Our London Unconference, now an annual event held the day before Finovate Europe, was as unpredictable as always, which is why I like it so much. I really didn’t expect technology to feature so heavily, but it did.
One of the reasons why I like the Unconference format so much is that even as one of the organisers you have no idea what exactly is going to be discussed during the day. Once again, this proved true for the London event that has now become the annual precursor to Finovate. I thought that mobile payments might be up there again, and I thought there’d be shout for Bitcoin, but I was expecting a fair bit of non-bank and near-bank talk as well. But when I finished my introductory talk and went to look at the topics that people had chosen in order to start grouping them together I was rather taken aback to see so many topics around Bitcoin and crypto currency. This was a major change from the year before, when Bitcoin was still seen as being far from the mainstream.
We are going to gather together all of the post-it notes and organise them onto their roadmap (somehow, we haven’t quite worked is out yet) and then put online somewhere so that you can have a look at it but in lieu of that I thought I would post a few reflections on what turned out to be the three most popular topics of the day, because I think this helps to tell us something about directions within the industry.
I thought we would have a few people wanting to discuss different aspects of Bitcoin but I was definitely unprepared for the amount of interest that this topic generated. Both sessions were packed and with a wide variety of different people talking from different perspectives. I don’t know how everyone else felt but I learned a lot from listening to people who knew nothing about the topic asking the most basic questions, forcing people like me to think clearly and try to find ways to explain the topic and expand our own understanding, as well as listening to people who are starting businesses using the technology and can write the code to do it! By far the most interesting discussion I was involved in was about the capabilities of the underlying block chain technology and the ways in which the technology is the genuinely revolutionary part of the story. I listened with great interest to discussions about scripting, coin “colours” and suchlike.
There was a valuable discussion around Ethereum, just such an example of a block chain that uses all of this great new stuff to deliver something that will be way beyond payments and I’m going to see if we can juggle the Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum agenda to try and fit them in. Steve Mott and I are running a session on Bitcoin for bankers at BAI Payments Connect in Las Vegas next month and the unconference discussions have given me plenty of ideas to discuss with the industry there.
The second best attended pair of discussions concerned identity and authentication which served to reinforce my prejudice that these should be central aspects of the roadmap of any organisation looking to deliver retail financial services of any kind. I know that this prejudice will be reinforced further next week at GSMA where identity and authentication will be similarly centre stage. It looks as if the pressure for change is building to the point where something is actually going to happen to change. I found the more mature discussions about privacy (in the light of the NSA, Target and everything else) very useful indeed.
Rather surprisingly, the third best attended set of discussions were heavily technology-centric. These were the discussions about spell out HCE and BLE interfaces. I’ve written before on the blog that Consult Hyperion’s work in this space both in the UK and elsewhere has convinced me that the use of proximity and vicinity interfaces in mobile handsets is about to undergo rejuvenation and change at the cost of disruption to the existing supply chain. The structure that has been built up around Secure Elements (SEs) and Trusted Service Managers (TSMs) is not really optimal and there is going to be some pain tearing it down and rebuilding it.
Finally, can I have a heartfelt thanks to everybody who came along. I’ve had some very kind comments from attendees who appreciated the quality and range of discussion and debate, the opportunity to meet some new people from different perspectives (we had “traditional” banks, start-ups, innovators, journalists) to help them to get new ideas and test some old ones out again! See you all again this time next year.