By Hannah Duncan
It’s with a fuzzy head and sticky keyboard, that I write up my experience of the FinTECHTalents2020‘s Virtual Fintech Event yesterday. Normally a festival for fintech fanatics to get together in person… this year was a little different. Following the lockdown rules, more than 25,000 people joined from home. With, I imagine, our top halves looking remarkably smarter than our bottom halves, we flicked on our webcams and dived in.
No queue for the coffee…
Just like any other FinTECHTalents event it was a bright and bustling experience. Complete with multiple stages, networking spaces and some distinctively funky tunes… definitely one to remember.
For myself, I headed straight for the main stage at 11.30am. It was pretty easy. I didn’t have to queue for coffee or awkwardly shuffle in front of already-seated people and their tutty eye rolls. Tuning into, “Is innovation impossible at incumbent banks?”, I was eager to hear what some of the lofty banking giants had to say. In my experience, banks talk about innovation, but fintechs do it. I’ll admit, I expected that it might be a lot of spiel about basically nothing. Like standing in Narnia and peeking through a tiny keyhole into a closed wardrobe. I was wrong.
Highlights of, “Is innovation impossible at incumbent banks?”
I never thought I’d hear the likes of HSBC, Nationwide and Natwest promoting how, “Innovation isn’t possible, it’s essential”. Stealing the show for me was Mambu’s Chief Customer Officer, Elliot Limb. He advocated that big banks can’t have everything their way and managed from their own internal systems anymore. They need to use agile fintechs and move away from manual in-house policies to get the job done. “Banks used to be built to last. Today, they need to be built to change”, he stressed. “It can’t be all bank-centric, we can’t have ten-year tie-ins, we need the best tech for today. We need composable banking”. If, like me, you need to Google, “Composable banking”, I’ll save you a job: It means banks which are made up of different parts. Combining banks with bits of fintech, regtech, paytech and any other kind of tech could create a wonderful Inspector Gadget type of service for customers. On the other hand, there could be some ugly Frankenstein Monsters lurking around as well.
The strength of these partnerships relies on the mindsets of everyone involved. And I’ll be honest, I’m sceptical. From my incumbent days, I remember the kind of people who made big decisions. They were mostly men, quite a bit older than my dad, with old-school accents and who needed to put their glasses on to check a text. Not a WhatsApp. A text. As the panel continued, here and there, you could see the tiny glimmers, the little give-aways that participants were still dealing with these same kinds of people.
Nevertheless, the impacts of the pandemic have forced incumbents to think differently, even those brutally stubborn ones, stuck at the top. “The pandemic means that we can overcome some of the innovative resistance”, commented Alex Bannister, Director of Strategic Planning at Nationwide. They talked about entire offices finally being able to work from home. Of making quick-fire adjustments to old processes – some of which are so ancient, they might as well sign up for their state pension and bus pass. The pandemic has highlighted some of banking’s major flaws, and not before time.
From creating change which adapts around different cultures to $50 million investment in start-ups… these incumbents seem to be waking up. Like giant caterpillars emerging from a sleepy cocoon. In the years to follow, we could see some flourish and soar skywards.
It was tricky for me to pick a favourite quote. In the end it had to go to Roshan Rohatgi Innovation & Solutions Artificial Intelligence Lead at Natwest for this prolific gem, “We chose to do innovation not because it is easy, but because it’s hard”.
Banking in the age of Corona
At 3.30pm I was back at it. I headed over to the main stage in a couple of clicks and settled in for a second round, “Banking in the age of Corona”. Listening to the all-female panel on the fast-changing regulatory environment was as rewarding as it was refreshing. The event was star-studded with prominent experts. As any financial writer will be able to tell you, finding someone from a bank who’ll talk about risk is near-impossible. The journey is more intense than Frodo’s mission to Mount Doom – and definitely takes longer. When I saw panellists like Lloyd’s Head of Risk Diana Carrasco openly discussing operational challenges, my jaw hit the floor. It was brilliant.
Together the panel offered a revealing and engaging insight into how banks have been forced to speed up their technology. As Senior BFSI Industry Lead, Celine Allain from Bold360 commented, the pandemic has “unveiled weaknesses in banks’ digital transformations”. They’re facing unprecedented pressure to scale-up and improve at record speeds. It’s a real sink or swim moment, and for many, fintech is their only life raft.
Caroline Dawson, Partner at magic circle law firm Clifford Chance highlighted the myriad of operational issues that banks are contending with right now. With some roles such as Anti-Money Laundering positions legally required to be filled at all times, finding professionals to stand in during a pandemic is no easy task. Additionally, many banking employees have found themselves locked-down in foreign countries. All those international flight meetings have landed some in a bit of a mess. With the web of various taxes, licences and other operational must-haves well and truly tangled, law firms have had a job to keep up.
All panellists found that within these vast swathes of challenges, there are opportunities within. Rare moments to grab the bull by the horns and modernise the banking systems. Magdalena Krön, Rise Global FinTech Platform Director at Barclays spoke about how both fintechs and incumbents are pivoting and transforming. Most importantly, they’re collaborating to help customers.
“Energetic, engaging and enlightening” are three words I would use to describe this panel – and “well worth watching”.
Ultimate Fintech Pub Quiz
So, you might be wondering, how did my keyboard get coated in a syrupy, orange glue? And why is there a faint buzzing behind our eyes this morning? Well, as I discovered for myself, Fintech Finance pulled out all the stops for the after-party. It began with twelve beautiful cocktails of my choice arriving at my door, completely complimentary, which blew my mind. Grouped together into teams, we battled out our fintech brains, with rounds like “What’s that card?” and “Cummings and Goings”. The quiz was valiantly won by The Mediterraneans, who’ll each receive a custom-made Funko Pop doll of themselves. We laughed, we pondered and we (mostly me) spilt our drinks everywhere in excitement. Some things never change. Especially when a group of passionate fintech fanatics get together.
From Strange Bedfellows to Spin rooms the event was exceptionally creative, and astonishingly glitch-free. My heartfelt thanks to all at VC Innovations and Fintech Finance for bringing the party home and creating such an extraordinary day.
… Catching up with the organisers
“The event-only experience is dead (virtual and physical). Key to our success is working with community members throughout the year creating content, growing the community, and designing interconnected experiences. This model has helped us to bring together over 3,000 virtual attendees in less than 2 months. The sole purpose of FinTECHTalents Virtual was to deliver value by creating a virtual-first experience that allowed the community to not only consume great content but also make new business connections and more importantly be part of an immersive experience where they could become a speaker/contributor at any point. We wanted to create drama.”
– Victor Cruz, CEO at VC Innovations
… What did you think?