Outlook 2017: Debra Walton, Thomson Reuters

This entry is part 16 in the series Outlook 2017


Debra Walton is global managing director, customer proposition at Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk.

What is the most important lesson of 2016?

I think the overriding lesson this year was to expect the unexpected, and realize that technology will enable increasingly rapid cycles of disruption. For me, disruption is a radical form of change that occurs not just when a new technology arrives on the scene or when a visionary sees potential in it to reinvent or reshape an existing business, but when those who feel the pressures of disruption begin to disrupt themselves. You see it happening at some of the top tech companies, and it won’t be long before other sectors join the trend.

The biggest disruption in finance is coming on two fronts: digital currency and financial technology, or fintech. Bitcoin, once seemingly a fringe approach to transferring money, is now seen as a disruptive force that banks may eventually widely use, especially in conjunction with blockchain or distributed ledger technology.

Meanwhile, fintech firms are paving new ground in mobile payments, peer-to-peer lending (which seeks to disintermediate the banks), and crowdfunding, in which individuals can fund startups and potentially reap rewards. Banks will need to meet these new market forces head-on and counter with their own offerings or with strategic deals. Many are launching in-house incubators to stay on the forefront of new trends.

Debra Walton,Thomson Reuters

Debra Walton,
Thomson Reuters

Large banks have strong legacy businesses that are valuable to millions of customers and which won’t easily be displaced. But in today’s landscape, these institutions need to change their mindset to gain some of the agility and nimbleness of startups in order to meet new customer demands. They can do so by breaking down silos, increasing transparency and the flow of data, and looking squarely at the future. Instead of feeling encumbered by their size, firms need to take advantage of it by operating as platform companies and embracing partnerships, even with rivals.

In other words, banks don’t need to abandon their legacy businesses and customers, but they do need to pay close attention to shifts in the financial space so that they can begin to anticipate change instead of being forced to react to it.

Thomson Reuters has been a platform company for some time (we consider ourselves one of the world’s oldest fintechs), as have some of our peers. Our embrace of open data and our effort to build a world-class partnership network will allow us to offer financial services firms the widest possible variety of tools—including data, analytics, and apps—to help them stay ahead of disruption, and perhaps become disrupters themselves.

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