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Arts and culture 10 Apr 2014

Chairman of bank set on transforming industry leads discussion of technology revolution with scholars from Harvard, MIT

Francisco González, chairman & CEO of BBVA, presented the book Change: 19 Key Essays on How the Internet Is Changing Our Lives Wednesday afternoon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. The book, which compiles the views of distinguished specialists from various fields of knowledge, is the sixth edition of an annual series published by BBVA that explores the key issues of our age.

During Wednesday’s presentation, the BBVA chairman & CEO also introduced OpenMind, BBVA’s digital community of knowledge on science, technology, the economy, the environment and humanities. Its implementation three years ago defines BBVA’s commitment to improving the life of people in the communities where it operates, he said: “It is a place for everyone to share, discuss and exchange knowledge in an open, democratic and collaborative way.”

González pointed out that “Internet is transforming the economy and business life. Practically every sector, every single business in any part of the world must cope with these changes.”

The magnitude of change in finance has been far less than in other sectors because the industry is tightly regulated, with older customers, and because the significant growth seen in the decades before the crisis has enabled relatively high levels of inefficiency to be maintained, he said. “But a tsunami of change is just around the corner,” González said. “And a whole new league of competitors is starting to spring up, mostly but not exclusively from the online realm.”

González said that while this transformation is a daunting challenge, it is also a great opportunity for today’s banks, as the market will be genuinely universal, absorbing the billions of people who currently have no access to financial services. In addition, he said, “banks will be able to extend beyond the traditional financial domain, and potentially offer an endless range of knowledge-based products and services.”

At the BBVA Group, concluded its chairman, “we have been working hard for the past seven years to bring about the change that I believe our industry must urgently address: turning an analog bank, albeit one highly efficient and profitable by 20th-century standards, into one that’s¬¬ focused on knowledge services, thus rising to the far higher and more demanding standards of the 21st century.”

The BBVA chairman was joined at the presentation by two of the authors who contributed to the book, Thomas W. Malone, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, and Yochai Benkler, professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard University.

Thomas Malone focused on the change we are seeing in the way we work. The MIT professor said we are witnessing a revolution in business that may ultimately be as profound as the French Revolution, and for the first time in history, new technologies enable us to enjoy the economic benefits of large organizations without losing our freedom, creativity, motivation and flexibility.

As a result of this transformation, businesses will need to introduce radical changes in the management of human resources to create much more decentralized organizations with higher levels of freedom. There are more and more people who have access to the information they need to decide freely and thus apply their own values to the way they do business. And, Malone said, this means that both economic and human values will be at the core of our way of doing business.

In relation to this transformation of our way of working, Yochai Benkler added that Wikipedia and free open source software are two examples of how the free and open flow of information via the Internet has led to new means of production that treat innovation and creativity as commons and stimulate economic and social change.

Benkler said the most significant organizational innovation that has emerged from the Internet is peer-production, which enables many different people with different motivations to collaborate in shared projects to produce products more complex than those they would have been able to create individually.

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