Is your biggest future risk the way you approach risk now?

10 minute read 16 Sep 2019

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Companies that transition to a new risk playbook will be in a stronger position to win the future consumer. There are three key areas to get right.

Consumer product companies are working hard to stay relevant to a consumer that is changing faster than ever. As traditional opportunities and certainties collapse, their hunt for growth must be relentless.

They are making bolder choices to reshape their organizations, business models and brands to better engage consumers both today and into the future. But we believe it’s time for them to become equally bold in addressing their approach to risk.

Technological and social change over the next decade will transform the lives of consumers around the world. What it takes to deliver the products, services and experiences they value will transform too.

To engage the future consumer, organizations will need to build and protect trust in an environment that will be more complex and more challenging. And they won’t just need the trust of consumers, but of investors, ecosystem partners and stakeholders more widely.

The need for a different approach to risk is made clear by the scenario modeling we’ve been doing as part of our FutureConsumer.Now program. For more than a year we worked with clients, EY professionals and independent futurists to model 15 alternative future worlds.

Together we explored scenarios that anticipate the very different kinds of consumer that might emerge in the years ahead, what it will take to serve them and the implications for companies today — both in terms of opportunities and risks.

Risks will hit you harder and faster

To create growth in our scenarios, companies need to respond to risks that are very different from those they face today in terms of their probability, impact and composition.

Risks will become increasingly interdependent, intersecting with each other in new and unexpected ways, triggering and amplifying each other in complex chain reactions. They will spread within organizations and across their ecosystem with much greater velocity than today. The process will be exponential, not linear — risks will appear gradually, and then suddenly become critical.

Entirely new kinds of risk will emerge and some factors that companies treat as threats today will reshape and become growth opportunities — perhaps your biggest competitors could become your best collaborators. Leaders will be able to seize these opportunities only if they implement a risk playbook that can respond to sudden, unpredictable change; one that gives them the confidence to make bold and ambitious choices.

Entirely new kinds of risk will emerge and some factors that companies treat as threats today will reshape and become growth opportunities.

The path to growth is more uncertain

We can illustrate the challenge leaders face by exploring just one risk, Digital Trust. The biggest ecommerce worry for US consumers 15 years ago was that their payment details would be stolen if they shopped online. Today they increasingly worry about how their data is being used.

Data technologies have given consumers choice and freedom, but they’ve also given organizations the power to shape how consumers think, feel and act — from what they buy to how they vote. Sometimes that shaping happens in ways the consumer values, but not always.

Our scenario modeling anticipates how further waves of technological advancement will enable companies to use consumer data in ways that might feel like science fiction today. There will be extraordinary growth opportunities, as well as existential risks. The line dividing the two will be narrow, and often blurred.

Company reputation


Percent of people surveyed who agree with “a good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.” (Source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, Trust in Food and Beverage report,

Leaders who take a wrong step will fall far and fast. Those who get it right can transform their performance now, reimagine the ecosystems that will drive their next stage of growth, and be in a stronger position to reinvent themselves for a better future.

By focusing on some of the many ways Digital Trust might evolve in just three of the 15 scenarios we’ve modeled, we can draw out three key insights that will help leaders define a new risk playbook that will help them to grow and shape their destinies, however the future unfolds.

High school cheer-leading team performing on football field
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Chapter 1

Create trust that people can see

Your risk approach needs to give consumers and ecosystem partners confidence that your claims stack up.

In the hypothetical future world we modeled and call Home Anywhere, consumers are focused on limiting what they own. Instead, they subscribe to services that enable them to live a fluid, asset-light life. Digital Trust is a critical part of this future world.

Consumers want the experience of feeling at home wherever they happen to be, whether they are travelling a few times a year or choosing a more nomadic lifestyle. They want the simple convenience of having their favorite toiletries in the bathroom when they arrive, to more complex requests, like a supply of their favorite nutritionally tailored meals waiting in the refrigerator.

To access this level of experience, consumers are willing to make unprecedented amounts of personal data available to commercial organizations. Such a deep change in privacy attitudes creates new business opportunities, but only for organizations that can build and sustain extremely high levels of consumer trust.

Such a deep change in privacy attitudes creates new business opportunities, but only for organizations that can build and sustain extremely high levels of consumer trust.

These organizations would collect data about the consumer’s desires, behaviors and preferences across a broad range of personal areas. And they’d share it across a complex global web of partner companies, service providers and AI platforms.

It takes a complex ecosystem of organizations working closely together to provide the seamless experience that consumers want. If any player in the ecosystem jeopardized or breached the consumer’s trust, the whole ecosystem could collapse.

Companies would need to monitor and manage risk at an ecosystem level, because one failure by one party could generate an exponential risk exposure. This requires a very high level of data transparency and a shared and consistent commitment to the highest levels of data protection.

That degree of trust can’t be assumed — it must be earned. Companies will work only with partners that clearly demonstrate they are trustworthy – to an extent that is measurable and assured. Consumers will expect the same — trust must be visible and verified.

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Chapter 2

Build granular risk management, at massive scale

Your risk approach needs to deliver real-time, detailed, holistic insights on every consumer.

In the future consumer scenario we modeled and call Tailored Life, consumers trade their privacy for access to hyper-personalized goods, services and experiences. Like in the Home Anywhere scenario, they are willing to give trusted companies unprecedented access to detailed data about their personal lives.

A company that breached that trust would face crippling and immediate consequences. Its access to data would be more tightly regulated, limited to certain areas of life, or shut down entirely. If that happened, it would quickly struggle to create goods, services and experiences tailored to the needs of consumers, in which case it would risk becoming irrelevant.

For both company and consumer, the risks of sharing data on this scale are high, but then so are the rewards. To manage the balance of risk and opportunity, the company would need to create a real-time ”360-degree” view of every individual consumer, link data from numerous sources, interpret the insights gained, and act on them quickly.

It would need a perfectly tuned sense of what each consumer felt to be ”responsible use” of their data, which would vary with context, time and product category. Only then could it walk the line between welcomed value and unwarranted intrusion. This is granular risk management, achieved on a mass scale.

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Chapter 3

Automate the agility to escalate anything, instantly

AI and data technologies need to transform the speed at which you spot and fix problems.

Digital Trust has a different inflection again in the scenario we modeled and call Quantified Citizen. Consumers in this world put a remarkably high degree of trust in third-party organizations — from commercial platforms to the state — to shape their behaviors, choices and lifestyles.

Every consumer has a personal ”score”or rating that is publicly available. They can increase this score by behaving in ways that are deemed to be socially or culturally appropriate. A higher score gives the consumer access to better products, services and experiences.

Consumers don’t see this level of organizational control as intrusive or as a limit to personal freedom. On the contrary, they see it as something very positive.

It enables them to live the kind of lives they aspire to. And it gives them a clear and navigable path to getting what they want — for themselves, their families and their communities.

The behavior of companies is also publicly scored, across everything they do — from the quality of the goods they provide, to their treatment of employees, to their environmental impact.

These corporate scores are continually assessed, recalculated and shared openly. Companies and brands with higher scores could earn tax breaks, face less regulatory scrutiny or gain access to premium consumers. Those with lower scores could face fines and other penalties.

Even a brief dip in an organization’s behavior could have a sudden and catastrophic effect. So, to prosper in this world, a company would need to constantly monitor and assess its actions — from its engagement with every single customer to the behavior of every member of its ecosystem.

It would have to be fully compliant with expectations — not just consumer or regulatory expectations, but the expectations of all its ecosystem partners.

All these expectations are likely to be fluid and unpredictable. Yet a failure to meet them will be punished immediately. When the company’s license to operate is under continual threat from emerging risks that can suddenly become catastrophic, the balance between risk technology and human intervention needs to change.

Threats need to be identified and resolved faster than any human decision chain can manage. If they need to be escalated higher up the organization for action, that has to happen instantly. How can you use AI to make that speed of response possible?

Threats need to be identified and resolved faster than any human decision chain can manage

Build trust everywhere, all the time

The future is uncertain for all consumer-facing companies. Change, and the risks that accompany it, will be gradual and then sudden. Growth opportunities will emerge in the same exponential way — suddenly available, but only to those who are ready to act.

To step forward with the confidence that bold action requires, companies will need greater resilience and agility. They will also need to be more willing to challenge established thinking and see how some areas of risk – like Digital Trust – can suddenly become sources of advantage.

Organizations will be better equipped to grow, whatever the future holds, if they build a risk playbook in which two questions inform every decision:

  1. How could we make every action or decision an opportunity to build or protect trust?
  2. What could threaten our trust here?

From organization and business model design, to brand development, to each in-the-moment interaction with every consumer, trust is an asset companies can grow and nurture. For consumer-facing companies entering the future scenarios we’ve modeled, it could well become the most important asset they have.

But Digital Trust is just one of many risks that will evolve as the consumer and the industry changes. Companies need to anticipate and embrace risk. Then they can take advantage of opportunities to grow, while building the resilience and agility that will help them cope with volatility and disruption.


To win the future consumer, companies need to make a bolder transition to a new risk playbook. There are three key areas to get right: Create trust that people can see. Build granular risk management at massive scale. Automate the agility to escalate anything, instantly.

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