Money2020 was pretty different this year. I’m glad I went, it remains one the most important events in our calendar and it’s a fantastic opportunity for Consult Hyperion folk to meet up with all of our key customers and soon-to-be customers. And I’ll go again next year. But… it’s not like in the old days. Money2020 has matured into a mainstream business event. It’s no longer a place where people go to see fascinating presentations on what a blockchain is or how P2P lending works. It’s not longer a place where people go to watch passionate debate on panels full of conflicting views of the future. It’s a place where people go to do serious business. Here I am, for example, engaging in an in-depth discussion about the business opportunities for Payment Service Providers (PSP) because of the European Commission’s Second Payment Services Directive (PSD) open API provisions on the retail payments ecosystem in the UK, in the light of the UK Treasury’s parallel initiative, the Open Banking Working Group (OPWG).
I told our commercial chap Nick that I’d been into the conference and was a bit bored. He told me that we’ve done five times as much business at the event this year as we did last year. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that next door to Money2020 was the National Fasteners Conference. I’m afraid to say it, but this is the vision of a successful future: a trade show where everyone goes to do real business year after year. I spoke to a few other people about this. There was a feeling like we all know that SXSW will be more fun, but Money2020 will make us more money. And to be fair, Money2020 was bigger, better organised and easier to navigate than ever before. They’ve built a very successful show.
The main reason that I was at the event (apart from to make money for the company, of course) was because I had been invited to moderate one of the financial inclusion panels and I chose to focus on what the US could learn from emerging markets when it comes to the topic. They asked me who I would like to have on my panel and my first pick was Professor Lisa Servon from Penn. Lisa wrote one of the best papers on financial inclusion that I have ever read and I thought that the best way to explore the many aspects of the issues pertaining to the small percentage of American’s who are unbanked (perhaps around 7%) and the much larger proportion who are underbanked (perhaps 20%) would be to go to a Cirque de Soleil show, so I chose their Beatles show. It was great, by the way.
I was delighted to welcome Lisa on board along with Jed McCaleb from Stellar, Michael Schlein from Accion, Daniel Monehin from MasterCard and Arjuna Costa from Omidiyar Network. Michael wrote a very good blog post on the key takeaways from this panel so there is no need to repeat them here. What I will say is that the panelists received a well-deserved compliment later in the week when I was told that is was one of the stand out panels of the event, and I wasn’t surprised. I refused to have a set script so I asked them interesting questions and they responded with interesting answer, discussion and debate. A great start to the event.
I started to become somewhat deranged on the second day, partly because of lack of sleep, partly because of the over-stimulation at Bruce Parker’s top secret Payments Illuminati dinner (which had, I have to say, one of the best ice-breaker strategies I’ve ever come across at such events) and partly because of the amount of nonsense being talked about the blockchain was getting out of control. As you can see, my mental state was beginning to deteriorate. Someone tells me that the blockchain is going to revolutionise something or other. So I say “wow that’s great - how?” and they begin to describe some fantastical elaboration of some sort of distributed database with wholly mythic qualities and tell me “there, see”. I think perhaps some of his has to do with Money2020 Europe locating in Copenhagen, home of Hans Christian Anderson and his fairy tales. The spirit is permeating the event. I swear I saw a presentation that might as well have been about magic beans for all of the actual content it had or education it delivered. I was losing it, no about.
In fact, the more I start to think about it, the more the whole thing seems like it was one big fairy tale. Most of the stories I heard weren’t true, they were marketing, and that’s a sort of fairy tale.
The Tale of the Ugly Blockchain.
There once was a little blockchain. He didn’t use proof of work to form consensus, so all of the other blockchains made fun of him. You’re a quack, they told him. Quack, quack. And the little blockchain was very unhappy. But one morning the ugly blockchain was out playing by himself, because none of the other blockchains would play with him. In fact, they were chasing him with a hard fork. But then, as passing consultant saw what was going on and came over to help him. “Hey,” said the consultant, “what is a beautiful shared ledger like you doing out here with these ruffians?”. He wasn’t a blockchain after all, he was a double-permissioned shared ledger with a practical Byzantine fault-tolerant multi-round consensus algorithm! And he lived happily ever after.
Time for a glass of champagne. Luckily, they had some in green room for the W3C panel on “One-Click Buying: New W3C Standards for Web Payments” so I poured myself a large one and went on stage to toast the guys while they discussed the working draft of the W3C Payments Request API (July 2016). They deserved it, because in-app and in-browser payments are going to be huge. Bringing chip and PIN security into the web and mobile world is huge.
The impact of this is, if the people I spoke to were anything to go by, considerably underestimated. The ability to make secure and convenient remote payments is transformational and it will inevitably mean a significant growth in online business. But more than that, it will drive more transactions in-browser and in-app and this will mean that there will be more competition, because its easier to introduce new payment mechanisms this way.
The Tale of the Princess and the POS.
Once upon a time there was a Princess. She went to see the King and told him that she was bored and that she wanted to be an entrepreneur so she wanted the money to set up a shop. She decided to set up a potpourri shop and it was very successful.
She ordered a lovely POS terminal and put it on the counter.
Several customers came in every time to buy potpourri, including a Prince, who was very attractive to her because of his tubby Dad body. The Prince paid with his John Lewis MasterCard but things didn’t go as smoothly as the Princess had hoped because it took far too long for the transaction to complete.
When she went to bed at the night, she couldn’t sleep. The POS was bothering her.
“It’s big and ugly Daddy and it takes up space that should be occupied by lovely potpourri”.
So the King got her a small POS and attached it to her mobile phone.
But when she went to bed that night, she still couldn’t sleep. The POS was still bothering her.
“Daddy all my friends have Venmo and Zelle, so why do we make them use stupid old cards like the peasants have?”
So Daddy took away the POS and next time the Prince came in for some potpourri, she got the money by Venmo. And his number.
“That’s better Daddy” she told the King. “Now that there’s no POS I can sleep properly again. And my potpourri sales have gone up because of the loyalty scheme in my app”.
The Prince and the Princess changed their status to “hooked up” and they lived happily ever after.
I was sent off to the exhibition like a flesh and bone drone remotely piloted from Guildford. I was getting instructions like “go to stand XXX and see if the PIN on glass solution is in the TEE (it was) and certified (it wasn’t)” and then “go to stand YYY and see if the demo is real or simulated” and so on. So I did, and then I ran into noted venture capitalist Matt Harris. I decided to tell him my theory about regtech being a more important use of new technology than fintech for many of our customers because of the disproportionate and uncontrolled costs of compliance. I think I may have convinced him. Then I explained to him why it sometime makes sense for Manchester City to play a “false 9” against teams who lack pace at the back, because midfield runners can always move around the centre backs who are caught between tracking and sitting back.
I went off to a couple of conference sessions but since my first meetings of the day were at 7am on all of the first three days, I found it a little hard to concentrate. When I went to the Cafe Presse to get a little pick me up (quadruple shot latte with an extra shot) and I kid you not there were two guys in there who were fast asleep. Lightweights.
The Tale of the Emporer’s New Blockchain
Once up time, there was an Emperor. He ran a marvellous stock exchange. One day, a stranger came to town and she went to see the Emperor and showed him a blockchain. The Emperor said “I can’t see anything”. The stranger told him that only very clever people and management consultants could see the blockchain. The Emperor didn’t want to seem stupid, or provincial, or behind the times, so he told himself that he could the blockchain and that it was beautiful.
The Emperor went and told all of the people about his blockchain and the people were very happy.
After a while, though, the people shouted that they wanted to see the blockchain, so the Emperor decided that he would show it to them and impress them. And he took out the blockchain that the stranger had given him and showed it to the crowed.
But then one small boy consultant standing at the back said “I can’t see a blockchain. The stock exchange has only one node!”. And then everyone in crowd realised that was the boy said was true. There was no blockchain, just a database run by the Emperor as before.
The Emperor was upset at first, because everyone else had a blockchain and he didn’t. But then he realised that no-one else had one either, so he cheered up and started to invest in artificial intelligence chatbots instead and he lived happily ever after because he had a defined benefit pension.
Here I am engaged in a heated debate with noted retail banker over the likely future identity and verification ecosystem. He said that given the dynamics of the space, and given that banks already have to carry out the rigorous KYC, it makes sense for banks to develop a co-operative sector-wide kind of financial services passport that could be used cost-effectively by third-parties while the underlying identities are strongly protected by tried and tested cryptographic techniques including tokenisation and blinding. I said “wha-hey you're my best mate you are”.
By the final morning, I was going about my normal business, albeit in a persistent vegetative state, when I was accosted by the shy and retiring head of the Emerging Payments Association. We had a fruitful discussion about using strong biometric authentication against revocable tokens to use pseudonyms (with strongly-attested attributes) in transactional environment. He said that he thought that this might be where the blockchain makes sense because the transparency around shared reputation management was a positive, whereas sharing private transactions was a negative and would require complex strategies to maintain commercial confidence. I said “stop shouting”.
I think that for our clients and friends in the USA, the most important commercial announcement was the launch of Zelle by EarlyWarning. Zelle will launch in 2017, the equivalent of Paym/PingIt in the UK: instant account-to-account payments. It launched with 19 banks: Ally Bank, Bank of America, Bank of the West, BB&T, BECU, Capital One, Citi, Fifth Third Bank, FirstBank, First Tech Federal Credit Union, Frost Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, PNC, USAA, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. Pretty impressive. If you look at Venmo's hockey stick, it's clear that a P2P proposition has a ready market. But my sense of Venmo is that it suceeded because of social media integration so I suspect that Zelle’s long term role will be as an API for other platforms (e.g., Facebook) to use rather than as a standalone app or something that is tucked away in bank apps. This is the sort of thing that is best considered with a Mai Tai, by the way.
Back home, here I am trying to work out exactly how much I lost in the casinos. I think it might have been as much as $80, because I’m pretty much of a high roller, especially when egged on by VocaLink Vixens and Money2020 Molls. Still. Vegas.
Thinking about it, almost all of the interesting things I saw or heard about weren’t really about fintech and payments, they were about regtech and identity. It’s almost as if Identity2020 is the new Money2020.
See you next year.