Being Found: A Challenge for 2020

Mark P. Dangelo

To take a liberty with overused line from Hamlet, “To be (found), or not to be (found), that is the question”–at least it will be as 2020 dawns. With the endless methods to promote a product or service, the demand to secure views as omni-channels expand and to be noticed when the white-noise chatter is so extensive, has been translated by financial services and banking organizations to rapidly embrace machine, artificial or robotic multiplied intelligence innovations at breakneck speeds. The embrace is not only for efficiencies, but also to have the “bragging” rights that come with large capital innovation adoption–to show leadership above their competitors’ noise.

Even as more than 50% of the Fortune 500 profess their use of AI, the variety and sophistication of these initiatives varies. The rationale for some is that they can “make more noise” than their competitor even with marginal improvements. It seems, even though the result may be as an example higher consumer satisfaction or risk analysis, these enterprises can claim they are “future leaning” or “innovation driven,” and as a result, can promote their efforts above their competition. They seek to be “found” and once they standout, hope to translate their presence into sales, market share or consumer loyalty.

As 2020 unfolds, these innovative differentiators will move into the common–meaning if you are not doing them then you will be perceived as a lagger, or worse, an acquisition target. As early entrants using advanced intelligence multipliers (e.g., AI, machine learning, cognitive computing) now head into the growth stages using compartmentalization and orchestration to create Lego-like plug and-play blocks, only those who can create leverage from their early endeavors will be able to be found. The noise from enterprises all saying they are using innovative synthetic intelligence in their customer fulfillments will be all too common. So, what is next?

Innovate Like Siemens, Excite Like the Cybertruck

For financial institutions, there are lessons to be learned from innovation leaders who promise and hype, but often fail, when it comes to expectations of the consumer and their corporate investors. For example, with the buildup of Telsa’s “blade runner” or “cybertruck” many individuals and industry groups were anticipating an advanced electric vehicle–which they got–but expected a design that was less Frankenstein in its appearance. Did innovation and ego supersede consumer likability? Will the two-year lead time and more than 200,000 advanced orders thwart traditional competition, or will it provide them a roadmap to leverage? In an era of rapid-cycling intelligence, can ideas and prototypes buy enough time to capture market leadership and profitability?

In the days and weeks since Elon Musk’s shock of breaking the “unbreakable” window was recorded, it wasn’t necessarily the cybertruck that excited, but the viral views that stemmed from a live broadcast of a CEO who is known for his controversial and flamboyant persona being completely shocked by a failure with a segment of his innovation. Would the cybertruck have gained as many “eyeballs” or been found by non-traditional consumers if the window had not shattered? It begs the question, was the cybertruck being found as a result of its specifications, its content, or was it found because of a viral moment? Or perhaps, was it all staged to standout from its competitors such as Ford (who has now challenged Musk to a backyard pull off)? Regardless of the orchestrated announcement, the product was shared, found and influenced more from its mistake than from its announcement. 

This example should lead financial institutions who strive to lead with innovation to an analogous question, how can we be found in an era of unprecedented targeted marketing? Will our efforts lead to closures? Will margins and profits be advanced as a result of being found? More importantly, will the drive to compete using technology and synthetic intelligence create a differentiation that can be capitalized across a shrinking number of traditional competitors? And, once started, what are the building blocks that are needed not only for stellar execution, but for leverage of content and messaging? 

However, if a financial institution staged a demonstration on its cybersecurity and challenged black hat hackers to try and inflict harm say during the annual shareholder meeting–and they did do damage–then would that be a positive moment gaining the attention of consumers? Or would it, unlike the Telsa example, create panic and a massive loss of confidence? Financial institutions have had a few leaders like Musk (e.g., Mozilo, Prince, Killinger), and their moments of being found, well, have not been generally positive. 

The takeaway for 2020 is straightforward. Financial institutions need to have solid, executable roadmaps into the future with continuous innovative solutions that meet consumer needs. It’s not always about having “more” or “better” or “bada$$” solutions, it really is about leveraging what financial institutions are great at–trust and security but adjusted for digitalization and an “always-on” customer. Roadmaps ensure we don’t go awry against a journey that is constantly being rewritten by acceleration of items like AI, machine learning, and a growing base of compartmentalized synthetic-human solutions.

Attention Economic Ideals Find Relevancy

Political contests can sometime unearth marginalized ideas held dormant except for their creators. For me, the idea of being found is a fundamental pillar within a nearly five-decade old management approach (e.g., see Simon, Davenport, Beck, Crawford) now collectively termed the “Attention Economy.” This individual, psychological and economic idea has been brought to the public’s attention by presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Regardless of politics, the premise of an attention economy is gaining in popularity.

Why after nearly 50 years has the alarm over information overload, lack of privacy and increasingly disengaged individuals now an issue? For this answer, we only have to look at the innovation singularity that is taking place across consumer segments, with our embrace of all things innovative, and the exponential increase in artificial driven intelligences leveraging the vast amounts of data collected on everything humans do–not including information generated from the 10 billion video cameras and 15 billion IoTs across the globe. As data volumes explode, an inverse is taking place with the human ability to react to the conclusions, use new insights or adapt to the cultural chaos created by innovation intrusions. 

In short, economies are now being stimulated by data streams that arrive nonstop, and which in turn, create a numbness with the very individuals they were meant to influence. Therefore, those financial institutions vying for attention, be it for mortgage lending, educational loans, or investment opportunities, by deploying extremes to gain attention are found frequently to resemble reality-show gimmicks. In the attention economy, the ability to distinguish between real and fake news, offers, emails and even “AI people” is almost non-existent. 

And as the channels used to reach individuals to be found is tainted by those maliciously seeking to influence, the resulting corruption leaves the individuals sought after by FSBO’s with significant apprehension and discounting when they hear new content and delivery promises. Do they believe the messaging? Can they trust the projections?

So, the second takeaway would be is how do our products and services gain the attention of a consumer bombarded with messaging that is “new,” “improved” and “industry leading?” To build upon the roadmap, content must be added not just from the innovation, but likely scenarios of reaction, mid-course adjustments, and even competitive anticipations. Where will our offerings be found across the demographics and brackets and how long will they “live?” We need to recognize that fact that traditional channels are now being enveloped by omnichannel delivery–for us to get found, we have to be where our customers and prospects are looking. 

It Only Begins with Innovation and Content

In the world of financial institutions, McKinsey research has shown that 35% of traditional firm’s annual IT budgets are allocated for innovation improvements compared to 70% for non-traditional financial institution firms such as fintech. And, while this benchmark can be explained away by organizational cultures and size of operating budgets, not to mention legacy support, it can also be attributable to the historical project mentality that believed once the initiative was completed, so was the innovation. In the new world demand of trying to be found, it also points to the reality that innovation is not an end-state, but indeed a journey that has no end (unless we are talking about branches).

Peeling this back a bit further, since the dawn of social media nearly two decades ago, marketing and promotions were often about finding “influencers” to promote the app, brand, product or service. If these individuals or firms pushed their ideas onto their followers, then the innovation “became” a success and as time went on, they used these paid channels of influence to ensure the loyalty of consumers. Now the revolt has started, and the acceptance of influencers is dying quickly. Astute consumers are now in an “Age of Fake” validating the claims made, looking for reality in a world dominated by reality show delivery and relying on peers either as individuals or as groups to form their opinions and actions. 

Moreover, as consumers incomes increase from the gig-economies and remote work becomes the norm rather than the exception (in 2018, nearly 45% of the work forces worked remotely one-half of the week), the need to reach a mobile and fragmented individual is growing. For lenders, the ability to offer innovations that can be innovatively relevant is more important than being bleeding edge. With the demand for time growing and attention economic factors having a greater impact in the family and social structures, the engagement with customers is now more about being found and utilized rather than just making the noise.

The takeaway here is pervasive and often missed–don’t let the data scientists overwhelm common sense. We will be able to identify individual actions and projections from highly complex analytics from consumer “digital breathing” (i.e., much smaller and subtler than the old “footprints”). We will be able by 2022-2025 to stitch together every bit of a consumer’s digital life, analog existence and their movements supported by IoT and an estimated 5 billion more video cameras.

The Ramifications of Innovation Singularity are here. Yet to be found by consumers, we cannot become another intrusion into their life that resembles the Chinese government spying on their citizens–there must be checks and balances for acceptance. If a company wants to be found starting in 2020, how about saying what you are not going to do with their information rather than intrude into the privacy and trust of an individual. Now that is a reality show result that might have efficacy starting in 2020.

Enterprise leaders often subscribed to the belief that innovation and capital investments is a destination–that is misguided. The reason we use innovation now is as a tool to be found in economies that are driven by attention, technology and data. It will be in 2020, an unfamiliar mandate which will lead to a number of expensive, but failed launches, as enterprises fail to heed the demise of methods that ensured they were found over their competitors.

(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA Insights welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at