Consumers are supposed to be the new royalty in any service industry. In the financial services world, plenty gets written about how important the consumer is, how powerful, how discerning but how many business models are really built around the consumer?
Far from being more free and able to exercise all those choices one sees dangled tantalizingly in front of the ravenous crowd, today’s consumers are sometimes little more than hostages to the current system.
The UK has a declining class system with perhaps dangerous erosion of order and predictability. The extreme wealth of London is offset by the poverty and extreme uncertainty of the working classes. This has been the price of freedom: consumers – individuals – are now hostages to the very system that was supposed to liberate them in a financial sense.
This situation is not, of course, unique to the UK. In the US, for example, 47% of people currently are supported by the state.
If we are to liberate today’s financial consumers, I suspect that there must be a genuine, fundamental shift in the very nature of the system that caters for them. Most importantly, everyone – from financial services companies to governments – must act with empathy when considering the consumer and, more broadly, the electorate.
All of us who operate within financial services must recognize, in a collective sense, that the system must give consumers what they really need as opposed to what we think they need. Specifically, we must ensure that the system intended to build wealth in order to fund individual retirements can, in the first instance, actually support sustainable livelihoods for individuals.
I suspect this is will be critical for rebuilding confidence in the financial services system. More broadly, this could become a permanent election issue. I suspect people cannot build wealth meaningfully while they are held hostage within a system that may well threaten their survival.