The shared economy heading our way

Citigroup global co-head of technology Jan Metzger says everything-as-a-service is a growing trend.

Jan Metzger used to say, ‘We’re in the second most exciting age of man after the steam age’ but he has changed his mind. “It is the most exciting age – we’re looking forward to huge disruptive trends like everything-as-a-service,” he says.

Mr Metzer, Citigroup’s global co-head of technology, was in Auckland talking to other bankers and clients.

He says the concept of ownership is changing and in the future as everything-as-a-service gains traction people may not be allowed to own a car anymore – “everything will be self-driving and shared.”

He says there could also be shared ownership of houses and even mobile phones. Take the fancy mobile phone he bought for about $US600.

“If I buy it new I expect it to be brand new, including all the chips inside but, if a company is renting that to me, as long as it looked great on the outside and worked, I might not care the chip has been used six times,” he says. “So you’re going to see business models where a company can rent to you and recycle components for several generations, which is good for company margins and better for society as less ends up in landfills.”

This technology disruption benefits New Zealand’s plethora of small companies, which can put all their infrastructure up on the cloud and compete globally more easily and more cost-effectively than ever before, he says.

“We have an unparalleled opportunity for young people in New Zealand that hasn’t existed before.”

Startup lessons for life
German-born and Sri Lankan-raised, Mr Metzger started his career in the 1990s as a software engineer in a pioneering voice recognition startup he joined and took a quarter share in. While most people traditionally try to get an investment banking role, make a bit of money, and then go off and do their own thing, Mr Metzger did it the other way around.

While the startup didn’t work out, he told a TED talk three years ago that he learned all the lessons he needed for a successful banking career from that entrepreneurial experience.

“In that small firm if we didn’t sell, we didn’t eat – it was a great learning experience.”

Another big lesson that has proved helpful in the corporate world was having a sense of ownership of a problem in its entirety rather than just sticking to what’s in someone's job description.

He would spend nights and days in the startup programming but on sales pitch days each Tuesday he would clean the toilets before anyone turned up because he felt clients would be more likely to buy if the meeting room and other places they came in contact with were clean.

“We didn’t have a toilet cleaner, so that was the only way to get it done – by taking ownership. That spirit of ownership of the entire process is something you really learn in a small business.”

The tech future
In 2007 Mr Metzger moved to Asia where technology has become the hottest sector. The Hong Kong-based investment banker has been involved in some heavyweight technology deals, including Alibaba’s $US25 billion IPO in 2014 (the largest IPO in history), Chinese company Lenovo’s $US3.14b acquisition of Motorola Mobility’s smartphone business from Google last year and its $US2.1b acquisition of X86 server business from IBM in 2014 (the second-largest Chinese technology M&A transaction).

Locally CitiGroup also worked on the now-abandoned Sky TV Vodafone merger that was turned down by the regulator – but he kept schtum on that deal and regulators in general (at least on the record).

He thinks Kiwi companies aren’t paying enough attention to their near neighbours in Asia, which has become the powerhouse of the global economy.

He says Southeast Asia and China in particular are years ahead of the rest of the world in technology development but not because they have been smart at inventing things. Rather they had virtually nothing and simply leapfrogged to the endpoint of the latest technology advances, he says.

He points to when Alibaba did its IPO, China had significantly less retail space per capita than the US but the country simply “jumped 200 years of retail development straight to online commerce.”

Similarly, Indonesia will never have a full fixed line telecommunications network because it is jumping straight to mobile, he says. These countries will do the same thing in certain kinds of banking and in healthcare, he predicts.

“Healthcare clients in China are doing 150,000 phone consultations in a day because there is no GP infrastructure. By the way, that will come to the west as well because there are huge advantages to that. In an interesting way, China and southeast Asia are a time machine of what will happen in the west because in the west it as not as necessary as yet – we have many choices – but that end game will eventually come here.”

His futurist prediction for banking, which has already been hugely disrupted by fintech, is innovation in asset management. Right now clients have to be fairly wealthy to get certain kinds of private banking capability but online asset managers will start to offer that more directly, he predicts.

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