“It is no longer an option to ignore the realities of the demographic shift” – Theodora Lau

To give a short personal impression: let us know what are your top 3 books everyone today needs to read and top 3 tech gadgets one needs to have?

Having to pick top 3 books is quite a difficult task as I love to read and there are many great authors out there. With that being said,

  1. “The Last Lecture” by Professor Randy Pausch (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain), is an extremely inspirational read that literally changed my perspective on life.
  2. I also like “Deep Thinking” by Garry Kasparov (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain),
  3. and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain).

And of course, it goes without saying that Chris Skinner and Brett King are two great authors that you must follow to get a perspective on the current and future state of financial services.

As for tech gadgets,

  1. my first go-to is the iPhone (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain) – also known as, my digital being. I use it to record moments in time and to stay up-to-date with current affairs. I can leave home without my (physical) wallet; but I can’t leave home without my iPhone!
  2. Other than that, MacBook (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain)
  3. and external USB drive (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain) are both must-have gadgets in this digital age.

I still remember back in the day when I used to carry an 8GB UBS drive; now the SanDisk 2TB external SSD is merely the size of a business card!

What is your analysis of the fintech and insurtech ecosystem? What kind of trends and new use cases do you see?

I believe we will continue to see collaboration between new entrants and incumbents. We started seeing more “rebundling” activities last year, with fintechs such as SoFiStash and Acorns moving away from single solution approach; I think the trend will likely continue. 

Another interesting trend to watch is the influence of the Chinese ecosystem. In many ways, the Chinese platforms are ahead of those in Europe and the US. It will be intriguing to see what the West will do to catch up, and where companies such as Alibaba and Tencent will expand. China has also been increasingly expanding its footprint in Europe as the U.S. evolves its immigration and trade policies – I expect to see more influx of capital in 2019 in the European market as a result.

Last but not least, will be the evolution of AI in banking, specifically the ability of machines to make decisions on behalf of consumers. AI can deliver a dramatically re-imagined experience by autonomously managing a customer’s money and spending in real-time, and guiding them towards a more financially secure future.

One thing is certain, there is never a dull moment in our world.

Do you see differences between the US and European insurtech & fintech ecosystem?

I think Europe is a force to be reckon with in the fintech startup scene compared to the U.S. The U.S. has a more fragmented ecosystem due to the large diversity of financial institutions. Further complicating the market is the regulatory environment. With 50 states and varying requirements, sometimes one could feel like they are working with 50 countries.

With the emergence of European challenger banks in the U.S. this year, it remains to be seen if they can continue their success on this side of the Atlantic. 

You are focusing on older demographics and demographic change. What is your view on the topic and what do we all need to know about it?

None of us are getting any younger – a colleague of mine once told me, “we get older the minute we were born”. And she is absolutely right. We have added 30 years of living since the early 1900s. We are now living longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

The way we age is changing – and we must rethink how we approach retirement and wealth management.

By 2040, adults 65 and older will account for more than 1 in 5 Americans, up from 15 percent in 2015. And the U.S. is not alone: By 2030, more than 28% of Japan’s population will be aged 65 and above. 

The question to all of us is, how are we innovating to create solutions that meet the needs of everyone as we age, or as some would say, design for all?

As Emily Dickinson wrote: “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” 

The future of aging should not be a story of survival – but one of living.

What effect on innovation does this have?

It is no longer an option to ignore the realities of the demographic shift. But the challenge ahead of us is not biology; rather, it is one of mindset and culture. It is how we approach the burden of an aging society and turn it into an opportunity – for us to become a more inclusive and empathetic society. 

As I often said, innovation is not about making incremental changes, or building a shiny new gadget. It is about creating transformative changes that can serve a larger ecosystem. Technology is (and should be) age agnostic – we need to leverage technology for good and create a more equitable future for everyone, enabling us to choose the life that we’d like to live as we get older. We need more innovators and entrepreneurs who are willing to address the new normal – and more founders to step up and support their endeavors.

As a renowned Insurtech and Fintech thought leader and influencer. How do you manage fame, followers, and friends? What is your secret sauce of success?

There is no secret sauce – but I do have two rules that I live by: Be open minded and be genuine. Relationships are two-way street, and it is more about giving and sharing than it is about receiving. When we keep an open mind, and when we are genuine while interacting with people, amazing things happen. Never forget those who have helped you along the way; be grateful and always be helpful.

Let’s have a look at traditional companies, how do you estimate the state of the digital transformation right now? What can we expect in the next years? Any strategic advice you can share that would support them in their endeavor?

I believe digital transformation by incumbent financial institutions will continue. Banks will continue to become more digital and mobile, either by launching entirely new digital banking units (such in the case as Finn by Chase), or by digitizing existing operations. They can further leverage capabilities of fintech companies by collaborating with them or acquiring them. 

In such an increasingly competitive environment, banks must innovate in order to address the shifting needs and wants of consumers, who have grown more accustomed to the seamless digital experience delivered by big techs such as Amazon or Apple. In addition, they need to invest in emerging technologies such as advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence, to get more holistic view of their customers and deliver new products and services that can improve their financial well-being. Instead of extracting fees from customers, it is time to rethink business models and value proposition, and focus on creating value for consumers.

Will you be interested in a podcast guesting for Digitalscouting? Any ideas about the latest trends and topics that would excite our followers especially from the Financial industry?

I’d love to help in future podcast. I think comparing trends between the East and the West is always exciting. Gender equity is certainly another hot topic. Artificial intelligence in banking is fun too.

What would you recommend to young people that start their career today – especially women that think about founding a company?

The most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind – and to keep learning. It is going to be a long road ahead and there will be many speed bumps. But with perseverance, one can get far. 

As a woman, I can attest to the challenges that come with the gender (and ethnicity). There are still many societal biases and norms that we need to overcome.

Chances are, it will take many years (and multiple generations) before we can get there. But that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and call it quits; rather, we must keep up the good fight for equality, not just for our sake, but for the sake of our children and those that come after them.

Thanking Theo Lau for finding a spot for on her busy schedule – Cheers!

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