live|work: Prosumers - They Can Change The World

Here's a great example of disintermediation designed around the social trend of pro-active and self-organising consumer behaviours ie, people actively choosing and creating their own ways to get things done, often together, and sharing opinions of organisations with each other to inform their choices. (Let's refer to these as "prosumers" — where the role of producer and consumer is blurred). Zopa.com is a peer-to-peer bank: it is the world's first online lending and borrowing exchange for individuals. It introduces lending members (people with cash to lend) to borrowing members (people who want a personal loan). And it is a hot service innovation in our book.

Okay, so how might this 'change the world'?Unlike the old world of financial services, with this prosumer service there is much greater transparency about where your money is coming from or where your investment is going; you can track the provenance of the money. At the moment, this is incredibly hard to do with my normal bank even though I choose to bank with an 'ethical' provider. I still don't really know where my money sits in the world day-on-day. The middleman (my bank) is a large, faceless service provider that allows me as far into the business as the interface on an ATM or my online bank statement. And I have zero control over this relationship. I would like to be much more active and choose or co-design where my money is spent or invested. In fact, I currently have some great personal investment ideas that would support the growing renewable and domestic energy markets, but does this mean anything to anyone out there ?

With Zopa I can begin to see the market opening up — they have cut out the faceless role of the middleman and put lending in the hands of individuals. Let's see if they end up offering a "borrow from people just like you" or "other borrowers like you " service where your borrowing choices can really align with the values of a chosen lending group and vice versa. At the moment Zopa's message supports the socially responsible idea of cutting out banks for the reasons that they are greedy monoliths, but it is in a great position to build on this.

And I can begin to see a backlash against businesses that don't open up this dialogue with consumers, particularly in the context of environmental and social market changing forces. Transparency and provenance will be key. So, watch out middlemen I think you are in trouble.

This shifts business into a new paradigm, where the simple blind act of taking a product to market is being challenged by a whole load more complex questions like where has the product come from, how far has it travelled, where is the investment going, what is it made of, how much is it wasting etc. on top of questions about how well does it compare and what does it say about who I am. The shift is from what you sell — the product (in this case it is money) to a focus that is about how it is sold or traded — the service. And the 'how it is sold' bit will not only be of importance to my choices but also demonstrate who I am and my social status amongst others.

Old world banks have been very good at embodying and demonstrating the idea of consumer status through banking services, mainly focusing on the status of your financial worth ie, what your bank card says about you. Banking with Zopa potentially provides a new kind of status in a world changing environment.

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