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I think I got a clear steer on areas for innovation at Next Bank Europe in Barcelona, and you won’t be surprised to discover that the top ones are all related to identity, not money.

Well, the lovely people at Next Bank Europe 2014 (#NBEU14) invited me down to the lovely city of Barcelona to take part in their September event and it was well worth the trip. Apart from catching up with some old fintech friends, always the most enjoyable part of any trip, and meeting some new people, something I always enjoy, it was interesting to see the fintech startup scene from a different perspective.

The reason that the #NBEU14 folks asked me to come along was to have an onstage discussion with Forum friend Jon Matonis, now of the Bitcoin Foundation, in order to educate the audience about the state and potential of bitcoin and associated technology. Now, I had noticed a tweet from Sam Maule in which he said that the stage looked like his daughter’s bedroom: there was sofa and a couple of chairs and a table and stuff all around. During the morning panel, it had occurred to me that the panelists weren’t really using the set, they were just sitting on the chairs and answering questions as if they were lined up on normal conference chairs. So that gave me an idea.

As we came to the end of the coffee break, I went over to Jon (who was expecting a conventional Q&A session) and said words to the effect of “just go sit on the sofa and we’ll be two old guys having an argument”. Jon, who is a great sport, said OK. We went up on stage and Jon sat back on the sofa. I sat down casually in one of the chairs and, began casually leafing through a copy of The Economist, before casually remarking on the XBT price. From there on, things gradually escalated into an all-out argument on stage.

We ignored the audience completely and got into it. Jon is a smart guy, and in my experience arguing with smart people is a pretty efficient method of learning, so I enjoyed every moment of it. I could see the countdown clock out of the corner of my eye, but the audience could not, so I kept the debate going until I saw the clock hit zero, at which I point I put down the microphone and somewhat over-theatrically flounced off stage!

Now, as it turned out, this fireside chat greatly exceeded expectations and, if Twitter reaction is anything to go by,  the delegates really appreciated this rather different approach to the traditional managed Q&A session on new technology.

Definitely one to put in the locker to use again at another event! Later in the day I was given the opportunity to chair the panel discussion on cross-border payments, a task I happily accepted given the calibre of the panellists: Brett Meyers (CEO and co-founder of CurrencyFair) and Philippe Gelis (Co-Founder & CEO at Kantox).

We had a super discussion about the nature of the cross-border payment market segments, the different business models that might emerge in each of them and potential evolution. Hats off to Brett and Philippe for building great companies and for being so open in the discussions about their sector. 

As for the centre of the event, the BBVA Open Talent 2014 pitches, there were three that I liked the most.

1. The pitch from Aire, that I’ve seen a couple of times before, about building a credit score for people without a credit history by using intelligent data analysis. I’m always interested in financial inclusion pitches and the credit history ones are important.

2. The pitch from [redacted] about allowing corporations to use gamification to turn their employees into hapless sock puppets astroturfing for marketing and PR. It is an idea so cynical and manipulative that it cannot fail. Corporations will trample over each other to sign up with these guys.

3. The winning pitch. A cloud-based legal agreement negotiation platform called ClauseMatch that looked as if it might save both time and money.

A super couple of days, even if I made the huge mistake of going out drinking with the British Binge-Drinking Bankers Battalion and can’t remember much of Thursday night.

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