What London’s new electric taxi tells us about digital disruption

By Ian Manocha, CEO, Gresham Technologies

September 25, 2019 | Gresham Technologies

Passing the Gresham Technologies stand at the banking industry’s annual Sibos conference this week you’d be entitled to wonder why a brand new London black cab dominates the view. In fact, it’s there not just to serve as a useful ad-hoc meeting room, but as a symbolic reminder to conference attendees of the power of technology to transform and disrupt entire industries.

The electric TX taxi, created by LEVC, also reminds us that many of the best things in life are created through a marriage of the old and the new. It combines state-of-the-art automotive engineering with the aesthetic and practical qualities of the traditional black cab. Drivers get a highly efficient vehicle that slashes their fuel costs, passengers can enjoy a comfortable ride in a beautifully designed taxi; and society benefits from increased use of low emission, zero pollution vehicles.

The development of the TX is, in effect, an example of digital transformation: it’s a business tool that helps taxi drivers compete in an industry that has been transformed by new technology. It is a symbol of a fight for survival in a changing business environment.

In the past, every London taxi driver had to learn ‘the knowledge’ of London’s streets to earn their license – a costly training programme, in time and money. The benefits of that training, along with a robust regulatory regime, helped ensure the safety, security, ride space and comfort of passengers – but they took those benefits for granted.

Following the financial crisis, consumers started to focus more clearly on the cost of transport. In hindsight it’s also now obvious they would be tempted by the ease and convenience of booking and paying for a journey on a smartphone, rather than standing on a street corner in the rain waiting to ‘hail’ polluting vehicles whose drivers they would then need to pay in cash. This was an industry focused on its practitioners’ needs and not open to change. It was ripe for disruption.

We all know what happened next. Big data and GPS levelled the playing field as far as ‘the knowledge’ was concerned. Smartphones, clever algorithms and a ready pool of gig economy workers with easy access to vehicle financing did the rest. Uber’s proposition for the consumer was straightforward and there were some benefits for the drivers too: no entry barriers and the freedom to work when they wanted (in theory); while the technology behind the service optimised the return they gained on time spent in the driver’s seat and handled most of their administrative needs.

Produced by LEVC (the London Electric Vehicle Company – in fact a Chinese company called Geely), the taxi is designed in UK, with parts manufactured in China and UK, then assembled in the UK, within a few miles of the factory that has produced generations of London cabs for decades. In fact, the factory that builds the new taxi was built and in production within 18 months.

The cab itself is a delight, with the same familiar classic shape and tight turning circle as the old taxi, but in a new, electric, wheelchair-friendly, economic and environmentally-friendly form. In virtually every respect it is a better vehicle, for consumer, driver and owner, than the old black cab – or the Toyota Hybrid alternative. The new cab is GPS enabled, apps have arrived: the fightback has started.

Similar tech-led disruption is reshaping even the most entrenched industries, including banking, which looks like an industry that hasn’t been listening enough to the voice of the customer, or innovating fast enough. Market incumbents must rise to the challenges posed by new entrants if they are not going to become part of the industry’s obsolete legacy. In a digital world, their response must be based on data confidence: an ability to guarantee the integrity and accuracy of the data that underpins new products and services – just as London’s taxi drivers needed to change the way they delivered their services.

Gresham's Clareti platform is designed to do this, meaning banks become truly data confident. Use of advanced data management and analytics allows banks to provide corporates and financial institutions with access to real-time cash management and payments services and to rapidly introduce new features to keep up with changing demands – ultimately helping those organisations to meet their own business goals. 

Clareti is a truly innovative and flexible platform, but the powerful capabilities and resilience of the solution are rooted in Gresham’s long experience and deep understanding of this industry. In that sense, it is a blend of old and new, designed to give banks the best possible chance of adapting to and prospering in a digital financial world.

Back at Sibos, as I talk to bankers, fintechs, technology vendors, press and industry observers, I’m certain I will find that the Black Cab/ data confidence story resonates. A deep corporate history and possession of ‘the knowledge’ will not save any financial institutions from disruption. Agile operating models, innovative technology, partnering, collaborating and above all listening to customers are the elements that will be needed as the industry seeks to evolve in a digital age.



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