Imagine a future where people’s investment accounts could be connected to personal health monitors. At the first sign of a serious health problem – such as a heart attack – these accounts could automatically readjust to limit downside exposure, or even transfer holdings to more liquid securities, freeing up cash so customers could pay their hospital bills.
Far-fetched? Maybe – but plenty of leading financial services institutions don’t think so. Many are already using technologies to offer highly personalised digital experiences to customers. Companies like Aviva, for example, use smartphone apps with GPS data to assess driving habits and offer safe drivers lower premiums. Barclays offers a mobile banking app for smart watches. From radio frequency identification technology embedded in debit and credit cards to biometrics technology that helps lenders make underwriting decisions, technology is shaking up the financial services industry, bringing disruption and opportunity in equal measure.
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), which will see millions more devices connected to the Internet, there is enormous scope to make financial services smarter and more personalised. In doing so, institutions will be able to build trust and use data and analytics to deliver even richer customer experiences.
Apply the potential of the IoT to a region like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and things get very interesting.
By 2020, ASEAN will be a $3.1 trillion economy with a population of 680 million people. Across the region’s six largest economies, consumer spending alone is expected to double by the end of the decade to $2.3 trillion annually. And more than 60 million people across these six economies will join the consumer class either for the first time or move into one of the more affluent consumer segments as they look for new ways to spend nearly $600 billion.
This makes ASEAN one of the world’s most attractive markets, with enormous opportunities for organisations able to deliver financial services readily and cheaply to ‘unbanked’ consumers.
Crucially, ASEAN’s consumers are digitally well connected. In rural and regional locations, mobile is the preferred means of communication, thanks to lags in fixed-line infrastructure, while smartphones are already pervasive across the region. The potential exists for financial institutions to reach the great majority of these new ASEAN consumers via their mobile devices, with large numbers being accessible through smartphones.
The hunger for digital interaction, including through social media, has also grown dramatically. Bangkok and Jakarta, for instance, are home to some of the most active Facebook users in the world. More broadly in ASEAN, digital technologies have become a core part of the consumer purchase process.
At the same time, ASEAN consumers are young. The global generational shift that’s driving younger consumers to digital channels is especially significant in this region, where as much as 55 percent of the working age population will be aged between 20 and 39 by 2020.
Of course, delivering on this opportunity and moving an organisation forward into the rapidly evolving digital age doesn’t come without challenges.
At the same time as constructing a scalable and intelligent environment that delivers on mobile, Web, social and advanced analytic considerations, IT departments must worry about cybersecurity capabilities to counter increasingly sophisticated threats. They must be able to provide anytime-anywhere access while continuing to meet regulatory demands.
So how can organisations respond to these challenges? Many are evolving their operating models and identifying partners who can contribute to infrastructure design and implementation, leaving them free to get on with their core business. Central to these plans is working with providers that don’t just sell power, space and cooling facilities, but connect them to entire digital ecosystems of smart tools and business partners.
Singapore’s DBS Bank, for example, is deploying a customised version of IBM’s Watson, a cognitive computing system, to help improve the advice and experience it delivers to affluent customers. A cloud-based technology, Watson can process enormous amounts of information and can understand and learn from each interaction at unprecedented speed, allowing DBS to quickly analyse, understand and respond to the insights gained.
Digital centres offering fast connexions to essential services and business services, as well as a huge range of broadband and mobile networks, internet exchange points, content distribution networks and fixed lines, can often act as an agnostic ‘layer zero’ for organisations. They can help IT teams obtain the expert support they need – along with guidance on managing infrastructure in convenient and secure locations.
Leveraging the power of digital technology is giving financial institutions the opportunity to target consumers at unprecedented speed – as well as create interactive experiences that build demand and lock in loyalty. ASEAN has long been an attractive market; today, it is truly exciting. Rethinking demand, supply and operating models and opening up to collabouration through a digital ecosystem will give organisations the edge in this dynamic environment.
 ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
 All figures are in US dollars unless otherwise stated.
 Analysis is based on data from Euromonitor International 2013.
 Facebook Statistics by Country, Social Bakers, 2014.