Innovation

Blockchain for Beginners: What the Mona Lisa Teaches Us About the Future of Business

28 February, 2019
  • Peter Fuchs

    Partner, Global Blockchain Leader at Mercer

article-img
"Blockchain makes it possible for a data asset to exist in the digital world just like a physical object does in the real world."

Vincenzo Peruggia was born on 8 October, 1881.  Some thirty years later on a Monday morning in 1911, the diminutive 160-cm Italian man strapped on a white smock—to blend in with the other employees at the Louvre in Paris—and walked out carrying the Mona Lisa.  He simply lifted it off the wall.  For the next two years Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic masterpiece lay stuffed in a trunk in the thief’s Paris apartment.  Vincenzo eventually grew anxious and returned to Florence in his beloved homeland where he contacted an art dealer and attempted to peddle the famous painting.  The police arrested him in his hotel room. 

What makes this story fascinating is not that it was so shockingly easy to walk away with a world renowned Renaissance-era treasure, but that Vincenzo’s crime was doomed from the very beginning.  Everyone in the art world knew the origins of the Mona Lisa, the value of the Mona Lisa and the journey of the Mona Lisa to her home in the Louvre.  The painting’s entire provenance was well documented and agreed upon.  Introducing the stolen masterpiece back into the art world without setting off alarms everywhere was impossible.  Blockchain technology offers that same level of transparency and authenticity for everything from a Persian tapestry and a toro sushi roll to a refinanced mortgage loan, or even a single lemon.  Here’s how:

Mutually Agreed Upon Single Source of Truth

The first step to documenting data on a blockchain requires operational processes that focus on first-time accuracy.  From the initial step, all parties involved in a transaction must confirm the identity, value and controlling stipulations that regulate the blockchain asset.  In our story featuring Vincenzo Peruggia, for instance: This is Da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa.  She hangs on this particular wall in the Louvre.  She is worth $800 million.  No, she is not for sale.  The value and circumstances have been established.  If anyone attempts to steal or tamper with the Mona Lisa, the involved parties—the world, in this case—will notice. 

With blockchain, once the mutually agreed upon initial information is captured accurately, it becomes the single source of truth.  It never needs to be verified.  Once the integrity of the data related to the information asset has been established, blockchain technology prevents any nefarious actors from being able to manipulate it because everyone in the blockchain is looking at the same information, at the same time, from their respective computers, distributed throughout the world.  Everyone is privy to the original confirmed and verified asset and what happens to that data moving forward.  Attempting to exploit or plunder that digital asset would be like trying to steal the Mona Lisa from countless, well-protected Louvres all over the world.

Intermediaries Are Not Needed

Blockchain technology eliminates the need for an intermediary, or middle man.  Intermediaries are commonly tasked with providing integrity to transactional processes involving parties that are not familiar with each other.  Banks serve as intermediaries for financial transactions between individuals and businesses.  Real estate agents act as intermediaries to navigate the paperwork of real estate sales.  Even illegal intermediaries, such as illicit music downloading platforms, steal significant amounts of royalties from musicians who have their songs stolen or plagiarized online.  Blockchain can eliminate the necessity and impact of all of these types of intermediaries.  

Take Eriko Matsuyama, a hypothetical 23-year-old art student at Tohoku University in Japan, who is attending a study abroad program in Paris.  Eriko, a talented painter, spends every morning camped in front of the Mona Lisa composing elaborate watercolors, each offering a unique interpretation of Da Vinci’s muse.  She even has an online store where she sells her original paintings to her fans around the world.  Through blockchain technology Eriko is able to authenticate the time, date and development of each original painting, and send both the original watercolor and an exclusive digital copy to her purchasers.  Should the purchaser decide to sell either the original print or the digital copy, the blockchain can serve as proof of authenticity.  Perhaps, 30 years in the future, Eriko has become a famous artist whose work commands millions of dollars.  Those same watercolors, and their digital copies, will hold more value because the blockchain guarantees their origin and authenticity throughout the years, regardless of how many times they’ve been bought or sold…without ever needing an intermediary to verify authenticity or assist in the process.

Data Becomes Like a Physical Object

The Mona Lisa is, of course, a physical object.  So are Eriko’s original watercolors, which she signs by hand; but the digital copies of her paintings are digital assets.  Today, digital assets can be anything from an individual’s health records to the deed for a parcel of land.  Blockchain makes it possible for a data asset to exist in the digital world just like a physical object does in the real world.  The data asset can exist as just one usable copy of a data file.  With a blockchain there is always only one usable and protected copy—just like the unique digital rendering of an original Eriko Matsuyama painting.  It can be bought and sold, but never manipulated, illegally copied or misappropriated.  In the span of 30 years, the digital copy of an Eriko Matsuyama watercolor migh be bought and sold a dozen times to individuals or businesses who may want it to print it for everything from T-shirts to wallpaper.  But only one digital copy will ever, and always, exist.

Supply and demand determines the price of any product or service.  If the quantity of a digital asset is limited, then that asset is considered scarce—and supply and demand dynamics come into play, just as in the physical world.  This desirability by the market creates quantifiable value that can be applied to everything from an individual asset to a cryptocurrency.

Technology is constantly driving the world forward.  In the future, the digital realm will be characterized by a matrix of digital trade routes of all sizes—each protected by the blockchain, free of piracy and disinformation.  If blockchain and modern technologies had been around in 1911, the Mona Lisa would have been reclaimed in less than two hours, instead of two years.  Today, the iconic face of the Rennaisance has even more reasons to smile.  

To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview.

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Peter Fuchs | 31 Jan 2019

Vincenzo Peruggia was born on 8 October, 1881.  Some thirty years later on a Monday morning in 1911, the diminutive 160-cm Italian man strapped on a white smock—to blend in with the other employees at the Louvre in Paris—and walked out carrying the Mona Lisa.  He simply lifted it off the wall.  For the next two years Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic masterpiece lay stuffed in a trunk in the thief’s Paris apartment.  Vincenzo eventually grew anxious and returned to Florence in his beloved homeland where he contacted an art dealer and attempted to peddle the famous painting.  The police arrested him in his hotel room.  What makes this story fascinating is not that it was so shockingly easy to walk away with a world renowned Renaissance-era treasure, but that Vincenzo’s crime was doomed from the very beginning.  Everyone in the art world knew the origins of the Mona Lisa, the value of the Mona Lisa and the journey of the Mona Lisa to her home in the Louvre.  The painting’s entire provenance was well documented and agreed upon.  Introducing the stolen masterpiece back into the art world without setting off alarms everywhere was impossible.  Blockchain technology offers that same level of transparency and authenticity for everything from a Persian tapestry and a toro sushi roll to a refinanced mortgage loan, or even a single lemon.  Here’s how: Mutually Agreed Upon Single Source of Truth The first step to documenting data on a blockchain requires operational processes that focus on first-time accuracy.  From the initial step, all parties involved in a transaction must confirm the identity, value and controlling stipulations that regulate the blockchain asset.  In our story featuring Vincenzo Peruggia, for instance: This is Da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa.  She hangs on this particular wall in the Louvre.  She is worth $800 million.  No, she is not for sale.  The value and circumstances have been established.  If anyone attempts to steal or tamper with the Mona Lisa, the involved parties—the world, in this case—will notice.  With blockchain, once the mutually agreed upon initial information is captured accurately, it becomes the single source of truth.  It never needs to be verified.  Once the integrity of the data related to the information asset has been established, blockchain technology prevents any nefarious actors from being able to manipulate it because everyone in the blockchain is looking at the same information, at the same time, from their respective computers, distributed throughout the world.  Everyone is privy to the original confirmed and verified asset and what happens to that data moving forward.  Attempting to exploit or plunder that digital asset would be like trying to steal the Mona Lisa from countless, well-protected Louvres all over the world. Intermediaries Are Not Needed Blockchain technology eliminates the need for an intermediary, or middle man.  Intermediaries are commonly tasked with providing integrity to transactional processes involving parties that are not familiar with each other.  Banks serve as intermediaries for financial transactions between individuals and businesses.  Real estate agents act as intermediaries to navigate the paperwork of real estate sales.  Even illegal intermediaries, such as illicit music downloading platforms, steal significant amounts of royalties from musicians who have their songs stolen or plagiarized online.  Blockchain can eliminate the necessity and impact of all of these types of intermediaries.   Take Eriko Matsuyama, a hypothetical 23-year-old art student at Tohoku University in Japan, who is attending a study abroad program in Paris.  Eriko, a talented painter, spends every morning camped in front of the Mona Lisa composing elaborate watercolors, each offering a unique interpretation of Da Vinci’s muse.  She even has an online store where she sells her original paintings to her fans around the world.  Through blockchain technology Eriko is able to authenticate the time, date and development of each original painting, and send both the original watercolor and an exclusive digital copy to her purchasers.  Should the purchaser decide to sell either the original print or the digital copy, the blockchain can serve as proof of authenticity.  Perhaps, 30 years in the future, Eriko has become a famous artist whose work commands millions of dollars.  Those same watercolors, and their digital copies, will hold more value because the blockchain guarantees their origin and authenticity throughout the years, regardless of how many times they’ve been bought or sold…without ever needing an intermediary to verify authenticity or assist in the process. Data Becomes Like a Physical Object The Mona Lisa is, of course, a physical object.  So are Eriko’s original watercolors, which she signs by hand; but the digital copies of her paintings are digital assets.  Today, digital assets can be anything from an individual’s health records to the deed for a parcel of land.  Blockchain makes it possible for a data asset to exist in the digital world just like a physical object does in the real world.  The data asset can exist as just one usable copy of a data file.  With a blockchain there is always only one usable and protected copy—just like the unique digital rendering of an original Eriko Matsuyama painting.  It can be bought and sold, but never manipulated, illegally copied or misappropriated.  In the span of 30 years, the digital copy of an Eriko Matsuyama watercolor migh be bought and sold a dozen times to individuals or businesses who may want it to print it for everything from T-shirts to wallpaper.  But only one digital copy will ever, and always, exist. Supply and demand determines the price of any product or service.  If the quantity of a digital asset is limited, then that asset is considered scarce—and supply and demand dynamics come into play, just as in the physical world.  This desirability by the market creates quantifiable value that can be applied to everything from an individual asset to a cryptocurrency. Technology is constantly driving the world forward.  In the future, the digital realm will be characterized by a matrix of digital trade routes of all sizes—each protected by the blockchain, free of piracy and disinformation.  If blockchain and modern technologies had been around in 1911, the Mona Lisa would have been reclaimed in less than two hours, instead of two years.  Today, the iconic face of the Rennaisance has even more reasons to smile.   To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview.

Peter Fuchs | 27 Dec 2018

The meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin thrust blockchain to the forefront of the daily news in late 2017, and its subsequent epic fall cast a new pall over a technology that was just beginning to overcome its early reputation as a perfect vehicle for swindlers, drug dealers and traffickers. While awareness of blockchain has increased markedly over the last few years, most organizations and people are still unable to grasp what this new technology will really mean to their businesses and lives. Today, blockchain technology is about where the Internet was in the early 1990s. It’s an exciting and important technology, but one that is still in its fledgling stage. The truth is, similar to how people were trying to figure out the Internet in the early 1990s, no one really knows exactly how it will revolutionize economies and cultures. But we do know—much like the Internet in the early 1990s—that blockchain is going to be a game changer. Blockchain: The Efficiency Revolution Blockchain will profoundly impact the intersection of business and individuals by unleashing a new era of connectivity and efficiency. Because blockchain is secure, streamlined and can be both transparent and anonymous simultaneously, the technology will revolutionize operational processes by eliminating costly intermediaries. Suppose, for example, a VP of engineering in Beijing, China is being relocated—along with his wife and two daughters—to a new long-term position based in Perth, Australia. Historically, just finding and securing housing across borders has involved an overwhelming amount of paperwork, people and processes. Local real estate protocols are fraught with legacy registry systems, sprawling bureaucratic channels and intermediaries including brokers, title agents, title attorneys, notaries, escrow agents, land registry officials and bankers in both countries. These processes are bloated, expensive and susceptible to fraud. The streamlined transparency and security provided by blockchain technology will eradicate many of those wasteful and vulnerable practices. Blockchain enhances efficiency not by collecting data, but by securely connecting data across a decentralized network of participating computers called nodes. Nodes store the blockchain’s data, follow the rules of the blockchain’s specific protocols and communicate with other nodes, which can be located anywhere. Each follows the same rules and maintains an identical copy of the network’s immutable data set. New information is added only when the nodes agree, and the change is distributed simultaneously to each node. To alter it, would-be hackers would not have to simply hack one node, but all (or most) of the individually protected nodes distributed throughout the world. By ensuring the data is simultaneously tied together and yet independent, anonymous and secure, blockchain ensures the integrity of the data network. This allows all participating parties to know that the shared data is valid, and no intermediaries are needed to confirm that a home buyer has enough money, or if the house has water damage, or if the title deed has been signed, notarized and delivered. Blockchain In Growth Economies Blockchain is gaining traction and disrupting growth economies at an increasing rate. Not only is it being touted as a possible solution to endemic and institutionalized corruption, but it is also gaining acceptance in important industries, especially financial services, healthcare and government. Financial Services Blockchain first gained traction in growth economies as the technology behind Bitcoin, the first digital currency. However, experts soon recognized that blockchain’s transparency and security features could significantly change the financial services industry—much as the Internet changed the media and entertainment industries 20 years ago. Banking institutions across the globe are adopting blockchain and advanced distributed ledger technologies for a wide range of functions, including trade settlements, payment processing and cross-border transactions. In fact, India recently launched India Trade Connect, a trade finance strategy that uses blockchain platforms to empower an unprecedented collaboration between IT juggernaut InfoSys and seven of the nation’s biggest banks.1 Modern blockchain technologies allow these financial entities to streamline trade finance systems and oversee international supply chain transactions at every step of the operation. Healthcare The global healthcare industry manages vast amounts of clinical and administrative data, from the pharmaceutical supply chain to patient medical records to claims management. The introduction of smart medical devices including everything from personal fitness trackers to connected surgical suites, is introducing an entirely new ecosystem of information to mine. The pool of data collected from healthcare-related devices is growing exponentially. Accurate, accessible data is critical to improving clinical outcomes and reducing waste, and blockchain’s immutability and ability to connect currently siloed information and serve as the “single source of truth” are key enablers. In South Korea, the healthcare industry has been very proactive in implementing blockchain to centralize patient information and marginalize the prevalence of counterfeit drugs through transparent supply chain management. Blockchain records of patients’ medical histories provide Korean hospitals and caregivers with a single, accurate record of a patient’s treatments, procedures and pharmaceutical needs.2 Government Governments in growth economies around the world are using blockchains for everything from property records and voting registries to driver’s licenses and financial histories. Its ability to provide a chronological and immutable digital record makes it ideal for transactions that impact populations and economies—from single individuals to entire industries. Blockchain increasingly allows governments in Africa to better organize records and services through improved identity management systems—which legitimizes processes key to successful societies, from collecting taxes to counting votes.3 For many growing nations, blockchain may soon offer the potential to leapfrog from antiquated and bloated operational processes, fraught with malfeasance, to streamlined, incorruptible systems that attract international investment and encourage entrepreneurship. Blockchain is gaining rapid acceptance with businesses and policymakers in part because the continent doesn’t have deeply entrenched incumbents or legacy systems that might resist this new technology in an effort to maintain their influence. Blockchain: The Unknowns When the Internet gained acceptance in the early 1990s we knew that the ways human beings communicated and interacted with information was about to experience extraordinary changes. We didn’t know, however, that it would lead to the rise of other revolutionary forces such as Google, peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like Napster, ubiquitous smartphone devices such as the iPhone, or the invention of social media channels like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. All cultural disruptors that continue to shape the world in significant ways, from unhealthy personal digital addictions to the influence of government-sponsored disinformation campaigns. Blockchain promises similar benefits and risks. The impact it will have on growth economies, international commerce and human culture cannot be fully assessed or appreciated at this point. But its potential is real and pervasive in every region of the world. Businesses, CEOs and governments should adopt strategies that don’t necessarily mandate a call to action, but a call to awareness—an earnest effort to gain a sophisticated understanding of the technology and how it can create positive changes, or negative consequences, in a world that is still figuring out how the Internet of the 1990s has transformed the human condition. To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview. 1Infosys Finacle Pioneers Blockchain-based Trade Network in India in Consortium with Seven Leading Banks: Infosys Limited - https://www.infosys.com/newsroom/press-releases/Pages/pioneers-blockchain-based-trade-network.aspx 2Will Blockchain Transform Healthcare in South Korea: https://techwireasia.com/2018/06/will-blockchain-transform 3Why Africa’s Emerging Blockchain Movement Is Growing So: https://media.consensys.net/blockchain-month-in-africa-920945771100

Nicol Mullins | 13 Dec 2018

Businesses around the world are entering an age of disruption. Starbucks, for example, is changing its business model to accommodate payments made via mobile devices, which now account for 30% of transactions in U.S. stores. Disruptions driven by digital transformation are re-shaping business models and human resource structures in just about every industry. Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Study – Unlocking Growth in the Human Age revealed that businesses that self-identify as a digital organisation are twice as likely to report high scores on change agility as a differentiating organisational competency.1 A continent of different nations   While the world embraces a shared and on-demand economy, many countries in Africa continue to grapple with an old and entrenched world order. In fact, many African countries prefer familiarity over change. This mindset prolongs the influence of legacy issues that impede the advancement of labour policies in Africa, and impacts the continent on every level, from political and economic to cultural and legislative.  Interestingly, the legislative policies and culture of individual countries and nationalities shape important factors such as employee compensation and reward structures. Throughout Africa there are two distinct payment structures: Francophone (which involves multiple cash allowances) and Anglophone (which is a consolidated approach including a salary, bonus and benefits). If you compare Nigeria to Kenya, for example, the payment structures differ vastly. Nigeria’s Francophone-style market demands various allowances and remunerations based on existing practices and employee expectations, even though the nation attempted to implement legislation that would consolidate compensation through a structure based on tax benefits. Kenya, in contrast, offers few cash allowances and can be characterized as Anglophone in nature, where the salary and other benefits are consolidated. Africa’s labour market   How will disruption affect Africa’s labour market? Ultimately, it is vital for employers to take cultural nuances into account in order to hire with purpose. According to our 2018 Talent Trends study, embedding a higher sense of purpose into the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) unlocks individual potential and spurs people to be change agents. To find purpose, employees crave professional development, learning opportunities and experimentation. If employees do not experience these motivating forces, they will look for inspiration elsewhere. In fact, 39% of South African employees satisfied in their current jobs still plan to leave due to a perceived lack of career growth and opportunity.1 Embracing the pace of change   Some countries in Africa are embracing disruption better than others. For example, Ethiopia—the second most populous country in Africa—has seen massive growth since it opened up its borders twenty-five years ago. By creating more investment opportunities, Ethiopia has attracted foreign investors who now recognise the tremendous potential that lies within the consumer market, as well as the benefits of lower labour costs throughout the country. Rwanda is another notable example of an African nation embracing digital transformation, as it continues to make significant investments in technology and transitions towards smarter cities. According to the report, the African countries at the forefront of disruptive technologies are all being transformed by the speed at which businesses are adopting change. In fact, 96% of these businesses are planning an organisational redesign in the next two years, and 46% of HR executives are planning to reskill current employees for new roles. Aligning skills with opportunities   The intention and ability to embrace change is vital to business ecosystems. Fifty-three percent of executives believe at least one in five roles in their organisation will cease to exist in the next five years. However, only 40% of those executives are increasing employee access to online learning courses, and only 26% are actively rotating workers within their business.1 To take advantage of opportunities that arise from disruption and transformation in Africa, nations should invest in the potential of other revenue-driving industries. For instance, previously war-torn Liberia could develop more tourism-related businesses and enterprises—following Dubai’s example, which transitioned from a primarily oil-based economy into a tourism-based economy. Innovation and workforce skills development are critical to the future of Africa. The human capital resource strategy of “managing a pipeline of talent” is becoming obsolete as employees seek new, aspirational approaches to developing skills that are aligned with the future of business in a digital age. Though Africa faces a number of legacy challenges, it understands the need for change. By focusing on digital transformation, the continent—and the nations that comprise it—could usher in a new era of prosperity for their economies, businesses and people.   1 Global Talent Trends Study 2018: https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/career/global-talent-hr-trends.html

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Beverley Sharp | 07 Mar 2019

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Nicol Mullins | 07 Mar 2019

The employee turnover rate in the automotive industry is alarmingly high. In fact, according to research by the US National Automobile Dealers Association, some dealerships report turnover rates as high as 70–80%. This trend should concern everyone in the industry, as employee churn is often the symptom of a more serious and troubling array of issues. Happy people do not leave good jobs. Something is clearly wrong. So, what is going on, and what can be done to fix it? Focus on the employee experience   To start, companies must place employees at the heart of the organisation. Though this may seem easy to do in theory, the reality is much different. Most companies, judging by their decisions and actions, focus more on their finances than on their people. Businesses are designed to make profits, so this regular focus on examining and analysing sales figures makes sense. But how many times a year do automotive businesses hold performance discussions? Maybe once or twice a year? Most organisations prioritize sales figures over performance evaluations because it is in the DNA of their operations—a practice that often comes at the expense of their most important asset: their people. A commitment to change   To reduce turnover, the automotive industry must first acknowledge the need for change and then commit to a strategy that will produce change. There needs to be a paradigm shift from where the industry currently is, where it wants to go in the future. To start, the automotive industry must ask the following questions:         1. How should work be organised?         2. How can value be created?         3. How do we ensure employees thrive in an evolving environment? Mercer's 2018 Global Talent Trends Study identifies the five top trends that can turn around the turnover problem in the automotive industry:           1. Change@speed          2. Working with purpose          3. Permanent flexibility          4. Platform for talent          5. 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However, more than 40% of employees are concerned that flexible work schedules will impact their opportunities for a promotion.1 Leaders in the automotive industry must seek innovative ways to increase flexibility for employees. Flexibility isn’t simply about working wherever or whenever, but about rethinking what work is done, how it is done, and by whom. Getting the most out of employees means working with them to build desirable schedules that prioritize productivity and availability.  Platform for talent   Automotive organisations must evolve into platforms that encourage in-house talent to develop their skills and thrive as professionals. By linking the creativity and ambition of employees to the evolving needs of an industry where skills sets and work demands are constantly advancing, automotive companies can become places not only of employment, but professional development. Thirty-six percent of HR leaders provide analytics on the effectiveness of buy, build and borrow strategies.1 Industry professionals and employees want job security, workplace safety and the confidence that the future of the industry will never outgrow their skills and knowledge base. If companies serve as a platform for employees to nurture meaningful careers, that investment in human capital will help the company to thrive and increase its bottom line.  Digital from the inside out   For the automotive industry, and the world, the digital economy is already here. Companies that talk of “going digital” lag far behind the digital transformation learning curve. AI and automation will continue to unlock human potential by revolutionizing businesses on every level—from how they operate and source materials to how they develop workforces and provide solutions to evolving customer needs.  Fifty-six percent of employees say having state-of-the-art digital tools is key to achieving their professional objectives.1 Leaders in the automotive industry must leverage technology in ways that place employees at the heart of what they do. Put your people first, and profits will follow.   1People First: Mercer's 2018 Global Talent Trends Study https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/career/voice-on-talent/people-first-mercers-2018-global-talent-trends-study.html

Liana Attard | 21 Feb 2019

Office life can be extremely stressful, especially with the competitive nature of work and long hours that can lead to stress and sleep disorders for some employees. In fact, research by Mercer Marsh Benefits for our 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey showed that globally the top three risk factors for employees remain metabolic and cardiovascular risk, dietary risk and emotional/mental risk. To put the global mental health problems into perspective, 1 in 3 people in the UK have been recorded as suffering from mental health issues.     The emphasis is now on employers to help with the mental wellbeing of their employees by providing comprehensive wellbeing strategies for emotional and mental health. Adopting integrated health and wellbeing strategies underpinned by stronger digital and data capabilities will be a critical factor in managing the rising costs of workforce health benefit programs. Employers are encouraged to adopt a whole system approach to wellbeing, in which mental health is recognized alongside physical health, as one of the essential building blocks to help employees fulfill their potential. But unfortunately, employers are slow to realize the risks concerned with mental health, with less than 50 percent of insurers and respective employer medical plans providing access to personal counseling. In Asia, mental health tends to be a taboo subject as it has a stigma around it and employees are concerned about coming forward with their issues in a fiercely competitive workplace environment. The Hong Kong Mental Morbidity Survey, a three-year study launched in 2010, found fewer than a quarter of people with common mental disorders had sought medical support in the previous year, and only 3.9 percent had seen a psychologist for help, reported SCMP. When we asked insurers: What three risk factors do you think influence employer sponsored group medical costs the most? Globally, as I mentioned earlier, mental health was third with 43 percent. However, in Asia mental health ranked bottom, behind occupational risk (44 percent) and environmental risk (51 percent), with 31 percent.  But this doesn’t mean that mental health benefit programs in Asia should be ignored by companies, even with the increase in medical costs worldwide. According to the 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey, the global medical cost in 2017 increased at 9.5 percent, almost three times the inflation rate of 3.4 percent. Hong Kong’s increment was below the average global level but higher than the other two developed Asian cities, namely Singapore (8.6 percent) and South Korea (7 percent). “Hong Kong’s medical costs significantly outpaced the local inflation rate and employer’s cost on health care continues to grow. Therefore, employers should review the existing design of health care plans, further invest in data analytics and adopt a whole system approach in order to effectively manage employee health care cost,” Billy Wong, Mercer’s Health & MPF Business Leader, Hong Kong said. Employers can tackle the risk of mental health problems by launching workplace health strategies. Check out my ideas on ways to keep your workforce mentally healthy and happy.  Mindfulness Training: By implementing mindfulness training at work, employees will be able to effectively deal with stress, increase productivity in the office, maintain greater focus and their overall health will improve. But what exactly is mindfulness training? It’s a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment, which enhances an employee’s ability to work on day-to-day tasks and find balance. Fitness programs: The physical health benefits of working out are well documented, but exercise is also an effective way to boost your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make people feel happy. Employees who are feeling stressed, depressed or suffering from anxiety are advised to workout for 30 minutes a few times a week.  Flexible work schedule: Working from home and flexible work schedules give employees the freedom they need to stay motivated. The flexibility allows employees to take a break and lowers the risk of burnout. Working from home can reduce parenting stress as employees are afforded the flexibility to meet the needs that come with having a family. These factors and more increase employee morale and help to reduce absenteeism.  

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