Financial Services Trends We’ll Be Watching in 2023
There are many reasons why 2023 can – and very much should – be the year of relentless relevance in financial services.
It’s that time of year again, when we stick our necks out to envision what’s coming for financial services in 2023. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know that there will be more disruption and plenty of innovation. The tightening economic landscape means that banks, insurers and wealth and asset managers will need to prioritize investments that deliver results in the near term, even as they look to establish strong foundations for long-term transformation and ongoing innovation.
1. Resilience Through Relevance Becomes the Priority
Yes, customers are likely to be more careful with their spending in 2023. But, no, customer experience will not become less important. Financial services firms should “buy the dip” by continuing to fund innovation programs.
Market experience and research from Harvard Business Review tell us that firms that retain their focus on and continue to invest in innovation (especially in those areas of relatively low opportunity cost) during times of economic uncertainty significantly outperform their peers in sales and profit growth. And many well-known brands and market leaders have fully reinvented themselves during downturns, by focusing relentlessly on resilience and retaining their relevance.
For large financial services firms, they must overcome the common tendency to solve their own internal business problems rather than solving authentic customer problems, as broad and evolving as those can be. Showing empathy and aligning with customer values can help brands stay relevant and differentiate during tough times. That means defining the corporate purpose in terms that are meaningful to customers, a topic we cover in more detail here. Such clarity is especially important in embedded finance and other areas of disruption, where established brands must define their role.
2. Mega-Growth Comes from Sub-Categories
When it comes to reaching new segments, many financial services companies are finding success with tailored offers that can create separation from the primary brand and the competition. As Prophet Vice Chairman David Aaker has written in his book, “Instead of promoting the superiority of a brand, create a subcategory with new or markedly superior customer experiences or brand relationships to create barriers to competitors.”
Sub-categories are promising because they allow incumbent brands to go into new places. And there are many potential opportunities:
- Banks offering credit and other services tailored to small business categories
- Insurers launching digital policies for millennials and Gen Z
- Wealth managers focusing on simpler income protection products and decumulation strategies
There has been considerable market action along these lines in recent years: Some sub-category explorations and extensions have been successful in gaining traction, while others have delivered sub-optimal results, while also producing ample learnings that can be applied to future endeavors.
We’ll give David Aaker the last word here: “Subcategory-driven growth has exploded in the digital era because of technological advances and the fast, inexpensive market access made possible by e-commerce and digital communication.” That trend will surely continue in 2023 and beyond.
3. Brands Will Define Their Roles in the Embedded Finance Value Chain
Critical mass may still be a few years off, but the days of nearly all finance being delivered as-a-service are getting close. Embedded finance is on the same trajectory that made “digital marketing” just “marketing” and “mobile phones” just “phones”.
According to recent research, the U.S. embedded finance industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.5% from 2022 through 2029, reaching $212 billion by 2029. Plaid expects a 10x jump in embedded finance revenue from 2020 to 2025. We expect the growth of embedded finance to be nearly recession-proof.
At the center of this growth is the shift from standalone products to solutions delivered at the point of need. After all, customers don’t want a credit card or an insurance policy, but rather an integrated payments experience that streamlines purchasing and provides protections for important purchases. We believe that a primary way to differentiate in the embedded finance space is to start with the customer and design products and experiences around their needs and relevant to their financial journey.
The next 12 months will see plenty of milestones. Investment advice is everywhere and easily hopping over industry boundaries. Consider how DriveWealth is offering advice for health savings accounts (HSAs).
The tipping point for mass adoption of embedded finance is clearly getting closer and we very well may reach it in 2023. Financial services organizations that start with deep insights into the needs of customers’ financial journeys and that engage successfully in ecosystems will be best positioned to win the innovation game in the embedded era.
4. Holistic Wellness Matters as Much to Your Employees as Your Customers
For many financial services institutions, customers are your employees. A weakening macroeconomic environment will only intensify the need for greater wellness – including physical, mental and financial wellness. There’s a risk that employers may cut programs because of cost pressures in a recessionary environment; that would be a mistake in our view. While wellness may seem a consumer hot topic du jour, financial firms should recognize that wellness equates to confidence and security, which is what consumers are looking for when they buy financial services products.
We expect to see more financial services firms expand their content, education and advisory offerings (via both in-person and Robo channels) for the simple reason that more people need such services. That’s true at every level of the market; from high-net-worth families that want multi-generational wealth distribution strategies to younger consumers just starting their careers and seeking higher degrees of financial literacy and basic tools for budgeting, savings and investing. To realize the benefits, banks, insurers and others will need to master their activation strategies.
Financial services firms keying on wellness would do well to understand the complex linkages between mental health and financial wellness. For instance, financial stress is the number-one driver of poor mental health among employees, according to research from MetLife. Because dynamic relationships between different types of wellness play out for both customers and employees, the group insurance and employee benefits space is seeing more innovation, much of it focused on driving well-being. For example, the Morgan Stanley at Work program offers holistic features for both financial security and empowerment.
5. Human Capital and Strong Cultures Deliver Even More Competitive Advantage
Post-COVID, more companies have rediscovered the power of their people (okay, maybe not Twitter). It’s more than companies having to compete for scarce talent. Rather, those firms that embrace cultures of learning, creativity and flexibility typically realize better results in terms of customer-centric innovation. And it’s not a matter of choosing to invest in tech or people, but rather getting the right people in place to boost returns on your tech investments. For all of these reasons, 2023 will not be the time to cut back on learning, development and upskilling/reskilling programs. These initiatives help strengthen cultures and create a more resilient workforce, just what financial services firms will need to thrive in the near term.
Whether and to what extent inflation or a recession impact the job market remains to be seen. But it’s possible that wage increases may rise faster than price increases. And financial services firms have an opportunity to hire more tech-savvy talent after widespread Silicon Valley layoffs; this is another opportunity to “buy the dip.”
But even if there is more talent available, banks and others must ensure their cultures are attractive to the right type of talent. Typically, that means emphasizing collaboration and taking a human-centric approach. Our research into the Collaborative Advantage shows that higher levels of teamwork enrich individuals, building new skills that increase engagement and job satisfaction – what financial services firms need to complete in a dynamic market landscape today.
6. Balancing ESG Expectations With Reality
While the bright spotlight on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters will not dim significantly in the coming year, attention will shift toward closer brand scrutiny, both in terms of greenwashing and the authenticity of their ESG claims. More companies – including the “big 6” banks that have aligned to the Paris Agreement – will be evaluated in terms of how well they are “walking the walk” relative to their commitments. That scrutiny will come not just from regulators but the full range of stakeholders, including employees, investors, and clients and customers, who will not react well to big gaps between brand perceptions and actual ESG performance.
Tensions and contradictions will be called out. For instance, many of the firms marketing green products and aiming for inclusion in ESG funds and indexes also continue to underwrite fossil fuel infrastructure. No wonder some banks are considering leaving industry alliances.
Financial services firms should be thoughtful in understanding their ESG efforts from a broader range of perspectives. Certainly, there will be more focus on the “S” or social dimension “People well-being” is one potential lens for evaluating commitments and monitoring progress. For instance, the employee experience can be viewed in terms of its social impacts, as can loan portfolios’ inclusion of minority-owned businesses.
Financial services firms should not shy away from articulating their value relative to ESG, but they must be careful about mere virtue signaling. They should also look to get beyond compliance focus, though of course, lawyers are going to restrict what can be said about green offerings. Further, firms will need to become experts in ESG data and reporting, not least because more detailed disclosures are coming soon.
Anchoring on what matters most to your stakeholders, especially your customers, will provide a tangible edge in a tough market in 2023. From sub-category extensions and embedded finance to employee wellness and ESG, there are many reasons why 2023 can be – and very much should be – the year of relentless relevance in financial services.
Contact our financial services team today. We’d love to talk about what transformation can look like at your organization in 2023.