30 April & 1 May 2014
Level39, Canary Wharf
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Fraud is good, Pingit is rubbish and Swift will be dead within three years. There was no shortage of controversial and provocative views at a lively Finextra Future Money conference this week at Canary Wharf's Level39.
More than 400 people from the fintech world signed up for the conference and the vast majority battled tube strikes, fog and even a bomb scare to get to One Canada Square to explore the new wave of innovation sweeping across the financial services sector.
Alessandro Hatami, digital payments and innovations director at Lloyds Banking Group kicked things off. He used his keynote to unleash an impressive battery of stats, revealing that, just three years after the bank launched an app, 30% of logins are now mobile.
In a wide-ranging talk, Hatami gave enthusiastic backing to the use of big data, cautious support to crypto-currencies and mobile NFC payments and, perhaps most surprisingly, a warm welcome to fraud...albeit only as a tool for forcing bankers to innovate.
Fintech may have captured the zeitgeist but, if the Future Money audience is any guide, it is still a niche area with huge room for growth. Throughout the event, delegates were asked: have they signed up for Paym, have they used mobile NFC payments, have they got a bitcoin wallet, have they used crowdfunding platforms?
Despite the nerdy demographic, in each instance only a handful of people raised their hands.
The area of fintech with the firmest grip on the zeitgeist is bitcoin. IBM's Richard Brown says that the emergence of crypto-currencies is similar to the rise of the Web and the graphical browser because it destroys islands and creates an open network. By removing the need for intermediaries such as banks, it will revolutionise how we pay and have a huge impact on costs.
Regulators are certainly now beginning to take the matter seriously. Ven Currency founder Stan Stalnaker informed delegates that at a recent meeting with US watchdogs he was told that FinCen and Treasury experts expect bitcoin to be one of the world's top 20 currencies within 20 years.
In a later panel, investor Udayan Goyal made the boldest prediction of the day: that crypto-currencies will kill Swift within three years. To back up his claim, Goyal used the example of Fidor Bank, which now uses Ripple to move money between three countries without even touching Swift.
Inevitably at an event in the heart of London's financial services centre, there was much soul searching at Future Money from banks trying to work out how they can harness the new wave of fintech innovation.
Some attendees voiced scepticism about the recent rush from big banks to embrace 'innovation', with tools such as Barclays Pingit derided as marketing gimmicks that do little to change the way people interact with their money.
The popularity of labs, accelerators and incubators was also questioned. Are financial services firms attaching themselves to these projects to tick an easy box, for cheap PR? As we sat in the Level39 lab, Accenture's Samad Masood cut to the chase, refuting the idea but adding "who cares" if PR is involved? As long as it promotes innovation, it's a good thing.
For more detail, check out our liveblogs from day one and from day two.