In a wide-ranging discussion with The Digital Banking Report’s Jim Marous, Bhargava delves into the key technological, social and cultural forces that will reshape consumer behavior, employment, identity, leadership and more in the years ahead.
Q: Let’s start with the big picture behind “The Future Normal.” What framed this perspective, and what do you hope readers take away?
Bhargava: This book came from a collaboration with Henry Coutinho-Mason, a futurist in London. We both wanted to present an optimistic version of the future, unlike other] dystopian science fiction.
The framing question was, “What if things go right?” The 30 trends we discuss are based on pioneers already driving change. If we all knew about and supported these ideas, they could become our shared future.
I hope the book sparks readers’ imagination to envision, and then actively shape, a world aligned with their values. The trends cover how we will connect, work, consume, get healthy, and ultimately survive. Each offers lessons on how to think about the future.
Surprising and Compelling Trends
Q: Of the trends, which most surprised you in your research?
Bhargava: The “how humanity will survive” section in the book has the most seemingly farfetched topics, like microgrids or weather control tech. But actual experiments are underway in each of these areas.
Our concept of “multiversal identity” also grabs attention, but it just means we’ll curate our identities across platforms as multifaceted selves. Most people do that already between professional and social media. Managing this consciously is the shift.
Augmented creativity really struck me, too. We used AI to critique our own book drafts and generate novel ideas. The tools won’t replace creativity but enhance human potential if applied judiciously.
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Evolving Consumer Behaviors and Expectations
Q: How do you anticipate consumer behavior evolving in the decade ahead?
Bhargava: Some needs won’t change: security, avoiding unreasonable risk. But technology will enable more experimentation with how we work, cohabitate, and relate to our communities or planet.
People will demand more transparency around how their data gets used, with the potential to share in the monetization. Solutions like blockchain will emerge to give consumers more control.
There’s a growing appetite for experiences over mere transactions. But empathy, ethics and sustainability will drive brand loyalty as much as seamless convenience does today.
Q: What advice do you have for financial institutions navigating these consumer shifts?
Bhargava: Anchor in the timeless fundamentals. Help people manage financial lives integrated with their values. If strategies map closely to fulfilling changing consumer needs, disruption brings opportunity, not just risk.
For instance, the global expansion of remote work could require managing payments across borders and currencies more seamlessly. Financing emerging sectors like wellness or sustainability also allows banks to align with consumer priorities.
Most importantly, become partners in customers’ financial lives. Use data judiciously to provide advice and predict needs, not manipulate them. Build experiences people identify with and trust.
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Bridging the Physical and Digital
Q: How do you envision the convergence of physical and digital experiences shaping industries like financial services?
Bhargava: As virtual spaces expand what’s possible, we’ll see more immersive experiences bridging the physical and digital realms to better meet consumer needs and expectations. Financial institutions that creatively build their capabilities in emerging areas like the metaverse, gaming, collectibles, and non-fungible tokens will gain first-mover advantages. These niche markets hold significant untapped opportunities.
Of course, prudent oversight of new ecosystems remains imperative. But an openness to engage where consumer behavior is evolving, even in seemingly frivolous realms, can yield major competitive advantages. Legacy institutions dismissing unfamiliar spaces out of hand face disruption.
Q: What advice do you have for leaders aiming to future-proof their institutions?
Bhargava: Keep questioning assumptions and biases that limit perspective. Just because a new trend seems unrelated to current business at first glance doesn’t make it irrelevant.
Engage directly with innovations to understand possibilities, even if speculative. And focus your organization on driving impact and progress above all else. Humanity’s problems are too urgent for incrementalism or rigid status quos.
By tapping our collective knowledge and imagination, we can co-create the future we wish for rather than passively watching it unfold. But it takes deliberately looking beyond today’s models.
Every industry will experience disruption. But with open and empowering cultures centered on a higher purpose, leaders can transform uncertainty into opportunity and sustainable progress for us all. The future remains undetermined – and that represents promise, not peril.
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Rethinking Identity in the Digital Age
Q: You foresee identity becoming more “multiversal.” What does this mean for financial institutions?
Bhargava: People already create tailored identities across social media platforms today. They’ll increasingly expect tools to curate identities and manage how data gets shared differently across contexts.
This raises big questions about how banks leverage identity data. To build trusted relationships, transparency is crucial. Provide value in exchange for data usage. Ensure algorithmic decisions reflect ethics and empathy.
The institutions that give consumers the flexibility to consciously sculpt financial identities aligned with values will earn loyalty. Those taking advantage will face backlash. Multiversal identity forces rethinking long-held assumptions.
Q: How do you envision work evolving in the next decade?
Bhargava: The pandemic accelerated remote work and flexibility. But technology already enabled more experimentation with peer-to-peer work platforms, job sharing and benefits portability.
Employees expect more than just transactions; they want purpose and work-life integration. This will only grow as virtual spaces expand what’s possible. Financial institutions facilitating these shifts retain talent.
Work’s transformation requires rethinking everything from global payments to ownership structures. For example, tokenized benefits could support the growing gig economy. The institutions that lean into these changes will thrive.
Emerging Technology’s Role and Risks
Q: As a futurist, how do you recommend industry leaders stay future-ready?
Bhargava: Keep consuming forward-looking ideas across diverse sources — books, research, podcasts, unconferences — not just industry echo chambers. Seemingly unrelated innovations seed inspiration.
Proactively try emerging innovations like AI yourself before judging relevance. And nurture beginner’s mindsets in yourself and your teams. Curiosity and agility compound over time.
Most importantly, connect every initiative back to driving a higher purpose, not just profits. Mission provides stability amid volatility. With social responsibility at the core, organizations thrive for decades, not just quarters.
Q: Which of the trends you identified seem most likely to play out as envisioned?
Bhargava: I’m confident humanity will survive! But in the near term, multifaceted identity, more ethical data usage, decentralized models giving individuals control and AI as an augmentation all seem poised to steadily advance based on encouraging progress already underway.
Remote work, sustainability, the blurring between physical and virtual and preventative personalized health also have significant momentum that I expect will only accelerate. Of course, new unknown forces will emerge, too. The future inherently surprises — predictability is the past’s luxury.
Q: In contrast, do you have any regrets about trends not included or already evolving differently than imagined?
Bhargava: I likely would have included another chapter on AI, given the explosive impact we’ve seen with models like ChatGPT since writing, especially around legal tech: from automating contract review to predicting case outcomes, the implications are enormous.
Cryptocurrency’s outlook has also already pivoted dramatically from when we wrote about decentralized opportunity. But innovation always sees ups and downs. The underlying ethos persists.
Above all, I wish I had foreseen the war in Ukraine and other humanitarian crises challenging global stability right now. However, the book aimed to illuminate the possible, not predict the definitive. Our imagination of the future must continually expand to encompass unforeseen realities.
For a longer version of this conversation, listen to “The Future Normal: Navigating the Next Decade and Beyond,” an episode of the Banking Transformed podcast with Jim Marous, available here or wherever you get your podcasts. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Justin Estes is an award-winning writer, strategist, and financial marketing expert with expertise in banking, investments, and fintech. His clients include the NYSE, Franklin Templeton, Credit Karma, Citi and, UBS, and his work has appeared in Forbes, Barrons and ThinkAdvisor as well as The Financial Brand.