Blockchain and the customer


Posted by Steve Harvey, senior business developer at Legal Futures Associate Allianz Legal Protection

Harvey: Ultimately it’s what humans can do, not computers

The term blockchain has become increasingly part of mainstream commentary in the insurance and legal press, with use of the technology entering mainstream business too.

Organisations as big as HSBC are now openly discussing how blockchain is transforming the services they offer customers.

Of course, it’s not only blockchain. We hear plenty about artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics – the list goes on, usually featured alongside the warning that if we don’t invest in or make full use of these technological developments now, businesses in the finance and legal sectors could face very difficult futures.

‘Project Fear’ anyone?

A very apt response to this came from Paul King, CEO of April King Legal at the Future Lawyer Summit in London in May. In an illuminating panel discussion, Paul pointed out that millennials were suffering from “techno fatigue” and looking for “anchoring” with more traditional approaches.

This summarised a wider discussion about the need to keep a focus on customer relationships, whilst using technology for the “back-end stuff”. Spending time with the client and gaining an understanding of what they want from your organisation remains as important as it ever was.

However technologically advanced and ‘clever’ machines may get, they’re no substitute for human interaction and engagement with the real business issues of the day.

I should clarify what I mean by the phrase ‘however clever machines may get’. I’m not of the school of thought that machines can ‘get the upper hand’ in society. A machine can only operate up to the limits of its design parameters and so can only be as clever as we design them to be. As such, they’ll never be anything more than a tool to help us do the real work.

All of that is an aside to my main point: a business’s engagement with its customers succeeds on the basis of the customer being, and being seen to be, valued. A machine can’t do that. There’s no doubt however, that the customer experience can be enhanced by using new technologies, as long as they’re kept in the proper perspective.

Insurance and law share common ground – they’re people and finance businesses. Keeping the balance right between the ‘use’ (for want of a better word) of people or machines is the challenge in this digital age.

The undoubted benefits of blockchain are numerous, for example:

  • Immutability of stored data;
  • Both security of and access to data by multiple users;
  • Speed of execution of agreed actions via smart contracts;
  • Scope for investment and return via tokenisation. (Tokenisation is too big a topic to be covered effectively in this blog, but worthy of examination by intending users of blockchain technology); and
  • Reduced need for the middleman.

These benefits are deep and wide enough to make blockchain a very valuable tool for the finance sector. The goals of achieving better customer service and lower costs will surely mean that this technology is going to have an increasingly broad appeal and application.

To use an historical analogy, the early stages of the Industrial Revolution may have been expedited by the building of canals, but a much greater facilitator of development was the innovation of the railway.

As disruptors go, I think blockchain is in the ‘railway’ order of magnitude, but it was the likes of humans like Robert Stephenson and Brunel who had the ideas, vision and capability of turning the innovation into customer-centric reality.

What blockchain technology is capable of is immense, but the best customer benefit will arise from its wise and considered human application.

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