26 October 2014

Elizabeth Lumley

Elizabeth Lumley - Finextra

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If any industry is in need of new thinking, it's banking

27 May 2014  |  2442 views  |  1

I've just checked my blogging stats and it seems like the last time I could, actually, act on my blogging muse was this past January. Oh dear. I apologise folks, but #dayjob. Those webcasts don't moderate themselves, ya know.

So, as we come into the middle of the year, I thought I would reflect on a few of my 'I should write a blog about this' moments since I last made a rant.

So during my travels over the past few months I have thought:

There are people that exist in this world, who walk, talk, and navigate canals on narrow boats, who think ‘Banking is awesome’ and really care about changing the way banks work. However, they are as frustrated as a eunuch at a whorehouse.

After our Future Money Event a few weeks ago, which produced ‘strong reactions’, I stood looking out the window of One Canada Square. One of the punters I was chatting to sighed loudly and said, “These conferences are all well and good. But is it enough to get this industry to change? What do we need to do?”

This frustration leads me to my next observation:

There are people in banks with their heads so far up their own arses they're staring at the world through their cakehole.

Yes, there are people inside banks who struggle every day against the rising tide of increase regulatory scrutiny and huge cultural obstacles that are inherent in trying to change business models inside banks. Not for nothing is the ‘it’s like moving an aircraft carrier’ metaphor used.

However, in banking as there are in other areas of life, people who think sneering at the new will make them seem more ‘intellectual’. Anyone inside banking who looks at phenomena such as Bitcoin and sniffs that it’s just ‘a coupon/token system that will never disrupt banking’ is an idiot.

When Satoshi Nakamoto wrote his white paper Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System he proved that it was possible to transport value outside of the established banking infrastructure, without even touching Swift. Once someone outside of drug dealers and tiny startups wakes up to this fact (see Fidor Bank) this is going to have a huge impact on the very system that many banks feel is their strongest advantage – the plumbing. That is huge and cannot be ignored.

Saying that:

People from outside the banking world may have some cool ideas, but they don’t have the answer to everything, and they aren't always by default 'the good guys'.

I’ve written before about the sometimes naiveté of startups who have very little understanding of how banking works and the types of regulations they face. However, we have seen recently the goings on at Ripple Labs – a move reminiscent of the ‘take the money and run’ IPO madness of the first Dot.Com bubble *ah, good times, good times...*- The financial services ecosystem is NOT made up of evil banks waiting to be disrupted by do-gooding visionaries who just want to create a global banking utopia.

Banks would not ‘focus on the customer’ if they didn’t think it would be profitable. Don’t think new players in the market aren’t motivated by money and profit as well. That mind-set will only lead to disappointment.

However…

I attend way, way too many conferences and I fear it may be making me cynical.

I swear if I see someone on stage tell me that ‘there are more mobile phones than toothbrushes or toilets (toilets!?) in the world’ in some breathless ‘you’ve never heard this before’ stage-crafted speaking voice I am kicking myself off Twitter and will start heckling from the floor.

Basically what you are saying is that there are ‘lots of mobile phones in the world’. You don’t say?! Whoop-de-fucking-do! I guaranteed there aren’t many places in the world where you can make a speech where possessing a mobile phone is a novelty. Guess what – we all know everyone has a mobile phone. (I bet most people at conferences also brush their teeth in the morning) We all know we are in the midst of the ‘digital age’ where changes in ‘customer behaviour' are changing everything.

Now, what are you going to do about it? How does this impact banking? Please tell me in detail and don’t leave out the inconvenient facts such as the percentage of pesky uncool people who still use branches or cheques.

However…

I need to understand that while I’ve heard the ‘there are more mobiles than…’ story so many times that if I had a nickel I would be reading The Luminaries on a beach in the Bahamas instead of ranting on the blog pages of Finextra – others in this industry haven’t.

At Future Money last month, we had the lovely Mariela Atanassaova (Mela) live scribed the sessions (pictures available here) and we had people queuing up to take pictures of the illustrations. Mela even had one delegate ask to take them home. Surely anyone who has attended Innotribe at Sibos has seen Mela’s work?

However, maybe not.

Mela commented to me that Innotribe was always on the fringes of Sibos, but Future Money took this concept of innovation and a new vision for financial services and placed it smack dab in the middle of mainstream banking – namely Canary Wharf by way of Level 39. People were at the conference who’d never heard someone comment from the audience that ‘Pingit was rubbish’ or a panellist claim that Swift only has 'three more years to survive'. This was news…to them.

I need to remember there is a difference between healthy journalistic scepticism and cynicism. There may be people who don't know that ‘there are more mobiles than toothbrushes' (but even that is debatable). That lack of knowledge and insight may be what fuels the sneering and backwards thinking I observed above.

Just follow up any 'duck-billed platitudes' with real world practical information that relates to the industry we are work in and I’ll be happy. Kapeesh?

My last and final thought is one that is very much a part of this year - 2014. This year marks my 20th year in FinTech – but also my fifth year at Finextra. Never did I think I would last (and enjoy) 20 years in this industry. And never did I think I would end up doing hundreds upon hundreds of video interviews.

When I took this job five years ago and was told it involved doing videos, I was wary. You see, I like 99.9% of the population do not look like a supermodel. However, over time, as we started working with a professional cameraman – I inched in front of the camera. (now you’re probably sick of me)

There are over 700 videos on our admin system and I reckon I’m in at least 500 of them. And of those 500, probably 400 or so are me interviewing men. As I said before, Fin and Tech are the two ‘alpha males’ of the alpha male-dominated industries. Of all those hundreds of men, I’ve only interviewed one who fussed about his hair before filming. However, without question every single woman I interviewed cringed at the thought of being photographed or filmed – some with real anxiety.

The irony is, visually, the women stand out. They tend to be bright, well-spoken, wear great jewellery and colourful clothing. They are a joy to film and they stand out amidst the hordes of grey suited males that we normally film.

We tend to interview pretty senior people here at Finextra, who are probably the global head of this department or senior EMEA VP of something. I have never interviewed anyone whose main job involved wearing tiny dresses on the cover of Vogue. So outside of looking presentable, and trust me every woman I’ve interviewed looks polished and presentable, stop fretting about your appearance. No man does.

Just as I mentioned above, just as there are people who fight and struggle against the culture that is old-school banking – there are attitudes aimed at women and that women aim at themselves that involve impossible expectations of beauty.

It is old-school, it is narrow-minded and it is definitely ‘Past Money’.

Trust me, I’m interviewing you because you are an expert in supply chain finance or mobile point of sale – not because you fit into a size 6 dress.

What does this have to do with banking technology and the future of money? Well, I believe it all comes down to culture. Anyone who would dismiss years of experience or expertise in favour of someone else’s shallow definition of what is attractive is showing their true colours. It is behaviour that is aimed at making women, and in turn any new or different voice, from being heard.

If any industry is in need of new and different voices, it is banking.

Cheerios, I promise to blog more. :-)

TagsInnovationStart ups

Comments: (2)

Sian Bentley - AEP - Loudwater | 28 May, 2014, 09:22

Yes Fin and Tech are the alpha males of an alpha male dominated industry. Sometimes when debates heat up at conferences it's like a testosterone tsunami. There are female voices out there but they have to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to the debate and be prepared not to be perfect all the time. 

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Elizabeth Lumley - Finextra - London | 28 May, 2014, 10:31

I *love* 'it's the women that need fixing' defense. Bring it on sweethart. 

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name

Elizabeth Lumley

job title

Multimedia and Special Projects Editor

company name

Finextra

member since

2009

location

London

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I am the multimedia and special projects editor at Finextra.

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