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Monday 25 June 2018

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Money 20/20 Europe – Review

Written by Peter Walker
08/06/18

Money 20/20 Europe moved from Copenhagen to Amsterdam for its 2018 edition, rolling a circus theme out across the huge RAI venue for three FinTech-focused days.

As an audience vote revealed on the last afternoon, Open Banking, the rise of AI and blockchain were the biggest themes of the conference – with the topics of many sessions and promotions of companies present roughly reflecting that.

The event was dominated by several big-hitter keynotes, with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak arguably the biggest draw among them. Thankfully he did not disappoint, sharing his knowledge and opinions on some of the big issues of the day.

“Bitcoin might be a bubble, but it’s on the right track,” he stated, alluding to suggestions the digital currency is headed for a dotcom-style bust, while pointing out that the blockchain technology underneath has survived many years now in its un-regulated, de-centralised form.

Perhaps playing to his European audience and affirming his liberal values, Wozniak tackled regulation and privacy by saying: “I’m thankful for Europe’s role in this, in the US we’re lagging behind, it’s so right wing nowadays in terms of protecting people’s civil liberties.”

While he was tight-lipped on any intention for Apple to move further into finance, Wozniak did criticise the security of online banking, where he apparently lost seven Bitcoin recently.

Joining him in making pledges about the security of user data was Carlos Torres Vila, chief executive at Spanish banking group BBVA, who added that new technology “is opening up big opportunities” to make personal data work better for customers. He added that in a couple of months his bank will cross the tipping point where more than half of the customers are using digital banking, with the mobile banking tipping point due early next year.

Meanwhile, HSBC’s group managing director and group chief operating officer Andy Maguire told the audience that it he gets “frustrated with his colleagues who try to reinvent the wheel” in terms of using customer data in communications.

“There’s a huge amount you can do with the basic transactional data we already have, but we don’t make the most of it. There’s a lot of things that banks have that no amount of big data and analytics can recreate,” he commented.

Charlotte Hogg, chief executive of Visa Europe, did the right thing and spent the first five minutes of her keynote by apologising for the company’s hardware failure which left millions of customers unable to make payments the previous Friday night. The room warmed to her after she pledged $100 million worth of investment in European FinTech startups.

As for the FinTechs, the chief executive of one of the firms closest to bridging the gap between blockchain and the mainstream - Ripple - used the event to state that he expects dozens of banks to be using its XRP solution by the end of next year.

“I've publicly stated that by the end of this year I have every confidence that major banks will use XRapid as a liquidity tool,” Brad Garlinghouse told CNBC at the conference. The XRP token is traded on cryptocurrency exchanges, so if institutions began using the xRapid product, demand for XRP would theoretically rise, given the large-scale transactions that would be taking place.

Ripple also used the event to announce a $50 million blockchain research initiative at 17 universities around the world, with chief cryptographer David Schwartz telling FStech said the initiative was to make sure there continues to be a stream of talented people coming into the space, regardless of whether they go on to work at Ripple, or a competitor.

Of course, they weren’t the only company to use the industry gathering to launch partnerships, projects and products.

Revealed live on stage, was a deal bringing together two of Europe's largest payments businesses, Nets and Concardis, to form a company with £1.1 billion of annual net revenue. If one announcement wasn’t enough, ING broke the news that it had invested in FinCompare in Germany, partnered with Funding Options in the UK, and expanded its Yolt app to France and Italy.

Elsewhere, UK-based entrepreneur community FinTech Circle announced a strategic partnership with China’s Global FinTech Lab, and AI firm Clinc partnered with Turkish bank İşbank to launch call centres powered by the technology.

Not all news was so positive though, with Citi analyst Ronit Ghose telling attendees that many existing financial institutions are unable to invest in innovative new technologies, as they are too busy with plugging holes in balance sheets.

Sharing insights from his work on the Bank of the Future research, he commented: “After the last financial crisis, bank CEOs focused on avoiding spending huge amounts of money on regulatory fines, so missed investment opportunities in new technologies and have subsequently fallen behind newer players.”

The panel debate tasked with figuring out how cryptocurrencies should be viewed also saw some strong views shared. Whether they be defined as a currency, commodity, utility or security, there was consensus that the emerging asset class must be regulated, and a widespread definition was a good starting place.

“I know that in a lot of circles, regulation and crypto don’t go together, but for any market to gain volume, institutional investors need to be involved and they’re currently cautious due to a lack of regulation – they need a stable framework to manage counterparty risk and risk to consumers,” stated Teana Baker-Taylor, chief marketing officer at Coinfloor.

Patrick Byrne, chief executive and founder at Overstock.com, was clear that anything which at some point in its lifecycle is deemed to meet the criteria to be a security, needs to be regulated.

“If you raise money from the public without following the rules, the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] can come along 20 years later and dismantle your business and everything you’ve built. If you’ve taken investor money and there’s an expectation that you’re going to be delivering something, then that’s a security,” he commented.

“The regulators are coming, there’s increasingly clearer signs since the DAO decision last year,” Byrne added, referring to the SEC deeming digital asset DAO Tokens as securities in July 2017 and cracking down on them.

In a similar session, Judith Rinearson, a partner at K&L Gates, stated: “A year ago ICOs [Initial Coin Offerings] were making their way across the US, then the DAO decision in July meant there’s no such thing as a utility, they’re all securities, which really put a chill on ICO side of things.”

While the less said about “world soccer player of the century” Michael Owen putting his brand behind a crypto exchange, the better, it was certainly a surprise to see Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas listed among the speakers. Unfortunately for admirers in the audience, he could only make it via video link, talking about the importance of securing against personal identity theft and fraud in his role as Biocryotology ambassador.

With PSD2 and Open Banking lowering the barriers to entry for FinTechs, artificial intelligence was high among the proposed solutions to traditional banking woes.

Terry Cordeiro, head of product management, applied science and intelligent products at Lloyds Banking Group, told the conference that “bots are not ready to be bankers” as moving money is a “hugely emotional” matter and far too complex for AI, which is still in its infancy.

This view was shared by David Shrier, the chief executive at Distilled Analytics, who admitted that AI is “not doing as well as we’d like it to”, with the huge promise not yet living up to reality – not what many in the room wanted to hear.



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