15

Oct

2018

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This is my last post on the Money 20/20 2018 extravaganza in Las Vegas. The event is coming soon, plus I need enough vacation to be properly rested before the craziness kicks in. I just realized I had discussed the event, the sessions, how to navigate all four days, how to plan and organize oneself as well as the specific sessions I was hosting or moderating, yet had not mentioned the startups attending the conference.

A proper conference focused on financial technology without startups is like an emperor with no clothes? This post is thus dedicated to the M20/20 2018 cohort.

First, there are three distinct startup categories:

 

 

 

The Startup Academy is comprised of 100 startups that all have raised less than $3 million in equity funding, been incorporated for less than 3 years and are a first time attendee of Money 20/20 USA, thereby insuring optimal freshness – investors love freshness. The application process is closed for 2018 and I encourage all fintech startups to prepare themselves for next year’s event. I cannot emphasis enough how much coverage and positive scrutiny one gets by participating. I understand the application process is managed in partnership with Medici, thus guaranteeing a professional outcome.

Startup Academy participants not only get exposure via the M20/20 marketing machine, they also get to interact with the advisory board – some of which I have co-invested in the past and I guarantee these people know fintech inside out – with investors and corporate partners during the office hours program, pitch training sessions, and Academy drinks – presumably to heighten the Las Vegas sensory overload experience.

The top 24 startups from the Academy were selected to participate in the pitch challenge, the winner of which will go home with a fat $25,000 grand prize. If I were the winner I would insist on fiat currency payout this year. One can never be too prudent. In what promises to be further proof of the rise of entertainment in all things and the advent of cross-functional expertise, one of the judges for the final round will be Shaquille O’Neal.

Incidentally, I will be a judge on one of the first rounds, thereby validating one does not necessarily need not be a former NBA star to select fintech startups. I used to play rugby, but that has never helped me in any way business wise.

Finally, Startup City will feature 58 startups on the conference floor. I have always found the concept a most excellent networking opportunity and as with every year, will dedicate half a day to pay a visit to all startups on the conference floor.

As for the startups themselves, I pored over the list, completed my homework and preliminary due diligence. I am intrigued by more than a handful of them but will not divulge my preferences ahead of the conference, what with the pitch challenge and all. Suffice it to say that most fintech sectors are represented, from payments to crypto, to b2b to directo to consumer, stablecoins to asset management tools, risk management platforms. There is maybe less of an AI flavor to this year’s participants and the crypto space is well represented. Anyways, I can’t wait to meet all, spend a tad more time with the ones that hit the current investment themes I am currently focused on and of course congratulate the pitch challenge winner. I encourage you to do the same, and meet as many startups as you can.

Of course, don’t hesitate to say hello if you spot me out and about.

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02

Oct

2018

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To each her own way of organizing for and experiencing Money 2020. I know some like to plan each day to the minute, making sure they are booked for meetings – no downtime shall be tolerated – and choose each of the sessions they will attend with great care. Others, and I have definitely been in this camp, like to wing it and let themselves be carried away by the ambient craziness.

I do like to meet at the venue, in so doing, aided by a pinch of serendipity and a splash of luck. No scheduled meetings for me. I have also not planned the sessions I wanted to attend ahead of the event, preferring the whim of the day to lead me. On this latter point, after having checked the agenda a few minutes ago I have decided to be more rigorous with my planning. Indeed, I was shocked, positively so, by the 18 topics at hand and the plethora of sessions for all four days. Have the Money 2020 organizers upped their game? I believe so given the number of very intriguing sessions I found while skimming through the entire agenda. Either that or I was not paying attention at all in 2017.

Without further ado, here is the short list of topics and sessions I will endeavor to attend – unless serendipity & luck force my attention elsewhere – from October 21 til October 24:

  • General Session Keynotes:
    • “The future of banking, fintech or tech fin”, moderated by Jim Marousco-publisher of the The Financial Brand on Monday 22ndat 11:15am
    • “Gradually then suddenly, the unbundling of the bank”, with Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights on Monday 22ndat 11:35am
    • “Hey Alexa, what’s next for voice commerce”, with Patrick Gauthierfrom Amazon on Tuesday 23rdat 10:50am
    • “Meet Interstellar: tokens as the new form of value”, moderated by David BirchDirector of Innovation of Consult Hyperion, with Adam Ludwinco-founder and CEO of Interstellar and Jed McCaleb, co-founder and CTO of Interstellar. I mean, David and Adam are two of my favorite people in the world, so there.

 

  • AI & Deep Learning: The entire track looks very enticing and is chaired by none other than David Shrier, Associate Fellow, University of Oxford; Lecturer & Futurist, MIT Media Lab; Founder & CEO, Distilled Analytics, so I know the quality of the content will be very high.
    • Automation in Financial Services: hype of reality, on October 21 at 9:55am

 

  • Blockchain & Crypto: This topic is chaired by Ian Khan, Filmmaker & Technology Futurist, Futuracy. I pored over every session of this track and I want to attend all of them. As simple as that. This topic will take place on Tuesday 23rdfrom 8:25am til 3:20pm. Lord give me strength!

 

  • Startup Challenge:Well, I am moderating the Group 2 semifinal on Monday 22ndat 1pm, so it would be poor form for me not to attend. Enough said.

 

  • The Fintech Revolution:chaired by John Rampton, Writer, Forbes; Founder, Wheelhouse Partners; and Founder & CEO, Dueand my good friend Chris Skinner, Author & Blogger, The Finanser Ltd. The entire topic looks very interesting and I had a tough time choosing my favorites.
    • “Building trust with consumers, explainable AI & the future of underwriting”moderated by Jenny Surane, Finance reporter with Bloomberg on Monday 22ndat 2:40pm
    • “RegTech Revolution” with Jo Ann Barefoot, Co-Founder, Hummingbird Regtech & CEO, Barefoot Innovation Group on Monday 22ndat 3:20pm
    • “Digital Humans & the fintech revolution”with Chris Skinner on Tuesday 23rdat 10:20am
    • “The Anthropology of Money”on Tuesday 23rdat 10:50am. There is no designated moderator for this one. Wink, wink, nudge nudge to my M2020 organizer friends, I would love to moderate this one. Paging Andrew Morris fromMoney 20/20

 

  • Breaking news & Fintech views:chaired by Chris Skinner. I swear, that man shadows me everywhere I go. Again, I am listing two sessions for this topic, one of which I am moderating, and as such will have to be present, it goes without saying.
    • “Cloud Banks”,moderated by myself, with the most excellet Scott Mullins, Head of Worldwide Financial Services Business Development, Amazon Web Services on Tuesday 23rdat 1:10pm.
    • “Marcus by Goldman Sachs”with Omer Ismail, Chief Commercial Officer, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, on Tuesday 23rdat 2:30pm. I bet everyone and their sisters will want to attend this session.

 

  • Banks & Personal Finance: chaired by David Poole, Director of Business & Brand Strategy, Publicis.Sapient
    • “Open Banking: What’s been achieved? What’ the commercial case?”moderated by Philippe Dintrans, SVP & Chief Digital Officer, Global Consulting Leader, Banking & Financial Services, Cognizant on Monday 22ndat 1pm. Ok, so the first reason I include this session is because I am keenly interested in all things open banking. The second reason, which is WAYmore important is because the moderator, Philippe Dintrans is the homonym of Philippe Dintrans a French rugby legend and one of my childhood heroes.
    • “Bank of the future”,moderated by Jason Gardner, CEO and founder of Marqeta, on Monday 22d at 4pm

It goes without saying that, although the above sessions caught my eye for a specific reason – whether some of the themes explored mesh with my own research and investment themes or whether I know the moderator and speakers will do a rocking job of it – that there are many other sessions worthy of your time. My humble curation is not an end all be all by far.

Finally, don’t forget to attend the pool part on Sunday night which I will co-host.

Incidentally, this is how James Wester thinks I will show up for the pool party:

That’s it for now and until my next post, happy readings and happy planning for Money 2020 Las Vegas 2018.

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22

Aug

2018

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I will attend Money 20/20 in Las Vegas this coming 21-24 October. By my count, this will be my 7thattendance (European events included). My lack of enthusiasm about Las Vegas (I am not a gambler) is perfectly balanced with my exuberance when it comes to learning and networking for 4 days around payments, banking and all things fintech. Recently I have moderated M2020 panels on bank as a service or platform banking – both in Las Vegas and in Europe.

This time around I am mixing things a bit and interviewing Scott Mullins, one of AWS’ executives in charge of the financial services industry, in a keynote fireside format. I am quite excited with this interview as I strongly believe the bedrock of future financial services is cloud computing. Without cloud computing a financial institution cannot truly become flexible with its technology architecture. Not being flexible means being unable to re-invent core systems & how products/services need to be delivered? Without core systems re-invention financial institutions will not be able to take advantage of the sea of data they swim in. Basically cloud computing is it and in cloud computing AWS is it. The keynote fireside chat will be very interesting, I promise, especially as many in the financial services industry lose many nights thinking about how Amazon could enter their businesses and obliterate them. We will try to debunk these myths too and focus on how AWS can enable and help financial firms – be they banks or insurers or asset managers. The only part that chagrins me is that the good folk at M2020 have limited this fireside chat to only 25 minutes. As such, if you want to hear more about this subject, please lobby your M2020 representative immediately and demand that my AWS fireside chat be extended to at least 40 minutes. That should do the trick!

Talking about the good folk at M2020, they also approached me for my good looks and general gregarious demeanor, suggesting I co-host, alongside other individuals, a revamped poolside soiree on October 21. I happily answered by the affirmative before they changed their minds. So, in addition to attending the AWS fireside chat, please make an appearance to the poolside reception to say hello as all of your closest friends will attend. Fun will be had by all I promise – further, unlike this graphic suggests, I will not wear a bathing suit at the party.

Much has happened since last year’s M2020 in Las Vegas, much of it geopolitical or political in nature. In no particular order, trade wars as a political weapon, tariffs, currency wars, challenges to the post WWII economic order, further repercussions off of Brexit, accelerated cyber warfare, pressure on the EU, a general climate of deregulation in the US, China’s “new” Silk Road drive progress, inflation making a comeback, tax rates competition, economic growth in the US, the end of the love affair the public has had with technology in general and social media in particular, a changing sentiment towards tech platforms, the weaponization of news and data…

I posited, in a blog post published at the end of 2017, that the 2018 fintech trends could very well be impacted by geopolitical events. I believe this prediction has proven to be on point to a certain degree. What I will track and try to decipher during this upcoming M2020 event is how all the above turbulences and changes are being digested by the industry at large and by several constituencies in particular – startups, bankers, payment companies, cross border payment businesses, trade finance folk, VC investors, CVCs, thought leaders. Based on the assumption that the era of “technology is neutral and can do no wrong” is over and that a new era of “national politics is back front and center” the fintech world has to be impacted too.

Here are a few thoughts I will want to test during these four M2020 days of intense networking:

  • How are Chinese investors, operators, big tech and financial actors acting and reacting?
  • Are the Chinese models (WeChat, AliPay…) really the future of financial services in a new geopolitical era? How will Chinese regulators impact Chinese fintech models?
  • Will US banks have a spring in their step given the deregulatory noises and actions so far?
  • Are investors (early stage and late stage, corporate and private) already adapting to a lengthy national economics era where cross border investments will be more difficult to execute?
  • Will financial regulation diverge further between trading blocks and how will fintech be impacted as a result?
  • How will cyber warfare evolve as a threat vector applied to financial services? What will be financial institutions actions & reactions over and above what is already a healthy cybersecurity spend across the board.
  • Will fintech activity, payments tech activity cool off further trans-border in 2019? What are the expectations?
  • Will technology and innovation suffer from national economics, or thrive in different ways? If thrive in different ways, how so?
  • In the face of a resurgent national economic era, how will the crypto world evolve – given that crypto technology is by essence transnational?

I am sure to be missing a few salient points here, so please chime in, and do not hesitate to do your own research too. Further, what I like about the above is how different of an approach to the future of fintech it forces you to think. Namely, I am not focusing on the development and application of a specific technology, be it AI or blockchain. Rather, I focus on governance and political actions and how the fintech world will be impacted.

ps: I probably will blog further about M2020 in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

pps: I do look like a crazed human marmot in these M2020 graphics

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27

Mar

2018

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It was the best of customer service, it was the worst of customer service, it was the age of legacy thinking, it was the age innovation. Charles Dickens did not have the opportunity to live in both London and Paris. That did not stop him from writing about Paris. I have the misfortune of having experienced legacy and startup customer service. This compels me to share my experience via this short post.

Convinced by the solid arguments for privacy and security which Facebook, Google, Cambridge Analytica et al. have pushed forth into the public arena recently, I embarked on a quest to find an email service more fitting of the quiet, introspective and private life I yearn for. After much searching, my gaze rested on a particular service which I longed for in a manner similar to Chimene’s eyes when conveying their love for Don Rodrigue. I promptly signed up for the new email service, firmly hoping my new epistolary tool would not tragically betray me the way Don Rodrigue ended betraying Chimene.

Armed with a newly functioning email address, now was the time for me to start switching the plethora of newsletters, digital newspaper subscriptions and other services of importance which I patronize and which held my old email address – the one whose provider scans and reads all I send and receive. Having not undertaken such an exercise in many years, I was immediately struck by how extremely diverse the workflow involved in changing an email address associated with an account is. My friends, let me be clear, the experience can be positively scarring and scary. May I dare say, in the grand scheme of things, changing an email address runs from the most picayune to the most anti-picayune, and that both extremes brings one one step closer to how it may feel upon returning from the heart of darkness, barely unscathed.

It is decidedly rather scary to change an email address after having logged into one’s account without being asked to prove one is oneself at all (this did happen more than once). It is decidedly rather frustrating to attempt changing an email address and try as one might want to, with all the preternaturally placid energy nature as bestowed upon oneself, to barely complete the task in less time than it would take to read Jules Romains’ Men of Good Will, all 27 volumes. Several days and many more gray hair later, I can declare the state of identity management to be barely better than that of fallow land. Fertile, maybe. Productive, no. Further, the state of customer experience and service may lead one to utter madness.

I selected two experiences for your edification and entertainment. One while interacting with an incumbent bank of Gallic disposition (“the Bank”). The other while interacting with a fast growing fintech startup specialized in cross border payments (the “Startup”).

I was expecting a rigorous process when changing my email address with the Bank. I was not to be disappointed. I first logged into my account, which I had done so to check my balance just a fortnight ago. Alas, I was denied on my first try. Not knowing which of my password or username was incorrect, I prudently typed both anew. No dice on the second try, or the third or the fourth. No message either, alerting me to my mad ways and brandishing the menace of freezing my account after a certain number of errors. I was left on my own, trying to navigate the Bank’s web site, which I did post haste. After wasting several hours, I finally located a page the promised me a swift and online procurement of a new password. I  filled all the fields but was thwarted by the last one, the “phone number” field, which to my greatest astonishment only accepted Gallic formatted numbers. Being a US resident, I found this narrow formatting fiat particularly galling and try as I might, could not complete the task.

I then chose the next best option, that of chatting live with a customer service employee. I quickly realized the errors of my ways as, after having clicked on the chat link, I was redirected to the the log in page. Yes, indeed, one can only chat with customer service to resolve login issues if one is logged in. Brilliant. Lest I be accused of not searching the Bank’s site thoroughly, I spent more time hunting down other points of contact, or nuggets of knowledge the benevolent Bank ux luminaries may have left for us poor users. Alas, lady luck did not fancy me and all I could find was a few toll free phone numbers only usable when located in Gaul. My blood was boiling and I clearly enunciated several swear words which Captain Archibald Haddock would have approved of had he found himself in similar circumstances. Stubbornly denying defeat its due, I trucked along and wondered if I could find a more welcoming experience on Twitter. Three Gallic Bank twitter accounts later (this Bank has over a dozen Twitter accounts I believe) I had found someone who provided me with a customer service phone number which I could use while in the US. The help desk was closed for the day when I called – the 35 hours work week is a cruel mistress.

The following morning, having forgotten my Quixotic adventures of the previous day, I called the help desk again, and was greeted with an array of options, explained in the modern Gallic language but lacking in the clarity one expects from modern businesses. It took me six tries until I finally reached the right option – the system hung up on me twice, I chose the wrong option three times as I misunderstood the instructions and the UPS man interrupted me with an Amazon delivery the fifth time around. (By then I needed a shot of bourbon to steady my nerves and stiffen my resolve.) Have no fear, I had finally reached my destination and was soon to unite in Hegelian discourse with a human being on the subject of my login credentials. (We are not even talking about changing my email address at this time, let’s be modest with our goals here.) A robotic voice, mellifluously tinged with anthropomorphic tones, informed me many other users were calling at the same time and to expect a lengthy delay. I was given the option to leave my name and phone number so someone would call me later. I wised up and I declined the option while musing about the reasons all other users had in calling the help desk. Were they all properly worked up with how Gallic quality of customer service, were they secret shoppers testing the system to improve it? My musings were interrupted by the same robotic voice which informed me the wait would be 3 minutes. Victory at last! 3 hours and one cat nap later, I finally was talking to someone.

The conversation was short and pleasant. I was informed not to worry as my account was still active – a relief. I was also informed the software system did sometimes “hiccup” and in so doing would fail to recognize proper credentials. I wondered for a second if this was a feature rather than a bug. All one had to do, the customer service rep told me, was to wait a day or so and try to log in again. I felt validated, at least, my case was not one of user error. I gently pointed out the incongruity of such state of affairs. What if one was facing an emergency such as paying for the subscription renewal of Crypto-Soldier of Fortune to avoid interruption of service? My query was met with soothing approval. Yes, of course, such things are an inconvenience, but time will help, have patience, and we will solve the issue eventually. After reading through her notes the customer service rep informed me the only way out of my misery was for the bank to initiate a new password which would be sent via express snail mail – I humbly ventured other options such as changing the email address over the phone but was quickly and gently denied and chided for my straightforward and simplistic ways.

As of today, I expect receipt of said mail within 5 business days, at which point I will, if all goes to plan, be able to log into my account and change my email address. I am in the hands of the Gods, or those of the Bank’s mail delivery group, whoever is more omnipotent.

The Startup experience could not have been more different. First, this is not your garden variety startup. This startup has experienced strong growth, survived the slings and arrows of outrageous entrepreneurial fortune and is now a vibrant and, one can assume, well structured startup. I logged into my account – no system hiccups – found my account profile and was instructed to call the help desk for a change of email address. I called, waited for two minutes, talked to a customer service rep gave my credentials, answered a few identity questions, gave my old and new email address, received an email to my new address which asked me to verify said address, clicked, verified and logged back into my account. All in all, the entire process took no more than 5 minutes. Wait for it, wait for it, the rep called me back 15 minutes later to make sure everything was ok. A marked improvement compared with the Bank experience. Here is a startup, raised on free-range digital land, weaned off digital milk, knowledgable and nimble enough to create sensical customer experiences. The identity management paradigm is still imperfect mind you, what with talking to someone and answering various questions to ascertain if Pascal is indeed Pascal. Still, an experience which I came out of rejuvenated, with faith in my fellow woman restored.

Prior to this episode, I had recently interacted with various bankers game fully employed with other incumbent banks. The great majority of them are convinced innovation and disruption are oversold and over-hyped and that their august organizations know how to get the right answers to address change in an internal fashion. On the face of my recent customer experience, it is the right questions one should be more preoccupied with.

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