July 29, 2014
"When will Google launch a bank and what will it look like?" is a question I frequently hear from our banking clients. Google’s activities in digital wallets and payments, as well as its reputation as one of the most disruptive firms in the market, have obviously left many banking executives worried. Unfortunately, they’re asking the wrong question.
I’ll leave aside the issue of whether Google or perhaps Apple or Amazon should be the focus of this increased attention. Each of these players has its unique strengths and growth plans, and some of these correlate more or less closely with financial services. That’s not what makes the question so wrong. As I write in my new report, it’s the assumptions that are faulty here; assumptions that reveal precisely the type of legacy mindset that makes many retail banks so vulnerable to disruption.
Many retail financial firms still haven’t grasped the full potential of digital disruption. They think that new competitors will use their digital might to beat them at their own game, be that through more efficient processes, brilliant algorithms or better user experience. While these three things do matter, what matters most is the purpose which they serve. As I have written elsewhere, digital disruptors like Google are disruptive because they don’t play by the rules. Instead, they use digital technologies to deliver better or entirely new ways of meeting customer needs, often bypassing regulation and re-defining a given industry in the process.
What does not playing by the rules mean in this context? It means not being welded to a business model based on interchange fees, for example. It means not focusing on loans and deposits but rather on adjacent customer pains that software can resolve. It also means offering something just so you can get consumer data you need to improve your business. My colleague, James McQuivey, has shown how Amazon’s disruption of the music industry is just a side-effect to the company wanting to engage customers more frequently. In retail financial services, developing a better global payment network, providing affordable financial advice that millions of customers desperately need or simply getting access to transaction data are all sufficient motivations for firms like Google to get involved.
To understand the potential threat and to react to it, you have to think very creatively about the digital assets that firms like Google have and how they could be used to meet customer needs in a potentially disruptive ways. Google’s foray into digital wallets has demonstrated the firm’s willingness to disrupt the payments ecosystem. However, Forrester believes that the future of Google’s financial services lies in the integration and leverage of the firm’s other products to create new customer value that goes beyond payments. It will be by integrating digital assets such as its search engine, Google maps, Gmail, Play Store and Google Now that Google could re-define financial services. For a firm that uses information to solve problems, a logical next step is to use product, consumer and transaction data to deliver financial advice and tailored product recommendations. Google won’t become a bank – it’s not another bank that people want – but it could easily become a financial services hub to facilitate the relationship between consumers and providers of financial services.