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