Category: Innovation

BarCampBank London 5

The 6th of February was the date for the 5th BarCampBank London. Held at the same loation as last years, Nesta, it brought together around a hundred or so financial service innovation types to discuss the hot topics of the moment. Last year there had been a focus on alternative currencies and economies this year they were largely absent from the sessions (the ones I attended anyway). NFC was also another big topic last year but this year it felt like the disillusionment was setting in.

I was kindly asked by conference organiser Dave Birch to help group the themes from the post it note avalanche at the start of the BarCamp. It allowed me to be biased and shape a session on one of my current pet topics, APIs/Open Data, although to be honest I did not have to be that biased as it was a topic a lot of other people wanted to discuss.


‘What does a bank API look like?’ was the question used to frame the discussion. I was asked to lead the talk which was a tad daunting with some of the experts in the room thankfully I don’t think I made too much of an idiot of myself. The first job was to explain what an API was to the mixed knowledge group. An API is an Application Programming Interface and as the name implies it allows programs and services to connect and interact with it to control the business process it sits on top of. My primary focus is around creating APIs to deliver access to a customer’s transaction data so if they so desire they could use a third party PFM, like Mint.

But what is the business benefit of an API? Why would a bank open up its data to 3rd parties when they can keep all that good stuff for themselves? Well the discussion coverd this quite a bit and the conclusion was that the biggest benefit is around internal development. The API should be used to build your own tools. If banks had APIs then building tablet, mobile or Internet Fridge banking apps would be a piece of cake.

Obviously the immediate concern when anyone mentions an API plugged into the financial transaction data of customers is what about the hackers?! Yes an API to financial data would be quite the honey pot but surely these issues can be overcome. If PayPal (the developer arm is now known as  X Commerce) can provide API access to some of its services then why can’t other banks?

In Germany they have had APIs of a sort for quite some time in the form of the FinTS set of services. We were lucky enough to have several people from Germany in the group and they said that while FinTS was useful the way it had been implemented by the banks varied wildly between institutions. Open standards are desperately needed.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Simon Redfern from the Open Bank Project. An organisation looking to build a layer for the banks to plug into and then provide some standard data feeds in JSON with some RESTful APIs to hook into. Unsurprisingly they have not signed up any banks to take this on just yet but on paper this looks like just the kind of thing needed.

We discussed what the role of Swift was in all this. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is a global messaging network which deals with payment instructions. They would not really have access to the customer level data I am interested in but it would certainly be interesting to plug an API into this world.

Another angle was the Government. In the UK we have the MiData project kicking off at the moment. With the vision of handing customer data back to the customers. Some banks are signed up to this but as yet the detail around how data will be provided is not that well detailed and I think data extracts maybe preferred over API type access.

This is a really interesting topic that I think will be a major focus for the banking industry over the next 18-24 months.


Second session I attended was entitled ‘Does social media change everything or nothing in financial services’ I am not sure about the title of this thing (maybe replace social media with ‘ever evolving web’) but I like the sentiment.

I think the obvious thoughts are the likes of Google and Facebook will sweep aside the banking industry as we know it. I really don’t agree with that. Those companies have no interest in being banks. They might want some of that sweet, sweet financial data to better tune their marketing efforts but they don’t want the hassle of Basel 3 compliance etc.

That being said you cannot ignore the effect the web continues to have on society and banking is certainly not exempt from that. The two networks need to get closer and I believe the two can coexist. The banking one may look a bit long in the tooth comparatively but it is pretty good a transferring trillions of dollars per day without much issue (the small matter of global economics withstanding).


My third choice of the day was ‘Can you imagine a world with no POS terminals or plastic payment cards’. Like the previous session the big assumption is that mobile devices will change the way we pay to such an extent these mechanisms of trade will be consigned to the dustbin. Square might be the FS darling in the US at the moment but wide scale merchant usage at a corporate level will not be possible with such a system (the mag stripe alone makes it unusable outside the US). The discussion focussed around what the big players in this market actually do and why displacing them will be very hard.

The key element being the payment schemes and the functionality contained within them e.g. chargebacks, where customers of Visa could demand a refund from them if the goods the customer purchased from a third party were substandard. Are the new players going to be able to build these huge complex processes? The feeling from some part of the group was that this was maybe a bridge too far. This means the big players will probably stay as the big players…also Visa have a pretty big stake in Square anyway.


A slightly bizarre end to the day in the form of something that I had found difficult in the last session i.e. imagining a future without something so fundamental to pretty much everything we do today ‘What would be the plot of a movie about the future of the financial system?’.

Now obviously the premise was quickly established that the financial system as we knew it had completely failed (crippling virus or AI reached such a level of sentience that the HFT algorithms ran riot and heavily funded biotech which lead to the creation of an army of financially trading cyborgs that also had a physical presence so they could take over the world or a more plausible continuation of the real world events going on now). Either way the way things work today cease to be. Trying to think through what would happen if you no longer had any access to money. No way to buy. No reason to work. Hording would begin. Looting would break out. Society would surely break down. This would be a pretty depressing dystopian future so we had to try and inject some happy/hippy transitions.

Obviously barter systems would flourish (They have seen a resurgence in Greece recently) and the world would find new means of trade and currency and the things would be right again (as the rebel survivors successfully defeat the evil cyborgs) and no one would ever be short sighted or greedy again. There was a slight twist in the end in the form of a very clichéd cut to an underground bunker with a lone evil banking cyborg that had escaped the cull. Can’t see it getting made any time soon with a plot like that, I also suspect securing funding would be very difficult.


I personally got more out of this year’s event over last years. Not sure if that was to do with the more relevant/interesting topics or just feeling more comfortable with the format/audience/my willingness to shoot my mouth off. There was still a lack of (UK) bankers at the event which was a bit of a shame…that being said who wants a load of bankers at an innovation event anyway?

Nice work once again by Mr Birch and his associated organisers. Finovate Europe which was held the day after has meant some of Europe’s smartest in the industry come together in London for a few days. Organising events at either side of it is a no brainer. Same again next year please maybe with a few more events added on to make a week of it.

I am a Government Digital Service fanboy

I am not really a political person. I care little for any of the political parties and their identikit leaders but that government thing is quite important intit?

This post is about the relatively newly formed Government Digital Service team. Set up following recommendations laid out in Martha Lane-Fox’s Digital by Default report. This excellent report proposes a wholesale change to the way Government does IT. Focusing primarily on the digital experience and how government services online operate it also calls for changes to the way IT services are provisioned with regards to large vendors. I am more interested in the customer facing elements but the back end stuff is certainly revolutionary for such a large and bureaucratic organisation. The report states the following about how Directgov needs to refocus (point 4 being the most exciting from my geeky point of view).

The Directgov organisation should reduce and realign its resources to focus on:

1. architecting and managing a more focused consumer proposition

2. providing easy-to-navigate information/guidance to citizens on obligations, entitlements and actions that require interaction with government

3. providing easy to use, effective services that help citizens transact with government online, to drive channel shift

4. creating & agreeing cross-government standards that support our proposed ‘retail to wholesale’ shift, including standards on APIs and use of open technologies to support channel shift, and the stimulation of an eco-system of 3rd party distributors of Directgov content, tools and apps.

I believe there are many parallels with what is being outlined in the report with lots of organisations, banks in particular, and the way they need to adapt to the way the web is evolving and its increasing importance on evy day life. For me the approach being taken with regards to agile development, APIs and service orientated architecure, open source, design at the core and just a general appreciation of doing the web right is what makes this vision so compelling. The fact this being tried inside the government is even more admirable.

Putting their money where their mouth is. Clever words in a PDF are all well and good but to execute that vision you need some talented and smart employees. GDS have certainly hired well. Mike Bracken as Executive Director,  Tom Loosemore as Deputy Director and most recently Ben Terrett to head up design. These are just a handful of the great talent they are amassing but it shows they mean business and this is not some half baked statement of intent but a real desire to improve how government is interfaced with by the majority of people in the UK.

I first became aware of what GDS were trying to achieve in May last year with the launch of the Alpha Gov prototype. This was the starting point for the vision of a single domain for government. They were seeking feedback from the off and it was not just some meaningless one way taking data in. Feedback works both ways and the fact they are using Get Satisfaction to collect it is also impressive. You could see from that early prototype that this was not your normal Government IT project. As well as the technical and design proficiency on show for me other elements showed that this was being designed by humans not some committee. The page for reporting stranded whales shows that humour could creep in and I am glad to see it has stayed in the Beta.

One concept laid out in the original vision is that the site must be designed around customer needs. We see this statement doled out by many organisations but I don’t think many of them really understand it. I love this statement from Ben Terrett’s post about why he joined the team.

The design challenge here seems to be – don’t avoid the obvious. Government websites are needs driven and what people want to do is get in, get what they want and then get out. Quickly.

The UI that gets out of the way will always be the best UI. Now the Government are in a lucky position in that they have no competitors and they don’t have to sell anything so they don’t need to plaster banner adverts everywhere but then again if you are designing a service for your customers and you have to put banner ads in the flow/UI then you don’t really understand the marketing value of a truly beautiful and ‘get out of the way UI’. You can also see from the photo on the left that this team take design very seriously.


Yet another area for praise is the use of blogging by this team has been exemplary, it is a real lesson in how to use a corporate blog. Sharing real detail on the what, how and why to their goals. I am not sure if one of the employment criteria was the ability to write well but they don’t seem to struggle for bloggers. The blog has allowed the culture to really come across to interested observers. You can tell that the people believe in the vision and you can tell they are bloody smart. I am not naïve enough to believe it is all a bed of roses, 120 staff means there will be some problems as humans will always be humans, but the clarity of the vision and purpose should at least mean everyone is headed in the right direction.

For me the project should be part of a major technological/organisational case study (Gartner/Forrester should be all over his shit) looking at how IT can be done right in a large bureaucratic organisation not renowned for its IT successes. The starting vision was almost perfect. The way they built a team of real talent showed it was more than words on paper. Execution is always the benchmark and so far they are doing rather well.

The beta site of Gov.UK was launched on the evening of the 31st of January (for loads of detail on this and how they got there read this). The compliments flew by in my Twitter stream as lots of people shared their praise with the team. It was clear they had built on the successes of I n almost every way. The levels of transparency shown already in the project on the blog were trumped by two things they did on launch day. One they released a list of tools and technologies used Not one of these technologies tied them to a vendor. The only person it seems that is getting paid is Amazon who are hosting the site. They way it has been built means that it is portable to any cloud provider. The eventual aim is for it to reside on G-Cloud (the government cloud infrastructure that is being built as part of he wider project). UPDATE: I got this bit wrong, G-Cloud is a framework for buying cloud services, read this The second thing was the fact they released all the code for the site to the open source repository, GitHub. Meaning anyone can inspect the code, take a copy and fork it to use it for themselves or if you are feeling brave try and make it better. For a government department to do this takes a huge amount of faith and must fly in the face of so many risk and security policies it is untrue. I really can’t imagine a bank ever doing this (Although (Bank) Simple have released some components there).

This post so far has been universally positive, as it should be, but I realise tougher tasks are yet to come for the team. Making the leap from to will be a complex and tricky one. The flexibility built into means that they can iterate constantly so I am guessing there will be no big bang migration just a ‘Well we have moved it all across now let’s switch off the other site’. Which sounds simple…

Looking back over this post it is at best fawning at worst blind slavish fanboy raving so I must find at least one thing to criticise but I have struggled. Here goes…the one thing I don’t like is the strange silvery pick arrow/banner on the home page. I can see how it ‘subtly’ points me to the big red search box but I don’t like the look of it. That is the only thing I have found so far that I don’t like and I really don’t care much about it.

It will be interesting to see how this site progresses over the rest of 2012. How the technology behind scales and improves. How the move to their own cloud goes. I am also interested to see what other elements they will bring to the site. Personalisation being one, especially as the identity used for a government website would be a very interesting thing indeed (NSTIC anyone?).

Lastly I must say a huge congratulations to the team for what they have built and to Martha Lane Fox and her original co-conspirators for creating such a well thought out and worthy vision. The desire to hire the best and the fact that the vision laid out allowed them to do just that has proved very successful indeed. I certainly think all big organisations (banks especially) with responsibility for customer facing IT should take a long hard look at this project and think why can’t this be done here? They would do well to drag themselves into the 21st century and try to emulate this model. The ones that do will be he ones that will begin to look like organisations fit for the 21st century which is exactly what the Government Digital Service looks like.


Death Star desires and regrets at Playful 2011

Rainbow Teeth & IsaacFriday the 28th of October was a day I had been looking forward to for a while. It was Playful 2011. It came after a week in which I had to give two big presentations that had been playing on my mind for quite some time so for me it was nice and relaxing to sit back and watch others present on a range of fascinating topics.

The day was kicked off by Toby Barnes of Mudlark. Last year he bemoaned the proliferation of gamification, summed up with a line that has stuck with me ‘no one wants a playful bank’. This year he bemoaned the fact that the future he had been promised as a child had not been delivered. No more space shuttles, no Death Stars, no futuristic concrete shopping centres. Nothing that makes a dent in the world. He always bemoaning. He is right though. This set the tone for the majority of the day. A future lost. A mundane future. We need to dream big again.

Al Robertson was the first non-Toby speaker of the day and he told how most Sci-Fi turned out to be wrong. The Mekon did not arrive in the mid 90s and Lycra suits will never be in fashion. Because of this some people found it too risky to become involved deeply in a form of fiction that is too far from reality and that in all likelihood will never be true.

Cities were mentioned several times throughout the day. Matt Sheret of Last.FM talked about the made up city of Altdorf from Warhammer, the voice given to city objects and infrastructure like Tower Bridge in London and how new stories were being weaved about future towns via metadata using the Derby 2061 project as an example. Are these fictional constructs to be used for good or evil? Is making buildings talk creepy? Will Derby really have a future? And was the game Warhammer just an excuse for Matt’s friend to try and kill him. Either way we need to pick a side.

Another worry from the day was the automation of things and how we interact with them. Louise Downe was worried about toilets. Automatic air fresheners and self flushing toilets. How do you flush the toilet twice? Stand up and sit down again? The issue is about trust and intimacy with these machines. Until they think like we do or we can truly put ourselves in their shoes to understand how they work then that intimacy will never occur.

Louise used a couple of great examples to show how people lack intimacy with the systems around them. How people keep all their receipts as they think credit card companies systems always try to steal from you. How the stories around how ID theft occur get more and more vivid the greater the lack of understanding people have.

The funniest talk of the day came from Brendan Dawes. A man raised in a shit north western seaside town (not Blackpool). A town where the future arrived in the form of arcade machines. Machines With perplexing interfaces like the button laden Defender machines. Darkened rooms full of these machines and the noises and atmosphere that went with them. There were no fruit machines there though as they were for scallys, he told us.

These interfaces shaped Brendan’s outlook and he told of a Microsoft Surface project using knobs that interacted with the device when placed on the screen. The client for the project wanted to add instructions as they thought it was too complex ‘I will resign if we have to put instructions on this’ he told the client ‘I wouldn’t as I need to pay the mortgage’ he confided.

Brendan likes to make things. He told us everyone needs a shed but that for him his shed was a mental construct or as his wife called it, the back room. Brendan did not feel the future had let him down he thought right now we are living in a very exciting period. A time when he can have a 3D printer in his back room and he can print egg cups to replace his broken ceramic ones.

After lunch it was time for The Kaiser, Marcus John Henry Brown. Lovingly introduced by Toby as a scummer (he comes from Southampton the sworn enemy of Toby’s home town of Portsmouth) Marcus set about saying the future we dreamt of is clouding our vision. We are seemingly bound by the Sci-Fi cannon and the ideas they presented in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Marcus called this the middle aged future. Middle aged men obsessed with what they had seen as children. We need to think further out. Marcus urged us to think like really young children. Give a box to a four year old he will go to the moon. Give it to an 8 year old and they will put books in it.

As a writer Marcus has tried to construct some futures 120 years away to try and escape the cannon. The Billion Dollar Dream, a world with no oil, no travel, no plastics etc. A dream within a dream, layered futures and Murder they wrote the future we wanted actually happened then what. Try to Think like a child in these scenarios and it is very very difficult because of our constricted view of the world and the baggage of the world we imagined.

The most explosive and fear inducing talk of the day came from Matt Ward who talked about fake bombs. He had worked on a project called Green = Boom the aims of which were around ‘exploring the notion of ‘recreational bombs’, as a reaction against the over sanitisation of everyday life’ or to put it another way to see what we could create to put people in very tense situations.

The group he worked with made ever more complex fake bombs with balloons simulating the explosive effect. Balloons/Bombs were stuffed up jumpers and placed on heads to add an element of real fear to the diffusion of the fake bomb. The sense of cutting that red or green wire became much more visceral and just like the movies. They found that getting people to suspend their disbelief was easier than they had imagined and real fear was felt in varying degrees by all participants. The people involved in testing the devices were also willing them to go further to heighten the tension e.g. Show a video of some children held hostage, further adding to the research that not only were people willing o suspend belief they were also more than willing to become sick terrorists. It made me think how you would apply these tensions and mechanisms into real life to stop you doing something stupid.

Could you build some sort of fake bomb type device that made you think twice before putting your logon details into a strange site or how about adding some bomb defusing tension to a payment transaction to stop you making a terribly expensive error e.g. buying an expensive item of clothing that you would wear only once.

As the day drew to a close there were two talks that, due to tiredness, I did not have the mental capacity to really appreciate fully. They were both excellent.

The kinkiest talk of the day came from Georgina Voss who talked about the risks, ethics and consent in play using examples from the world of BDSM. For those unaware the acronym BDSM is derived from Bondage, Domination, Submission and Masochism and various mixtures thereof. More commonly aggregated by the unknowing as S&M. Gemma talked about the importance of consent in play and how the rules around acceptance of play are important.

One term in my the talk stood out and in my notes I had written the word with a star next to it. The term was RACK and here is the description from Gemma’s presentations notes.

rack’ – risk aware consensual kink. This refuses any unrealistic commitment to safety over risk taking. Instead it includes an adult awareness of potential risk, accompanied by harm reduction strategies, where risk is defined as the potential that something unwanted and harmful may occur.

This adult attitude to riskier forms of play could relate to many things. Naturally I thought about the financial world and the more complex trading and investment environments.I am sure there are lots of obvious jokes around linking BDSM to investment bankers but like Torture Garden it is probably best that I don’t go there. Great talk and I highly recommend you download the slides and notes.

Second brain tester towards the end of the day came from the BBC’s Paul Rissen. Paul wants to make the web more playful o to be more accurate the web of data more playful. Paul explained about the ever growing ecosystem of linked data and that while this is a very important thing it is a bit dull. He laid out a triangle structure of the data world, the physical world and the fiction world. The interactions between these elements offering differing views of the world with some of the interactions being more under utilised than others. I can’t really do justice to this talk without listing all the examples given. Better to just go and read Paul’s detailed notes on the talk. This is the talk I will most likely be coming back to over the next few months.

The day ended with a ramshackle, pitch laden car crash of a presentation from UsTwo. It was hilarious. They told how they had spent a lot of their investors money on lots of games that had sold minuscule amounts. They were all in on one last project. 4,500 hours spent already. 100s of thousands spent. Pressure. They showed designs and concepts from the game. Showed a music video of the theme tune that was recorded by Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals and told how they had added achievements at the last minute as everyone loves badges.

The game is Whale Trail and over its first weekend on sale it sold 38,000 copies. It had been made Apples game of the week globally the day before the talk. They were suffering from major hangovers. The game is great. Buy it.

And that was it for another year. A really great selection of talks. Some mind noodling ideas that are still fizzing round my brain. Some of my less enlightened colleagues fail to see the correlation between Playful and banking and questioned why I attended the conference. I could wheel out stories about the adjacent possible as explained beautifully by Steven B. Johnson or regurgitate quotes from Steve Jobs about the need for a breadth of experiences but I will just say that listening to a lot of smart people’s ideas, experiences, hopes and dreams is good for the soul and the brain. Excellent work by Greg and Toby to organise such a great event. Roll on Playful 2012.

PS Toby won’t ever have a Death Star. Hopefully his children just might.

How do financial services fit into the robot readable world?

As our world is increasingly layered with QR Codes, RFID tags and all manner of sensors designed to be read, interacted with and updated by other machines I wondered what role banks and the equipment they have deployed in society play in all this. This post was inspired by Matt Jones’ excellent post which brought together his, and others, work on The Robot Readable World. The other piece that ties into this is the 8,000 word delight that is Street as Platform by Dan Hill. If you have not already read these pieces then I urge you to stop reading this drivel and go and read those first. Go down the rabbit hole and then come back to this in a few hours or days when you have emerged and if you so desire.

The two articles I mentioned are important pieces in defining how this robot readable world will look, feel & operate. Matt quotes himself from a previous talk to describe how this robot readable world will come into being.

“What if, instead of designing computers and robots that relate to what we can see, we meet them half-way – covering our environment with markers, codes and RFIDs, making a robot-readable world”

The first line of street as a platform sets the scene perfectly

‘The way the street feels may soon be defined by what cannot be seen with the naked eye’

Dan Hill paints a, in his own words banal, picture of a busy cross roads, the surrounding environment and how the silent systematic interactions monitor and affect the daily lives of the streets users. One of the reasons for this banality (although I have to argue it is far from banal) is that it features technology available and in use at the time it was written, 2008. Three years later and these technologies have still not permeated our streets to any great degree but it feels like we are on the cusp of that changing. As we edge ever closer to blanket wifi coverage, universal smartphone ownership, ever cheaper sensors and tags, this ubiquitous sensor laden network feels very close. It has to be asked how will this affect the design of our urban landscape to become both robot and human friendly.

‘What’s evolving to become ‘attractive’ and meaningful to both robot and human eyes?

One thing that did occur to me while reading these pieces was that words like bank and pay feature only a handful of times. I have a (biased) feeling the financial interactions and related data will play a huge part in this evolution of our urban environment. Whether that is for the better or worse will be interesting to see.

From a banking point of view it is difficult to see past the fact that the future of financial interaction will be heavily linked to mobile devices. The physical representations of money that we know today, the plastic debit/credit card, the paper cheque book, the steel and plastic ATM will all be replaced eventually by mobile connected devices of varying forms. The physical will be replaced by the digital but will that revolution happen before the rise of the robots?  Will the addition of robot readable elements to those physical tools of finance be rendered pointless? Or will the physical elements exist long enough to be worth changing (I mean we can’t get rid of cheques by 2018 in the UK so it is safe to assume they will be around for some time yet). Also is the mobile the ultimate robot? These are my initial thoughts on this and they are primarily concerned with the bread and butter personal finance elements although there are some dalliances into the world of commercial business and investment banking.

So here is my banal picture of a similar section of a city to the one mentioned by Dan in the not too distant future.

A teenage girl is shopping with her friends. She tries on an outfit and takes a photo. The phone calculates the value by reading the RFID tags in the garments. She does not have enough money in her prepaid mobile wallet. She sends a photo to her Dad with her best sad puppy dog look and asks for a bit of extra cash. He sends the money and because he is a premium customer at his bank he can send a 25% discount to his daughter for the next time she shops there. When she purchases the item because her wallet is linked to an adult the store knows her father. They can see is a well known author with a healthy audience on line so they offer to discount the outfit by 10% if she tweets about it on purchase. In the vain hope of a retweet from her father. She does tweet about it and uploads it to WIWT.

A young couple push a pram along the street. They have recently set up a saving goal for a a family car. This has triggered an intention to buy and they have expressed a preference of a 5 door smallish MPV, 2 years old max. A Renault Scenic matching the description cruises by. The car has been registered for sale and emits a signal captured by the fathers phone. An entry is quietly logged. Insurance costs are calculated. A loan is validated. Vehicle history is fully checked. The car passes with flying colours and leaves the couple with a simple decision to go and see the car. They do and they buy with the help of the pre-approved loan and a tap of two phones. The digital display tax disc is automatically updated also.

A professional photographer is leading a photo walk and is giving paid lessons to a couple of pupils. The payment was in the form of skills exchange and a 3 hour photo lesson to a plumber and tiler means he is getting his bathroom work done pretty cheaply. As he snaps photos they are uploaded to Flickr and licensed to Getty Images. Someone purchases an image while he is on the walk and his money is immediately paid. A reassuring beep in his pocket notifies him of this as he captures another shot of the street. The value of his portfolio increases this allows his time exchange rate to increase as well.

Four friends are having a spot of lunch. The bill arrives and they split the payment using three forms of payment, mobile, credit card and payment chip. The waiter has chosen to be tipped in a virtual currency. It might look something like this. These series of transactions fire off all manner or data streams. As the bill has been paid it means the table is about to become free and the online booking system is updated.

One of the bill payers has chosen to round up all transactions. As the bill is paid she is notified on her phone and given the option to add it to her savings or to donate it to her preferred local cause, Sheffield Childrens Hospital.  She chooses to donate to the hospital and her tax calculations are updated accordingly. She has also triggered an invite to the hospital ball at Xmas. The giant donations display board on the front of the hospital captures the amount and updates its total in an eye catching animation. A new dialysis machine is automatically ordered.

A runner glides by pedestrians. His route is being tracked by Nike+. His health status is being tracked also. His VO2 Max levels are good. The run is making up for last nights beer and curry which were captured via his bio plaster. The run and health data are shared with his health insurance provider and his premiums are reduced. A driver swerves in front of the runner and parks badly taking up two spaces. His car payment device is charged twice and he receives a notification that his inconsiderate driving and parking could result in a fine in the future. His car insurance provider is also notified. His premiums won’t be reduced.

Above the parking space a couple are browsing a gallery. The artist exhibiting has works for sale and is seeking donations for his kickstarter fund. Gaze tracking cameras are fitted above all the art works. As the couple stop at a piece it calculates the time they spent admiring the work, their age and their desire levels for the piece. An ego dashboard viewed by the artist updates to reflect another visitor and admirer.  The couple move to another piece. The interactive node pulses and begs them to tap their phone.  They interact with the work using NFC. An option to donate is embedded with the information, as is an option to buy. They are torn between which piece to buy. They choose to buy the first one they saw. Their desire for the other piece was recorded and a savings goal suggestion has been passed to their account. As they leave the gallery the framing store across the road has digital signage that shows the work they just bought in a selection of their frames. The value of the piece is added to his art collection. It’s value on the traded arts index is calculated.

A small group of students fresh from a (half) day of lectures head into a bar, the fourth bar they have visited today. They order drinks and as one student goes to pay with his phone it begins to vibrate as the amount it needs to pay breaks his weekly expenditure budget for alcohol. He begins to sober up a little as he realises this budget was agreed with his father after last terms financial issues. His friend offers to pay instead, saving an awkward notification being sent to his father.

One of their drinking companions places a few bets on the days sporting events. His penchant for risky long shots and complex triples and accumulators helps to build a detailed risk profile with his betting company of choice. He has chosen to share that risk profile with his investment management software to model his micro investments based on that same risk profile. His investment record is slightly better than his betting history.

A new clothing store has opened. A man searches for a birthday gift for his ethically minded friend. He scans the store and checks its trading policies and is able to interrogate full iXBRL statements showing where every penny of their organisation goes. The phone classes the company as green and this gives him the green light to buy. As he browses the store his phone is scanned to reveal his identity. His credit rating is excellent, as is his Peer Index score. The dynamic price tags alter accordingly as he views various items.  He purchases a nice dress and the digital gift receipt contains the sourcing details of all materials, distance they have traveled and details of the factory where the item was made. Somewhere in Africa another version of the dress is shipped to someone even more deserving because of this purchase.

A man needs cash to pay his builder. He has scanned for the nearest ATM with available cash and is walking towards it. He joins the queue. The ATM senses the queue size and limits its features based on this. It will only dispense cash, no statements or receipts are available temporarily. Finally the man gets to the front of the queue he taps his phone and his usual amount is presented. He clicks one button and leaves. The cash is printed with unique barcodes that are linked to the person withdrawing the cash. The cash is very difficult for the builder to actually spend anonymously as every note is tracked in now and ID is required to complete cash transactions so this simple tax evasion has been eradicated.

Down a side street two men shake on a deal. One of the men makes a signal and a small boy deposits something in a crack in a wall across the street. The other man heads over and takes the parcel. He walks a short distance then passes his phone by the portable HiSecurityBitCoin Deposit Port and anonymously pays the drug dealer.

A young entrepreneur passes a homeless person. His begging card features a URL. The link is browsed by the young man and it takes him to a Kiva investment page. He can make a microloan to the man for a share in his future earnings from his amusing begging card meme business. He contributes £30. He heads towards his bank branch. He enters and his phone is scanned as is his palm vein pattern as he places his hand on the door. The video booth door opens and he steps inside. His information has connected him to an appropriate advisor based on his relationship with the organisation. They discuss an upgrade to his personal trading robot.

And there ends the banality…well not quite.

What do we mean by robots? For me the use of the term robot conjures up images of the classic 6ft tall metal creatures from countless classic sci-fi films and books. I think in this context the robots refers to any machine which has sensors built in and can capture something about the world it inhabits. This could be a simple pressure pad driven traffic light, the sensor laden gadget we carry everywhere, the smart phone, and hopefully some moving & talking versions of what we actually know as a robot.  Connectivity to the web will of course be key. The other element of this is data. As linked data stores grow and evolve so will the power of the robots. The speed at which they can interrogate relevant and related data sources will be the key factor in how powerful the robots become. The real key is the capture of events. Sensors of varying size, scale and capability. Picking up information about the simple things like transactions, location and movement. It is how these things are pieced together and fed into algorithms to signify an event. I gazed at an item in a store for 3 seconds. My heart beat rose slightly. I had viewed a similar item online last week. A clear intent to purchase? or save? or invest?

How might this existing financial service layer be altered to help the robots see it? The most obvious part of the cities and towns that are the automated mechanical face of banks are the ATMs. These 60s creations seem ripe for a higher level of awareness about their status, the identity of their users and the ability to talk with other devices. As we move to tapping the NFC equipped mobile against the ATM to withdraw cash (assuming mobile payments have not become so much easier than actually using cash) then it becomes easier for the ATM to sense who is around the machine. Could it calculate queuing levels and notify outwards accordingly. Feed to your car navigation to say the ATM you are heading for is busy and is currently holding only 5% of it’s cash capacity. The car suggests an alternative which is reporting as being queue free. If cash use does become increasingly rare then what could these 24 hour windows to the bank network become? Thankfully someone else has thought about that.

Cash. What of money itself? Should the physical tokens of exchange be readable by the robots? The Dutch Mint recently launched a series of coins featuring QR Codes, A few entries to the 2009 dollar redesign competition featured bar codes. If coins and notes could be scanned as they were used by tills, vending machines etc could we paint a picture of the movement of cash? See how the physical cash moves about inside a community? And around the wider world? This has been attempted with today’s money for the Where’s George project. This tracking data actually showed how diseases spread.

Cheques. Today the mobile is capable of seeing and reading a cheque. Capturing the details and sending them through the air to be processed as if they were captured at the branch and shipped to the clearing centres. My first job in banking was the implementation of cheque imaging at several of these clearing centres around the UK.

The clearing centres back then were large industrial units housing 40 foot long sorting machines with names like NDP1825s (Network Document Processors, the number representing the theoretical rate of throughput of cheques per minute), capable of taking several images of cheques while also reading the MICR ink to capture the institution and account details. Huge mechanical and noisy beasts. Sucking in and firing out vouchers from a hopper to numbered pockets further down the length of the machine. A small stack of storage servers allowed these photos to be stored and hundreds of workstations allowed captured images to be processed by humans reading the amounts and text scrawled on cheques then inputting the values. These inputs were all ultimately feeding files on a data centre housed bank strength mainframe. This was my first real interaction with the robots of banking *dewy eyed nostalgia ends here*

Later projects added new hardware and software to read the human entered amounts on the paper cheques and thus reduce human processing requirements further. Now we have the capability to take a photo and the cheque is paid (gross oversimplification).

Snap a cheque

Potential changes to these banking products and services feel doable but I am not sure they ever will be due to boring things like business cases. Also the fact that, as I mentioned before, the mobile will replace so many elements of the relationship we have with cash and cheques. This will be made possible by the fact mobiles will become debit/credit cards with P2P payment technology as well as being able to act as point of sale terminals. This change to how the mobile device is viewed and used going forwards is clearly massive. With that in mind in here a few financial interactions that I see being affected by this robot view of the world sooner rather than later.

The debit/credit card of the future will no longer be a one way communication device. It will still be read by the same terminals and ATMs but it will become a two way communication device. Today’s contactless cards employ basic connectivity using RFID and this could allow it to react to the signals it receives. Could the card glow red or green as you bring it close to a payment terminal? The changes required to the cards themselves make this change cool but prohibitive.

With mobiles this is much simpler. It will have location technology built in so knows when it is about to purchase. Feedback from the screen or from other haptic interfaces could discreetly let you know you can’t afford it. NFC will allow the transfer of payment, loyalty interactions, digital receipts and the like in a single touch. Extra data from your handheld robot can be appended to the transaction such as geographic location or when bio sensors emerge maybe your tiredness levels (I was not thinking straight when I bought these skinny jeans).

Mortgages.  The buying and selling of a house is one of the most complex financial interaction most of us will undertake in our lives. How could the robots make that easier? How do the robots see houses? As you drive round your desired area to move to looking for houses for sale. Can you scan houses? GPS mixed with recognised 3D map of the house retrieved from the land registry data store. See how much they are on sale for, historical sale prices, see the value of other houses in the street, see how much you could bid up to based on your mortgage agreement in principal, past survey results and have any of the neighbours been featured in the Sheffield Star court report. Commonwealth Bank of Australia produced a slick video last year showing their vision of how robots might see houses (about 1 minute in) Commonwealth Bank – Vision for 2013.

Humans > Androids I think like so many other industries the real changes will occur as the human move closer to the network and they become robot readable. The obvious robot readable element of humans is biometrics. Lauded for years they have not made any meaningful advances in the financial world. I use a finger print scanner to gain access to my son’s nursery. Nothing like this exists at my bank. Clearly it seems certain mobile phone companies think biometrics might make a come back. The image below shows Apples recent patent submission for biometric reader built in as you swipe to unlock your phone (620 on the diagram).  They have also registered patents for facial recognition and even heartbeat signatures.

iPhone Swipe My Finger

I have spoken lightheartedly/with borderline vulgarity about the ability for NFC enabled bio sensors to be attached to humans. This is an interesting step for the world of finance. Imagine if you agreed to have those sensors hooked to life insurance policies. Allowing you to stick to your word that you do only drink 20 units a week. Who would ever agree? The organisation would have such granular data they would catch you out for something but the agreement would need to be transparent enough to deal with this. The data could also act as ultimate feedback mechanism fodder ‘Loyal consumer. You seem to be travelling 100 miles an hour, have 0.65 milligrams of alcohol in your blood and have been awake for 17 hours. If you do not take immediate action your premium will adjusted accordingly’. Of course the algorithm for calculating your insurance risk would then have to be as transparent as your bodily data. Financial companies are not so well known for sharing equally.

Some people think bio sensors will never catch on but as we spend more and more time with a phone seemingly grafted to our hand the closer technology becomes to being part of our body then the more accessible by robots we become.

Will robots and sensors not actually see us in some sort of pixellated/kinect captured/glitched/3D represenation but in fact by scanning the robotic element we carry, the biometric information we offer and therefore see us as a series of 1s and 0s fed directly from our phone. Giving direct access to the currency/celebrity/societal value of that person without the need for anonymous scanning. Depressing thought.

Sharing data about you with the robots. What about financial elements of you that you may wish to share with the robots? Walk into a clothing emporium and the price tags alter based on your credit rating/premium customer level/stupid social media scores fed from your connected device. Suggestions for matching items are highlighted via glowing shelf tags fed by the clothing purchase data over the last 3 months.

It can’t all be about mobile and NFC because by it’s nature, the clue is in the name Near Field Communication, needs to be near to create a link. RFID broadcast may be more relevant to some parts of this future world unless the physical tap is required to switch it on when you walk into a shop or a railway station. If I choose to broadcast personal information what would that be? My mobile device says I am Aden, age 35-44, Aries. I will tell you this much about me. If you want more then a physical interaction is required for the service/robot to get access to it.

Privacy & Fears. All this automatic scanning and interactions happening on your behalf without you knowing are a privacy nightmare set in a minefield. What on earth the interface for controlling this would look like is beyond me. Personal control will be very important if this is to ever get close to taking off. The other element is identity. Sharing an identity of whatever sort with something seemingly inhuman will not only require a robust framework the likes of which we are no where near it will also take a great deal of trust.

Will we see a day where people are prevented from entering stores unless they are connected to the network. No connection means you can’t see the persons credit available. If you can’t afford to buy, why should you clutter up the store. This could in theory eradicate shop lifting. There might be one or two issues of ethics/morality but let’s not dwell on that too much as this post is already far too long.

Of course no discussion about the robot readable world of finance is complete without mention of security risks. Future Daily Mail headlines will probably scream things  ‘Waves of unstoppable Eastern European Flying Robots steal cash from the sky’ as the more readable and scannable financial information becomes the riskier things become. We will probably see a healthy trade in RFID/Robot unreadable wallets. These are of course valid concerns and security with financial segvices is always paramount but there needs to be a balance to allow innovation to flourish. It is also important that whenever you are scanned or creating data that this is accessible to you. You can see how the web of data is affected by your actions and the actions that have been taken because of that. Relaying it back might be more scary than doing it privately but doing it sneakily is wrong on a different level. The security risks are clearly huge but someone else can write 4,000 words on those.

In conclusion, my thoughts on this subject feel very much robot world 1.0. I feel constrained by the desire to robotise the physical financial interactions and services of the present while in the knowledge that the evolution of mobile and its affect on the physical manifestations of finance will in all probability reduce them significantly if not kill them completely. The evolution of the web today, often categorised as social and mobile, will change our concepts of currency and banks to such a degree that it is impossible (for someone of limited intelligence like me) to really see where this is heading.

The impact of someone carrying a device with them capable of both giving and receiving money changes things so greatly on its own. How this plays out over the next 5 years will shape the financial landscape for decades. The ubiquity of NFC/RFID in mobile handsets should be with us by around 2015 and that will mark a real turning point in the physical to digital connectivity of the planet and will mean the robots will truly be able to get involved.

The other thing I can’t predict is the closeness of that mobile device to humans. If those connections become tighter than merely having it to hand at all times but actual physical links between the network, numerate data sources and living tissue then anything stated above will be just a fraction of what becomes possible.

I have shied away from the High Frequency Trading robots that may have a an even bigger impact on the financial systems of the world than they have already. This is mainly due to my lack of understanding and a desire to finish the post sometime this year as it is an even deeper rabbit hole.

I think what ever happens the robots will want to see the financial world but it depends how many financial institutions decide they want the robots to see it. I hope that it will be a great number of institutions as this will allow us to enter a future that actually feels like he future we were promised. These are my initial thoughts on how the world of finance fits into the robot readable world.

OMG! Facebook want to own the Internet…again.

Last week at the Facebook developers conference, f8, the biggest social network in the world launched a whole host of new features that have got the social web folk in a bit of a state. Including that nice Ben Werdmuller chap and that very smart David Cushman fella. I agree with these posts to varying degrees but I also have an issue with the wholesale dismissal of Facebook as evil.

I won’t list the new features here, if you want to know more check out this nice roundup. The two big changes that have caused the most consternation are the timeline and the new capabilities of apps and the OpenGraph.

The timeline effectively makes it easier than ever for people to scroll through your Facebook history. Every thing you have ever posted, commented on or shared is right there in a nicely scrollable and searchable interface. I wonder if the people complaining about this are the same ones mourning the loss of Google Realtime Search?

The more controversial change is the way that apps can now update your profile. The Guardian app is a great example of how this works. You install the app and read the news stories you are interested in and this is then added to your profile. Now it goes without saying that this data is also shared with Facebook’s marketing partners as they seek ever more granular data on consumers. This change from active i.e. I choose what to share on my profile, to a more passive model i.e. What ever I interact with on Facebook could show up on my profile.

This is a major change to the way the social web works. I think it is fantastically brave and truly innovative. yes it may impact how we use the web (better not view this story it will show up on my profile) but change on this scale is truly fascinating. If you do want to play why not set up a completely private account with only one friend link i.e. Your own account, and then link this account to all the services that want it. See what this begins to look like with interaction from other services. Apparently this might break some terms and conditions though (sometimes Facebook do make it hard to defend them).

Facebook have changed the way we view our privacy in so many ways over the years. The original newsfeed was met with howls of derision and it is now the default model for pretty much every social app. It’s ill fated Beacon system was a bit too in your face with its marketing / sales intentions (but I think we are seeing elements of that reintroduced and I think there will be more). This new change shows how innovative Facebook are and how they are set on changing how vast swathes of the world interact and view (or maybe more aptly ignore) privacy.

Privacy Venn

We hear lots of people churn out innovation mantras such as ‘It is better to seek forgiveness than permission’ and ‘If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats’. Facebook is doing just that and people really don’t like it. Well you are not a paying customer of Facebook. Your data is the product. This has been repeated over and over.

The man who fell

Facebook are being more obvious with this than the sneaky tracking companies that have done this for years. At least they are trying to be upfront about it and show you what is occurring. We are just not comfortable with seeing how we use the web. Is it better to be kept in the dark? Or will you learn more by seeing how you use the web and how the web sees you? I believe the main issue is that this is fully owned by Facebook.

With this in mind are Facebook moving the personal data ecosystem further forward in one step than the more open (source/web) minded folks of the Personal Data Store movement can hope to do in a decade? Is the real anger in the fact that they are keeping this for themselves and not fully giving back? As they seek to link with more and more web services can they begin to build a richer picture of you online than anyone else? Can they create a fully fleshed out digital identity? I think they can but a lot of people are not willing to let them or more accurately, make sure they do it so everyone can play.

This is the key element of this whole thing for me. Let us see where Facebook get too. If you don’t want to play then don’t play. If you want to fight Facebook then fight them to free the data or make them come up with open standards for this personal data ecosystem. They have the volume of customers to make this a reality. They seemingly have the partners and they definitely have the platform. We should be wary and ensure they stay on the right path but whinging over every change is just noise and I don’t want to see that in my stream. I want to see how this evolves. I want to see innovation flourish. I know Facebook might use this all for their own gain. Good luck to them if they do.

Update: Just as I put the finishing touches on this post a much funnier and better written piece about this topic was brought to my attention by Twitter. Read it.

A bank geek goes to The Story

A telephone bell rang in darkness. When it had rung three times bedsprings creaked, fingers fumbled on wood, something small and hard thudded on a carpeted floor, the springs creaked again, and a man’s voice said: “Awreight pal, Taxi’s ‘ere.” (Apologies to Dashiell Hammett for the blatant plagiarism/vandalism)

Friday the 18th of February meant I was awake early for the journey from Sheffield to London to attend The Story. For those unaware The Story is a one day conference about stories and story telling.  I think you will all agree this is something that a banking innovation geek should be attending. If not, let me tell you the tale of the day and try and convince you otherwise.

First up were Ben & Lucy from the Ministry of Stories. They told the tale of the Monster supply shop in Hoxton. Selling fantastic goods for all your monster needs.  The shop is a front though. For something great. The back of the store hides a room used to help kids write creatively. They run free work shops to encourage them to tell marvelous tales and ensure their fertile imaginations are not destroyed by dull things like school.  They are run by local volunteering writers, artists and teachers.  Inspired by the work of Dave Eggers in the US, I found what they were doing to be truly fantastic.  At the end of the talk a little creative exercise was tried. The crowd had to design a monster. Lucy would ask what a part of the monster would look like and how it would feel. People shouted out. The monsters description was written on screen. This was then going to be drawn during the day and auctioned off to the highest bidder. The results are at the bottom of this post. The process made me think of design by committee and how people just shouting things out lead to monsters being designed. The problem being that they did not set out to design a monster…

Adam Curtis of the BBC and the man responsible for the excellent Power of Nightmares documentary, told how the BBC were losing faith in the web as a means of telling stories. He went on to show a clip of an Afghani reporter interviewing a member of the Taliban. The clip showed the Taliban fighter admitting they had burnt down schools but only to stop the infidels doing so first. The short/soundbite clip formed part of a news package. The thing is the story behind the clip was far more interesting. It turned out the reporter had almost been killed by allied forces as they thought him to be a terrorist. he was actually a poet and had fled the Taliban. He became a reporter and was sent into the lions den with men he feared who also threatened to kill him. Adam played the full version of the clip. It showed the reporter asking more questions but you could now see he was visibly terrified. One of the reasons for his terror was that the other, very heavily armed, Taliban fighters were circling the camera (walking in front of shot) in a show of constant intimidation. Very powerful and far more engaging than the soundbite. I don’t have the ability to do justice to Adam’s talk. Check out Antony Mayfield’s much more detailed piece to get a better sense of what he said. The thing I took away though was that giving context to the story is very very important. Sound bites and copy written pieces offer no engagement no sense of awe. That is something that needs to be addressed. How do we add context to our stories? How do we let people delve deeper?

For me the the most effecting talk of the day was by Karl James. He confessed upfront that he was not a story teller just a listener, a facilitator of stories. He explained, with the help of some very powerful audio clips, how people that can truly listen allow people to become more articulate about the story than they ever would for a poor listener. Listening helps them to open up and expand. There was the story of Jane a 38 year old woman who had been raped at the age of 14. She had not let herself become her story but had grown because of it. She was strong, confident but through listening Karl had got to previously unheard elements of the story. As the clip played and Karl quizzed Mary on how it had affected her and then how it affected her family it became clear that the thing she had really lost was her brother who had ceased to be part of the family.

Original Photo by Toby Barnes

Next up was Chris a friend of Karl’s and the father of a young daughter who had become very ill. Karl asked the question ‘What do you wish you had known on day one of finding out your daughter was ill?’ following the question a long pause followed, all that were heard were the noises of thought as Chris tried to pull together an answer. The pause between the question and answer lasted 19 seconds, Karl told us after. That 19 seconds was a long time. A few hundred people in Conway Hall awaited the answer in rapt silence. As a recent father that 19 seconds allowed my thoughts to wander to places I did not want them to go. How would I answer such a question? Would I ever want to be in the position to be asked that question? When Chris finally answered he said that he would tell himself that you can not deal with this alone. You could hear and feel the huge burden he had been subjected to. I was very thankful that it had not been me.

I was not sure how much more I could take of this. Karl began to talk about children at a central London school. I thought if these next clips were about child abuse I would have to make my excuses and leave (‘Something in my eye, *cough cough* must get a drink etc.). Thankfully they were not but were interviews with so called problem kids and how they were totally disengaged from school life. How they had no respect for people who had no respect for them. In the end it was about child abuse just not the kind I worriedly expected but none the less it still had an effect on me. I would highly recommend you take a look at Karl’s slides and listen to the audio of his talk to hear for yourself and see if you agree with me or think I am just a soppy new dad! It certainly made me think about my own listening skills and how they could be so much better. What would the impact be if everyone was such a good listener?

The headline act of the day was creator of Father Ted and the IT Crowd, Graham Linehan. He was interviewed by geek author and copyfighter Cory Doctorow. Graham is a heavy user of Twitter and he has recently started writing with 7 or 8 people he found funny on there. Graham had used to Twitter to facilitate rewrites during filming he gave the example of calling out to his Twitter followers to come up with a term for ‘backside’ that they could use on the show. Bike rack was the one he chose. He was trialling new tools to see if web 2.0 could facilitate collaborative writing. He was using Basecamp to allow the 7 or 8 people from Twitter who were based around the globe to work together on writing a sitcom (global collaboration in action). Some things had worked well others not so much so it was still a work in progress.

Original Photo by Matt Ward

Graham talked of how he was trying ‘systematise goofing off’. Spending hours on social networks can justifiably be called research when you write a sitcom about I.T. Geeks. Graham did have systems in place though. He spoke of his old system of lots of coloured cards filled with stories ideas or situations.  They were colour coded based on character the situation related to. He would set them out on the floor and try to pull together and link the story elements. The internet had unsurprisingly proved a rich vein of situations that could befall Moss, Roy and Jenny. He did a quick bit of Googling and found his favourite photo of all time from the classic, Awkward Pet Photos. He posted the photo to Basecamp and said too his writing colleagues how can we get Roy into the situation? Know where you want to get to. Then find the way there. If only more creative projects stared this way. Especially with guidance from Awkward Family Pet Photos.

The Story was not like the normal conferences I go to. It was all the better for it. I like to attend conferences that stretch my mind and change my thinking. I like conferences that have side stories.  That inspire new forms of story telling. All the while thinking how can I relate this back to the work I do. The story succeeded massively on that front for me.  If you work on Innovation, irrespective of the industry, then getting out of your comfort zone and going to something a bit left field can help expand your thinking greatly. A big thanks to Matt Locke and all the organisers of a fantastic day. Looking forward to the Story 2012…it sounds like a futuristic one. Finally here is the monster that was created on the day and the description (specification?) that defined how it might look.

The photo and description was taken from from JulieBee’s excellent post

Seeing ‘my’ ideas in print

Nothing beats seeing your ideas written, visualised, published etc. Plenty beats seeing your ideas written, visualised, published etc. by someone else. Of course your idea is an idea that could have been had by lots of other people but when you have that idea you feel special. You are sure it is a good idea. You are sure it is an innovative idea. When someone else writes it down first you are now very sure it is a good idea.

Of course I am not vain enough to think that I had this idea first. Most, if not all, ideas will be had by more than one person at around the same time. Steven B. Johnson covers ‘idea multiples in his book where good ideas come from. He explains

‘A brilliant idea occurs to a scientist or inventor somewhere in the world, and he goes public with his remarkable finding, only to discover that three other minds had independently come up with the same idea in the past year’

For example sun spots were discovered in 1611 by four scientists in four different countries completely independently. My idea is far from the discovery of sun spots.

As you can guess this happened to me recently. I have had this idea in my head for well over a year. I have had grand plans on how to visualise and sell this idea but I have just not got round to doing it. The value of ideas in your head is zero. In fact it is probably a negative number as thoughts in your head occupy areas of your mind, use up valuable processing time and generally get in the way of other stuff.


Idea in head =  -£10

Idea written on fag packet = £10

Idea published for others to see = £20


I think Brendan Dawes put it best in his great print, which you can buy here.

I wonder if Brendan fancies doing another version that reads ‘Thought – Action = Dumb Shit’ or something like that.

Once the idea is out of your head. It has the chance to evolve and be refined. It can be shared with others to get the idea validated and enhanced (or mocked). It means the idea has a chance of becoming more than just an idea.

The idea in question was written, visualised and published by an agency working with the company I work for. I would love to say what the idea is but I can’t. After getting over the disappointment of not being the one to come up with (or publish it first) this brilliant, in my humble opinion, idea I now feel a need to evangelise this idea and to ensure it is not crushed by the design by committee types or overlooked as just a feature that can be dropped.

The fact it was written, visualised, published by someone external to my company, that have been paid to come up with ideas, might actually help the idea because sometimes external expertise is treated with higher regard, and in this case rightly so. I am not bothered about getting credit for ideas I just want to see ideas that I think are good get built.

The moral of the story is get ideas out of your head. Write them down somewhere. Draw a picture. What ever way you want to represent them. Just do it. Now. Don’t be a dumb shit.

Thanks to Chris Dymond for helping me find the page in Steven’s book featuring Idea Multiples.

I just can’t help myself

I have a very dull confession to make. I love playing those lovely little hashtag games on Twitter. You know the ones. Where someone takes a category of culture e.g. film, book, song, band, celebrity and then adds something to the mix such as a witty satirical angle or just links to food or booze.

So you get a random group of people coming up with something very(?) amusing as shown above.  I am not sure why I am so drawn to these things? I think the reason is that I like the little mental challenge they present. They also provide a little moment of joy. They are essentially a task to combine two pieces of existing information that you have e.g. a celebrity name and something related to alcohol, and come up with something new and preferably funny. As you can see from the screen shots I am also not that good at them.

They offer up a little bit of lateral thinking to exercise the connection of neurons.  I wish their were more banking related ones although I can imagine that would quickly descend into banker bashing territory (it is where the laughs are though).  I remember Chris Skinner doing a post which had a banking crisis and films mixed together type list. I even submitted my own rip roaringly funny suggestion of ‘A few dud men’.

What I would also like is someway of replicating a similar thing inside my place of work. A well populated and well used Twitteresque network would make things a bit easier…maybe one day, but I am sure it would work.  Start off playing for fun using project/product names and food to create hilarity. Segue sneakily into making them work related by trying to get people to join two ideas around a central theme to make an innovative (or funny) idea? Yes I agree it is a long shot and I am beginning to think this post is just a vague attempt to justify the time I spend playing hashtag games.  #BankerPlayingGamesJustificationFilms Go…

BarcampBank London 4

A few weeks ago I finally made it to a BarCampBank. These informal gatherings of banking geeks are held annually, in London and usually on a Saturday. Thankfully this years was on a Monday the day before Finovate.

which meant I was able to attend. The event was held at Nesta (The home of innovation apparently).  The day was hosted by Dave Birch from Consult Hyperion and was sponsored by the Cabinet Office (and Consult Hyperion and Bullion Vault) who were very interested in alternative currencies and community funding, which gave the topics an interesting spin as well as introduce some different folk to the BarCampBank world. The format of the BarCamp is unconference so at the start of the day people post the topics they would like to discuss on a wall. These are then grouped together and themes identified.

Five breakout areas were defined and a session was held in each area. I attended 3 sessions, which were…

The potential impacts of NFC. A look at what is coming in the world of Near Field Communication. With the launch of the Nexus S by Google NFC is finally available in our stores and Apple are strongly rumoured to include NFC in the next iPhone and iPad. Will this be the start of a sea change in payments with tech companies getting increasingly involved? Or does control still rest with the payment networks and banks? This was quite a heated debate with people from O2, The GSMA, PayPal and other interested financial companies. Talk of Apple dominated the conversation to begin with. The general consensus was that they would not make a dent as it will be too expensive for retailers to upgrade their payments infrastructure for seemingly little benefit.  I am not sure I agree with this as the cachet of being able to pay with your iPhone will be a great incentive in itself let alone the loyalty factors that could be involved.

What next for P2P business models.
A very interesting panel which was dominated by representatives from P2P lending companies Zopa and FriendsClear.  Giles the CEO of Zopa explained the complexities in starting a P2P lender. The ability to operate as a sort of mutual was hamstrung by the fact that considerable funding was required to get started so these companies will need relationships with traditional banks for quite some time.  I asked a question of whether Facebook was a realistic competitor to Zopa but this was dismissed as the regulation requirements would be too onerous for them to even get started (rumours are that Facebook considered buying P2P lender Prosper in the US). I think if Facebook Credits gets a decent foothold we will certainly see them try something. We moved on from money to other forms of currency that could be traded P2P. Peoples time and effort were one and energy was the other future alternatives mentioned.

Time banks, where people are paid in units of time were a popular topic on the day. The example often rolled out was if someone in London cooked a lovely meal for the elderly parent of someone from Sheffield. Then the person in Sheffield could cook a meal for someone there. P2P networks at their most fundamental level. The creation of energy was also seen as a future tradable element. As solar panels and turbines become increasingly prevalent then it may become possible to offload unused energy to the grid for others in your community to use.

The importance of Identity. Another favourite topic of mine. The discussion around identity was probably the most lively of the three I attended. Topics ranged from the inevitable Banks as digital identity holders to the complexities of anonymous or partial identity management. The graphic example given was a frequenter of a fetish club whowould need to be identified in some form to attend while keeping there real world identity secret. They might also need some way of linking that anonymous identity to real world medical records should something go wrong. Like I said it was a lively debate.

With the conference being held the day before Finovate it meant quite a few people had flown in from around the world.  This gave me a unique chance to meet some of the banking geeks I follow on Twitter in real life for the first time. This presents a tricky challenge though as you have to recognise people based on their 48×48 pixel avatar photo. I managed to meet up with Frederic Baud and John-Christophe Cavelli of Parisian based P2P lender FriendsClear, Yann Ranchere a financial tech blogger based out of New York as well as meeting up with previous acquaintances such as Brett King who had flown in from Singapore.  I chatted, too briefly, with Dan Mullineux who is the creator of Money Toolkit and is apparently ‘Filling in where UK banks are failing to do mobile banking properly’ which is nice of him.   Another interesting person was Rachel Sinha who is doing some lovel sounding visualisation work for the Chartered Institute of Accountants and is working with the godlike genius that is David McCandless.  She was also baffled by the fact I was meeting people in real life that I only knew through Twitter. I also met someone from the company I work for, Tom Cannon, for the first time even though we had spoke, emailed and tweeted in the past. In the pub after the event I saw someone passing round dodgy but cool looking bank notes. It was Susan Steed from the New Economics Foundation who is involved in the Brixton Pounds local currency project and she kindly let me have some of the notes…not sure when I will be in Brixton next though.

11 Brixton Pounds

All in all a very thought provoking day and I met some very interesting people, well for bankers at least.


WARNING. This post contains a lot of talk about the passing of urine and is generally quite crude but in an innovative and ultimately charming way.

A few tweets have been pinging about today discussing the recent story of the new urinal games that Sega are trialling in Tokyo.  These fantastic innovations in waste passing entertainment include such games as ‘Mannekin Pis’ a challenge to see how hard the urinal user can urinate. It then compares this to the previous urinal user to see who had the greatest velocity wee wee expulsion.

This lovely announcement was picked up on by all round fine fellow, Gregory Povey, who commented that they had made his flippancy.  Greg was referring to a high brow discussion that Tim and James and I were lucky enough to be involved in, which took place in the summer of 2010.

The porcelain based parlance followed a talk at the LoveBytes event by Tobie Kerridge. Tobie talked about a project called Material Beliefs which amongst other things involved a prototype called Vital Signs which was a live bio monitoring device. The device involved the adhesion of digital plasters to the patients body to monitor the heart, breath and movement.

After the conference we retired to a local ale house to discuss what we had seen and heard.  As the ale flowed we somehow got onto the topic of barely games. Now I don’t quite remember who (but I suspect it was me) mentioned urinal games i.e. the simplistic and usually advertising based, featuring such things as plastic football goals in the bowl.

Greg took this a stage further discussing the digital opportunities around these liquid excretion based frivolities and the social gaming potential they possessed. As the conversation flowed we stumbled back to the bio monitoring digital plasters. We also talked about Near Field Communication (NFC) and how the physical & digital world will become increasingly linked probably via the mobile.  I may have said something about these plasters being able to attach to certain appendages and to maybe measure effluence flow rate, bladder capacity vs pints drunk (a useful measure in the manly challenge of seeing who can go the longest during a drinking session without going to the toilet) and then connect to the phone via NFC and use the functionality of the device to submit this very useful data to the cloud, GPS locate the piddler and other such useful recordings and measurements. James summed this up a bit more succinctly in his tweet the day after, which I must protest is without context and paints me in a terrible light, maybe even more terrible than this post.

So there you have it the story of the NFC based penis plaster which when I tweeted about today piqued quite a bit of interest from bemused tweeters. Emma Cooper asked if there was a ladies version. She then quickly tried to unask the question but it was too late.  I think that it would be possible for ladies although the mechanics are more complex.  I am also of the understanding that the female urinal is not quite a prevalent in society as the male version.   Tony Kennick asked a quite crude question but also a very valid one, about if there was accompanying technology that could be used for orifices to record check ins.  I suspect if the former invention were created the latter would surely follow.

So that is that.  I have spent too much time thinking about this thing but enough people asked about it that I felt I had to explain myself.  I am not sure how accurate my recollection of the original discussion is, Bernard Premium Strength Lager is quite strong, so if James, Tim or Greg would like to add or amend any of the details then please let me know.  My final thought on the matter is the product name. The worse one I have come up with is iUrethra my favourite is Wee NFC. Any other product name suggestions greatly appreciated.