The problem(s) with fintech influencer lists

Another day another fintech influencers list drops on Twitter to a clamour of people checking if and where they are on the list then sharing it wildly if they are or are not. This behaviour pattern then strengthens the very models used to calculate these lists, people who talk about certain subjects with a group of like minded people form a self referencing echo chamber that ossifies over time as the same voices are heard over and over and their position at the top is cemented and their Twitter followership blossoms. The majority of those voices are rightly at the top (great minds, regular output, high quality insights and experiences), some not so much, some that should be way higher and the big problem is that new voices tend to get drowned out.

That being said lists work, they appeal to our vapid ego (I can’t deny I enjoy being on them or miffed when I am not), they must certainly deliver traffic, they conjure up debate over nothingness (I mean look at this pointless drivel I have written) I also believe they are useful in certain contexts and much of my frustration is born out of how they could be so much better. We will get to that but let’s concentrate on the problem first.

I should also add that as a person who very recently made the decision to be unemployed then this post could be seen as a foolish attack on the very ecosystem and network that I should be using more wisely to ‘strengthen my personal brand’. This however is what I believe and is a truer reflection of my flawed self.

These lists also feel like a bit of a time warp. We used to get lists of social media influencers 5 or 6 years ago and the same debates and behaviours occurred then. So let’s regurgitate and revisit.

The lists – Here are a few recent examples of the genre.

The City AM Top 100 Fintech Influencers list. ‘These are the most influential people in UK Fintech’ This list boldly announces. This list is a self selecting list. You put your name down to be included and then I assume some human decides whether you are worthy. The calculation used is not that clear but is based on Klout and was apparently tweaked in June to make it ‘fairer’. The list updates every other Thursday giving a burst of regular interest as people get notified if they have gone up the charts.

This was the list that seeded this post a while back as it just annoyed me for some reason. I decided to register myself and my bot. If all these other chancers were on it then I should be! (sad little man). I made it on but the bot did not. He would be higher than me as his Klout and Twitter following is much higher than mine. Anamataphobia…

I am somewhere in the 60s on this list at the time of writing. I am ahead of Nektarios Liolios the CEO of Startup Bootcamp and Yoni Assia who founded super social trading platform eToro. I was a middle manager at a large bank struggling to get people to understand what the Internet was. Laughable/embarrassing.

City AM also have a list for people in the P2P/Crowdfunding/Alternative Finance space which I prefer as it is more targeted than the Fintech list.

We have the Onalytica Fintech 2015 Top 100 Influencers List. A list that includes both humans and ‘brands’. It is another decent list of smart folk. This list is built using Onalytica’s own influencer marketing software. he downside being that this list has some very clear examples of an unpleasant trend, that of buying followers. Number one in the brand list is a company called @DNotesCoin. 750 tweets, two likes, joined 18th of February 2014, 27k followers. They must have been some influential tweets or that TV campaign must have been a smash.

Jay Palters Top 100 Fintech Influencers List. The list was seeded with the authors known experts and he then used Little Bird to pull out a wider list of experts / voices in similar fields. Starting with same people will probably bring the same network but I like what Jay did with this list. He clearly shares his working out and even mentions some flaws and I have been a fan of Little Bird for quite some time. One tip I have is to add a rank number to his spreadsheet though to save sad little people like me having to count the rows to work out my sad little place on the list! 52 I think.

I am a little confused by some the scoring mechanisms but they did make me laugh. Apparently I need to improve my ’emergence score’. I have been doing this by jumping out on the kids more scarily when playing hide and seek, leaping out of bed dramatically and by regularly pretending to be a blossoming flower.

Now ultimately these list are all based on a measure of something that feels ill defined overall and branded incorrectly. Influence. The volume and velocity of tweets as they spew out and get shared across the ether are the main scoring and ranking mechanism. The more followers the more power. With that knowledge the word influencer loses meaning and that has long been troubling.

A final example is the personally chosen list. This list by Duena Blomstrom is a nice example of a well known and respected lady in the ‘Fintech scene’ who has named some people she respects and deems worthy of following to learn more about the associated topics. I am included / mildly insulted in this list and that is again both nice and a good way of kicking me up the back side to do more. I feel this has more impact than semi-automatically generated rankings and I also like to see more personal insights into who a person finds interesting and why etc.
What even is an Influencer?

Let’s take a look at the etymology (origin) of the word influencer. It contains some useful insights and prescient views on how it is used today. From the Online Etymology Dictionary

‘The word originally had the general sense ‘an influx, flowing matter’, also specifically (in astrology) ‘the flowing in of ethereal fluid (affecting human destiny)’. The sense ‘imperceptible or indirect action exerted to cause changes’ was established in Scholastic Latin by the 13th century’

Ethereal fluid merchants has a much better ring to it than influencers doesn’t it?

late 14c., an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character or destiny of men,” from Old French influence”emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny” (13c.),

Always about men. That might explain the lack of ladies on these lists.

Also “a flow of water, a flowing in,” from Medieval Latin influentia “a flowing in” (also used in the astrological sense), from Latin influentem (nominative influens), present participle of influere “to flow into, stream in, pour in,” from in- “into, in, on, upon” (see in- (2)) + fluere “to flow” (see fluent). 

Flow…flowing….fluent, effortlessly fluent or effluent for short.

‘Meaning “exertion of unseen influence by persons” is from 1580s (a sense already in Medieval Latin, for instance Aquinas); meaning “capacity for producing effects by insensible or invisible means” is from 1650s. Under the influence (of alcohol, etc.) “drunk” first attested 1866.

So influencers make people drink? I am pretty guilty on that count actually…in multiple ways.

“capacity for producing effects by insensible or invisible means” Perfection.

It is clear what influence really means, to have the power to change / enforce people’s thinking and actions. Fair enough. If what I do / say helps someone with that in a positive way I am very happy about that. It feels like a strange form of influence to me though, maybe that is my personal view on the value of work and what I am good at. If it was more clear to me/others why people were included in these lists and where they ranked (He is good at Twitter or blogging or talking about subject X?) that would improve these lists tenfold and my comfort with being on them and my desire to be higher. More why please.

Is the phrase influencer just too vague to be meaningful? Maybe it is my hatred of it that holds me back from embracing it. I should be more bold and shout from the hilltops “I AM AN INFLUENCER!”

I made a decision to outsource my link machine nature to fintechbot (robots are taking our jobs). It now has more followers than me and a better Klout score, if it was allowed onto any of these lists it would be more influential than me. I think I would actually prefer that. A semi-automatic machine being better at climbing semi-automatic rankings.

I am lucky if my very infrequent blog posts get read in triple figures, I have no responsibility. No skin in the game. Just an ideas man. I am happy to be judged on those skills and I know my fragile ego enjoys being included. But an influencer? Really? Am I influential? I want to more clearly understand why I am on/not on these lists.


Silo slayers

Smash the silos they cry! As they point their fingers at the banks and their outmoded ways of working in the networked world. Yet are these lists themselves a silo? An algorithmic silo? Do the echo chambers they map actually create group think? The methods of ranking and measuring are based on the group talking and sharing, the same topics feed the group and feed the machines that rank us? We have the same set of people focusing on largely the same set of technology trends and beliefs as they rise up the peak of inflated expectations.

Just as we are in the middle of the great social media consolidation (trademark Matt Muir) does the thinking become constrained and destined for the same set of functionality and outcomes in banking? What happens when everyone has cracked big data driven insights, AI lead personalisation, robo everything, slick designed mobile and api first geolocation driven, distributed, cryptographicly proved, open, incubated, hackathoned, wearable, augmented, banking products and services that are born out of agile, continuously delivered unicorn chasing startup like design thinking.

What will we all talk about? Drones and VR and IoT probably as we try to shoe horn them into banking/fintech contexts.
False profits

One of my real bug bears is the power of Twitter followers in these rankings. I have worked hard i.e. tweeted a lot of mildly useful stuff/moaned/punned badly etc.) to earn my 3.5k followers over the last 7 or so years. I look at the following of some people and ‘brands’ on these lists and I think something does not add up. Therefore I would like to see follower ratio and other patterns observed. There are some great reads on this topic including this one and this one which shows some the tricks people use to gain followers. I know I should not hate the player but hate the game but it still rankles. I am equally annoyed at myself for caring about this nonsense. I wonder if anyone on these lists would be brave enough to admit to buying followers or getting involved with follow back schemes? The transparency most people in fintech crave from banks would be well observed in other areas.
Segmented solutions

I want more from these lists. I think they work if you are new to the topic or wanting a broad cross section of smart people to follow and learn more. For me though I want some categorisation.

Who is knowledgeable about payments? Investment Banking? Who is more tech than fin? Identity? APIs? Who is actually building something? Who is a consultant and this is their full time job? Who are the link machines? Who are the thinkers? Who are the writers? Who is the funniest? Who is the grumpiest? Who is the grumpiest and the funniest (Dave Birch or Ron Shevlin)? Who works in an actual bank and therefore is restricted in what they can say or are not allowed to speak at events to enable them to show off their wisdom, or otherwise, and grow their followership. Bitter much. No excuse now though either. All that takes either a very smart piece of software (How good is Little Bird?) or a lot of manual effort.

I want to see a list ranked on beliefs or qualities e.g. sound arguments, ability to prick pomposity (fintech pomposity prickers would be a list I’d follow and strive to be on). Call out flimsy arguments based on over leaned upon and probably US based statistics, make more of a debating ecosystem than self referencing circle jerks…or are they one in the same?

Who talked about something new? Who challenged? Who covers a specific geographic area well? These lists are very English language biased. I would like to see a geographic location for these people? How well represented is the Middle East? Africa? South America? What no Weibo lists?

What else could be done differently to drive greater value from these lists? Techmeme for financial services news? Where are the boundaries of FS and Fintech? Highlight great video talks? Slide decks. Or you know actual things being made.

Has anyone made a list of lists? Correlation between the lists to see who is on the most? Varying rank? Overall super influencer rank! Like Klout! Christ. I can see how easy it is too fall into this trap.
In summary

All these things are not easy. Pumping out lists based on Twitter followers/followees and the the conversation between said people against certain key words is. This will only ever be useful to a point. I think my own awkwardness at being on these lists but not being sure I am worthy/think I should be higher is an embarrassing paradox. Having said all this there are lots of very smart people on those lists. The majority are generous with sharing their thoughts, interests, links etc. do go and learn from them.

I know this post sounds like very, very sour grapes but I think deifying certain people/brands for their reckons and then ranking them on how many people real or otherwise are following them is false especially if it prevents other opinions being heard i.e. those making something real. The word influencer might be the real issue. It has become meaningless.

Also there are some obvious people missing from these lists. Where is Fred the shred? He must have had more influence on the whole fintech scene than all those lists combined. Not much cop on Twitter though is he?

Lists work, they appeal to our egos, they allows us to keep score and see where we fit but they are flawed and limited. Can we build more? Get more value out of this set of network tools we have? Build rabbit holes and webs to make it easier to go deeper on certain topics, unearth more voices, tunnel between ideas and ideals. I think we can and we should. Time to round up some influencers, what is the collective noun for fintech influencers I wonder?


PS If after all that you would like to employ me or ask me to write something (shorter) or speak at your conference (As well as long rambling posts I also do long rambling presentations as well) then please get in touch. I am currently ranked 62 on the City AM list, 52 on Jay Palter’s list and I am at the top of The Why-Have-they-(kinda)-Shut-up Guard’ on Duena’s list (this might change now I am a free man). Far more importantly some people just think I am not too unpleasant and relatively smart.


rshevlin says:

Great post. The fundamental problem here is that influence is not (easily) measurable. I hedged by sticking “easily” in there, because one COULD attempt to measure influence, but it would be difficult and cumbersome.

The basic problem with all these influencer lists is that they only look at what the alleged influencers are doing. Yet, to truly measure “influence” you have to look at the behaviors of OTHER people (i.e., influencees), and determine how their behaviors and attitudes have changed as a result of the influence perpetrated by the influencers.

If you post links on Twitter, and I click on them, I guess you could say that you “influenced” me to read those posts. If I think differently about the industry as a result of reading those posts, I’ve been influenced by the authors of those posts, right?

But the influencer lists only seem to capture the first part of that (the Twitter link).

Do I strive to be a “influencer” in banking and fintech? YOU BET. Totally admit it. But I strive to be a THOUGHT influencer (the latter example above) not a LINK influencer (the former example above).

When I see a list of fintech influencers that has Brett King ranked #47, I know the list is total bullshit. In fact, any list of supposed fintech influencers that doesn’t have Brett and Chris Skinner in the top 3 is bullshit.

Unless, that is, the list refines the definition (not just the scoring methodology) of influencer. There may be people in fintech who, by virtue of their Twitter prowess, influence what the rest of us in fintech read. But, to me, that’s just one type of influence.

Anyway, enough rambling from this InfluLoser. And thanks for a great post.


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