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China And Hong Kong Doubled Fintech Investment In 2016, Passing U.S.

Tom Groenfeldt

In 2016, China surpassed the U.S. in financial technology (fintech) investment for the first time, according to Accenture’s analysis of data from CB Insights, the authoritative global venture-finance data and analytics firm.

Fintech financing in Asia-Pacific doubled to US$11.2 billion from $5.2 billion in 2015, while fintech investment in the U.S. was $9.2 billion, and in Europe, $2.4 billion. Global investment in fintech was $23.2 billion.

The growth in total value of fintech investments was due mainly to a few very large investments in China and Hong Kong, where just three percent of the deals accounted for nearly 43% of total fintech investment globally. The two accounted for 91% of all the fintech deals in Asia-Pacific.

Ant Financial Services Group – the financial-services affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group that operates China’s online-payments platform Alipay – led the deal-making when it closed a $4.5 billion fundraising round in April. Lufax, backed by Ping An, the Chinese insurance company, completed a US$1.2 billion round of fundraising in January and has started using the name Lu.com.

In that same month, China’s second largest e-commerce company, JD.com, raised $1 billion in new funding for its consumer finance subsidiary, JD Finance.

“Over the last five years, global fintech financing activity has grown by 56% per annum,” said Richard Lumb, group chief executive for financial services at Accenture. “For many years, Silicon Valley, New York, and London were the dominant centers of innovation and demand, but now fintech has spread like wildfire around the world, and Asia-Pacific has become the rising star.”

Albert Chan, Accenture’s managing director for financial services in China, said some Chinese financial services firms are taking a proactive defense.

“Well aware that they’re facing disruption from outside the industry, many of China’s financial services companies are making investments in fintech companies and exploring cutting-edge solutions such as blockchain technology. The result is robust competition in payments and lending from non-traditional players and established financial institutions working collaboratively with startups to explore fintech solutions in other parts of the business,” he said.

“Alibaba and JD.com were two major fintech investors this year, as they focus on providing their customers with end-to-end services including payments and lending.”

Fintech deals in North America and Europe were more numerous, but smaller, Accenture concluded.

According to tracking data from CB Insights, the number of fintech deals outside Asia-Pacific in 2016 increased 48%, but the reported amount of dollars invested fell 24%.

Lumb said the fintech industry in the West will remain under pressure from political uncertainty, high valuations, and pressure tests on their business models.

“The winners will be those who understand how to tailor their innovations and compress their time-to-market and are able to leverage traditional financial institutions to their advantage.”

This year looks to be another big year in Chinese deal-making. Ant Financial acquired Texas-based Moneygram in January and in February invested $200 million in Kakao Pay, a mobile-finance subsidiary coming from South Korean mobile-commerce platform Kakao. In February, Reuters reported Ant Financial was looking to raise about $3 billion in debt to fund more acquisitions.

Another significant player is Hong Kong Credit China Fintech Holdings, which has raised $554 million for Asian acquisitions outside China. It started the year with a $30 million investment in San Francisco-based BitFury Group, which offers hardware and software for blockchain and bitcoin development.

Digital business is not an option anymore, so make sure to do it right. Learn 4 Ways to Digitally Disrupt Your Business Without Destroying It.

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About Tom Groenfeldt

Tom Groenfeldt is a freelance reporter who focuses largely on finance and technology including trading, risk, back-office systems, big data, analytics, retail banking, international banking, and e-commerce. His work appears in several publications, including Forbes.com in the U.S. and Banking Technology in London. In 2015, he was named to the "FinServ 25," the top 25 top global influencers in banking, by The Financial Brand.

It’s Time To Start A Treasury Hunt

Chris Rauen

Today, many large organizations have growing cash balances, but don’t earn much on that cash.  At the same time, many small to midsize companies with which they do business have the opposite problem. They need cash to fund operations.

Herein lies an opportunity.

Historically, managing cash and working capital has been challenging for trading partners. The customer would prefer to delay payment, while the supplier would like to get paid sooner. In a digital economy, however, new opportunities exist to collaborate around payment timing to the mutual benefit of both trading partners. And the treasury organization can play a vital role in making this happen.

A recently published e-book from the specialized treasury consulting firm Strategic Treasurer, Leading Practices for Treasury in the Financial Supply Chain, provides valuable insights for treasurers as they strive to determine optimal levels of working capital. As the e-book explains, finding the right balance can be complicated.

The primary concern for many treasurers may be too little working capital to support business operations. Too much working capital, though, can likewise prove a drain on the business, limiting the potential returns on short-term cash investments.

For example, the double-digit cash returns from early-payment discounts are among the best uses of short-term cash, and there’s no risk associated with these investments. But when treasury is obsessed with days payable outstanding (DPO), these discounts may be ignored.

Control the cash

That changes when treasury understands the controls they have over their cash. It includes:

  • Defining the amount of cash to apply to the program
  • Determining the hurdle rate, or minimum rate of return from these discounts
  • Limiting time periods for when the program is active
  • Identifying which suppliers to include in the program

What about those treasury organizations more concerned with improving days payable outstanding (DPO)? Here, a supply chain finance program is a good fit. The buyer continues to pay at the invoice due date, while a third-party financial institution accelerates payment to the supplier for a small fee, using the buyer’s lower cost of capital. That’s a win-win for buyers and their suppliers.

Another key to success with these programs is efficient invoice processing. If it takes weeks to process an invoice, you can’t take advantage of early-payment discounts, or even pay your suppliers on time. With electronic invoicing, you can process invoices in a few days, and free up AP staff to support procurement and treasury as they look to better manage corporate spending, cash, and working capital.

With today’s modern financial supply chain, trading partners can collaborate more effectively to overcome traditionally conflicting cash management and working capital objectives. It’s an opportunity that should motivate more treasurers to begin their hunt for savings.

For more on treasury best practices, read this complimentary e-book from the specialized treasury consulting firm Strategic Treasurer: Leading Practices for Treasury in the Financial Supply Chain.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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Chris Rauen

About Chris Rauen

In his role at SAP Ariba, Chris Rauen educates procurement, finance, and shared services professionals on the business value of accounts payable automation, procure-to-pay transformation, and collaboration via business networks. Chris has addressed these topics at finance and shared services conferences, in articles for trade and business publications, and in blogs for online communities. Chris has more than 15 years of experience in e-payables, and holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Finance Jobs Shift Gears – How Will You Adapt?

Thilo Sekol

In 2013, two Oxford researchers, Frey and Osborne, opened a worldwide discussion with their paper, “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?”1  In their research, which was based on analysis on the U.S. market, they predicted that almost 50% of current jobs will vanish in the years to come because of the ongoing digitization of our economies. Other studies for the European market reached similar conclusions.2

Although controllers, accountants, and auditors are more at the end of the probability list, there will be a fundamental change in the finance world because of digital developments. “Odd finance activities” like moving data, creating spreadsheets, and validating correct figures will disappear because of real-time activities and automatic bookings. New technologies will help reduce closing time because there are no longer balance differences between the accounting and controlling view, thanks to one universal journal for finance and controlling processes.

The “digital finance” revolution: insights through data modeling

However, the finance function will take on a more “creative” role in the future. Finance people will become trusted advisors who can interpret the data more intensively. Furthermore, the ability to work with a huge amount of data will open a door to very good simulation models that can provide a better base for decision-making in a very short time. The dependencies of internal business processes could be combined to show patterns. “Digital finance” could be a revolution comparable to the Big Data models in the weather forecast, which inform decisions on travel and logistics and help farmers gain better results, just as two examples.

Another aspect will be the increasing value of optimized processes. Even in the finance world, controlling combined with process knowledge can help to reduce cycle time and thus increase cash flow. The finance and IT departments will work more closely than ever before.

Revelations: collaborative opportunities

But the most important challenge will be digital transformation: How can a company gain additional advantages by using data to create new business opportunities, even with partners they do not yet know or that they never considered candidates for project collaboration? How could a rental model based on clicks work optimally for finance, for instance? How can IP rights be booked in an acceptable manner to reflect the business development from a controlling perspective? What else can we do with Big Data?

Partnerships and bridge-building: good communicators required

In the end, the finance job will change as follows:

  • More IT knowledge, alongside finance and controlling know-how, will be required.
  • Networking will be important for sharing knowledge quickly about complex topics with experts worldwide.
  • Partnership (external as well as internal) will be a very important challenge. The finance staff will thus need to be better communicators than ever before.
  • New topics like social media controlling, real-time booking, analytics, and so on will come more into focus. However, typical controlling approaches will not work anymore and thus will have to be redesigned

The finance functions will not be a “must-have” anymore, but an important bridge between the business and the digital world to understand, interpret, and communicate about the transformation process and the finance point of view. However, in the end, it is as John Maynard Keynes said: “We cannot, by international action, make the horses drink. That is their domestic affair. But we can provide them with water!”

Learn more

Oxford Economics recently surveyed 1,500 finance executives to understand the attitudes of finance professionals toward the function’s changing requirements and challenges. The full study, “How Finance Leadership Pays Off: Six Ways CFOs Stay Ahead of the Pack,” will be published in early June. Click here to request a copy.

  • Frey, Carl Benedict/Osborne, Michael A.: The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?, Oxford 2013
  • Bowles, Jeremy: The computerization of European jobs – who will win and who will lose from the impact of new technology onto old areas of employment?, July 17,2014

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

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Thilo Sekol

About Thilo Sekol

For 10 years, Thilo Sekol has worked for SAP as a senior consultant. To help customers succeed, he applies his experience in operative controlling procured over 14+ years as head of controlling, board member, and various other roles before joining the SAP CFO Advisory team. Thilo is focused on helping companies optimize their planning and controlling processes to reduce IT and business costs and increase overall efficiency. He has a degree in Business Administration (Mannheim/Germany) and an MBA (Michigan/USA).

Primed: Prompting Customers to Buy

Volker Hildebrand, Sam Yen, and Fawn Fitter

When it comes to buying things—even big-ticket items—the way we make decisions makes no sense. One person makes an impulsive offer on a house because of the way the light comes in through the kitchen windows. Another gleefully drives a high-end sports car off the lot even though it will probably never approach the limits it was designed to push.

We can (and usually do) rationalize these decisions after the fact by talking about needing more closet space or wanting to out-accelerate an 18-wheeler as we merge onto the highway, but years of study have arrived at a clear conclusion:

When it comes to the customer experience, human beings are fundamentally irrational.

In the brick-and-mortar past, companies could leverage that irrationality in time-tested ways. They relied heavily on physical context, such as an inviting retail space, to make products and services as psychologically appealing as possible. They used well-trained salespeople and employees to maximize positive interactions and rescue negative ones. They carefully sequenced customer experiences, such as having a captain’s dinner on the final night of a cruise, to play on our hard-wired craving to end experiences on a high note.

Today, though, customer interactions are increasingly moving online. Fortune reports that on 2016’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is so crucial to holiday retail results, 108.5 million Americans shopped online, while only 99.1 million visited brick-and-mortar stores. The 9.4% gap between the two was a dramatic change from just one year prior, when on- and offline Black Friday shopping were more or less equal.

When people browse in a store for a few minutes, an astute salesperson can read the telltale signs that they’re losing interest and heading for the exit. The salesperson can then intervene, answering questions and closing the sale.

Replicating that in a digital environment isn’t as easy, however. Despite all the investments companies have made to counteract e-shopping cart abandonment, they lack the data that would let them anticipate when a shopper is on the verge of opting out of a transaction, and the actions they take to lure someone back afterwards can easily come across as less helpful than intrusive.

In a digital environment, companies need to figure out how to use Big Data analysis and digital design to compensate for the absence of persuasive human communication and physical sights, sounds, and sensations. What’s more, a 2014 Gartner survey found that 89% of marketers expected customer experience to be their primary differentiator by 2016, and we’re already well into 2017.

As transactions continue to shift toward the digital and omnichannel, companies need to figure out new ways to gently push customers along the customer journey—and to do so without frustrating, offending, or otherwise alienating them.

The quest to understand online customers better in order to influence them more effectively is built on a decades-old foundation: behavioral psychology, the study of the connections between what people believe and what they actually do. All of marketing and advertising is based on changing people’s thoughts in order to influence their actions. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that a now-famous article in the Harvard Business Review formally introduced the idea of applying behavioral psychology to customer service in particular.

The article’s authors, Richard B. Chase and Sriram Dasu, respectively a professor and assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, describe how companies could apply fundamental tenets of behavioral psychology research to “optimize those extraordinarily important moments when the company touches its customers—for better and for worse.” Their five main points were simple but have proven effective across multiple industries:

  1. Finish strong. People evaluate experiences after the fact based on their high points and their endings, so the way a transaction ends is more important than how it begins.
  2. Front-load the negatives. To ensure a strong positive finish, get bad experiences out of the way early.
  3. Spread out the positives. Break up the pleasurable experiences into segments so they seem to last longer.
  4. Provide choices. People don’t like to be shoved toward an outcome; they prefer to feel in control. Giving them options within the boundaries of your ability to deliver builds their commitment.
  5. Be consistent. People like routine and predictability.

For example, McKinsey cites a major health insurance company that experimented with this framework in 2009 as part of its health management program. A test group of patients received regular coaching phone calls from nurses to help them meet health goals.

The front-loaded negative was inherent: the patients knew they had health problems that needed ongoing intervention, such as weight control or consistent use of medication. Nurses called each patient on a frequent, regular schedule to check their progress (consistency and spread-out positives), suggested next steps to keep them on track (choices), and cheered on their improvements (a strong finish).

McKinsey reports the patients in the test group were more satisfied with the health management program by seven percentage points, more satisfied with the insurance company by eight percentage points, and more likely to say the program motivated them to change their behavior by five percentage points.

The nurses who worked with the test group also reported increased job satisfaction. And these improvements all appeared in the first two weeks of the pilot program, without significantly affecting the company’s costs or tweaking key metrics, like the number and length of the calls.

Indeed, an ongoing body of research shows that positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence our decisions better and more subtly than blatant demands. This concept hit popular culture in 2008 with the bestselling book Nudge.

Written by University of Chicago economics professor Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge first explains this principle, then explores it as a way to help people make decisions in their best interests, such as encouraging people to eat healthier by displaying fruits and vegetables at eye level or combatting credit card debt by placing a prominent notice on every credit card statement informing cardholders how much more they’ll spend over a year if they make only the minimum payment.

Whether they’re altruistic or commercial, nudges work because our decision-making is irrational in a predictable way. The question is how to apply that awareness to the digital economy.

In its early days, digital marketing assumed that online shopping would be purely rational, a tool that customers would use to help them zero in on the best product at the best price. The assumption was logical, but customer behavior remained irrational.

Our society is overloaded with information and short on time, says Brad Berens, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, Annenberg, so it’s no surprise that the speed of the digital economy exacerbates our desire to make a fast decision rather than a perfect one, as well as increasing our tendency to make choices based on impulse rather than logic.

Buyers want what they want, but they don’t necessarily understand or care why they want it. They just want to get it and move on, with minimal friction, to the next thing. “Most of our decisions aren’t very important, and we only have so much time to interrogate and analyze them,” Berens points out.

But limited time and mental capacity for decision-making is only half the issue. The other half is that while our brains are both logical and emotional, the emotional side—also known as the limbic system or, more casually, the primitive lizard brain—is far older and more developed. It’s strong enough to override logic and drive our decisions, leaving rational thought to, well, rationalize our choices after the fact.

This is as true in the B2B realm as it is for consumers. The business purchasing process, governed as it is by requests for proposals, structured procurement processes, and permission gating, is designed to ensure that the people with spending authority make the most sensible deals possible. However, research shows that even in this supposedly rational process, the relationship with the seller is still more influential than product quality in driving customer commitment and loyalty.

Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, studies how the emotional brain shapes decisions and experiences. In a popular TED Talk, he says that people in the process of making decisions fall into one of two mindsets: Type 1, which is stressed and wants to feel comforted and safe, and Type 2, which is bored or eager and wants to explore and take action.

People can move between these two mindsets, he says, but in both cases, the emotional brain is in control. Influencing it means first delivering a message that soothes or motivates, depending on the mindset the person happens to be in at the moment and only then presenting the logical argument to help rationalize the action.

In the digital economy, working with those tendencies means designing digital experiences with the full awareness that people will not evaluate them objectively, says Ravi Dhar, director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management. Since any experience’s greatest subjective impact in retrospect depends on what happens at the beginning, the end, and the peaks in between, companies need to design digital experiences to optimize those moments—to rationally design experiences for limited rationality.

This often involves making multiple small changes in the way options are presented well before the final nudge into making a purchase. A paper that Dhar co-authored for McKinsey offers the example of a media company that puts most of its content behind a paywall but offers free access to a limited number of articles a month as an incentive to drive subscriptions.

Many nonsubscribers reached their limit of free articles in the morning, but they were least likely to respond to a subscription offer generated by the paywall at that hour, because they were reading just before rushing out the door for the day. When the company delayed offers until later in the day, when readers were less distracted, successful subscription conversions increased.

Pre-selecting default options for necessary choices is another way companies can design digital experiences to follow customers’ preference for the path of least resistance. “We know from a decade of research that…defaults are a de facto nudge,” Dhar says.

For example, many online retailers set a default shipping option because customers have to choose a way to receive their packages and are more likely to passively allow the default option than actively choose another one. Similarly, he says, customers are more likely to enroll in a program when the default choice is set to accept it rather than to opt out.

Another intriguing possibility lies in the way customers react differently to on-screen information based on how that information is presented. Even minor tweaks can have a disproportionate impact on the choices people make, as explained in depth by University of California, Los Angeles, behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi in his 2015 book, The Smarter Screen.

A few of the conclusions Benartzi reached: items at the center of a laptop screen draw more attention than those at the edges. Those on the upper left of a screen split into quadrants attract more attention than those on the lower left. And intriguingly, demographics are important variables.

Benartzi cites research showing that people over 40 prefer more visually complicated, text-heavy screens than younger people, who are drawn to saturated colors and large images. Women like screens that use a lot of different colors, including pastels, while men prefer primary colors on a grey or white background. People in Malaysia like lots of color; people in Germany don’t.

This suggests companies need to design their online experiences very differently for middle-aged women than they do for teenage boys. And, as Benartzi writes, “it’s easy to imagine a future in which each Internet user has his or her own ‘aesthetic algorithm,’ customizing the appearance of every site they see.”

Applying behavioral psychology to the digital experience in more sophisticated ways will require additional formal research into recommendation algorithms, predictions, and other applications of customer data science, says Jim Guszcza, PhD, chief U.S. data scientist for Deloitte Consulting.

In fact, given customers’ tendency to make the fastest decisions, Guszcza believes that in some cases, companies may want to consider making choice environments more difficult to navigate— a process he calls “disfluencing”—in high-stakes situations, like making an important medical decision or an irreversible big-ticket purchase. Choosing a harder-to-read font and a layout that requires more time to navigate forces customers to work harder to process the information, sending a subtle signal that it deserves their close attention.

That said, a company can’t apply behavioral psychology to deliver a digital experience if customers don’t engage with its site or mobile app in the first place. Addressing this often means making the process as convenient as possible, itself a behavioral nudge.

A digital solution that’s easy to use and search, offers a variety of choices pre-screened for relevance, and provides a friction-free transaction process is the equivalent of putting a product at eye level—and that applies far beyond retail. Consider the Global Entry program, which streamlines border crossings into the U.S. for pre-approved international travelers. Members can skip long passport control lines in favor of scanning their passports and answering a few questions at a touchscreen kiosk. To date, 1.8 million people have decided this convenience far outweighs the slow pace of approvals.

The basics of influencing irrational customers are essentially the same whether they’re taking place in a store or on a screen. A business still needs to know who its customers are, understand their needs and motivations, and give them a reason to buy.

And despite the accelerating shift to digital commerce, we still live in a physical world. “There’s no divide between old-style analog retail and new-style digital retail,” Berens says. “Increasingly, the two are overlapping. One of the things we’ve seen for years is that people go into a store with their phones, shop for a better price, and buy online. Or vice versa: they shop online and then go to a store to negotiate for a better deal.”

Still, digital increases the number of touchpoints from which the business can gather, cluster, and filter more types of data to make great suggestions that delight and surprise customers. That’s why the hottest word in marketing today is omnichannel. Bringing behavioral psychology to bear on the right person in the right place in the right way at the right time requires companies to design customer experiences that bridge multiple channels, on- and offline.

Amazon, for example, is known for its friction-free online purchasing. The company’s pilot store in Seattle has no lines or checkout counters, extending the brand experience into the physical world in a way that aligns with what customers already expect of it, Dhar says.

Omnichannel helps counter some people’s tendency to believe their purchasing decision isn’t truly well informed unless they can see, touch, hear, and in some cases taste and smell a product. Until we have ubiquitous access to virtual reality systems with full haptic feedback, the best way to address these concerns is by providing personalized, timely, relevant information and feedback in the moment through whatever channel is appropriate. That could be an automated call center that answers frequently asked questions, a video that shows a product from every angle, or a demonstration wizard built into the product. Any of these channels could also suggest the customer visit the nearest store to receive help from a human.

The omnichannel approach gives businesses plenty of opportunities to apply subtle nudges across physical and digital channels. For example, a supermarket chain could use store-club card data to push personalized offers to customers’ smartphones while they shop. “If the data tells them that your goal is to feed a family while balancing nutrition and cost, they could send you an e-coupon offering a discount on a brand of breakfast cereal that tastes like what you usually buy but contains half the sugar,” Guszcza says.

Similarly, a car insurance company could provide periodic feedback to policyholders through an app or even the digital screens in their cars, he suggests. “Getting a warning that you’re more aggressive than 90% of comparable drivers and three tips to avoid risk and lower your rates would not only incentivize the driver to be more careful for financial reasons but reduce claims and make the road safer for everyone.”

Digital channels can also show shoppers what similar people or organizations are buying, let them solicit feedback from colleagues or friends, and read reviews from other people who have made the same purchases. This leverages one of the most familiar forms of behavioral psychology—reinforcement from peers—and reassures buyers with Shiv’s Type 1 mindset that they’re making a choice that meets their needs or encourages those with the Type 2 mindset to move forward with the purchase. The rational mind only has to ask at the end of the process “Am I getting the best deal?” And as Guszcza points out, “If you can create solutions that use behavioral design and digital technology to turn my personal data into insight to reach my goals, you’ve increased the value of your engagement with me so much that I might even be willing to pay you more.”

Many transactions take place through corporate procurement systems that allow a company to leverage not just its own purchasing patterns but all the data in a marketplace specifically designed to facilitate enterprise purchasing. Machine learning can leverage this vast database of information to provide the necessary nudge to optimize purchasing patterns, when to buy, how best to negotiate, and more. To some extent, this is an attempt to eliminate psychology and make choices more rational.

B2B spending is tied into financial systems and processes, logistics systems, transportation systems, and other operational requirements in a way no consumer spending can be. A B2B decision is less about making a purchase that satisfies a desire than it is about making a purchase that keeps the company functioning.

That said, the decision still isn’t entirely rational, Berens says. When organizations have to choose among vendors offering relatively similar products and services, they generally opt for the vendor whose salespeople they like the best.

This means B2B companies have to make sure they meet or exceed parity with competitors on product quality, pricing, and time to delivery to satisfy all the rational requirements of the decision process. Only then can they bring behavioral psychology to bear by delivering consistently superior customer service, starting as soon as the customer hits their app or website and spreading out positive interactions all the way through post-purchase support. Finishing strong with a satisfied customer reinforces the relationship with a business customer just as much as it does with a consumer.

The best nudges make the customer relationship easy and enjoyable by providing experiences that are effortless and fun to choose, on- or offline, Dhar says. What sets the digital nudge apart in accommodating irrational customers is its ability to turn data about them and their journey into more effective, personalized persuasion even in the absence of the human touch.

Yet the subtle art of influencing customers isn’t just about making a sale, and it certainly shouldn’t be about persuading people to act against their own best interests, as Nudge co-author Thaler reminds audiences by exhorting them to “nudge for good.”

Guszcza, who talks about influencing people to make the choices they would make if only they had unlimited rationality, says companies that leverage behavioral psychology in their digital experiences should do so with an eye to creating positive impact for the customer, the company, and, where appropriate, the society.

In keeping with that ethos, any customer experience designed along behavioral lines has to include the option of letting the customer make a different choice, such as presenting a confirmation screen at the end of the purchase process with the cold, hard numbers and letting them opt out of the transaction altogether.

“A nudge is directing people in a certain direction,” Dhar says. “But for an ethical vendor, the only right direction to nudge is the right direction as judged by the customers themselves.” D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


About the Authors:

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

Sam Yen is Chief Design Officer and Managing Director at SAP.

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

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Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

The next wave of the digital economy is just over the horizon, and it could be built on the blockchain.

Blockchain technology has been rapidly growing in influence since 2015, when it became apparent that the technology underlying the relatively arcane concept of cryptocurrency could transform the financial system. By the end of 2016, major players like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs were laying claim to promising blockchain technologies, filing patents at roughly twice the pace they had at the start of the year.

Enthusiasm for blockchain is not just accelerating, but spreading beyond financial services, as SAP and other global organizations consider all the ways it could remove friction and risk in business transactions. From traditional vendors like IBM and Microsoft to leading consultancies including Accenture and Deloitte, some of the world’s biggest companies are acknowledging themany possibilities inherent in the ability to maintain distributed, tamper-proof ledgers that permanently and transparently record transactions. Yet as promising as blockchain already is, the business world may still be underestimating how profoundly it could change transactions, organizations, and industries. It could ultimately change the entire economy.

Trustworthy data and interactions are the cornerstone of the digital economy. As the physical world becomes ever more quantified, being able to guarantee the integrity and provenance of digital and physical assets and the transactions in which they’re involved will become a core competitive advantage — and blockchain is deliberately designed to embed that guarantee in every transaction. Distributed ledgers, smart contracts, and other blockchain technologies could form the foundation on which other exponential technologies combine and scale.

The basic idea is simple: IoT sensors in drones, autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and augmented/virtual reality gear would collect and record data in blockchain-based decentralized ledgers. This data would be immediately verified and could be made instantly available for use by any application. Smart contracts programmed into the blockchain would then execute business processes by drawing on these vast repositories of live data. Everything could be further automated by adding artificial intelligence into blockchain smart contracts to make decisions without human involvement.

Here are just a few of the possibilities that could be someday realized on a blockchain framework:

  • Democratized design and manufacture: A blockchain-enabled design and manufacturing platform would allow individuals and small businesses to play a larger role in the digital economy. Products designed from scratch in virtual reality, as well as copies of existing objects scanned with machine vision, could be easily bought, sold, shared, or even digitally remixed, at an affordable cost while protecting intellectual property rights. This would be true whether the work was complex multi-material physical products made with distributed 3D printers — or text, music, and images.
  • Autonomous logistics: Intelligent, self-driving delivery vehicles could shuttle products and materials to their destinations, or even use onboard 3D printers to create them in the location where they’re needed, while using blockchain technology to execute and verify every transaction. Machine learning apps programmed into smart contracts, which are also embedded in the blockchain, could optimize routing. This could make the current centralized model of warehousing and logistics obsolete.
  • Distributed commerce: Combining blockchain with virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles could create immersive, personalized shopping experiences anywhere consumers want to have them. Shoppers could grant permission for vendors to access their purchase history, preferences, and other data stored on a blockchain ledger. Vendor AIs could then generate more accurate recommendations and interact with ecommerce bots that complete purchases automatically. Customers would receive promotions for new styles, medication refills, or replacement parts without even having to think about it. Critically, blockchain would allow buyers to limit access to their personal or proprietary data to specific organizations over a defined period of time, for example, until the end of their shopping experience or the close of their fiscal year.

This may seem like far-future speculation, but a provocative white paper from consulting firm Outlier Ventures Research claims this shift is both inevitable and already underway.

Envisioning the future city

The more technologies we connect using the blockchain as a framework, the more value we can derive. Imagine that a city has a digital ledger in which every house or apartment has a presence containing all relevant information about the home, from property ownership and mortgage balance to transactional data like utility use, property tax assessment, and past and current contractor relationships. The city could access this “digital twin” to coordinate services and perform administrative tasks related to the property more efficiently and with greater accuracy. The property owner would have a verified, trustworthy way to perform transactions like renting a room, hiring contractors to do lawn work, or selling power generated by solar panels back to the grid. The city utility company could feed power consumption data into an AI to generate energy-saving recommendations, and leverage smart contracts that automatically manage power consumption between smart appliances and the grid to lower costs and improve energy efficiency.

By linking together multiple technologies, this “smart city” could then begin to automate basic city services. For example, IoT sensors could instantly sense a problem (say, a downed electrical cable) and alert the appropriate city agency’s AI to dispatch a technician. The AI might help the technician assess the necessary repair through AR glasses, send templates for parts to the 3D printer in the technician’s truck, reimburse the parts designer through a smart contract, and guide the repair via the AR glasses before finally informing the city agency and property owner when the repair is complete.

Now imagine extending that to the city’s broader infrastructure. A business traveler hops into an autonomous electric taxi at the airport and tells it to take her to a meeting in the city center. Knowing from traffic sensor data that there’s been an accident on the highway, the car automatically chooses an alternate route that ends at the parking lot nearest its destination with an available outlet for charging. As the car parks itself, it connects to an outlet that bills the taxi company in real time for the amount of electricity needed to top up the car battery. As the traveler leaves the parking lot and connects to the city’s public wifi via a social media account, she immediately receives a push notification with a discount at the nearby coffee shop. She stops for coffee and heads for her destination, where the elevator recognizes her phone and automatically takes her to the correct floor for her meeting, right on time.

Meanwhile, city staff can monitor the taxi’s safe operation and ensure the taxi company bills accurately for the ride, check traffic status and push out notifications to all affected drivers, make sure parking is available, confirm the traveler’s opt-in agreement for city wifi, provide the coffee shop’s owner with information on the effectiveness of the day’s coupon, and confirm that the building’s elevators are functioning according to the latest safety codes. Every interaction is transparent, verifiable, and nearly impossible to fake or alter — and just as importantly, it adds to a vast store of data the city can then use machine learning to analyze for future improvements and efficiencies.

A multitude of possibilities

The disruptive potential of already exponential technologies multiplies by orders of magnitude when they can intersect and combine. With blockchain creating the framework for that to happen, it’s not entirely hyperbole to put the potential economic transformation on par with the Industrial Revolution. But companies can’t simply wait until digital transformation is upon us.  Organizations need to start right now to think through the likely impacts in a disciplined and proactive way. Developing scenarios for the multitude of possibilities prepares us to maximize positive outcomes.

Read the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is the Global Lead of Digital Futures at SAP, which explores how organizations can anticipate the future impact of exponential technologies. Dan has extensive experience in technology marketing and business strategy, plus management, consulting, and sales.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.