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In 35 Years: The Future of Financial Services

Contributed by mm | September 19, 2007 11:54 PM PST

Managing finance is all about planning. Recently, I was contemplating on how I should spend the next 50 years if I opt for early retirement before the end of the decade. Then, an interesting collection of articles from Money Magazine caught my eyes. series from Money Magazine, caught my eyes.

This series of 8 Forecasts for Your Financial Future, which appears on Money Magazine's 35-year anniversary issue, includes eight predictions made by eight subject matter experts, and covers their forecast of what will happen in areas like financial services, real estate, work, shopping, personal technology, health care, social security, and ultimately, old age.

I found it to be an interesting intellectual exercise to peruse what these professionals are suggesting and put my thoughts around each of these important topics. Bear in mind that most likely, these forecasters will not live to see 2042, but I hope my blog will still be around then and if I can still think and write in my mid-60s, I will be posting a review.

Now let's drill down into each topic. The first installment is on the future of financial services, and the prediction is provided by John C. Bogle, the legendary founder of Vanguard, the low-cost investment management firm. Here is what he thinks of how financial service will evolve over time and I'm also putting inline comments about my personal take.

The next few years will be all about lower fees and better disclosure, both of which will be great for individual investors. We've already seen lower-cost managed funds and very low-cost index funds become popular, but expect them to become even more dominant.

That's because more people will begin to realize that low transaction costs are the ultimate consumer benefit: They put more money in your pocket without additional risk. You'll also see financial service firms lower fees for other products, including life insurance, banking and mortgages, in order to compete more effectively for your business.

My take: I agree. I believe more financial products will be commoditized, and therefore cost will drop with fierce competition between different providers offering the same financial product. And I need to add the other half is financial service providers are willing to offer more incentives to lure potential customers. Smart consumers can certainly benefit from such competition -- in this blog we have discussed too much about free stock trading, high savings rate and fantastic credit card offers.

As for better disclosure, we'll soon see the devastation wreaked on families who were not adequately warned about the risks of adjustable-rate mortgages. That will prompt a public outcry for full disclosure of borrowing costs. The public will also demand full disclosure of costs and risks (including the risk of inflation) for mutual funds, annuities and other savings accounts.

My take: I partially agree. The consequences of the housing bubble will surely come -- things will go (much) worse before they become better and we are in no way seeing the end of the tunnel yet in this aftermath of housing bubble. On the other hand, while there is political will and public ourcry for full disclosure, little will be done since our financial products are getting too complicated that full disclosure will only add costs without too much real consumer benefit. (Think about Sarbanes-Oxley Act.)

All this has major implications for the financial services industry. Financial services is currently the most profitable sector in the S&P 500 - its share of corporate earnings rose from 5 percent in 1980 to an estimated 33 percent in 2007 - but that can't continue. With low-cost pressures increasing, the profitability of this sector will inevitably diminish.

My take: I'm not sure about this. Of course Mr. Bogle and I come from different positions, where he is the pioneer of low-cost investing and I am holding a lot of financial services stocks in my investment portfolio. However, my belief is financial services will be increasingly important given the globalization our generation is seeing. Fundamentally, globalization is about freer flows of resources across borders, and financial services are the medium of resource allocation. As we are navigating in this journey, there will come more financial innovations and more relevant products that solve customers' problems, and this also means financial services companies will create more sellable value for their customers.

Thirty-five years from now, the way we put our money to work will be radically different. We'll learn from experience and focus on the wisdom of investment rather than today's foolish (and costly) focus on the folly of speculation. Most of us will buy and hold a diversified portfolio of corporations for the long term. We'll do far less swapping of pieces of paper with one another, as we do today in trading stocks back and forth, in hedge funds, in exchange-traded funds, and in complex derivative securities.

My take: I strongly disagree. Historians have documented bubbles after bubbles throughout the last 300 years of history, and as long as all of us have the seed of greed inside ourselves, speculations and foolish investment decisions will only continue (and evolve in different dimensions).

Look for the Dow Jones Average to reach around 70,000 in 2042 - but realize that's only about 28,000 in today's purchasing power, a modest double. As the economies of China, India, and Southeast Asia surge, the U.S. share of the value of the world stock market, now nearly 50 percent, will decline to 25 percent. That means your investment portfolio will no longer be largely local, but truly global.

My take: I disagree. A modest double of purchasing power in 35 years means an anemic 2% real earning increase of these blue chip stocks every year throughout the period, and that's quite an understatement of the "moat" established by these behemoths. I believe Dow Jones Average will fare much higher, and will bet that we will see the index breaking six figures before the 2040s.

To be continued … Next topic: The Future of Real Estate.

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This Post Has Received 3 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.

The Dividend Guy Commented on September 20, 2007

I agree with your thoughts on investing and other financial fees and wrote about it on my blog. In the meantime I am going to buy shares in financial based companies to get their ever expanding dividends and share price growth as these fees go right to their bottom lines.

Fred333 Commented on September 20, 2007

There some good predictions in this post. looking forward to the rest of the series.

Pierluigi Rotundo Commented on October 15, 2007

Thank you! A reasonable and concise opinion about trends.
Great post!

Pierluigi Rotundo

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