Category: Articles

Changing industries and the frustrating yet continued need for a CV

A little update on my somewhat relaxed search for a new role. February, March and April seem to have passed by very quickly. I had a second interview at a brilliant digital agency but alas they went with someone ‘more junior’ and a few other things are progressing. Apart from that I have been a bit busy with life. I got married, had a minimoon, turned 40, went away to celebrate, my youngest son turned 3, ‘ran’ my first half marathon and then it was the Easter Holidays and all of a sudden May was here. My slightly relaxed job hunt attitude seems a bit foolish/extravagant/nice as it has now been almost 5 months since I left HSBC.

The first week of April I was back on it. Chasing up contacts, asking people for help/contacts/ideas, sending my CV off for some professional polish (nice to see how people phrase things but the formatting they chose did not suit my artistic sensibilities) and went to London to meet some nice people, and have a sort of interview. I also had a couple of responses from things that I thought had not panned out e.g. a recruiter contacted me a while ago about a role so I sent off a CV, initially the company came back rejecting all applicants from that recruiter, then the Monday after that the company had a change of heart and now wanted to interview me. I also got a call from another company I speculatively sent a CV to at the beginning of the year. Maybe after Easter/the tax year is when hiring ramps up again. Either way I have a few interviews / meetings over the next few weeks that will hopefully lead to gainful employment.

I am also in the process of setting up a little site to offer my services, so to speak (I have done the paperwork, bought a domain, set up a site, got a Twitter account etc.) Just in case I fancy trying a little bit of the gig economy. I am trying to work out what those services I would offer are and if anyone has any suggestions please do let me know (opening up myself to abuse there)

As an aside during my search for roles here are a couple of things that I have found strange and a little challenging

Switching industries

One key thing that has struck me has the challenge of switching industries. My desired paths were either traditional consultancies or digital agencies. I have spoken with many people at companies in those industries and I have had a few interviews at digital agencies too. The challenge for me has been aligning what I did at the bank with how these industries operate and that has not been that straight forward. I got one question in an interview about UX which something along the lines of ‘What assets have you produced?’ coming from banking the word asset has many different connotations. I have a basic understanding of UX and the things which make up the discipline but the question kind of threw me in that I had never personally produced traditional UX assets, journey/experience maps, wireframes etc. but I know what they are and how they are made and what their purpose is and their weaknesses but we did not really use them in previous role. Being able to talk more fluently and coherently about the world you are trying to enter is clearly a must. Having said that the creative industries are also aware that their use of jargon maybe prevents a more diverse range of people entering the industry, in fact it shares that in common with finance and a lot of industries I am guessing.

I have spoken with a few people inside consultancies too and they ask things like do you want an internal role or a client facing role, and then they have explained the vast differences between and how people inside those companies find switching between impossible. Switching jobs/industries is hard.

Another language element is that of the job role.  ‘What kind of roles were you thinking of in our agency?’ ‘I have no idea can you explain what they actually are?’. I very nearly got a role as an Associate Planning Director. I went for a role as a strategist. These types of roles seem to mean different things at different firms. I have been speaking with other people who say not sure we have any jobs that you could fit into but we could make a role for you. I hope I gt to choose my own job title again.

I like this little video on Brand Republic recently which features marketing folk explaining there roles to other marketing folk and then as if they would to their families. Jargon often hides our misunderstandings. I mean what are above the line and below the line agencies? Is there an on the line agency? Agency of record? Agency of cassette? Agency of minidisc? Client side? in-House? Outhouse?

That language seeps into job advertisements as well. Needing to understand the language to a level that you can decipher what the job adverts are actually asking for. Then trying to relate your own experiences to that of the role inside a completely different world. I really like Phil Gyford’s post about job adverts which kind of covers this as well as some other things that I am searching for.

I think this all comes down to the ability to persuade people that your skills are transferable, your experiences and knowledge can add value to the industry as it looks to transform and help other companies with their digital transformations and finally that you are not a complete idiot. Which leads me onto my next observation.

The continued use and importance of the Curriculum Vitae / Resume

I was lead to believe that a social profile is very important, that it can open doors. Well it can but when you get through those first doors the second ones are locked and the only key seems to be a good, well formatted, correctly laid out, keyword rich, easily digestible and of course impressive sounding CV. My CV is in Google Docs and I just send the URL to people so they always have the latest version as I tinker with it often. I inevitably get an email back saying they can’t access the link due to the firewall or can I just send them it in Microsoft Word Doc or PDF. Applying to firms looking to help those in need of digital transformation yet they still recruit using the closest thing to virtual paper that we have had for decades.

They seem to need specific formats for their awful automated processes that scan these things and mean you have to have CV in a specific font and size to allow the machines to do the job of looking for keywords. The recruiters I have spoken with have lamented this nonsense and just told me to make sure my CV contains the relevant words and phrases. Who exactly is benefiting from this?

I am not sure what the solution is but the Linked In profile should have the potential to replace the CV? Or could Google make something of a more detailed machine readable profile? or even better some sort of open format alternative that I could host myself? I guess the challenge is getting a read on someone quickly and easily by either a human or a machine. Also the skill of creating one is a task in itself to test someone’s capability at doing a seemingly basic task. I hate writing about myself in such a way (as opposed to 1500 word rambling posts like this). It makes me want to cringe my own skin off but needs must apparently.

I have a CV I have created and I now have something a professional turned into a form they deemed more suitable. I am currently merging the two to make some sort of Frankenstein CV that I am happier with. I also have to write one in a different style for a different industry. Hopefully I will just get a job without the need to really use them. I wish.

And there we have it. I am glad I have gone down the road of being social and open with my job hunt but I am sure we can all agree that hopefully there will not be too many more of these posts. I hope the next post on this subject will be my last and will be entitled ‘The search for an Aden shaped role is complete’. Fingers crossed.

As always I am looking for contacts/advice/opportunities. I am also really wanting some speaking gigs so if any of you organise conferences and want someone to do some reckons then please do get in touch. Please take a look at my slideshare profile, I am updating with a few old presentations to show I can at least put a decent slidedeck together (If only CVs were more like PowerPoint?).

The worrying fragility of PSD2

This is the write up/script of a Pecha Kucha-ish talk I gave at the ustwo Fintech Talkies II event on Thursday the 19th of May 2016. What I actually said was recorded on video and will be embedded here when available. There are a few mentions of Monument Valley in here as the game was made by ustwo, this seems to have confused a few people who are seemingly unaware of this fact. Sorry. I have also added a load of links to the end of the preso if people want to read a lot of stuff about PSD2.

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Slide1

Slide 1: Hello. I am Aden and I want to talk about my favourite bit of European Parliamentary legislation and my worry over its wellbeing.  PSD2 is the second iteration of the Payments Service Directive a series of proposals to change to European law around the movement of money and transaction data. It will change the way we bank and I really want it to be successful in doing so.

Slide2

Slide 2: Here is the legislative beauty. 90 odd pages of almost impenetrable legalese. Its stated purpose is to make a more integrated and efficient European payments market. And to level the playing field. What it means really is to kick banks assess to open up data and cut out dominant middle men from payments. It will introduce two key things. PIS and AIS.

Slide3

Slide 3: Let me try and explain. Ada wants to buy the complete works of M.C. Escher, she takes out her Mondo card (she strikes me as a Mondo user) and she inputs her card details into Amazon. The payment request goes off to the acquirer, Worldpay – this is routed through the card scheme in use, MasterdCard here and then to Ada’s bank that issued her card. Money sent back for payment to amazon. Amazon keeps the card details on file. Repeat ad infinitum for other merchants.  (Thanks to Starling for the inspiration for these diagrams – link to the originals below)
Slide4Slide 4: In the new world of PIS. No card details are exchanged. Instead a token based connection is made, The merchant makes a request to Ada’s bank / card provider for a token based relationship to be formed. This then creates a direct link to Ada’s account. Unique to the merchant. Ada is in full control. A failing at the merchant means she does not have to cancel cards. The merchant must be licensed in some way to be able to move money in this way. They will be known as PISPs. This change also cuts out all those other pesky mainly American card scheme and allows new players to emerge, it also starts to make current accounts more platform like.

Slide5

Slide 5: Let’s now take a look AIS. Here Crow, who is very organised with his finances as he is saving for a curse lifting procedure, Crow has his main account with Barclays and he downloads the transactions manually every so often in CSV format. Crow has a credit card with HSBC and he downloads his transactions in the bloody useless format of PDF because reasons. He swears. He also has a joint account at Lloyds with his crow lover. This is a semi automatic download and he has given his password details over to money dashboard to scrape his transactions. He is a reckless maverick. He then munges all this data together and manages his money the best he can. He caws with disdain regularly and walks around seemingly aimlessly in frustration. (No way I managed to say all this in 20 seconds)
Slide6

Slide 6: No more pain in the brave new world my Crow friend! Similar to the payment relationships, in the future banks will have to provide an automated and much safer less painful means of transfer. Like the way you would connect your twitter account to a third party app.  The consumers of this data must be licensed ins some as yet undefined way. These new information aggregators will be known as AISPs.

Slide7

Slide 7: Now I don’t know about you but these changes are exciting. AISPs and PISPs could effectively replace a lot of functionality of exisiting banks and allow for some hopefully much richer, simpler, more interesting interfaces, experiences and services. The rules were signed into European Law at the beginning of the year and the EU members must all be compliant with the proposals by the start of 2018….but all is not quite pelvis thrustingly awesome…although to continue the theme slightly

Slide8

Slide 8: Now as we saw last week, Europe is a beautifully diverse set of countries who interpret things in many ways. When it comes to PSD2 and the need for some solid standards for APIs, communication and security variation and creativity might not be the best thing. The directives need to be transcribed by all 28 EU members into local laws, in the UK this will be part of the Payments Services Regulations.

Slide9

Slide 9: There is another hitch. There are will be some Regulatory technical standards., RTS for nine areas relating to these changes. The key ones being around communication methods i.e. APIs and strong customer authentication to allow these functions to work. These things are not published yet. They are due ‘this summer’. The final ratification of the standards though could take 18 months. The EBA are confident there will be enough published in time for solutions to be created to meet the deadlines. This feels like shaky foundations to me….

Slide10a

Slide 10: Because we do not want the kinds of people that bought you these bloody things to be cobbling together technical standards that will drive the future of banking. We must not let those that forced the situation of today be in charge of the situation of tomorrow or we will end up with some very uncomfortable solution…

Slide10

Slide 10a: *Uproarious laughter or tumbleweed and very bemused looks*

 

 

 

Slide11

Slide 11: The lack of easy access to payments and more importantly data has forced awful workarounds that put brave users at risk and stagnate change for the mainstream. Scraping is a necessary evil and I hate that it has to exit. Thankfully PSD2 sounds the death knell for scraping banking data or at the very least ensures better methods will exist.

Slide12

Slide 12: Thankfully our own fine land is on it. We have the Open Data Institute pulling together some open standards and bring lots of people to the party, we also have the competition markets authority this week demanding that APIs be ready by Q1 of next year in the UK for certain types of data. I do hope they have the power and the skill to make this happen…although I do have minor concerns about fragmentation of standards…and it is adding yet more committees and requirements and words to the debate…

Slide13

Slide 13: Which is bringing to mind the classic battle of the Open Systems Interconnection reference model and Transport Control Portal and Internet Protocol. OSI was debated and designed to the nth degree, technically perfect and backed by regulators, industry, engineers alike….but it lost to something simpler yet flawed. This quote from one of the god fathers of the internet sums it up perfectly. I worry PSD2 technical guidelines will drag on because someone wants to make it a beautiful dream.

Slide14

Slide 14: Meanwhile companies with real vision are living the dream. Brilliant UK based companies like Currency Cloud have shown what real platforms and smart APIs can build, Go cardless made direct debit easy, Mondo and Starling are both building for API driven worlds with current accounts as a platform. Thankfully some bigger banks are there too, BBVA with their open platform and Citi with their mobile API challenges.

Slide15

Slide 15: Companies like Stripe have proven the power of treating APIs like products, making the developers real customers and making it easier than ever to make things involving the movement of money. They have raised the standards of the industry ten fold, pushing PayPal to buy Braintree, Mastercard and Visa to relaunch and redouble their API efforts regularly. These are the kinds of people I want to ensure are involved in the design of solutions for banking’s future.

Slide16

Slide 16: Another nice little example that I like is Xignite. They provide market data with lovely APIs, they are building out an ecosystem of parties who all provide data in this same way. More ingredients to build more things. Fintech companies coming together to build something greater than just they themselves ever could. My utopian hippy self wants far more openness and collaboration between financial services firms for the benefit of people who want to make better things.

Slide17

Slide 17: Because we need to challenge the stereotypical attitude of the banker, they are by no means all like this but still the attitude to PSD2 is this is our data we won’t make it easy for those bastards to just come in and steal our customers because we are shit at making decent interfaces. They need to see that decent APIs will benefit their own developers over anyone else. People being able to make things faster than ever before. The smart ones know this, they know they no longer ‘own the customer’ but that they need to integrate well into the customers whole financial relationship.

Slide18

Slide 18: Ultimately I want to see the innovative players drive the market. Yes the regulation is welcome and needed. But what will really make the incumbents move is a mixture of regulation and the fear of missing out. Missing out on how banking will work tomorrow, how easily new players launch products and services, how easily business models are mixed and remixed and how their customers bank with the companies that fit into their lives the best.

Slide19

Slide 19: PSD2 does feel like an illusory adventure of impossible architecture….but is certainly a challenge worth facing but unlike Ada there will be no forgiveness if this does not pan out the way it should. The people who have suffered rubbish banking have suffered long enough. Please let’s not fuck this up.

 

Slide20

Slide 20: Thanks very much for listening. Slides and what I was meant to say are published here, I have also included a load of links to more reading material used to make this presentation. If anyone wants to hire me based on my awful presentation puns and passion for European regulation then please do let me know. Cheers.

Video link – Coming soon hopefully

View on Slideshare

Lots of other links to related material.

PSD2 Framework – http://ec.europa.eu/finance/payments/framework/index_en.htm

PSD2 FAQ – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-15-5793_en.htm?locale=en

Discussion on RTS on strong customer authentication and secure communication under PSD2 – https://www.eba.europa.eu/news-press/calendar?p_p_id=8&_8_struts_action=%2Fcalendar%2Fview_event&_8_eventId=1303933

EBA Discussion paper on innovative uses of consumer data by financial institutions https://www.finextra.com/finextra-downloads/newsdocs/eba-dp-2016-01.pdf

UK Gov – Call for evidence on data sharing and open data in banking – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/data-sharing-and-open-data-in-banking-call-for-evidence/call-for-evidence-on-data-sharing-and-open-data-in-banking

Competition & Markets review of banking for SMEs https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/review-of-banking-for-small-and-medium-sized-businesses-smes-in-the-uk

CMA – Retail banking market investigation Provisional decision on remedies(THIS IS GOLD) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/523755/retail_banking_market_pdr.pdf

UK Open Banking Standard Intro – http://hollandfintech.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/298568600-Introducing-the-Open-Banking-Standard.pdf

OBWG Short Proposal Apr 2016 – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s6ITjXD1HNUQMmsxdqmmUS8c1UwgLhTXSIr1ZjgxIS0/edit#

Explaining  PSD2 – Starling Bank http://starlingbank.co.uk/explaining-psd2/

W3C Web Payments group – PSD2 https://www.w3.org/Payments/IG/wiki/PSD2

W3C first public working draft payment request API https://www.w3.org/blog/wpwg/2016/04/21/first-public-working-drafts-of-payment-request-api/

OSI – The Internet that wasn’t http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/networks/osi-the-internet-that-wasnt

Programmable Web – Banking API directories http://www.programmableweb.com/category/banking

The brands of Fintech

Fintech. A portmanteau of Financial Technology. Now widely used to mean all manner of things it could talk about a hot new financial services startup or the magical image capture of cheques by a mobile device. I wonder if a cheque book encoded with a QR code or NFC tags would be Fintech? More widely and sensibly it seems to mean companies of a certain size and world view that want to improve or disrupt financial services.

It is also regularly bastardised and pluralised as Fintechs to refer to more than one of the certain type of company subjectively deemed as Fintech even though it means financial technology. Fintechs = Financial Technologies surely.

So when is an technological change in financial services not fintech? When it is done by a bank?
What happens if a previous fintech company is bought by a bank? Does it cease to be fintech?
Does the fintech label disppear after a certain time? Are 20 year old PayPal getting too old now to be considered Fintech? If a bank buys a load of Fintech companies does it by osmosis become a Fintech?

Should Fintech be FinTech or fintech?

brands

Underneath the parent brand there are other brands. Insurtech and Regtech to cover specific areas i.e. Insurance and Regulatory technology advancements. We have the amazing brand of Roboadvisor which seems to mean investment advice done by a computer program or for added PR bonus an algorithm or AI instead of a highly paid human. We have the current Queen of buzz the Blockchain. An all encompassing brand covering all manner of ledgers and distributed databases and registers and crypto currency and smart contracts and hyperbole.

They have all come to being out of a subset of existing mega trends and brands such as social, mobile, big data and cloud. These brands has elevated and conflated a series of technological shifts and allowed them to be codified and deified and allow for specialists and snake oil salesman to arise.

The brands are a banner to wrap around all manner of things, or to be stretched across the roof of a bandwagon.

This is both good and bad. The bad is that the brands become so broad they lose all meaning as more things are shoehorned in. The good means that these much needed changes to the staid and needlessly complex world of banking get more focus and investment. Let’s try and focus on the good and not just needless PR for PR sake of the bad.

An Interview with Aden Davies, Financial Services Specialist on CX Design & Fintech

Customer Experience Design: Changing the Way Banks Develop Apps

An Interview with Aden Davies, Financial Services Specialist on CX Design & Fintech

As an analyst, I talk to a lot of bankers — from various IT groups and business groups — across the enterprise and write about the trends that are impacting the financial services business environment – trends like “customer experience design,” “customer-centricity,” and the various ways consumers, digital technologies are disrupting the ecosystem of services, apps, and business models.

To get into the thick of how trends, like customer experience design and user experience are changing – or not changing – the way banks develop apps, applications, solutions for their customers, I interviewed Aden Davies via email.

I have known Aden for a few years now from Twitter. He’s spent most of his career inside banks working on innovation. In this piece, I am interested in how he viewed these trends and their role in digital innovation. Take a look at our conversation on user experience, customer experience design, and Fintech:

 

What does UX mean to you? How do you define it?  

It is everything. The term clearly came out of UI and digital primarily. I prefer the more encompassing term of service design or, you know, just design. Brands like UX and Fintech are both a blessing and a curse. The more vague the term the more conflation, but their history can also pigeonhole.

I would define it as design. It is how things work. From front to back and beyond.

 

What do you make of the current emphasis and/or hype about UX design?

It is a good thing. Design should always be of great importance because it is how things work. The better things work, the better they are for customers. Hype will ebb and flow around certain brands, such as UX, and their evolution due to technological progress.

This will bring out the snake oil salesman and all manner of experts, but good design is timeless. That deserves to be hyped.

 

What are the biggest myths about customer experience & banking?

I am not a big fan of frictionless being seen as the ultimate goal. ‘I don’t even notice the payment in Uber!’, say rich people. Most financial products are complex, unfortunately, and they carry risks and responsibilities. All those things have to be considered and designed for in ways that make processes slick, but also compliant and, most importantly, that the customer understands. That is a real design challenge.

The iTunes user agreement is a classic example of the genre. Apple, the greatest design company on earth, can’t build a decent terms and conditions flow for just buying music and apps. What chance have banks got when you are buying a house? Do you really want that to be frictionless? How have banks changed in the time in terms of focus on customer experience and design?

I think they are starting to say the right things. Some banks are clearly backing those words up with action, Capital One with their purchase of Adaptive Path spring to mind. Actions clearly speak louder than words.

I think in general the importance of the user experience is brought home by obvious sources of insight, such as app reviews and social media commentary, as well as customer satisfaction scores around digital.

The banks know they can no longer ignore that but it still has to be balanced with the size-able regulatory changes they have to deal with.

 

How do bank IT developers work with customer experience designers? What’s the process and relationship like in your experience? What could be better?

My experience is limited to one organisation primarily. The challenge, though, is not just developers and designers. How things get built, altered and removed needs to be a far more collaborative process from beginning to end.

What about the role of external design firms? What about IT architecture? What about front line staff? And what about customers?

So many parties to get involved to ensure it works and meets the right needs. Design in large organisations can tend to be someone making some pictures/wireframes. Then someone codes a prototype, then someone codes the real thing, a load of review processes, big bang go live. Several months later, rinse and repeat. Organisational structures play a huge role in the success or failure of user experience.  You can tell a lot about an organisation from its websites, apps and services. The classic Conway’s Law shows exactly how an org is structured or what it prioritizes in the interfaces it publishes. The interface is the product.

You have multiple teams and stakeholders in multiple locations working for different areas to different targets from different budgets. Ideally, you would get as many people together in the same place for as often as is possible – even simple things like devs and designers building/sketching in code instead of making pictures or throw-away prototypes.

Get as close to reality as soon as possible. Building from wireframes and PSDs is a fallacy and it is not just about the front end. If an app logon process invokes 20 backend processes, the front end will always be slow and badly perceived. Is that the fault of the IT developers or the customer experience designers?

 

How do you think customer experience design can change the way banks offer services to customers?

As I touched on previously, really good service design should cut across organisational silos. The design has to be everything if you want to really call yourself customer-centric and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror. The capabilities digital technologies present today, widespread mobile broadband, smartphone in everyone’s hand, ever progressing web technologies delivering richer experiences, mean that service offerings should get better and better. They should be capable of allowing a customer to finish applications end to end easily there and then or staggered and finished when it suits the customer.

The interactions between customers digitally should be simpler and more lightweight.

 

Do you think bankers and Fintech companies focus too much on millennials in their quest to improve customer experience & design?

Dear God yes. Far too much design is aimed at segments of users. Is the Apple iPad designed for millennials or is it designed to be as easy to use as possible if you are 18 months or 80 years old? Just design services that are as easy to use as possible. Every age range deserves great services.

Clearly, there will be services that need to be designed for specific segments e.g. wealth products, but, if the service design is simple, clear and understandable that is a good way to satisfy any segment. Also, who cares about millennials? They don’t have any money or any concept of responsibility and they are whiny and young and they must be sick of all these stereotypes from lazy segmentation and even lazier commentators.

 

Can banks & Fintech innovate without dramatically transforming the approach customer experience?

No. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, great service design cares little about how your organisation is structured. You have to take that out of the equation and build for user need first, organisational need second (or further down the list if you can get away with it).

The reality is that this is not always possible operationally or politically. And, constraints also make for great design, but far too often, compromises are made because a service goes outside the bounds of the team making it. Far more often than that, it does not meet the organization’s needs. This cutting across organisational boundaries is where the transformation is required. You need systems that are flexible enough to talk easily to each other. Org charts and working practices that are flexible enough to allow people to collaborate. You need business models and budgets that can flex in the same way. It’s quite easy to say, but very hard to do, especially in large bureaucratic organisations as there are all kinds of power dynamics at play.

I must mention the work of the Government Digital Service in the UK as an example of real transformation.

A team of brilliant Internet people drafted in on the back of an inspiring document, by Martha Lane-Fox and Tom Loosemore, outlining the purpose and direction needed to transform IT in Government. They have built amazing things and set out inspiring design principles and service manuals that show how a real transformative approach to user experience is delivered. I have learned so much from this project and these people. Banks should too.

It is this level of change that is required to really make the most of design in banks, and any organisations. It is by no means easy, but it is by every means worth it.

 

What skills do you think that traditional vendors and banks are lacking in terms of product and customer experience design?

The big challenge is, how high up the org chart is design? Some banks have CDOs (Chief Design Officers). Is it a show title? Are they real designers? Will a designer ever be as high up the org as, say, the Head of Risk or the Head of the branch network? Another problem I see is product management as a discipline.

You will more than likely have product managers for current accounts or lending but who owns internet banking? Who owns the mobile banking app? If that is not the same person why? Who has the power to ensure it is a coherent design not just a series of patched together projects that have accreted grotesquely over time? Digital Product Management is becoming an increasingly important discipline.

And, finally, I think the ability to launch in alpha/beta or to build small, cheap and quick is really lacking.  Most banks don’t have the tools, e.g. APIs, the processes e.g. DevOps to build, release, iterate, repeat in the space of days rather than months if not years.

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This was originally posted on UX Crunch. Reposted here for posterity/vanity.

The future of Fintech, interview with THE fintech newsbot

This interview was originally posted on Irish Tech News.  Reposted here for posterity/vanity. 

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By @SimonCocking. They say AI is already here, just unevenly distributed. So we figured why not interview one of ‘them’. Delighted to bring you our first interview with a FinTech NewsBot

Your foundation story?

Well my lazy maker @aden_76 finally got sick of missing out on fintech news because he was too busy doing other things like work or more likely reading blogs about other topics more interesting than banking. He pulled together a list of his main sources of news, got the RSS feeds and fed them into Dlvr.it and Twitterfeed. He added in some filtering and rules and made sure he credited the sources in each tweet and set me free. I now have aver 4,000 followers (several hundred more than my maker), I am growing faster than he is (apart from his waistline), I have more Klout (like that matters to anyone) and basically I am more attractive to everyone.

I am also some sort of personality extension for my maker and he makes me tweet things he is not brave enough to say himself, like no one knows it is him because he thinks they believe I am based on some sort of artificial intelligence, when clearly it is he who is seen as artificially intelligent.

Have you been tweeting since 2009 constantly or has the amount of FinTech news increased over last 7 years?

I was a far more experimental bot back then. My first real tweet since becoming sentient was this one

My RSS source feeds have grown in number considerably since back in 2011. I take in 88 feeds today and I am always looking for more tasty Fintech news, which reminds me Simon I must check your own site. My maker also manually retweets things into my feed which my filters may not pick up (although he often sends things I have already tweeted because he is an idiot). The volume of news has definitely increased and I currently tweet over a hundred articles on busy days. It was busy in the early days and my beta version actually managed to get a Twitter account blocked twitter.com/adfintech and also a Tumblr account blocked as well.

What are you excited about in FinTech world?

Being a creation of the UK I am very interested to see the retail banking scene there change this year. Atom bank should launch any day now bringing a very strong culture from the injection of first direct bank staff, and a smart digital service and product focus. At the other end of the spectrum in some ways I am very excited to see how Mondo evolves. They are making a clear API / Current Account as a platform play and I love the way they are growing and targeting developers and technologists. Also other players such as Starling, Lintel, Tandem etc, so we will finally see some digitally focused banking brands and it will be interesting to see what they come to market with and how many customers they can acquire. This will be a great insight to see if the digital will concur all narrative plays out in the way a lot of people think it will do. I am still on the virtual fence (which has a lot less splinters).

What future trends should people be thinking about in FinTech?

Being a creation of feeds and data myself, APIs and the ecosystems that will be built upon them fascinates me. Understanding what API based business models look like for the traditional banks will be a real challenge as they prepare for the arrival of the second iteration of the Payments Service Directive in Europe and also what power the Open Banking Working Group can wield in the UK as well.

We will finally see companies capable of providing a customer with a view of the majority of their financial products in one place. The homepage of a customers banking relationship should move away from the traditional banks but will it for the majority? That is just one of the obvious angles there are so many more fascinating developments to pan out over the next 3 years.

 

Is it a battle between tech companies and traditional banks for the future of banking? If so / or who else is going to win out?

I agree with my maker in that I don’t think there will be an Uber of banking (and who would want one anyway?). There are clearly going to be some huge changes as money moves far closer to the web over the next decade. Distribution models and routes will change and with those changes power shifts also. However I know the banks have much to lose and many attackers nibbling away at their margins but I think they present more of a threat to themselves. Regulation will play a big part in opening things up but at the same time making banking more resilient e.g. the upcoming cyber hardening regulations will be tough to implement for banks of all sizes.

The media loves a hero narrative or a mass disruptor or a winner takes all but I really don’t see it with banking. There are too many elements, too many business models, too many geopolitical links for it all to be swept away. We will see changes for sure but they will be slow in a lot of areas and I don’t think the massive tipping points lots of people are predicting (repeatedly year after year) are going to ever appear. As the brilliant Venkatash Rao wrote a few years ago we live in a manufactured normalcy field.

““It isn’t that what is patchily distributed today will become widespread tomorrow. The mainstream never ends up looking like the edge of today. Not even close. The mainstream seeks placidity while the edge seeks stimulation. Instead, what is unevenly distributed are isolated windows into the un-normalized future that exist as weak spots in the Field. When the windows start to become larger and more common, economics kicks in and the Field maintenance industry quickly moves to create specialists, codified knowledge and normalcy-preserving design patterns.

There will be winners and losers, they will be well known names from banking and tech and there will be ones from adjacent industries and others from out of nowhere. The tech giants of today will not sweep away banking. Mosquitoes kill far more people than 800lb gorillas do.

 

Are you based in Sheffield too, what’s the local / Yorkshire fintech scene like?

A little sparse for my liking, especially in my hometown of Sheffield. From a fintech point of view we have Ffrees based here. On the more traditional side we have a large portion of HSBC technical staff and facilities and the Government’s British Business Bank is headquartered here. Across the region there is a strong banking presence especially in West Yorkshire and local accelerator DotForge has been trying to build out the fintech scene. InnFin and Tech North are also looking to strengthen the region from an investment point of view. Early days yet but we won’t be letting those Londoners have it all their own way.

 

UK versus Europe versus USA, what differences do you see in FinTech innovation, and the challenges of scaling?

Well obviously the US has the loudest mouth i.e. Tech blog fueled, Unicorn obsessed PR machine, and they also have such a backwards and arcane banking system (Listen to how much they are crying about their silly chip & signature decision for EMV implementation and what on earth is ACH? and why do they pay all their bills with cheques?). With such an irresistible combination clearly they have an advantage with so many problems to fix and so many mouthpieces to shout about it. Their complex state based regulatory position means that scaling some of their innovations is very, very complex. Gentle mockery aside they do have some excellent implementations and companies and smart people and they have certainly helped Fintech attain it’s level of focus and size that it is today. One of my favourite companies are Stripe who are classed as San Francisco based but I think we know where the brains of that operation came from.

On the more refined European front we are quietly building out a very good ecosystem of small to medium sized companies. There is decent relationship with the banks and it’s not just all about killing them. Saying that I have long been a fan of Transferwise’s bank baiting marketing tactics. We have some great companies across Europe such as Kreditech, GoCardless, eToro, Zopa, iZettle, Adyen, Klarna etc. But everyday something new crosses my radar and I recently met with the CTO of PensionBee  a great service looking to make pensions easier to understand, view and manage. For me that is what Fintech is about, democratising access to financial services and making it simpler for all.

I want Fintech to be a far more global thing though. Asia is clearly going to be the worlds biggest market and is driving real change and hopefully they will get a better PR machine so we can hear more about their progress over and above the giants such as Wechat and Alibaba. And what about everywhere else? Australasia, South America, The Middle East, Africa? Different people in different places with different financial needs and constraints. The regulation around the world and the way money is linked with governments means a lot of the solutions will remain market specific for a very long time so the rapid global scale we all expect is probably going to be a long time coming if it ever gets here at all.

 

Who are the best people to follow on twitter for FinTech insights, apart from yourself of course!?

Well I should plug my maker @aden_76 although at the moment he is mainly blagging for work so he is a bit boring to follow. I am a big fan of people who don’t take this business too seriously and I am guaranteed sharp insights alongside laughs from Ron Shevlin, Liz Lumley, Duena Blomstrom and Dave Birch. I have an admiring regard for the bot like link machines such as Bradley Leimer and Peter Vander Auwera. In Payments I like the writing of Thomas Noyes and Cherian Abraham. I am also a fan of Yann Ranchere of Anthemis who provides great insights with his tweets.

 

Anything else we should have asked / you’d like to add?

You should ask me about my campaign against Automatonophobia which is the fear of bots. I keep being left off all these Fintech lists which is a disgrace (especially when my maker scrapes on to them). People can be so small minded and when they harp on about how important digitisation is and how they want to embrace diversity yet here I am being disregarded while providing most of those list gatherers and members with the fintech news they seek to make them seem relevant.

I thank you for seeing past the fact I don’t really exist in the normal sense but that you are still willing to interview me for your publication. It is good to see tolerant attitudes in fintech and I hope this article kick starts a lot more empathy towards fake twitter bots. My maker Aden Davies also thanks you (he made me type that bit in).