"Disruptive players are coming from out of nowhere," says Macaulay. "Now it's individuals who want to rent their homes and vehicles," he said, referring to home rental service Airbnb, office-sharing firm LiquidSpace and similar "sharing economy" start-ups.
Karl Ulrich Garnadt, chief executive of the German Airlines division of Deutsche Lufthansa, told venture investors in Berlin this month that his industry still spends too much time worrying about direct competitors in Asia or the Mideast.
He noted how the industry missed the rise of mobile travel apps, the top dozen of which now collectively have a valuation around 88 billion euros ($99 billion), while the market capitalization of Lufthansa, Europe's largest airline group, has shrunk to 5.5 billion euros from double that a decade ago.
"Today we are too limited in our thinking. We need to widen our horizon, we need to think like the customer," the airline industry veteran said.
Toward that end, Lufthansa is seeking ways to woo back customers who expect them to deliver more than boarding passes to their mobile phones. With free on-board Wi-Fi soon to be available on every plane, he wants flight attendants to use new apps to help frequent travelers make new travel bookings in mid-air.
In banking big lenders are now all at giving board-level attention to the rapid growth of "fintech" start-ups in markets from mortgage-lending to wealth management to small business loans.
In an era of cloud computing and services delivered to smartphones, fintech start-ups have no need to duplicate the retail branch networks that tied customers to banks. And new players aren't saddled with making heavy investments in creaky, decades-old back-office banking systems.
"Lending remains pretty much an archaic process for banks, largely based on paper forms that are designed to give customers a poor experience," said Martin McPhee, a senior vice president at Cisco who heads the company's consulting arm.
"Research shows that four out of five banking customers will happily leave their banks for a better customer experience," he said.
Hunt or be hunted
In corporate circles, the most common sobriquet for these digital threats is Google or, less frequently, Amazon.
But, depending on the industry, the big threat goes by different names: for automakers and transport companies, it is Tesla, the luxury electric car company, or Uber, the online taxi service. For hotels and airlines, it's Airbnb or Trivago, now majority owned by Expedia.