Financial Services, Strategy, Trends

How Technology is Reshaping Our Brains … & How We Need to Respond

That beautiful distraction. Our phones and tablets (laptops, so recently so cool, are now becoming passe’) are getting plenty of our attention, and younger consumers in particular love the functionality available to them. From finding a pizzeria in Bangkok to finding your way home from school to finding a date for Friday night, our mobile devices have, as television ads for the Apple Store state, “an app for that.”

All told, Apple’s App Store has more than 250,000 apps, and Google’s Android platform has about 80,000.  Gaming apps are most popular, followed by news, weather, social networking and music. Nearly a quarter of mobile app users have downloaded an app in the shopping or retail category.

Information impatience. With teens and young adults leading the charge, the mobile phone and app utilization trend is extremely prevalent among consumers under 35, those that fall into the oh-so-attractive-to-marketers Gens X and Y. Parks Associates, a technology research and consulting agency, discovered that these younger consumers are passing completely on laptops and desktops, and that they quickly lose patience and interest in Web sites that do not translate well on a mobile phone. (For CUs who haven’t yet optimized their sites and home banking platforms for mobile, let’s get on it!) Native mobile apps, which access content without requiring the user to access a traditional Web site (e.g., no typing in a Web address or waiting for a page to load), are highly popular.

With our attention increasingly drifting away from traditional media like television, radio – and who even has a landline phone, anyway? – some psychologists believe that we are actually reshaping our personalities. Largely, the changes are not positive, as experts assert we are becoming more impatient and impulsive.

The near-instant speed at which we can send financial reports to Singapore or find out what movies are playing at the 32-plex has conditioned us to expect everything in our lives to move just as quickly and efficiently. To illustrate, consider how irritable we become standing in grocery line; or think about the advent of road rage in rush-hour traffic.

In addition, we no longer need to research a product or service before going to a retailer; we can now do it while we’re in the brick-and-mortar business itself. About 16% of consumers reported using their mobile to compare prices (Oracle, 2011). About 10% said they have looked for more information or product reviews, and 7% reported seeking coupons or discounts.

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information has altered our ability to patiently focus on the task at hand. The constant stimulation of the beeps, buzzes and quick responses of our mobile devices causes our brains to release dopamine, a “feel-good” brain chemical (Richtel, 2010).

Without this instant gratification, we are lost. We are bored. We need the omnipresent distraction of our mobile phones. In short, we are addicted.

Credit unions – all businesses, really – can and should capitalize on consumers’ information impatience by, first and foremost, optimizing their home banking platforms and Web sites. Clunky access is a turnoff, and will drive away potential new members. Second, everyone needs a mobile app. Third, opt-ins like promotional e-mails and text alerts give us additional member access. Finally, CUs that want to remain competitive in this brave new world absolutely need to provide convenience products like mobile deposit capture, which appeal to our increasingly impatient natures.

Let’s find ways to provide that distraction we humans have come to know, love – and need.

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