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Last week I was very interested to see that Bill Gates highlighted identity as a key problem at SIBOS. This was because I’d already noticed that there was a problem with one of the identities there: mine.

SIBOS is SWIFT’s annual conference and one of the fixed points in the banker’s calendar. This year it was in Boston and one of its notable features was a closing keynote by Bill Gates, focusing on the issue of financial inclusion.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on digital identity as being equally as important as digital money in transforming the lives of the least well-off. The link between financial and social inclusion, as we at Consult Hyperion well understand because of our experiences going back many years, is strong. I commented on this three years ago, again (as it happens) in response to comment from Bill Gates.

People who are trapped in the cash economy are the ones who are most vulnerable to theft and extortion, most likely to lose their hard-earned notes and coins or have them destroyed by monetary policies, pay the highest transaction costs, lack credit ratings or references and (in an example I heard from Elizabeth Berthe of Grameen at the Forum this year) most likely to have their life savings eaten by rats.

[From Mobile payments are an important tool for financial inclusion – Tomorrow’s Transactions]

In the SIBOS speech, Bill Gates also said that the way that banks have traditionally made money cannot survive but that the necessary transition from analogue to digital financial services will address inefficiencies in the system, leading to (amongst other things) dramatically reduced transaction costs. He specifically pointed to the potential of blockchain technology to replace the banks’ trusted role in the storage and transfer of value, which I thought was an interesting indicator of his thinking.

But back the point about identity.

When I ambled into SIBOS on the first day, I went to the registration desk and was asked to provide a photo ID. I had my wallet with me, so I took out my British driving licence (which they could not possibly verify, so it was a bit pointless) and gave it to the woman at the desk. Then I carried on tweeting or something. The woman at the desk handed me a badge and a bag and I went over to the entrance. They scanned my badge and waved me through and I went off to find the Innotribe room. It was only after I sat down in the room that I noticed something off about my badge.

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I had the badge for another David Birch. A David Birch that I have never met although according to LinkedIn I do know some people who both of us. Oh well, I thought. I’ll go back to the desk and swap it for my badge. I wondered if the other David Birch had my badge or whether he had been arrested for trying to pretend to be me, or whatever. But then I thought – hell no, I won’t go – as it will make for a great blog post about the importance of identity to be wandering around SWIFT’s flagship event with the wrong badge on. Eventually, I thought, someone will pull me up and then I’ll get the badge sorted.

They didn’t.

So off I went to Innotribe in time for the discussion about Bitcoin. The discussion was a little narrow, as all the people on stage were Bitcoin believers, and I got into a bit of trouble on Twitter for making fun of some of their comments about Bitcoin replacing the dollar and such like.

I was accused of being “vile” on Twitter for saying this sort of thing, an accusation I refute in every degree.

[From Bitcoin, currency and competition at Tomorrow’s Transactions.]

The next day, when I got to the conference and attempted ingress, the scanner flashed red and the gate staff told me I couldn’t come in. So I went back to the registration desk and told them that my badge didn’t work. So they gave me another one – exactly the same – and in I went.

On the third day I was supposed to be helping startups in the Innotribe area but I messed up my calendar and couldn’t make it, so I asked our US Managing Director Howard Hall (who actually knows far more about the startup world than I do) to step in for me. I gave him the other David Birch’s badge and off he went. The light went red and he was barred, so he did the same thing as me and went back to the registration desk where they gave him another copy of exactly the same badge – and in he went.

Next year I’ll take along a British driving licence in the name of Satoshi Nakamoto and see how it goes.

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