Digital: complementing change, or change itself?

Guy at a desk on a laptop discussing digital change

Written by Milo Corbett, Consultant at Smart Pension

Is there a fixed definition of the word ‘digital’? When we think of digital, we usually do so with the general assumption that it means a set of technologies which change things: industries, products, people, services and marketplaces. But is it more than that? Could it be that inherent in digital is not just things that create change but actually change itself?

As the old saying goes, change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. In current use, though, digital might be synonymous with the technology-enabled aspect of change, but that is still change nonetheless. Indeed, it could also be described as going beyond technological-related processes and as including the social and behavioural changes that either caused or result from that innovation.

For some, digital might mean an entirely new way of doing business whilst others might say that it is even more than that, it is a frame of mind.

Does the definition even matter? Our view is that yes, it does, because in a commercial context it is important to define what digital means. Sharing a common definition of what we mean by digital enables all stakeholders to share the same vision and contribute to what both a business and the collective individuals within it are trying to achieve, even if there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ definition. You know what they say about what failing to plan means…

Making the commitment to ‘digital’ invariably comes with a business goal, whether that’s increased efficiency, productivity and profit, cost reduction, greater product relevance, the creation of a brand or better customer service and retention. But it also must be part of a wider business strategy. Searching for a digital solution to a commercial problem is our first choice. It’s not always the easiest choice, but we’re up for the challenge.   It’s been in our mission statement from the word go. If digital is a frame of mind then maybe we can describe it as embracing the potential for change just as much as the potential of change.

In our own business, digital is all around which means that change is all around – indeed we might also say that change is all around which means that digital is all around. For providers to the pensions marketplace, there are many challenges to meet. People are living longer and many of them won’t have a large enough pension fund to fund their retirement in the way they hope. Final Salary (‘defined benefit’) schemes are no longer the norm. And for the new generation of savers brought into pensions via auto enrolment, adopting a digital approach will make saving more relevant and easier to access.

‘Millennials’ and those fresh to saving are already plugged into the digital world. As such, they will expect faster access to accurate, data-driven information, lower administrative costs, more agile risk management and the quicker delivery of relevant customer-specific services. Indeed that ‘relevance’ is often seen as the currency of the digital age.

For the customer in our industry, digital brings that better experience as well as the potential for lower costs. A seamless, better, personalised and end-to-end experience at all touchpoints of the customer journey comes allied to the opportunity for more choice, more knowledge and ultimately more control of their own destiny in a shifting regulatory and financial landscape.

In turn, the analytics, intelligence and reports then produced from this activity can give the business meaningful ‘real-time’ snapshots of these customer needs, interactions and behaviour. In a virtuous circle, these can help deliver the best possible experience to customers in the future, as well as delivering powerful business insights to support tomorrow’s development, marketing and sales activity.

A key aspect of what digital brings to the pension industry is what it brings to many other market sectors across the board: efficiency and scale. Realising both requires a commitment to understanding and evaluating how developments in the marketplace may bring with them threats or opportunity. Delivering both value and growth has become closely attuned to how customers behave and what they expect. Markets don’t stand still. Crucially, though, all of that can effectively be labelled ‘good business management’, not just under ‘digital’, further illustrating the similarity of digital and change.

We have always thought that one of the keys to embracing digital successfully is to understand the fundamental tenet that, just like change, digital is continually evolving and never-ending: it is not a process with a defined end. An integral part of success in any business environment is the commitment to experimentation and planning for future development. In a digital context, that’s probably the first step on the way to creating the next Amazon, the next Uber, the next Google. If the words ‘change’ and ‘digital’ really are almost interchangeable, consider the words of Winston Churchill: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”


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