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This year, Gartner projects that 4.9 billion connected “Things” will comprise the Internet of Things. Impressive, yes – but just a fraction of the 25 billion connected devices projected to be in use by 2020. In today’s connected world, it’s not just the conscious collection and transmission of information that counts; it’s a galaxy of data points being gathered and interpreted via everything from automotive sensors to wearable health monitors, customized mobile applications, “smart” home appliances and more.

Internet of things

What does this have to do with you and your credit union? If you aren’t careful – and strategic – the answer could be “nothing.”

That would be a shame, since many inside and outside financial services believe the Internet of Things, along with the cultural and behavioral changes that come with it, will herald a sea change in the way we experience – well, everything. From shopping to work, raising children to running a household, constant, unconscious connectivity is about to change the game.

In the weeks to come, we’ll take a closer look at how the Internet of Things impacts financial services directly. We’ll examine the implications for security and the larger issue of trust. And we’ll ponder the effects of connectivity on your operations, and potential operations.

Here’s the Thing

Right now, though, let’s take a broad view. Without dribbling off into the million or so different directions that any discussion of IoT can take, let’s consider for a moment how the connected universe might change the human experience. One possibility: It provides the antidote to our now constant tendency to be spread too thin.

One thing the Internet of Things offers is attention – constant, unwavering attention. That’s important in the early 21st century. Humans are a naturally distractible species. You might even argue that this distractibility is adaptive. Yet, in the digital age, especially with the advent of mobile connectivity, the ability to focus intently on a single thing is all but gone.

Not so for our connected devices. While you may “forget” how much you weighed three weeks ago today, your Withings scale does not. Your Nest thermostat remembers when you’re coming home today, and what temperature you’d like the house to be. No time or inclination to watch the grass grow? Get a SmartCrop agricultural monitoring system and let it determine when your grass needs water. It’s not busy and it doesn’t need to check its Instagram.

Now consider things so imponderably vast or slow-moving that you can’t reasonably track them. Futurist Daniel Burrus, author of Flash Foresight, writes about monitoring the soundness of a bridge on Wired.com:

“In 2007, a bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing many people, because of steel plates that were inadequate to handle the bridge’s load. When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpages. This is cement that alerts us to fix problems before they cause a catastrophe.”

Making the Impossible Easy

Constant monitoring of a bridge’s structural soundness isn’t humanly possible, even if budgetary constraints were not an issue (and when are they not?). Smart sensors make this impossible task easy, even effortless. Now, apply the same principles to any detailed monitoring task – tracking your card spending, determining ATM usage patterns – and the utility is clear. What we can no longer bear to do, the Internet of Things can.

Though the IoT raises many questions, let’s begin with this: If we can train constant, unwavering attention on anything of our choosing, what will the consequences be?

  • If we have self-driving cars, will we have fewer accidents? Will that impact our need for insurance?
  • Will wearable health monitors help people maintain better habits or respond proactively to dangerous events? Or will they simply create excess data when/if the wearer isn’t motivated enough? Would similar information about finances be helpful or bothersome?
  • Can the Internet of Things help us achieve better business results, by monitoring key measurables – or, perhaps more to the point – tracking details that now escape our notice? Could it remove drudgery or help motivate employees?
  • How will ambient connectivity affect member expectations – or, more broadly, how will it change the way we experience our lives? Will members expect constant monitoring and feedback for their finances? Is an opportunity created in helping members interpret this information, or in guiding them to appropriate action?
  • Do we trust the Internet of Things? Or does this herald a new era of insecurity and suspicion? What about equipment failure, or human fallibility in implementing this technology?

We agree with Buruss. The Internet of Things is going to be big. It’s going to be bigger than we imagine now, not just for the tasks it’s going to be able to perform, but also for the way it will alter our capacity to observe and understand the world around us.

Is the Internet of Things coming for your credit union? Inescapably, yes. What this will look like, we have yet to determine.

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What we do know is that we all will be operating in a constantly connected, Internet-enabled universe. If we’re smart, we’ll start learning to self-drive this thing before it leaves us in the dust.

Next up: Is the Internet of Financial Things a Thing?