Amid an erosion of trust in the institutions supposed to serve us, questions are being asked about what comes next.
I have a confession to make.
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a banker. I even went so far as to get a financial services licence, with a grand vision to provide advice to young professionals taking the plunge to buy their first home, investing in the share market, or setting themselves up for the long-term through superannuation.
After what we have seen in the Financial Services Royal Commission recently, I am glad I chose to pursue a path of entrepreneurship via the technology industry instead.
However, all in the tech sector were given pause for thought when arguably the most famous technology entrepreneur in the world, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, was fronting a US Senate hearing and apologising for all the mistakes and negative impact his social network has had – including during the US election, when hacked and misused data from millions of Facebook profiles allegedly skewed votes towards Donald Trump.
Perhaps the financial services and technology industries aren’t so far apart after all.
We have heard stories of previously reputable banks charging extortionate fees to customers beyond the grave – a system of trailing commissions and skewed incentives promoting manipulative behaviour, where the interests of the service provider are put ahead of the end user.
For now, the global technology companies have tried to pass blame for breaches of their data bases onto third parties such as Cambridge Analytica. Bankers, at least based on recent testimony, are starting to look increasingly complicit. At best, both parties have been turning a blind eye to fraud and misconduct for too long.
Trust, and the abuse of it, is the element common to both situations.
When we go to a bank or financial planner, we trust them to provide the best advice for a particular financial circumstance. They are, essentially, the custodians of our gold.
The same is true for Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like. We trust them with our digital gold – data – as we traipse across the internet browsing and buying, searching and socialising.
The royal commission hasn’t got there yet, but when we reflect on this in a few years’ time – after the blame has been apportioned and the bodies buried – I think that we, as consumers, need to take some responsibility.
Clearly we have a national literacy problem. Whether it be managing our money or our online data, too few of us understand the ramifications of our decisions, and have placed too much faith in systems and companies in an environment where the incentives to take the low road have become increasingly attractive.
As is so often the case, it comes down to education. The state government established a Stem Advisory Panel to develop a strategy for promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our schools. Perhaps we need to be teaching our kids how to manage their money, too, so they aren’t as vulnerable as those who have lost homes and livelihoods due to poor financial advice now being discovered.
At least our children have grown up as digital natives. It is no surprise that many in the older generations are scared of the digital revolution. Whether it is the perception that robots are coming to take our jobs, a parent’s worry about their kids’ activity on Facebook, entering credit card details while shopping online, or the fear that sets in when you move house and have to set up a new internet connection and unpack a new modem to connect with your new provider.
One can’t help but think that education and, increasingly, regulation are going to have more of a role to play going forward.