Category: Ramblings

Faster Plastic Horse

Whenever some new fancy change to the ubiquitous plastic payment card my default reaction is usually negative. I know what let’s add something to the well known and used plastic cards that make it seem innovative! How about a real time balance display? A Passcode generator? A fingerprint reader? Let’s get a Kickstarter going to combine all your cards in one handy must be charged and Bluetooth connected to your mobile phone and can only be used in a country that has not implemented EMV yet* card, yeah? Please stop. I should embrace these innovative attempts to improve the humble and ubiquitous plastic card. They feel like like the embodiment of faster horse, which I agree with another Davies is not necessarily a bad thing but still are they really worthwhile?

*Coin coming soon in EMV flavour!

In the flurry of PR when these things are announced certain details are often left out of breathless press releases and masturbatory tech site reviews. Why not say how much they cost to make and issue in comparison to normal plastic? Say how many you will issue in this first phase and how you will be different from all those other plastic enhancement projects that never got past the (I suspect very limited) pilot stage? Be more honest about the realistic aims of these things.

Experiments yes but solving real issues? Really? Is this stuff really going to have a measurable impact outside of limited prototypes and trials? Yes mobile payments is still in its infancy, yes people are used to plastic but surely there are things between the two that move people along the seemingly inevitable journey to software based payment devices? But…not everyone has an NFC equipped smart phone. If you are too poor for a smartphone capable of these payments innovations then the chances are you are also too poor to be chosen for expensive plastic proofs of concept? Normal plastic cards probably cost under a dollar, these prototypes 10-20 dollars? Is that sustainable for a wider roll out?


Stable infrastructure

But what if the little plastic card that could did continue to be ubiquitous and software did not eat it but just augment and cement that ubiquity? Are the plastic rectangles the optimal technology for payments? The plastic card links to the ecosystem very well via embedded infrastructure. How many 85.60 × 53.98 mm size slots are there in the world? Millions? Billions? Every Point Of Sale terminal, ATM, card payment enabled vending machine, parking meter etc. The move from physical to software brings some benefits but enough to phase out this infrastructure? Not any time in the next few decades.

The mobile can easily be tied to the interaction of the card and terminal today. Realtime notifications are becoming widespread for plastic interactions. The payment information can easily be tied to the mobile device. The back end systems to support payments and feed them to whatever realtime system needs them. The front end process and interaction has time to morph as infrastructure is upgraded. If it needs to at all that is. Plastic cards are already pretty good, durable, inexpensive, known & understood.

Whether or not the behaviour or value of paying with your actual mobile device will ever beat some other payment device i.e. card, sticker, embedded chip etc. I am not sure anymore. Can mobile interaction better the already pretty slick process of contactless plastic? Chip & Pin? Maybe America was forcing the hand of a move to mobile payments by choosing to go chip & signature instead. (You fine American folk seem to love paper almost as much as you love guns)


You can lead a horse to water…

Mobile payments adoption has been slow and fragmented so far. Even the deified Apple Pay is not getting the traction we had all hoped. Even rich people who can afford an iPhone 6 are too lazy to stop using plastic cards and paper money it seems. It may need a generational shift to make it truly mainstream, the children for which plastic swiping and inserting habits are not yet ingrained.

We are yet to see software based payments really come into their own. Tokenisation and in app payments and stores without physical checkouts are all at the experimental stage at the moment and there are a whole host of design and behaviour challenges to overcome before we move away from the act of inserting or tapping to pay altogether. For most plastic still is the main form of payment interaction.

The changes to plastic cards over the years that have made it to near ubiquity are those proposed by the EMV giants. Chip cards and contactless being the big ones. Very worthwhile changes at differing levels of adoption. All the other trials and examples have not really gotten close. Could that change? What if these trials involved more companies? What if some of those Kickstarter experiments actually were moderately successful? Results of trials were shared more widely? Opened up somehow? Share more and maybe the chance of growing and wider adoption increases.

If you really are as customer centric as you say you are then you are industry centric too and not just in it for yourselves. Hippy Utopian dreamer that I am I know this is probably unrealistic. When atoms are involved it gets harder, when payments networks and regulations are involved that difficulty level passes extreme add in ego, greed and competitiveness and we can see why payments evolution has taken so long.


The finishing line

What I would really like to see gain a lot of interest and PR is the results of these trials. Let us know how many people tried them, how far and wide they have been rolled out, Did they solve the problem you thought they would? Did new interesting problems arise? Will they replace all cards going forwards? Will there be a phase two? What have you actually learnt from the trial? Those answers are the rewards for the company running the trial I suppose (to the pioneer the spoils) but I think it would make for a much more worthwhile experiment and more laudable PR if more of the hypotheses and results were shared rather than just the shiny faster plastic horse. Show the thing yes, but show more of the thinking and working out too.

Year in Review – 2015

Year in Review – 2015

Second year of doing this and I am glad I have done it again. Last year it inspired in me a bit of change. Thanks to Alexandra for bringing this to my attention.


1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

Kind of. I made a bit of a list of things to do before 40. Originally it was 14 then it became 40. I will probably achieve about 20 of them looking at it now. Still more than I have done in the past.


2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Well that has kind of been answered previously. Kind of answered and kind of kept to them.


3. Did anyone close to you give birth?



4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes. Not very close but someone who had a big impact on me in 2014/2015. Cancer is shit.


5. What countries did you visit?

Netherlands, France, Wales…I need more travel in my life. Should be a lot more next year as I have a honeymoon, stag do, a 40th birthday and a family holiday to Menorca already booked.


6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Job satisfaction, a greater sense of self worth, well behaved children and sleep.


7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory?

Two dates. The 7th of December was my last day at HSBC after over 17 years. More importantly January 22/23rd (the timing was a bit vague due to it being very late in Amsterdam) as it was when I proposed.


8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Well the previous proposal was pretty big as was the leaving work although arguable that is not an achievement.

Running was my biggest achievement by far. In February my beloved and I both signed up for a 10k run that was to take place in September. The sign up happened when I was at the heaviest I have ever been (Over 19st). By May I had run 10 miles and lost over 3 stone. Lapsed a bit during the summer but managed to run 10k in just under an hour in September. I have signed up for the Sheffield Half Marathon in April 2016.


9. What was your biggest failure?

I had a secondment at first direct and I messed up organising something. Very annoying mistake as it went downhill from there.


10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing major.


11. What was the best thing you bought?

I did buy a lot. I kitted out a cinema room in my converted garage. Nothing too grand just using some old kit and cheap bits. Highlight was a Hisense 55″ TV that is making watching films a joy.


12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

The people of Paris.


13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Like last year, gun owners in the US. Racists who seemed to have had a resurgence in 2015 (well more chance to show their hatred/fear/ignorance). The groups overlap quite significantly as well. That and the whole world is headed to hell, Syria, Russia, ISIS etc.


14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage payments once again. Can’t imagine having a different answer to this in the next 15 years.


15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Star Wars. The boys faces on Xmas morning. The thought of getting new and interesting employment.


16. What song/album will always remind you of 2014?

I really did not have enough music in my life this year. I do memorably remember listening to Young Fathers Old Rock and Roll a lot and at high volume. It is a tad aggressive though.


17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

Unemployed but 2015 was a much happier year overall than 2014.


18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Being organised. Reading. Writing. 2016 for sure…maybe. Less thinking more doing.


19. What do you wish you’d done less of?



20. How will you be spending Christmas?

At my house with my parents which was the first time in a long time I have spent Xmas day with them. it was good. They looked after my children allowing me to focus more on wine and cheese. The best present.


21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?

My sweetheart.


22. Did you fall in love in 2014?

Same answer as last year i.e. only deeper (still on for bonus points)


23. What was your favourite TV programme?

The Walking Dead continues to be excellent as does Game of Thrones. I was introduced to Nathan for You recently which has had me in stitches. Parks & Recreation finished strongly.


24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?



25. What was your favourite photo that you took?

I told my youngest son that Rabbits lived in the discarded mill stones that adorn the peak district (I think they are mill stones anyway) this is him looking for a rabbit.

View this post on Instagram

Told my son that rabbits live in the middle of mill stones.

A post shared by Aden Davies (@aden_76) on


26. What was the best book(s) you read?

Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Alfred Bester’s the Demolished Man. I only read a pitiful 10 books in 2015 when I had planned to read 25. I had a few months of commuting and that gave me the time to read. I struggle to ‘fit it in’ otherwise. Habit change required.


27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I did not listen to much new music this year it seems judging by my Spotify and history. Clark and John Grant showing up most. Spent a lot of time choosing music for our wedding. Maybe I should class the greatest discovery as the man who will sing at our wedding who we stumbled upon in a pub in West Kirby drunk one night at Easter.


28. What did you want and get?

My marriage proposal accepted? Redundancy payoff? The previously mentioned 55″ TV?


29. What did you want and not get?

Happiness at HSBC. Sleep.


30. What were your favourite films of this year?

One of the things I wanted to do was get back into watching films. I used to love to but over the last decade or so I have watched fewer and fewer. To help me with this I set about making a list of 100 films I would like to watch this year, a kind of the best films before I turn 40 type thing. I took the AFI 100, the BFI 100 and the Oscar Winners and took out all the ones I had seen already then made a list of 100 films. I then made a geeky spreadsheet to track all the films I had to watch/watched. I included running time and year so I should have a good source of data to do something pretty with if I can be bothered. As of writing I have watched 75 of the 100 classics and another 35 films that were not on the list. 110 films this year is a great total and I have loved it. Without a doubt the ones I enjoyed the most were the Ealing Comedies. In fact pretty much anything with Alec Guinness in. The Lavender Hill Mob and Bridge on the River Kwai being particular highlights.


31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 39. Once again I cannot remember what I did. Birthdays seem to be pretty dull these days. my youngest son having his birthday next day does limit the scope of them some what.


32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not screwing up a secondment. My treadmill not breaking and being out of operation for over three months due to the incompetence of two companies. Not putting weight back on while the treadmill was out of order.


33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

I lost a lot of weight this year (I have put a bit back on over the last two months though) so I have some skinnier clothes. Still the same jeans and shirt combos though, just better fitting and easier to buy.


34. What kept you sane?

My sweetheart once again. Exercise. The occasional pint.


35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

erm…always rubbish at this. Also as I get married in about 8 weeks there is only one girl for me!


36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Paris, twice. Election fuckwittery and awful polling. Millions of refugees terrifying us privileged Europeans and being treated like subhumans.


37. Who did you miss?

No one really.


38. Who was the best new person you met?

After 2014 spent living in a cave it seemed at the time, thankfully 2015 was much more sociable. Met lots of new people especially towards the end of the year after announcing my impending unemployment and lots of nice people were very helpful. Made me realise how much I like meeting new people/reconnecting with ones I don’t see often enough in real life.


39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Play to my strengths and don’t worry about my weaknesses (too much). Never let someone else book meetings you are meant to be chairing. Make sure your holidays are in your calendar.


40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Don’t let fear of feeling fool you
What you see sets you apart
And there’s nothing here to bind you

Richard Hawley – Tonight The Street are Ours.


And that is that. Another year done. 2016 will be a year of immense change for me. I shall be wed, turn 40 and I will work for a different company for the first time in over 17 years (assuming I manage to get a job that is). It is going to be a very interesting year.

Big Bang Data, Big Bank Data


Last week I got chance to visit the Big Bang Data exhibition at the Embankment Galleries in Somerset House. It was great. You should go.


The exhibition explains the size, weight, shape, complexity and reality of data.

Timo Arnall’s Internet Machine film greets you as you enter. A floor to ceiling three projector fired video of a Telefonica data centre.  A look inside the physical home and engine room of the cloud. I did enjoy it because I am a data centre nerd but I must admit that I kept wondering why Telefonica had not implemented hot/cold aisle containment.

Next up was Ryoji ikeda’s Datatron which I loved. Pitch black room and a stark but mesmorising ceiling high visualisation of brilliance. IMG_20151210_145815

I spent a long time watching it on loop then try to take selfie’s (which are encouraged) in front of it with my rubbish Doogee X5 camera.

Then it is into the main exhibition space which features lots of individual pieces of work by very smart people some of which I have had the pleasure to meet.

It was great to see Stephanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi Dear Data project in real life. A ‘year-long, analog data drawing project’ i.e. a weekly set of personal data visualised by the artists and then posted to each other as they lived on opposite sides of the world UK & West Coast of the US. as well as the cards you can see the test drawings and working out.

Dan Williams and Nat Buckley have been investigated the cabling and network infrastructure of London. Producing a crazy wall of photographs, notes, sketches and more to show the infrastructure under our feet and above our heads. The HFT in my backyard piece referenced below is well worth a read.


There is much, much more such as data storage mechanisams from punch cards to DNA, cross sections of undersea cables, maps of those cables and a global map of key data centres (not many banks though), David Mccandless’ Debtris,  James Bridle’s Where the fuck was I book and a great visualisation of redacted material, and to end the show a vending machine that dispensed a packet of crisps when a word related to recession and the credit crisis was tweeted. I waited quite a while to no avail.

I wonder what non-data nerds make of this exhibition I can imagine it opens quite a few eyes to what is done with our data and how it used, carried and manipulated. Go.



It also made me think about something I have long wanted to do with banking data. I would love to see a follow up to this called Big Bank Data that just focused on the Financial Services industry. They are as mysterious and as opaquely branded as the cloud.

It was touched on in this exhibit with references to the credit crisis and HFT etc. I am sure there is more about the size and scale of banks. Imagine a realtime visualisation of payments traversing the globe? Stock exchange traffic? Real HFT visualisations? Data from the countless cyberthreats banks have to deal with every minute of the day? the wax and wane of global real estate owned by banks for their branches, the number of banks today vs 10 years ago, what exactly are these legacy technologies banks run on? If they are public utilities should it not be public? How about delving into the links to governments.

I would love to get some massive bank data sets and hand them over to the artists involved in this exhibition. What stories would they tell? What insights would they glean? That would cause a Big Bang.

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.

PSD2 – the second coming is nigh

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Not only is PSD2 (Payments Services Directive) the second iteration of PSD it is also seen as the second coming by many in financial services, particularly that random bunch of new players broadly placed under the brand of Fintech. If you are not familiar with the 170 odd page delight of a read then here is a link to it though I highly recommend Starling Bank’s far shorter explanation, which also exudes their excitement for it. For a longer more detailed insight try this from Out-Law.

The excitement is brought about due to PSD2 promising to deliver an open payment network through APIs (PSD2 will do much more but this is the bit people are focusing on most). These will let companies with the appropriate license have the ability to make payment instructions upon bank accounts. Those with access are known as payment initiation services providers (PISPs) i.e. make payments, move money. The second group can aggregate transaction data from multiple institutions and are known as account information services providers (AISPs). The final text of the European wide regulation got rubber stamped in the European Parliament at the beginning of October. This means that by the beginning of December the countdown will begin. Member states and their banks / financial service providers have two years to implement the changes and place them into law. By the 1st January 2018 (if not a smidgen before) the second coming will be upon us.

In parallel to this in the UK we have the Open Banking Working Group (OBWG). A group brought together in response to the request from the Treasury for information on APIs and open data in banking. The OBWG is co chaired by The Open Data Institute and is represented by a host of experts across six sub committees from many aspects of finance. The aims around data access are similar to that of PSD2 (and their will be alignment) but the individual customer seems to be slightly more of a focus for the OBWG.

Let me state that I personally think both of these initiatives are brilliant. Access of this nature has been long needed to not only stimulate the market but more importantly give banking customers (pretty much all of us) access to our own transaction data in a more useful form than a downloadable spreadsheet. I have said this plenty of times in the past. The ability for payment instructions to be made on top of the existing accounts effectively means that the entire banking experience could be replaced by a third-party service and allow you top operate your banking across all institutions, with which you have a relationship, in a single interface.

That above are just the obvious use cases, these changes should unleash upon the world a wave of innovation like nothing the financial services world has seen…or maybe not. Plenty of people are imagining more such as Mondo, David, Matt etc. All good.

But I have a few concerns….

Banking is a slow moving ass and sometimes needs the stick of regulation to get it moving. What if the mandatory nature of this regulatory stick does not lead to an ideal solution to the problem it is trying to fix? The Technical Standards for PSD2 are 12 months behind the regulatory standards. This means there will be 12 months of analysing/designing/guessing how the compliant solutions should operate. The authentication methods to be used for access to data and the creation of payment instructions are key implementations upon which the hopes of many rest. Get this wrong and implement some clunky awful and unworkable solution and the blossom of innovation they hope to nurture will never appear.

Are the right level of people involved in the creation of these technical standards? I hope the very companies that desire this the most get to have an at least equal say in the design of these access methods. I also hope that people with experience of doing this kind of change before are also involved. For example the W3C (Web Governing Standards Body) are currently building out the Web Payments charter. The timescales align very well but I believe the twain have never met. The PSD2 proposed changes feel like they should fit perfectly or at least very well with the changing nature of payments as part of the fabric of the web. Leaving this design to bankers and policy makers alone feels risky to me.

In the UK the Open Banking Working Group have explicitly stated OAUTH as a mechanism of choice to be used for delegated access to data which is good news. While it may not be perfect it is a widely used standard and I believe these changes should be looking to use the best of breed of today rather than trying to create new standards.

Another aspect I am not clear on (and maybe completely wrong about) is the nature of access available to the individual customer. PSD2 refers to PISPs and AISPs but what about the humble user? Can I choose where I plug that data? Will I only be able to choose from an approved (by whom?) list of licensed and regulated AISPs? Can I not use the data myself in my own apps if I have the talent to build such things? Can I link that data to AISPs in other countries? What about companies outside the jurisdiction of PSD2? Are there rules around this data that make it far more sacred than it needs to be? People have been able to download and upload spreadsheets wherever they see fit for decades.

This automated feed does indeed bring greater risk but that being said hampering it with rules for rules sake may present more of a risk to growth than the threat risk perceived.

I am also concerned that banks will see this as yet another regulatory demand placed upon them outside of their business strategy. This means compliance as a bare minimum and nothing else. This is what the Fintech horde are hoping for. Complacency compliance instead of the incumbent providers taking the massive opportunity before them and making a real digital step forward. Clearly some banks will play this differently to others and history will no doubt show who played their hand most wisely. This is another reason that the people driving PSD2 cannot just be the banks or the regulators.

And finally…what happens when Apple/Amazon/Facebook/Google apply for their AISP/PISP licenses. Second coming gets a California style hype boost then and bank boardrooms across Europe hit the panic button. Maybe.

PSD represents a fundamental change to the way banking operates across Europe and possible the most seismic shift in ‘centuries of stony sleep’. The implementation of it will be key to ensure this delivers truly open payments and data access and not just the change that satisfies the regulation minimums. Let’s see what happens between now and January 2018 and then beyond.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats

Make things open, it makes things better e.g. blog freely

I was lucky enough to see Ben Terrett, the then Head of Design at the Government Digital Service (GDS), speak at the RSA in September. His talk was entitled ‘From Persuasion to Usability – Design Meets the Internet’ about how design at it’s best. One of the great things (out of many) that Ben spoke is making things open makes them better. One of the examples of this openness at GDS is through their great use of the humble blog.

People at all levels in the organisation write posts about the work they are doing/have done, the things they have learnt, the things that are broken etc. That sounds a really simple thing to do but in my experience getting that level of commitment to publishing in this way is not an easy task. Sharing that widely inside an organisation is not the norm let alone outside.

Now GDS are spending public money so they are of public interest but I think companies that are part of the private sector in competitive industries would do well to copy the model. I asked a question to Ben during the talk about whether or not this could work in the private sector and his original answer was that he did not know as he had not tried it but that it should.

‘ is a public project done with public money so you should publish everything have full transparency. But at the same time we believe in being open…one of the founding principles of the Internet is being open. In a private organisation it would be slightly different.

Having said that the examples that I have shown you there are font sizes and colours and I can’t see that there is any competitive advantage in keeping those secret. I think the privacy thing would be way smaller than you think it would be. Certainly you should be open by default…Openness also means just talking about what you are doing…having a culture of blogging, having visible leadership, having leaders that are on Twitter, blogging, talking about what they are doing…’

Ben CEO Fonts

I love Ben’s answer. He makes it sound so simple yet in my limited experience it is a very hard thing to achieve unless that belief is shared at the very top. You have to have enough people in the organisation that are bought into it and that are also willing to write. When Ben or Mike Bracken or Tom Loosemore post it shows that this is something right from the top and that, I imagine, encourages others to get involved (I wonder how people are chosen to post actually?). It is not just for leaders though it is for all levels of staff through out the organisation.

The ability to write in this way is a real element of leadership. The encouragement of others to do so even greater. The written word can be easily misconstrued and is also almost irrevocable and as such maybe is seen as an act of transparency too far for some so called leaders.

There are other issues with this way of writing and publishing. The simple act of giving people a voice and a platform to speak flies in the face of the command and control structure of most large organisations. It may collide with the professional one way broadcast output from the communications department

Also for most the day to day work alone prevents this kind of sharing and writing when it is not deemed important. When all that matters is hitting deadlines then how you got there is seen as of little consequence and is not reflected in your annual objectives. Showing your working out helps join up an organisation because no doubt someone is facing similar challenges everyday.

GDS Blog

The blog is such a simple thing on the face of it but so few companies have really used them well. In the constant strive for the almost mythical differentiation, then doing some basic things really well can make you stand out a mile. Most people get excited about the new platforms and new forms of media and reach and sharing but ultimately writing openly, honestly and interestingly is a powerful skill. The blog can amplify the impact of those words greatly and I wish we saw more good usage of blogs inside and outside of companies.

Ben is now at the Co-Operative along with other colleagues from the GDS including Mike Bracken. One of the first public things they have done is to start a blog. ‘Make things open, it makes things better’ is seemingly far from a platitude.

You can watch Ben’s brilliant talk and Q&A here. He covered a hell of a lot more than the one thing I have written about.

Future of transactions workshop homework

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a future of transactions workshop by James Haycock of Adaptive Lab. It was facilitated and designed by the brilliant John Wilshire and Scott Smith. This post is not really about the workshop (as it is a work in progress and if you want to know more you should speak to Adaptive Lab, and you really should because it was brilliant) but it is about the prework for it.

The task was to come up with three scenarios on potential impacts to transactions in the next 5-7 years.

I typed a lot of notes and half thoughts the night before. I just rediscovered those notes and have decided to tidy them up slightly and post them. Mainly so I remember them a little better hopefully. We touched on some of the topics below in the workshop but certainly not all.

These fragments will hopefully form parts of a series of posts in the future but here is the list

How far can transparency go? Transparency is the big one for me. Governments and organisations are pretty bad at it.
Gov decisions, lobbying.
New civic infrastructures? Bank network how it works becomes open to public scrutiny.
Data source proving.
Tax regime badging of providers? Certificates for businesses that pay taxes well?
The buffer of banking? Buffers radical transparency around wages, customer numbers, funding, burn rate etc is great. What if a bigger org took that approach?

Show the end to end of real transactions. Explain the cost by showing the steps? Ties into transparent banking? Would also be horrific reading.

This call is being recorded for training purposes. Access to all calls, transcripts, system entries, mistakes highlighted? Compliance failures in realtime? Human to human contact too risky in the future because of regulatory regimes?

Sensor capability in phones, augmented wearables. Sharing value chains. Bounds of awkwardness. Medical data. Consumption data. Obvious but…

DNA pay. Saliva quicker than a fiver. Oof.
Awkward biometrics. Contextual I.e. Callsign. Face interactions. Photo with ID via webcam. Selfie sign up / payments. Stolen fingerprints. Face/off

Digital identity – addressless, real name, differing personas, countryless,
Tokenised payments. One time vs long time customer?
Entitlements commercial vs personal? Blurred lines between who you are at work?
Identity a Mixture of software and hardware. Paper and digital. How will that mix play out? Embedded? Non-hack able?

Banking products of today too blunt. Still tied to a branch. Sort code.

Regulatory – 5 years after PSD2? What other regulatory changes will there be (cyber hardening etc.)
Combined data by user, regulatory analysis of merge. Other industry equivalents? API for everything? Then what?

Using regs to drive change may not deliver the best solution. Regulatory fails? European cookie, bank account 7 day transfer, regs / bodies build joint industry solutions not fit? PAYM

Personal Data Stores – can that hand back to customers work? Technical/design challenge to overcome apathy. Can it scale? Will it be just a nerds dream?

Does anyone really have the power to tie together? Gift data? Sell data? Inherit data?

Crafted me vs real me vs aspirational me. Spotify / scrobble / Netflix watching. Share who you want to be. Share who you really are? APML for marketing vs APML for health service. .

VRM – purchase power. Tender vs browse. Personal RFP? Only viable for some transactions. Primark not big players?

Transfer – soft SIM. No lock in to anything. As the sign up gets ever more seamless, saying goodbye will become just as seamless. Hardware? Lock out free?

Midata for social web? Apple? Apps purchased on Apple = purchased on Android if you switch? Banking corollary?

Ecosystem of finance? Business models? No data analysis allowed/must be fully public?

Backlash to tech? Artisanal banking. Paper & branch only. Handwritten ledger. IT free bank? No longer possible?

W3C payments. Money at the HTTP level? What does it mean. Walled garden payment silos vs cross industry collab?

Digital transfer of assets, algorithmic proof.
Decentralised dreams. Stay as dreams. A singular entity usually creates the ‘best’ solution that goes mainstream.

America stops running the world? DNS, money routing, AML? Not everything has to go through them. New pipes. whatever happened to WiMAX? User made mesh networks on a huge scale. Linked to our own personal Loons.

Like I said a bit of a random splurge but an interesting (for me) reflection on where my head went in relation to that question at that time. Pretty proud of the fact that I did not mention the Blockchain…way too obvious. Thanks for the invite it was a great event and switched back on long dormant parts of my brain.

We are so close to the perfect mainstream mobile…

…yet still so far and there are a few things stopping us from getting there. Yes I am currently trying to buy a ‘Midrange’ Android phone and yes it is pissing me off.

The biggest, well smallest, problem is hardware vendors obsession with less memory for ‘selected markets’ i.e. poorer markets. The 8GB smartphone is no use to anyone rich or poor, when the OS takes up over half that space. Aimed at emerging markets because people who can’t spend a lot on phones can’t buy apps or take photos they must assume.

When will smartphone makers just agree that 32gb is the entry level for today stop using 8GB models to make people think about a flagship purchase instead. Apple keep their previous years model available but just with 8GB so no one thinks about actually buying old models and keeping the secondhand market thriving. Stop being dicks.

In fact 64gb is not really a stretch. 32gb / 64gb NAND chips are currently trading between $1.50 to $3.00. If the baseline for all smartphones was 32gb the price of those chips would fall through the floor. I know the margins are thin and the rest of the components will be sub dollar if not sub 10c but come on…move the ecosystem along without adding more complexity and confusion to your customers. Also why don’t phone companies just install the OS on a separate memory chip? Limit their own OS to a certain size and give customers the stated space so 8GB really is 8Gb not around 2gb once the OS is installed (yes I know the software needs to allow for that etc.).

In the UK the Moto G 3rd gen is £179 for 8Gb and £209 for the 16gb (which also features dual SIM slots) is currently the king of the mid range. But it looks like £30 for about 75c of memory. Not quite Apple levels of price gouging but still it looks like the 8GB versions are just useless and limiting the life of devices (which clearly to sell more phones you obviously want to do, especially if you make phones but it looks increasingly like a shitty short term strategy and very wasteful). Although I suspect Motorola also want people to consider their higher end flagship e.g. the Moto X Play.

We have the basic components for the perfect handset for most, yet no company really seems to be capable of executing on it. For me the perfect handset looks something like this.

Perfect Device

  • 4.5 – 5″ screen. I don’t want anything bigger, 4.5″ is plenty big enough for most. The iPhone 6 screen is 4.7″, My 4S is is just 3.5″ and I manage just fine…not the size, it is what you do with it etc.
  • 2gb of RAM, should be enough for most things
  • A decent enough quadcore processor, something that runs current OS versions well and is good enough for the next few too
  • 720p resolution is just fine
  • 32GB of Flash storage memory, 64Gb even better
  • MicroSD Card slot
  • 3000+Mah Battery (bigger, again better. The thing should last a full working day of real usage)
  • Android 5.0/5,1 as close to stock as possible with a good track record for updates
  • As good a camera as is possible. 13mp seems fairly entry level but stats are meaningless here just make it good and fast and decent in low light

How skinny or heavy the phone is not really of major concern. Yes it needs to be made of sound materials with a decent look about it but a rectangular device is what we are aiming for. I currently use an iPhone 4s in a Skech case which is over 13mm thick. And weighs over 160g. I would trade weight, thinness and screen size for battery life everytime. There must be some sort of golden ratio for these things, a sort of mobile phone version of knob feel? Pocket/hand feel? (this is reaching peak innuendo now).

I want all this for under £200 I expect it to be available for nearer to £100 by the end of 2016. These parts are available in devices under this price today just not seemingly all in one device. A few of the Chinese brands are getting very close but those devices are not widely available in the UK and are not sold by reputable/mainstream suppliers or directly to the UK.



The Nubia Mini 9 by ZTE looks like an almost perfect device apart from there seemingly being no 32gb version and it not really being for sale over yet here and may never be widely.

The Moto G 3rd Gen feels like it is getting close (they are hampered by their confusing naming scheme, average cameras and their various market models defined mainly by stupid storage restrictions).

The Sony M4 Aqua was a great device crippled by an 8gb only model (in the UK). Look at Sony’s own website lavishly praising the device on all fronts except one. Try and find out how much memory it has. 

The Sony M5 looks even better but Sony have said they will not launch it in the UK instead going with the much more expensive Z line (Z5 entry level = £439).

The company that really nails the ‘good enough standard for mobile devices’ will win a huge share if they can execute right. Insisting on making a multitude of SKUs for different markets and crippling them with low memory to stop people buying them over flagship models or just plain not making them available in all markets is just annoying. Sony the M5 is a total winner of a handset. No wonder you are reputedly losing 1 million dollars a day through your handset division. Employ fewer MBAs and more designers.

All the pieces are there to make what I see as the perfect mainstream handset, just that for a variety of business model reasons or design blindness, no one seems willing to make it. Will a company be brave enough/insightful enough to do it and execute well enough to disrupt the market and force the other players to raise their game?

More Issues

Another bugbear of mine is the way mobile phones are sold. Feels like the purchasing shift is only just starting to switch away from devices all being bundled with a contract and provider so the devices are not sold the same way as other electronic less infrastructure bound devices. Roll on soft SIMs.

This powerful play by telcos also means handsets are sold by a number of bizarre firms you have barely heard of that get them from who knows where. The mainstream retailers sell a few pay as you go / SIM free but it is still very limited / focused on a particular telco. Roll on more unlocked direct sales from manufacturers. Xiaomi, ZTE, Huawei et al have a great opportunity to really disrupt the way phones are made and sold. No way I am going to commit to a 2 year contract at £45 as I know have a contract under £15 a month for all you can use minutes and text and a good few GBs of data. The model of phone ownership for me has changed.

If only Apple would stop being ‘luxury’ providers and make a spec of iPhone that matches the above and prices it around the £250 mark. I would not be considering an Android device. I suspect it would dent Android growth significantly. Game over record profits at Apple I suspect as well though as fewer people buy the £700 flagship devices. Business is complicated innit.

Fix it

Come on handset and telcos sort it out. Move the market and set 32gb as the standard for memory. Build the best phone you can at the right price point. Your focus on market/region specific devices is crippling you. Don’t force purchase choices by setting limitations aimed at making people think about the next level up. Fewer models, fewer restrictive features. The less flash memory the more your brand disappears off my shopping list in a flash.

The shapes of things

In addition to last weeks post about shelves and boxes that fit them perfectly I have more dull thoughts about searching for things for my house. We have had a new bathroom fitted recently. We are at the finishing stages now and we are buying accessories. We are looking to solve an old problem and our new shower has brought about a new problem.

1. Why aren’t toothbrusher holders designed for elctric toothbrushes?

Tiny little pots that even in pairs can barely hold four electric toothbrushes and two tubes of toothpaste (adults and kids tubes). My Google searching has not revealed much that answers this tech savvy, dental hygeine aware, nuclear family need. Bravo to Next though who have.

Next toothbrush holder

Only downside is their range of colours / designs don’t match out bathroom. So close yet so frustratingly far. Next, please do a plain grey version of the sandstone range.

2. Why are there no bath mats that go round corners?

The door to our new shower is on a corner. I would like an L Shaped Bath Mat. I can only find this one which seems to no longer be made and also looks like it is from the 70s

l shaped

My only option it feels at the moment is to get a large square one and cut it. I mean it is 2015 can’t I 3D print / weave one on demand yet? No robo looms in the old mill towns of West Yorkshire? Pah. Better yet maybe a talented artist on Folksy could make one for me?

My interior deisgn inspired reckon today is something about spotting the ever changing user need. Designing an item with the bigger context in mind of how it will be used in an ever evolving space. Also why isn’t this stuff easier to search for? Come on Web 3.0 nerds solve this massively complex problem so lazy fat people like me can buy better bath mats and toothbrush holders. It is what the marketing dollars are VC funding you to fix.

PS: I need to think of some tenuous links to banks and stuff for my day job. I think user needs driven products is an obvious one to make though. Surely the Blockchain can solve this problem? It has been mooted to solve almost everything else. Done.

Why is STRATEGY so secret?

I am intrigued by the communication status of STRATEGY in large organisations. Is the defualt to keep the STRATEGY as private as possible so that only the generals at the top of the organisation know the intricacies of it? Is the STRATEGY then abstracted to differeing levels as it passes down the hierachy? Is the pinnacle of that abstraction what is published on the corporate website? A pithy set of statements oft described as the mission statement or purpose?

I get confused by this process. There are elements and goals of STRATEGY that of course must remain private e.g. sales/purchases of businesses, redundancies etc. but is the default of the strategy to keep as much as possible private to maintain STRATEGIC advantage over competitors? Or is this default privacy setting to ensure the vagueness can be used as a way of saying we are still on track when things go a little awry? Are there differing types of STRATEGY that could be treated differently? e.g a Digital STRATEGY? An internal collaboration STRATEGY? A social STRATEGY?

I think the problem with these appraoches is that the strategy becomes so secret that not enough of a large organisation know what it actually means, what directon they are heading, what impact it has on the day to day and more importantly the day tomorrow.

What if large organisations published their STRATEGIES? Made them open to every member of staff? To every customer? To everyone.