Ipsos: Provoking thought in the financial services sector

/ / Business, Think, TOP NEWS

By Abel Kabiru

“We are living longer.” Well, that’s a simple and obvious statement. To those who are health-conscious, they might chalk it up to better nutrition and exercise. The government might pride itself in economic growth that affords majority of people a better quality of life. A religious person will attribute the same to God’s grace.

But to Tony Smith, Global Head of Financial Services for Ipsos MORI, “We are living longer” means that financial services providers will have to rethink their products’ orientation, offering and delivery.

“For example, in Kenya, life expectancy has gone up to 69 years, up from 48 years in a span of two decades. In developed countries, life expectancy has gone up to 80 years. This means that the money most people set aside for pension will run out pretty fast. So who will take care of this ageing population, how will it be done?” posits Smith.

The direct answer to that is either the children of the people living longer will care for them, or the government will have to. For insurance companies, their actuaries will have to recalculate and factor in the longer lifespans into their product pricing.

Smith is tasked with the responsibility of provoking thought within the financial sector in all the markets that Ipsos operates in. Ipsos, a French research and business advisory conglomerate, has direct or partnership presence in 84 countries around the world. The firm engages financial sector players, primarily banks and insurance companies, to create awareness of the changing trends and demographics. It serves 17 of the top 250 financial services providers globally.

“In my role, am fortunate enough to speak to colleagues and clients around the world, about the issues and challenges that financial providers are facing. We are positioned to help companies solve their research challenges globally. We are structured according to our expertise – specialized business units that focus on developing best practice tools and techniques in different areas like understanding customer loyalty and experience, brand and advertising evaluation or corporate reputation. The financial services researchers work with these specialist teams to tailor and apply our tools to the specific needs of the industry,” he says.

Smith describes himself as a person who provokes thought. Provocation is a technique that requires lateral thinking. It involves moving your thinking out of the established patterns that you use to solve problems normally. In business, it helps in anticipating customer needs, track demographic changes, influence policy and strategic direction as well as new product development.

Being able to position oneself ahead of the pack calls for a financial institution to invest massively in research, data collection and analysis. Often times, an institution’s scope of research and ability to collect and collate data, may be restrained by resources (both financial and human). However, Ipsos Financial Services has the benefit of global presence and is able to draw from its experiences in different markets. As the biggest research firm in Africa, Ipsos has been taking a keen interest in the continent’s financial sector…the last emerging market.

Smith says that as an observer of trends in the financial sector, he has a vantage view of the global landscape and the need for Ipsos to educate the players on the need for change has never been more urgent. Financial technology firms have greatly influenced the rapid modernization of the sector and customers are more enlightened and demanding. Smith is educating bankers and insurers to be always on the lookout for industry tipping points, destructive innovations and consumers’ changing preferences and stay ahead of the curve. Technology, he says, is increasingly playing a critical role in the development and delivery of financial services. Therefore, financial sector players ought to embrace collaboration with financial technology companies, in order to remain relevant.

Smith quantifies the efficacy of his advice based on the repeat engagements that clients request from Ipsos, invitation by financial service providers to speak to them, new business generation as well as development of new products by clients after engaging with Ipsos.

He takes pride in making managers and business leaders think differently about consumers. He trains their thinking to focus on the things that are happening in the market that might affect their operations in the near future. While claiming not to be a futurologist, Smith intimates that banks are like sponges to new ideas, which can only mean that they are at the forefront of embracing change and new thinking.

Box: Tony Smith Bio

  • Having spent 30 years in research, Tony joined Ipsos (Synovate at the time) in 2007 to set up the financial services team in the UK. With the acquisition of Synovate by Ipsos, Tony is now Global Head of Financial Services for the enlarged group.
  • Tony’s role at Ipsos is to support clients and teams around the globe in understanding how to address the changing customer needs and expectations in the ever changing financial services landscape
  • Throughout his career he has focussed on helping clients to understand how to improve their business through a focus on customer experience management and brand commitment. He has run courses and client workshops on the subject and has given papers at the UK MRS, ESOMAR, South African MR Association, AEMRI and at several Marketing Week conferences.
  • Tony’s career has seen him in roles at Lloyds Bank, NOP (Gfk) and, for 15 years, at TNS prior to joining Ipsos. At TNS Tony focused on financial and professional services research. He worked in the UK and New York financial teams and until 2005 headed the Financial & Professional Services sector in the UK.

Before joining Ipsos, he was Global Account Director for a global bank and head of brand equity work in TNS UK.

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