then the corporate, retail and financial world has to respond. And that’s what hit me in making that joke about the delivery guy. We have fundamentally moved from physical to digital. For most cities and towns, it means the main street retail stores and offices will close. For most financial firms, it means that cloud-native digital services which support the customers currencies of choice is key.