The future of work is a story of data and empathy
According to the World Economic Forum, technology adoption will remain a key driver of business transformation in the next five years.
This is to be expected. After all, even within the highly regulated financial services industry that is often deemed slow to react to changes, we have seen acceleration of digital transformation in the past few years.
With digital platforms and apps dominating almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives, it is not surprising to see bank tellers at the top of the list of the top 10 fastest declining jobs while the demand for fintech engineers continues to grow.
The quest for data
A few years ago, you’d often hear the phrase: “Data is the new oil” — often quoted because of the value of data, especially after it has been refined. And you’d also hear that data is the “new oxygen”, because without it, we can’t survive.
Regardless of what we compare data to, the need for more data (and insights) will continue to grow. But this is only the beginning of a long quest — and part of a much larger transformation journey. What data do we need? How is the data generated and where is it located? What insights can we draw from it? Who can access the data and how can we ensure transparency and trust with what we see?
The need for empathy
If data is one side of the coin, empathy is the enabler on the other side of the coin, and we need both to make it whole. Think of it as the Android Data character in the season finale of Star Trek: Picard (spoiler alert).
Our ability to feel, cry, laugh, worry, and love — these are all unique qualities that make us humans. And these emotions are the fuel that we need to innovate and solve real problems.
Much like the future of money is about purpose, the future of work is about humans — our quest to create a better future and our empathy for those we love and care about. It is not about blindly applying emerging technologies, but rather deploying technology in a way that can help us get closer to where we need to be.
Data + empathy: the future of work is human
The same holds true with financial services. While much of the focus of powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) has been on creating more efficiency in the system, perhaps it’s beyond time to ask: What more can we do? How will data and empathy drive the work that we do? Here are some of the questions we should be asking:
- With the skills gap being one of the major barriers to industry transformation, how can we help workers upskill to adapt to the changing environment? And how can we do better in connecting talent to employment opportunities?
- How can we equip consumers with the right tools and resources to better manage their finances against the backdrop of an increased cost of living and economic uncertainty? Enticing them with buy now, pay later (BNPL) or medical credit cards with all the disclaimers and without the tools to properly manage the debt is hardly the responsible way to go. One in five BNPL users report that they have used the loans to buy groceries — imagine having to choose between food and medical care. Or food and housing.
- How can we help underrepresented demographics thrive and give them not only a first chance, but a second chance? Extending access to credit is only the start; advocating for their needs and helping them achieve their dreams is the journey.
- How can we help sandwiched generations navigate the increasing financial complexities of multigenerational households? With the myriad of fintech products for friends to split bills and for coparents to save for their children, can we create solutions to help adult children save and care for their parents? Almost half of family caregivers forfeit their own financial security to address the immediate care needs of an aging loved one, according to a recent study. With nearly 43% of adults in the US now serving as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones, and with women comprising over 60% of these family caregivers, this is a grim prospect for a growing group of demographics.
- How can we do more to reduce the impact of climate change? With the effects of climate change becoming more severe than ever, data plays a central role in not only informing us of the impact of our actions on the planet, but also what we need to do to navigate the crisis. From combating carbon emissions to managing risks from climate events, technology and data intelligence can help us create a more sustainable future in the world of finance, and for society.
As we often say, with challenges come opportunities. The dystopian future that some predict is just one of many possible paths towards a future that has yet to be written — if we allow it. We still need humans even as our physical world slowly transitions into the digital realm.
At the end of the day, the future of work is not about using technology to displace humans, but rather how humans can leverage technology to be more — human. And this is the narrative that we must fight for.
About the author
Theodora (Theo) Lau is the founder of Unconventional Ventures. She is the co-author of Beyond Good and co-host of One Vision, a podcast on fintech and innovation.
She is also a regular contributor for top industry events and publications, including Harvard Business Review and Nikkei Asian Review.