Money 2020 Europe in Amsterdam was bigger than last year’s event in Copenhagen but kept the same mixture of efficiency and serendipity that we love it for. Seven different tracks, sponsors suites all around, a full programme all day and every day but with a central atrium where everyone could meet, plenty of food areas where you could sit and chat, a huge but not overwhelming exhibition area, panels ranging from the serious and intellectual to the more frivolous but still educational and keynote speakers that you actually wanted to see. It was great, and the CHYP team set up camp there on the Sunday afternoon so as not to waste a moment of it. On Sunday evening we hosted a client reception with our friends from CCGroup and had an enjoyable start.

Yes, the event had all of those things. But it was also fun. In the lead up to the event I didn’t really pay attention to the circus theme that they were creating for it. Yet it worked. Big time. The Money 2020 team had created such an interesting atmosphere! As soon as you walked in in the morning you felt good about being there and the circus shtick was actually quite charming.

I’m not afraid to admit it, even to my Finance Director. We had fun! We met clients and prospective clients but we also met friends old and new. We spent long days in and out of meetings then we went to a street party until all hours. We had client events in nightclubs and parks. I’m already looking forward to going again next year and there really aren’t that many events you can say that about. The “street party” where they blocked off a whole street downtown and gave it over to Money2020 revellers was just amazing.

There was plenty of serious business getting done there as well. Here I am taking part in the Gemalto discussion about digital identity in the Amstelpark, for example.And this sort of thing was going on all the time – there was no shortage of stimulation as the bankers, fintechs, techs and others moved from the event to event.

The event itself had some terrific tracks that included presentations and panel discussions with many of Europe’s key players in the fintech space. I won’t go through all of the here but I will pick out out a couple of sessions that got talked about. Charlotte Hogg, the CEO of Visa Europe, had the unenviable job of giving a keynote on the Monday after the Friday before but handled herself perfectly. It wasn’t her fault that the authorisation network had fallen over but she took responsibility and delivered an appropriate apology. In fact, she inspired me to do the same later in the day when I had the even more unenviable task of telling the delegates gathered at the main stage that noted Hollywood personality would not be turning up in person to talk about identity fraud, biometrics and strong authentication but had instead sent a video.

When we were talking about the key themes from the event afterwards, I said that I thought that there were quite a few and that there were no standout dominant memes stalking the arena floor. Looking back on it, however, I think that there were three things that stood out to our team as distinct opportunities because they are areas where organisational strategies are still being formed and the interaction between technology, business and regulation is taking us in interesting directions.

The first of these was, obviously, identity. Our identity deep dive session on Wednesday morning was standing-room only. For a session on the morning of the final day to be this full means only one thing: that it’s a key topic for delegate take-aways. I hope our delegates were not disappointed. I had a great panel (Emma Lindley from Visa, Katryna Dow from Meeco, Jacoba Sieders from ABN Amro and Roger Haenni from Datum) and practical case studies from ForgeRock to finish the session. I gave quite a detailed presentation talking the delegates through Consult Hyperion’s well-established “three domain identity” model (3DID), using to explore issues around population-scale identity, mass-market identity services and the potential for the blockchain to disrupt: you can see it here:
Digital Identity, Not Digitised Identity from David Birch
Identity permeated throughout other discussions and debates as well. I think they may have to add a whole Identity 2020 day next time!
Everyone understood just how pressing the need for mass market solutions to deliver identification, authentication and authorisation services to support transactions and there were plenty of talks about biometrics, blockchains and bots implementing digital identity for our new online world.

The second key theme was open banking and the regulatory shaping of the financial services sector. My Consult Hyperion colleague Tim Richards ran the workshop on Open Banking on the final day, helping organisations to think through their competitive strategies in the face of the PSD2-inspired asymmetric warfare between banks and competitors. (Asymmetric because retailers and others will have access to the banks’ customer data but the banks have no reciprocal right.)

The relationship between PSD2, GDPR and bank strategies in the face of competition from internet giants and the Asian players is complex and fascinating and I heard many different scenarios from different perspectives over coffee and drinks. A commonly heard view was that the number of banks in Europe will shrink significantly over the next 5-10 years as will the number of payment card transactions. I came away certain that the long-term impact of open banking is far greater than many people think, a point I made when I was interviewed for “Studio V”, the Verifone video channel [Youtube, 5m50s].

The final, and I think in the long run most important, key theme was artificial intelligence. AI, and in particular machine learning (which is good for the incumbents because they have the massive quantities of data needed to fuel it). As several speakers noted at different points in the event, AI is coming and it’s coming pretty quickly. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine what the impact will be because bots selling financial services to bots while being regulated by bots takes us into a new world. While there was plenty of talk about jobs going, there was a surprising amount of optimism around as well. I suspect that many of the delegates are fundamentally optimistic people anyway, but hearing the legend (an overused term, but wholly appropriate in this case) Steve Wozniak talk positively about building ethics into machines would certainly have helped them look away from Terminator-style dystopias.

On which topic, I had the good fortune to chair the AI “bulls and bears” session, where experts Clara Durodie from Cognitive Finance, Terry Cordeiro from Lloyds Banking, Emma Stromfelt from Swedbank and Prof. Markos Zachariadis from Warwick Business School set out competing visions for AI in financial services and then we had the audience vote for the winner (which was Emma, as it happened).

For a final fun session on Wednesday afternoon, I took part in the “Room 101” debate (based on the British TV show of the same name). I decided to have a go at persuading the audience to join me in consigning “The Blockchain” to Room 101 on the grounds that it was nothing more than an expensive and inefficient database, something that I was indeed able to do!

I really don’t know how they do it. In few short years money 2020 has become a destination event for a great many people working across the world of financial services technology. Each year it raises expectations and then meets them and this year in Amsterdam continued this admirable tradition. Cheers!

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