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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Can fintech deliver the personal touch in banking? 11-17





Humans are social creatures. We crave interaction and attention. We like to be treated as individuals and not as “a number”. For example, you feel better when you are recognised at your favorite restaurant or when you are addressed by your name when flying on a plane or when a hotel receptionist says “welcome back”. We all love to be treated as individuals. Delivering the personal touch is challenging, companies have used loyalty programs and CRM systems to focus their efforts on their “most valuable customers”, but this alienates everyone else. Rapid advances in technology have enabled some leading firms to deliver “mass personalisation experiences” and in the process have delighted their customers. So, in this age of personalisation, does your bank offer you a personal touch?

Until reasonably recently, the only way to interact with banks was through their branch networks, and those branches had branch managers and other staff who took pride in knowing their customers. However, with the proliferation of channels and increasing time pressures on customers, the need to visit bank branches came down and banking interactions started becoming less personal. As technology became more capable and pressures on costs increased, banks focused more on “standardisation” and the personal touch continued to disappear. As with many other industries, disruptors sensed an opportunity. Fintechs and many new age banks realised that customers were looking for something more and were ready to choose them because of the unique experience that they had to offer.

But it is not just about the experience. It is not just about convenience. It is not just about cost. Customers today want to be treated as individuals; they want products and services that are tailored to their specific needs. Ideally, they want companies to anticipate their needs, but in a non-intrusive, non-creepy way. When it comes to financial services, they want products and services which cater to their specific requirements, for example offering pre-approved loans when their balances are low and there are upcoming payments, or tailoring terms, rates, pricing to meet their individual requirements.
     
For banks and other financial institutions, aligning their products and services to match customer expectations is a tremendous challenge. To make it more challenging, they need to deliver personalized products, tailored recommendations, and individual communication - profitably. The good news is that technology can help. Insights derived from predictive analytics can help fine-tune the target customers and identify the key parameters for new products.

Technology can help banks create new loan products in minutes, so they have the flexibility to offer a unique loan product to each and every customer – if they choose. Backed by analytical insights, banks also know the most preferred channels to reach out to their customers. And when banks reach customers at the right time using the right channel, customers are much more likely to engage in interactive conversations. With mobile banking apps in their smartphones, customers are far more connected to their banks. So the personal touch is not just restricted to the first engagement during the initial “sale” of the product but extends throughout the loan lifecycle.

For example, lending provides considerably more opportunities to interact with customers during the loan servicing period, than in the short time when the original loan is being “sold”. During the life of the loan, a well-crafted personalized approach can translate into repeat business for the bank. With a higher conversion rate, personalization in lending can bring down the overall cost of customer acquisition. And let’s not forget that while cost is an important driver, it is not the only driver. Research has shown that customers are willing to pay more if they are offered a product/service that suits their needs and is wrapped in an experience that matches their expectations. Thus, personalization can also serve as an enabler for a unique positioning and premium pricing.

This kind of focus on personalization may appear to be complex, but with the advances in technology, backed by artificial intelligence and machine learning, it can be handled quite easily. And as technology continues to evolve, it is easy to see a time when bots / digital assistants working on behalf of customers will be interacting - with growing levels of autonomy – with bots working on behalf of financial services providers. Robust processes, reliable systems and self-directing technologies that can handle the details at micro level while facilitating large volumes at high speed at macro level would be absolutely critical in these kinds of scenarios.

Banks are founded on trust. In the past they had a strong personal connection with their customers, however over time that connection has eroded. As consumers’ attention spans shrink (to about 8 seconds now), and as options continue to explode, it is critical for banks to reconnect with their customers at a personal level. The good news is that banks know how to do it and the better news is that the technology now exists to enable them to do it profitably.

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Which Innovation Model Is Right for Your Company? 11-17





Innovation is a leading priority for CEOs: more than 70% list it as one of their top three areas of focus. Yet only 16% of companies we’ve surveyed believe that they’re better innovators than their peers.

What’s holding them back? In our experience, innovators typically fall short for one of two reasons. Either they pursue the wrong innovation model for their business and competitive context, or they don’t support a good model with the capabilities it requires.

BCG recently studied more than 100 of the world’s most innovative companies—industry leaders in TSR and fixtures in BCG’s annual innovation report. (See, for example, The Most Innovative Companies 2016: Getting Past “Not Invented Here,” BCG report, January 2017.) Our goal was to determine which types of innovation models the leaders use, which models are most successful in which industries, and which underlying capabilities are necessary to deliver on each model. 

Six Innovation Models

Our research revealed six distinct innovation models: creator, solution builder, leverager, expander, defender, and fast follower. (See the exhibit.)

Let’s take a quick look at these models and the types of companies that embody them: 
  • Creators fit the popular notion of highly innovative companies. Typically led by a strong, bold, visionary leader, they disrupt their core markets, protect their intellectual property, and make highly focused big bets that become the stuff of industry lore. Apple, which had a TSR of 21.2% from 2008 through 2017, is the classic example.
  • Solution builders look to the market for inspiration, drawing on observations and deep insight to address customer priorities and problems. Nike (16.5% TSR) typifies this model, combining customer insights with cutting-edge design and technology. For instance, shoe-based sensors link to web-based platforms offering highly personalized feedback that customers value. 
  • Leveragers create a superior business model and then capitalize on it to sustain their industry leadership. Zara (whose parent company had a TSR of 16.8%) is a Spanish retailer whose fast-cycle innovation and fashion-forward designs changed the industry. At the heart of Zara’s success are its breakthrough design, manufacturing, and distribution processes, which dramatically shorten the time it takes for new items to reach stores.
  • Expanders apply their core capabilities in new ways to take over adjacent markets and spur growth. Pharmaceutical innovator Gilead (14.4% TSR) continually enters new disease categories and markets in search of growth, achieving success through strong management, repeatable R&D and manufacturing processes, and a tolerance for risk that enables a long-term view. By acquiring Pharmasset in 2011, for instance, Gilead was able to develop two best-in-class treatments for hepatitis C and gain access to that promising market.
  • Defenders tend to win in mature or slow-changing industries and to innovate defensively in order to protect their advantage. As technology transforms more and more industries, adhering to this model becomes increasingly risky. The key to success is the ability to monitor the landscape for potentially disruptive innovations and to defend against them using tactics such as partnerships and acquisitions. When Allstate Insurance (6.4% TSR) used this approach, it was able to identify the shift to online and app-based products—and to acquire pioneer Esurance to keep from falling behind.
  • Fast followers optimize their capabilities across all dimensions in order to quickly respond to—and often improve upon—competitive innovations. Reckitt Benckiser Group (14.7% TSR) is a best-in-class fast follower in the consumer products industry, which is characterized by low consumer-switching costs and short product development cycles. To minimize risk and maximize speed, the company focuses technical capability and resource investment downstream, in product testing, with minimal energy spent up front, in consumer insight and ideation.

Context Is Critical

Choosing the right innovation model for your company is all about context. Industry context matters because only a subset of models can succeed in most industries. Some models are better suited to—and increase shareholder value in—certain industries and sectors than others. For example, four models drive TSR premiums in consumer retail:
  • Creators take on more risk but can achieve dramatic success. Lululemon Athletica (15.6% TSR), for example, capitalized on the growing yoga movement by offering a distinctive life style brand that encompasses everything from the actual products to the in-store customer experience to corporate philanthropy.
  • Solution builders create loyalty by understanding specific shopper segments and meeting their needs. For instance, Target (8.1% TSR) delivers a “cheap but chic” set of offerings that meet the needs of its young, often trendy customers. 
  • Leveragers create a superior business model and then capitalize on it to sustain a position of industry leadership. Costco (13.4% TSR), for example, combines everyday low prices, a lean supplier network, and a members-only approach to stand out from the retail pack. 
  • Expanders achieve rapid share growth by moving into adjacent markets. For instance, Amazon (30.3% TSR) brings its consumer data analytics, logistics capabilities, and exceptional customer service to an ever-expanding number of retail sectors, including fashion, luxury apparel, and—with the company’s recent purchase of Whole Foods—brick-and-mortar grocery. 
Companies struggle when they pursue an innovation model that their industry doesn’t reward. For instance, retailer Sears (–23.6% TSR) used the defender model, counting on its brand recognition and network of brick-and-mortar stores to stay ahead. But when agile online players upended the retail industry, Sears lost its edge.

A company’s individual context is also critical when choosing the best innovation model: How important is innovation to the company’s strategy, its competitive position in the larger market, and the capabilities and advantages that set it apart? As the examples above show, companies in the same industry can succeed with different models—but the chosen model must align with a company’s strategy, strengths, and capabilities. For example, Amazon and Costco both have advantaged—but different—business models. The expander model is a better choice for Amazon because it reaches a much broader pool of consumers and drives more rapid top-line growth, both of which align closely with the company’s strategy and ambition.

Answering a set of common questions can reveal your company’s context. Is innovation seen as a growth engine or a defensive tool in your overall corporate strategy? How strong is your company’s competitive position, and how durable is the source of your competitive advantage? How important is brand, and what is the relative strength of your brand equity? How robust are your innovation-related capabilities compared with others in your industry? How much are you willing and able to invest in innovation? And, most important, how quickly does your sector change—and what value can be gained if your organization stays ahead of the curve?

When choosing a model, look for one that competitors either aren’t using at all or are using poorly.

When choosing a model, look for one that competitors either aren’t using at all or are using poorly. Consider the investment required in terms of dollars, time, and the cost of upgraded capabilities, and then filter the options through the lens of your ambition and resources.

Making It Work

Migrating to a new model or better aligning your capabilities with an existing one are the most challenging aspects of transforming a company’s innovation capability. The six innovation models are not abstract ideas. Each has a set of design principles and characteristics that govern the whole. 
It helps to have an innovation blueprint clearly laying out all the interconnecting pieces that must align with and support the model. These include the company’s organizational structure and culture; tools and processes for idea generation, commercialization, and portfolio management; and metrics and incentives to drive, track, and measure results. Such a blueprint can help companies commit to and reinforce their models through the design decisions that flow through their organizations. Consider the following: 
  • The fast-follower model adopted by Reckitt Benckiser has potential for success in the consumer products industry, but the company’s individual success is enabled by other factors as well, such as a flat organizational structure that maximizes speed to market. 
  • Under Armour is a solution builder. To build more targeted solutions, the company invests in advanced analytics to better understand what the data reveals about the behaviors and needs of its fitness community.
  • Amazon’s best-in-class expander model would not work without the company’s high tolerance for risk, which is reflected in its internal metrics and people incentives. 
In our experience, the six innovation models offer a powerful way for organizations to evaluate and refine their innovation strategies. They also help executive teams grapple with critical questions, such as, Which model are we pursuing and why? Are our processes and organization aligned with that model? Does the model confer advantage in our industry? Which models are rivals pursuing—and how well are they doing? Should we reconsider our innovation strategy and model? What investments and capabilities would a shift in those areas require?

Working through these questions will help companies choose the right model, develop the supporting engine to drive it forward, and reap the growth dividends that accrue from innovation success.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Designing for Diversity Inclusive design matters. 11-07





Lately, in every article or newsletter I read about user experience design, the terms “diversity” and “inclusive design” flash before my eyes. The UX design community has been buzzing about diversity and inclusion. Design professionals, in the corporate world and agencies, are racing to show how diversity makes their teams strong and unique, how they design not only for users of all ages, but of genders, races, levels of impairment and disability, culture and ethnicity. Diversity and inclusive design are no doubt on the forefront, as we come together as a global economy.

I recently had the opportunity to be a speaker at an event hosted by Designers & Geeks in San Francisco. The theme was diversity and design — what roles do diversity and inclusivity play in design today, and why is that important?

This got me thinking about what these terms really mean to me. While I have been in the UX design industry for many years now, I started recalling experiences outside of my career. About 20 years ago I migrated to the United States, still at the earlier stages of my adult life. Anyone who has tried to make a new home in a country with a totally different culture and ideology can tell you it’s one of the most overwhelming things you could experience. Many of the problems that users encounter with a new environment, are caused by design teams with biases and assumptions about how things should work. When users encounter such design biases, they are often forced to unlearn their prior mental models and learn a new approach — essentially having to adapt their thinking and behavior in order to use the product. Clearly this is not user centered or universal design, and we should do all that we can to reduce this gulf of evaluation for our users.

I appreciated this speaking opportunity as a chance to highlight all the efforts towards diversity and inclusivity that I see around me at IBM Design. More so, I appreciated this chance to reflect upon what these concepts really mean to me. Those 20 years ago as a newcomer to the U.S., I experienced first hand what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. These kind of experiences help us see what it means to truly be inclusive, and how the presence or absence of inclusivity has a huge impact on people and outcomes.

Thoughts of diversity and inclusion were relevant and important to me long before these words were used in advertising campaigns. Today, I’m glad to be in an industry that has come to value them, and is working to make these ideas a larger part of our everyday lives. When it came time for me to prepare for my talk, I thought about how diversity plays a role in my job today. As design practitioners, we must pursue a diversity of approach in all that we do: from how we make things (that is, our design approach), to who we make them with (diverse teams), to who we make them for (our users). I didn’t need to look far as IBM Design Thinking features these two core principles:
  • Focus on user outcomes
  • Diverse empowered teams
You may have heard these principles being repeated so often that they sometimes almost lose their meaning. However these terms are truly embedded into our design culture. As designers, we don’t miss any opportunity to use our super power: empathy. Whether it’s the IBM Accessibility practice or the sponsor user program, our goals revolve around inclusivity and empathy. We constantly remind ourselves that we are not our users. As a global company, we recruit people and work with clients from different cultures, with different perspectives. Diversity and inclusiveness are close to the heart of IBM Design.



                                                Source: IBM Design
I’ve seen these principles applied to everything we do at IBM Design, over and over again. With incoming design hires, we offer an in-depth, immersive design thinking bootcamp, where we not only educate new designers on the methods, tools and guidelines, but we also introduce and foster empathy, experientially via empathy map techniques, storyboards, journey maps, etc. From the very beginning, we teach all our design recruits to put the user at the very center of whatever business challenge they are working on.

When I was visiting one of our bootcamps some time ago, I got to sit in on a user research session where the organizers brought in a visually impaired person as part of user research study. The participants heard a first-hand account from the speaker of what it was like to navigate interfaces with a visual disability. I also got to see early career designers carry out low vision simulations and truly get a feel of what it’s like to lack visual acuity. Using filters that simulated various visual disabilities, designers were able to quickly test designs for contrast, type scale and visual clarity. These are just some of the many examples that I have seen inclusivity deeply integrated into our design practice. I was struck with the dedication of our IBM Design team to constantly put the user at the core of our work, and bringing that into our design education.

I believe that we have a moral responsibility to embrace diversity in all that we do. It is also essential to the success of our teams. When building teams we have to realize that, we aren’t just assigning resources — we are framing our approach to the problem. Each team member brings their unique point of view and expertise to the team, widening the range of possible outcomes. If you want to generate a breakthrough idea, intentionally form diverse teams by design.

Diverse teams approach the same problem from many perspectives. They tend to generate more ideas, making them more effective problem solvers. While it takes effort to align different perspectives, it’s at the cross section of our differences that our most meaningful innovations originate. Diverse teams that believe and practice inclusive principles, will have the deepest impact in building products and experiences designed for everyone.

We need to consider all spectrums of diversity and inclusion: visible differences (genders, race, language etc.), non-visible differences (e.g., LGBT) and diversity of mindset (different thoughts, perspectives, experiences). Diversity and inclusivity are not just buzzwords. These words are burgeoning with potential, and have the power to move our society towards something better. A case in point is the “Inclusion drives innovation” theme of this year’s U.S. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October). As I look around at the work we do at IBM, the design community, the design approach and ethos, I am proud to say that I am a part of a design culture that truly appreciates the meaning of innovation through diversity and inclusiveness.

In pursuit of healthy aging 11-07




Harvard study shows how intermittent fasting and manipulating mitochondrial networks may increase lifespan.

Manipulating mitochondrial networks inside cells — either by dietary restriction or by genetic manipulation that mimics it — may increase lifespan and promote health, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study, published Oct. 26 online in Cell Metabolism, sheds light on the basic biology involved in cells’ declining ability to process energy over time, which leads to aging and age-related disease, and how interventions such as periods of fasting might promote healthy aging.

Mitochondria — the energy-producing structures in cells — exist in networks that dynamically change shape according to energy demand. Their capacity to do so declines with age, but the impact this has on metabolism and cellular function was previously unclear. In this study, the researchers showed a causal link between dynamic changes in the shapes of mitochondrial networks and longevity.

The scientists used C. elegans (nematode worms), which live just two weeks and thus enable the study of aging in real time in the lab. Mitochondrial networks inside cells typically toggle between fused and fragmented states. The researchers found that restricting the worms’ diet, or mimicking dietary restriction through genetic manipulation of an energy-sensing protein called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), maintained the mitochondrial networks in a fused or “youthful” state. In addition, they found that these youthful networks increased lifespan by communicating with organelles called peroxisomes to modulate fat metabolism.

“Low-energy conditions such as dietary restriction and intermittent fasting have previously been shown to promote healthy aging. Understanding why this is the case is a crucial step toward being able to harness the benefits therapeutically,” said Heather Weir, lead author of the study, who conducted the research while at Harvard Chan School and is now a research associate at Astex Pharmaceuticals. “Our findings open up new avenues in the search for therapeutic strategies that will reduce our likelihood of developing age-related diseases as we get older.”

“Although previous work has shown how intermittent fasting can slow aging, we are only beginning to understand the underlying biology,” said William Mair, associate professor of genetics and complex diseases at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. “Our work shows how crucial the plasticity of mitochondria networks is for the benefits of fasting. If we lock mitochondria in one state, we completely block the effects of fasting or dietary restriction on longevity.”

Next steps for the researchers including testing the role mitochondrial networks have in the effect of fasting in mammals, and whether defects in mitochondrial flexibility might explain the association between obesity and increased risk for age-related diseases.

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A strange new world of light 11-06




Metasurface generates new states of light for fundamental research and applications.

There’s nothing new thing under the sun — except maybe light itself.

Over the last decade, applied physicists have developed nanostructured materials that can produce completely new states of light exhibiting strange behavior, such as bending in a spiral, corkscrewing and dividing like a fork.

These so-called structured beams not only can tell scientists a lot about the physics of light, they have wide range of applications from super resolution imaging to molecular manipulation and communications.

Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed a tool to generate new, more complex states of light in a completely different way.
The research is published in Science.

“We have developed a metasurface which is a new tool to study novel aspects of light,” said Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the paper. “This optical component makes possible much more complex operations and allows researchers to not only explore new states of light but also new applications for structured light.”

The Harvard Office of Technology Development has protected the intellectual property relating to this project and is exploring commercialization opportunities.



The new metasurface connects two aspects of light, known as orbital angular momentum and circular polarization (or spin angular momentum). Polarization is direction along which light vibrates. In circularly polarized light, the vibration of light traces a circle. Think about orbital angular momentum and circular polarization like the motion of a planet. Circular polarization is the direction in which a planet rotates on its axis while orbital momentum describes how the planet orbits the sun.

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

How is yogurt associated with changes in behavior? 11-06






Probiotic bacteria in yogurt influence the balance of gut microbiota, which is associated with behavioral changes. This effect can be explained by the existence of a gut-brain axis.

Yogurt consumption increases the ingestion of probiotic bacteria, in particular Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, and may therefore affect the diversity and balance of human gut microbiota. Previous research found that changes in gut microbiota moderate the peripheral and central nervous system, resulting in altered brain functioning, and may have an impact on emotional behavior, such as stress and anxiety.

 Gut-brain axis

The described effect suggests the existence of a gut-brain axis. Because of the bidirectional communication between the nervous system and the immune system, the effects of yogurt bacteria on the nervous system cannot be separated from effects on the immune system.

Researchers suggest that the communication between gut microbiota and the brain can be influenced by the intake of probiotics, which may reduce the level of anxiety and depression, and affect brain activity that controls emotions and sensations. Autism patients often suffer from gastrointestinal abnormalities, whereby viral infections over pregnancy have an impact on the long term, this might be reversed through consumption of specific bacteria, also found in yogurt.

As the composition of gut microbiota is different for each individual, changes in the balance and content of common gut microbes affect the production of short chain fatty acids butyrate, propionate, and acetate.

These fermentation products improve host metabolism by stimulating glucose and energy homeostasis, regulating immune responses and epithelial cell growth, and also supporting the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Classical and Jazz musicians show different brain responses to unexpected events, study finds 10-31





Scientists at Wesleyan University have used electroencephalography to uncover differences in how the brains of Classical and Jazz musicians react to an unexpected chord progression.

Their new study, published in the journal Brain and Cognition, sheds new light on the nature of the creative process.

“I have been a classical musician for many years, and have always been inspired by the great jazz masters who can improvise beautiful performances on the spot,” explained study author Psyche Loui. “Whenever I tried to improvise I always felt inhibited and self-conscious, and this spurred my questions about jazz improvisation as a model for creativity more generally: What makes people creative improvisers, and what can this tell us about how we can all learn to be more creative?”

The researchers used EEG to compare the electrical brain activity of 12 Jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 Classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the chords followed a progression that was typical of Western music, while others had an unexpected progression.

Louie and her colleagues found that Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progression, which indicated they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.

“Creativity is about how our brains treat the unexpected,” Loui told PsyPost. “Everyone (regardless of how creative) knows when they encounter something unexpected. But people who are more creative are more perceptually sensitive and more cognitively engaged with unexpectedness. They also more readily accept this unexpectedness as being part of the vocabulary.

“This three-stage process: sensitivity, engagement, and acceptance, occurs very rapidly, within a second of our brains encountering the unexpected event. With our design we can resolve these differences and relate them to creative behavior, and I think that’s very cool.”

Previous research has found that Jazz improvisers and other creative individuals show higher levels of openness to experience and divergent thinking — meaning the ability to “think outside the box.”

But without additional research it is unclear if the new findings apply to other creative individuals who are not musicians.

“We looked at three groups of subjects: jazz musicians, classical musicians, and people with no musical training other than normal schooling, so the results are most closely tied to musical training. It remains to be seen whether other types of creative groups, e.g. slam poets, cartoonists, interpretive dancers, etc. might show the same results,” Loui explained.

“It would also be important to find out whether these differences emerge as a result of training, or whether they reflect pre-existing differences between people who choose to pursue training in different styles. We are currently conducting a longitudinal study to get at that question.”

“This is the first paper of a string of research coming from our lab that use different methodologies to understand jazz improvisation,” Loui added. “We are also doing structural and functional MRI, as well as more behavioral testing, including psychophysical listening tests and also production tests, where we have people play music in our lab.”

The study, “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity“, was also co-authored by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zeng, Kellyn Maves, and Cameron Arkin. 


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