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Money 20 20 examines the alchemy of fintech

Returning to Amsterdam’s RAI for the second time, Money 20/20 Europe 2019 brought together over 350 industry leaders who provided 70 hours of content to the 6,000 attendees from 2,000 companies hailing from 82 countries. The event covered the full spectrum of topics dominating the commerce universe, from banking transformation, cyber security and risk management, payments evolution and innovation, all the way to the rise of SuperApps, AI and transformational technology.

The 2019 theme was financial alchemy, where tech, money and magic meet. Incumbents were given prominence on the ‘industry transmutation’ stage while they co-mingled with the challengers on such forums as the ‘innovation catalysis stage’, ‘the lab’ and the ‘tech combustion stage’. Many of the underlying themes were familiar, be it regulation and its off-spring Open Banking or security, and others less so, such as social responsibility and inclusion.

Open Banking – one year post launch

Introduced a year ago, Open Banking featured prominently across the agenda, with a dedicated stream on day 2, chaired by the ever-present David Birch (Consult Hyperion). Thought leaders from Innopay, the UK’s open banking implementation entity, BankiFi and iSpirit gathered to evaluate the journey so far.

Mr Birch, providing the average UK person’s perspective, noted, “it has delivered basically nothing and all they get is an occasional letter from their bank with incomprehensible gibberish”.

Douwe Lycklama, founding partner of Innopay, attempted a look beyond just banking and spied the emergence of a wider open data economy: “The customer will have more complexity. 20 years ago, we weren’t using social media, but we all learnt how to do it. Open banking is a new habit that we will learn in the coming decade and ecosystems will develop and create valuable services for individuals and businesses.”

Mark Hartley, founding partner of BankiFi, made his frustration evident, stating that while Open Banking will strengthen the incumbents, these same players have not taken up the opportunity to offer customers services in the SME and business segments.

Gavin Littlejohn, chairman of the Financial Data and Technology Association, commented on one of the upcoming Open Banking milestones – Secure Customer Authentication. He believes that there is not enough time for banks to build an API channel, which is why they’ve launched a testing environment instead. “In September, financial institutions will have to hope it’s mature enough because there is no transition period built in, and a bank could get an exemption a day before the deadline. A complete fiasco!”

Invisible financial services – the digital everyday

Enabled by Open Banking, a growing trend is the integration of financial services into the everyday. This goes beyond the classic ‘guy walks into coffee shop, finds his drink waiting’ scenario, to include firms such as AEVI, First Data and many more working with merchant acquirers to provide digital capabilities to the ‘offline’ world for retailers. When data is added to the mix, with a shot or two of artificial intelligence, the aim is an enhanced customer experience. Pritesh Kotecha, EMEA SVP at SmartStream, drawing inspiration from the Chinese model, saw the future in “integrating financial services into those apps and products people already use: chats, games and so on”.

Casting doubt on the model and the danger of over-harnessing loyalty applications, Kim Oreskovic, CFO of venture capital firm Antler opined, “They are one of the most boring and saturated applications of consumer data. Customer profiling can be very useful and exciting, but it has to be done the right way.”

The alchemy of AI, cloud, blockchain and quantum computing

Day 3 of Money 20/20 Europe kicked off with a discussion of the alchemy experiment that is the interplay of a number of emerging technologies, namely AI, cloud, blockchain and quantum computing, expertly facilitated by Jesse McWaters, financial innovation lead at the World Economic Forum. Setting the scene, Mr McWaters stated, “There is sensationalised discourse around emerging technology which makes it sound like nonsense, and therefore easier to dismiss as nonsense. We need to think about the actual potential of these technologies.” Examining the interplay of these technologies in the real world, he saw the cloud enabling the AI ecosystem with added processing power and speed, as well as the migration from legacy systems to the cloud, ensuring they are more interoperable.

Carlos Kuchkovsky, chief technology and R&D officer of new digital business at BBVA, explored how this interplay has revolutionised the way larger companies create value, saying “Technology is exponential, but humans are linear”.

Mr McWaters and Mr Kuchkovsky were joined by a number of panellists including Jonathan Larsen of Ping An Group. Ping An has embraced AI with gusto, virtualising their consumer lending platform and moving from branch-based to completely digital, with no face-to-face interaction or examination of paper documents. Mr Larsen also elaborated on how the institution collects the same variables as a bank, adding in other information to build better client profiles.

Another panellist, Melissa Guzy, managing partner at Arbor Ventures, added, “It’s AI or die. If your business doesn’t use some form of AI, you’re not going to be competitive. This is separating out the cream of the crop and those who understand AI, its limitations and stages of development.” As Benoоt Legrand, ING Bank’s chief innovation officer said, “We’re now in the third stage of innovation, where it is all about the impact you make for the customer”.

It will be good to return to Money20/20 Europe next year to see how far we have come in terms of enriching end-user experience, ideally beyond incomprehensible gibberish in a letter from the bank.

 

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