[Dave Birch] Wow. The feedback that I’ve been getting about the Consult Hyperion Digital Money Forum is fantastic. I’d like to claim all the credit, but I just can’t. So for those of you who weren’t able to join us, I thought I’d try and explain why it worked so well and to give credit where it is due.


I’m always very clear and honest about our motives for running the Forum. Consult Hyperion is a consultancy, not a conference company. We run it as a not-for-profit event (which this year supported BUFFER, Action Medical Research, Jubilee Action and the Prostate Cancer charity) to reinforce this point. As a consultancy, we have a reputation for helping our customers — who range from Transport for London and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Barclaycard and First Data — to deliver new products and services using new technology for secure electronic transactions. We can’t generate all of these new ideas ourselves, so we use the Forum to explore, to question, to connect, to understand and to play with the boundary between new technology and business, and I think we succeed in doing all of these things and having fun at the same time. But why was it so good?

First of all, it’s the sponsors. Visa Europe have been supporters of the Forum for some years and they share our commitment to genuine discussion and debate, genuine learning about the future. They’re not interested in a bunch of marketing slides any more than we are, and as the main sponsor they provided not only money but encouragement and ideas. I can’t thank them enough. Our supporting sponsors, ACI Worldwide (who paid for the entertaining pub quiz, drinks and prizes) and Olswang (who paid for the speakers’ dinner and the books we gave out) were fantastic and enthusiastic. ACI Worldwide have been with us for many years and their forward-looking attitude is much appreciated. Our content partner CGAP not only suggested some speakers and panelists who delivered outstanding input but helped us to develop an important part of our thinking about the role of electronic payments in attacked financial (and therefore social) exclusion. Thanks to all of them: their support gave the event a head start.

Secondly, it’s the speakers and panelists. I try very hard to choose people that I personally respect and I also try very hard to bring together people who can help to make us all think by their combination or juxtaposition in order to exploit the nature of the event. Since it is always limited to a hundred people, there is plenty of scope for interaction and discussion once the speakers have set the tone.

Sometimes, though, even I am surprised by how well this works. I’ll give you two examples from this year.

The kick-off session that was a launchpad for the event so good that people were still talking to me about it two days later. It made us at look like geniuses for the brilliant juxtaposition of Tom Levenson and James Allan, but the truth of the matter is that James was due to present at last year’s Forum after I‘d blogged about him back in 2008 but was unfortunately ill on the day, which was why he was speaking this year instead! However it happened, though, it was an outstanding session. Novelist Martin Baker as chair and two speakers, with no Powerpoint, keeping an audience engrossed, entertained and stimulated for 90 minutes.


Tom told the wonderful story that I touched on back in January, laden with resonance for these troubled times, of the collapse of England’s medium of exchange and the subsequent revolution at the Mint under Sir Isaac Newton, a short period in our history where the framework for today was laid down: the industrial Mint and the Bank of England. Commerce was crippled because there was no cash, but by the time Newton died the City was on incredible trajectory. James Allan’s decision to try and live in London with no cash, using electronic payments only, was voluntary but no less illuminating. Personally, I found the most surprising part of his story was that fact that one transaction in two years that he was forced to conduct in cash was not the desperate purchase of £1 bottle of water at a pop concert or the fiver to a desperate mate but the UKP2,000 deposit for apartment rental to landlords who didn’t trust e-banking (so they said: many in the audience voiced the suspicion that this was all about tax evasion).

The second example was the expert panel on innovating out of poverty: with CGAP’s help I had brought together DD Dedo, the largest branchless banking agent network in Columbia, easypaisa in Pakistan, Ghana’s main mobile operator, a key regulator from the Philippines and (again by utter chance) an expert researching London’s migrant communities. Together they provided such a comprehensive, fascinating and inspirational perspective on the incredible impact of new technology on financial services for the poor that you really could have heard a pin drop while they were talking and the questions could have gone on for days. Again, it was the different perspectives that made the session.

I won’t go through the entire programme, suffice to say that I, along with many other attendees, came away with a raft of new ideas to think about from smart banknotes through mobile-owned banks to energy-based currencies. Joe Di Vanna‘s helicopter view of the impact of digital money, Ignacio Mas’ passionate exposition of the Financial Services for the Poor programme, Michael Salmony‘s defence of cash all played their part. Enough from me: here’s what other people actually said about it:

  • “Thank you so much for the absolutely wonderful two day experience of the Digital Money Forum 2010.”
  • “A huge thank you for including me in the forum, I met some really interesting people.”
  • “An eclectic mix of speakers ensured there was no room for boredom and it was a really thought provoking and enjoyable day.”
  • “Your fantastic Digital Money Forum.”

The final piece of the jigsaw was everyone who came along. We have a very well-informed audience from a very wide spectrum of interests and they played their part too: if you scan the delegate list you’ll see banks, telcos, non-bank payment organisations, business people, charities and NGOs, inventors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, consultancies and even the IMF. It’s this mix that generates the energy clearly visible in the room and makes the coffee, lunch, tea and drinks breaks so pleasant. I’m passionate about the potential from cross-fertilization and I’m convinced to provides a direct benefit to our customers.

I’ve already been asked if there will be a 14th Forum next year and the answer is, of course, yes.

As part of the Forum in London we played “The Dragon’s Factor’s Got Talent“, which was really enjoyable. We had some startups come along and pitch their ideas to the audience and a panel of judges. At the end of the Forum the audience and the panel had a chance to question them about their ideas and pick a winner. I stress this wasn’t the Darwinian struggle we see on TV shows of this type, but all for fun and to expose new ideas to a wider audience. The panel was:

VC Roberto Bonanzinga, a partner at Balderton Capital.

Businessperson Sandra Alzetta, Senior VP Innovation and New Product Development at Visa Europe.

Social Entrepreneur Jof Walters of Shilling Investment.

Potential customer Alasdair Gray of the British Retail Consortium.

There were two prizes awarded. The audience’s vote went to Todd Veri of Midpoint & Transfer, a online f/x matching service that launches in April. The judges were split between Kachingle, an online payment system for blogs and other content, and Touch2ID, a contactless card/biometric combination for providing proof of age being trialled in Wiltshire. I gave Sandra Alzetta of Visa Europe, the principal sponsors of the event, the casting vote and in the end she came down in favour of Touch2ID and I handed over the Forum prize to Giles Sergant of Touch2ID. Linking back to our opening talk from Professor Levenson, the prize was a 1696 William III silver sixpence, one of the very coins minted under Newton’s direction.


Thanks to everyone who took part in the competition, especially for not taking it too seriously: I hope that we were able to expose your ideas to a new audience and help you to meet some new people.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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