As the end of the decade approaches, so do deadlines for the future.
I have been reading through the predictions from the soon-to-be future-past. Industry soothsayers say that within two years China will land a probe on the dark side of the moon, Matrix-style “mind uploading” will be available and there will be a “lighthouse tragedy in Scotland.”
Finance abounds with similar predictions. By 2020, Bank Innovation claims banks will disappear, KPMG described a world where the CFO takes cues from an Avatar and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City predicted the rise of something called “particle finance.”
Hindsight might be 20/20 but clearly not everyone has been right about what life is going to like when we arrive in the year 2020.
But just because all predictions do not come does not mean they are not valuable. This trip down memory lane emphasized there’s a right way to guess about the future.
While there are dozens of reports put out about asset management every year ranging from small briefs to epic tomes, one report stood out as being particularly canny in how it approached the future. PWC, the global consultancy, issued Asset Management 2020: A Brave New World all the way back in 2010, the era of Inception, Angry Birds and vuvuzelas.
The report promised that, by the end of the decade, alternatives and passive products would comprise a combined 35 percent of the industry, fees would come under increasing pressure and that assets in South America-Asia-Africa and the Middle East would grow faster than in the developed world.
While we’re not quite at 2020, reading the summary of Asset Management 2020 eight years later does not feel like a foreign text. If anything, much of it feels like common knowledge, since it has been discussed in business and press journals ad infinitum.
The interesting and the mundane
What is striking about the report is its mix of the banal – technology will become mission critical to drive customer engagement” and the specific – “the volume of investable assets is set to increase from around $64 trillion today to $102 trillion by 2020, a compound growth rate of nearly 6%.” It doesn’t matter whether every prediction in the report came true, what makes this work is how it successfully extrapolates emerging trends and shines a light on what might be ahead.
This report, nearly eight years after publication, continues to be cited by journalists, consultants and posts on social media. It also underlines the old adage that forecasting often overestimates what will change in two years but underestimates what will change in ten years.
Go ahead, make a guess!
When creating white papers, research reports and other future looking documents, we constantly find financial prognosticators afraid of venturing into the unknown. Part of this trepidation is based on legal and compliance constraints about forward-looking statements. It’s illegal almost everywhere for fund managers to make promises about future performance or guarantee a certain outcome.
But well-founded nervousness can easily coagulate into something more problematic. As a content writer, I have sometimes been faced with subjects so reticent of making opinions they say nothing at all.
Here’s a clue to when something has been equivocated to death – if there is more than one clause that means “on the other hand” in a paragraph, it’s too meek.
Move beyond the general trends
Everyone knows the asset management industry is being reshaped by fundamental shifts in regulation, the transmission of information and geopolitics. What readers and reporters are looking for are ways to move beyond the general trends towards news that impact their future behavior.
In a recent survey conducted by Cognito, four in five marketing and communications professionals working in asset management said that new regulation and Brexit were important concerns. Nearly the same number said they were concerned about globalism in a world facing resurgent nationalism.
A good exercise from an expert would be to predict if the average multinational firm would have offices in fewer world capitals in five years, or if any new countries would join the Euro in five years.
There is incredible change going on in asset management. Robo-advisers, artificial intelligence and the blockchain are changing the way people connect with markets and manage investments. To prove that today’s asset managers are up to the challenge, they should be unafraid to opine specifically and confidently about what’s next. Bolder predictions please!
Jon Schubin is a Vice President at Cognito.