Being human in fintech 🙏
I discovered so much at this year's Money2020. But it definitely wasn't what I thought I would learn about...
I clip-clopped off to Amsterdam (that's the noise my heels make), expecting to listen mostly about Artificial Intelligence. How it wasn't going to take my job etc. (I see you AI... I know your dark plan!!). Maybe a bit about embedded finance, or some of the other blisteringly hot trends in finance this year.
To my absolute surprise (and horror)....
... I learned about friendship. 🤢
I know, I know. I feel weird about it too.
If you want to grab a sick bucket, and click away from this soppy post, then I totally get it. Chief Financial Officer of my company, Siegfried (who is also a money tree) is confused. He's like, "Uhhh... Why are you not bashing out some angry post about greenwashing, and are you ok?"
And when your own office plant is asking you if you're ok, you start to question if everything is alright too. I am one micro-breakdown away from deleting this whole blog and pretending it never happened. Maybe I need to get out more. Is this a cry for help? But the raw, real honest truth is that I learned about friendship at a money conference. There I said it.
The unfortunate downfall of the content plan 😅
Ok, so let me start at the beginning. Tuesday 6th June. I arrived at the RAI centre at an almost acceptable 10ish, in my best and only Italian suit (the one I wear to everything). Yayy!
I've done this before. So I made a beeline for the coffee and croissants. 🐝 Obvs. (You can tell the veterans because they head straight for the food, no messing around. It's like a food radar... Fradar).
My idea was to map out a kind of content plan while munching on a French pastry. If I had done that, I wouldn't be writing this soppy post now. You might be reading about a glorious new innovation in AI. Or some super niche tech that's about to explode. Soz.
Anyway, I was only half concentrating on my ill-fated content plan, because my good friend and all-round fintech icon Amélie Arras was texting. Yes! (Or OUI!). I stayed about as loyal to my content planning as Boris Johnson is to presentable hair styles. It took all of 30 seconds for me to abandon the whole thing, and head off to find Amélie.
Along the way, I met one of the most creative fintech editors in the world, Ali Paterson. (He was one of four editors that I'd share a cocktail, chat or curry with over the following two days). Ali was chatting to the legendary David Brear, CEO of 11:FS. So I joined in the natter too. It was nice to talk to them. Like, genuinely. Just to see real faces rather than splotchy old Zoom pixels. (No shade to Zoom).
Both Ali and David were wearing almost all black, with a violent and shocking splash of red on the shoes. Guys- there's something in the air with red shoes and fintech. Watch out for it. But - although Ali and David submitted admirable attempts - the most iconic footwear statement had to go a certain Marketing Director at Zumo. Amélie was wearing shoes that I can only describe as "Bold French Chic Meets Colourful Toucan". I was mesmerised.
The juxtaposition of the Money2020 Beach 🏖
Before long, Amélie and I had meandered to the Money2020 Beach.
YES. BEACH. At a finance conference! 😆🤩
Like... SAND. WATER. BOATS. COCKTAIL BARS.
Probably the strangest thing was seeing fully-grown men in suits, sunbathing with their laptops. That was kind of surreal actually. There was also this weird juxtaposition between the chilled out beach vibes, and fintech founders or bankers sitting alone on tables stressing out into their phones. It kind of reminded me even more of the importance of being in the moment and talking to people. Come on fintech - where's your Zen?
Amélie and me caught up with marketing angel and fintech hero, Lucy Heavens. She was (wo)manning a stand for Hokodo and working the scene. Together with Inigo Lejardi from Marqueta, we chatted about the event, and upcoming trends. Plus I got to see Head of Strategic Projects and Partnerships Raphaël Caruso work his magic and skilfully generate some leads - nice!
The very next day, Lucy Heavens, my new hero Lucy Cohen, Richard Theo, David Craven and I would return to the same beach and (wait for it).... board a pedalo together!
In my beautiful nude heels that cost £90 and I try to only wear to weddings, I clambered into the puddley driving seat like an excited little kid. Together Lucy Cohen and I happily chattered and pedalled around these fintech icons. I learned so much about her snappy accountancy fintech business that I'm thinking of becoming a customer.
AND we discovered that we went to the same school!! (Shout out to Howells in Cardiff! All together now! 🎵 "Calon lân yn llawn daioni..." 🎵). Plus, we both had a Welsh dragon either pinned or tattooed to us. Classic.
I couldn't help but think that this was so much better than any pitching event or networking thing. Being on a pedalo somehow pierces through the bullshit. You can talk to each other's souls and I like that. (I promise I didn't go to a coffee shop).
Pairing finance with the beach was a stroke of genius. It really was. We talked at length about what matters to us, the legacy of finance and how money must be used to save the planet. First on the boat, then sipping lemonade in the sunshine. It wasn't just the beverage that was refreshing. The environment was opening new conversations too.
BTW Richard (co-creator of Wealthify, plus founder of ActiveQuote and FinTech Wales) is creating a carbon-negative neobank called Zero. It's one to watch!
Familiar faces... 😎
One of the more unexpected things about Money2020 began on the app. I got a message from a name I hadn't seen in years. James Pereira-Stubbs.
Way back in the day I worked at UBS Wealth Management in Zurich. It's safe to say, I wasn't a big deal. Organisationally, I was at the same employment level as a dead fly, and my main job was admin. My life revolved mostly around chain smoking and excel spreadsheets.
When you're at that stage, you remember people who are nice to you. James was always nice. Unlike myself, he was a big deal in the company. He worked on important projects with important people. Some years later, we met again in London where he helped me out a bit with my masters dissertation. Nice guy.
We met for a coffee. And he hasn't changed at all. The same no-nonsense approach. The conversation started with, "So, you don't like bankers". And ended with, "you ask difficult questions". I like people who are direct and honest with me. If everyone was like that, we wouldn't have greenwashing. It felt weirdly good to reconnect. I also saw that he went on Ali's FFNews Salon too (which I have also presented in the past) - it's funny how old and new worlds collide.
I met a few more people I've known from old jobs too (... and swerved some so violently that I could have knocked myself out... would have still been preferable to chatting!). Money2020 is quite good for that. You can be walking along and suddenly, there's someone you forgot you love standing in front of you. An old workmate or that mad person who left to start a fintech. On the other hand, if you spy a toxic ex-client, you can dive into one of the zillion temporary finance alleyways.
... By the way, there was one unhinged man who strode up to me proper aggressive after Starling's panel. He was angry because I asked a question about sustainability. But then, he seemed pretty angry anyway.
The downside ... It can get a bit salesy 😬
I suppose one of the downsides of Money2020 is that sometimes people can lose that human side because they're so desperate to get a partnership. Like NOW.
Lucy Heavens, Payal Rainer and myself could hardly believe this guy at the Stripe drinks. I asked him his name, and he launched into a full-on pitch. He even pulled a POS machine out of his pocket as prop 😅 ...Who DOES that? At a party! It went on for a while. Lucy and Payal are really nice so they were super polite about it, but I was just kind of bewildered. 😳
I noticed this a few times with other stands too. You're walking along and it's like BAM!!! Someone getting right in your face about payments technology. I know that the stands are quite expensive (from what I heard prices can range from £60k to half a million) so I guess people need to make a return on investment. I would probably be the same. And I get it. You need to have a stand, because all your competitors do, and your clients will be there. It would be so cringe not to have one. But at the same time, you're going to have to work really hard to bring back all that cash. So, I guess you gotta hustle. Hard. But some people are more intense than others. It was just a minor turn-off.
Some of the content as well, to be super honest, it felt a bit salesy at times. Kind of like I was watching a pitch. I was sitting with Richard Theo listening to someone from VISA talking about ESG... And I was kind of like, why don't I just chat to Richard instead? He's starting a green bank and I helped to write the CBI's textbook on Green and Sustainable Finance. He knows first hand about creating green wealth management products for retail customers. My masters dissertation is about Greenwashing in finance, and I've won two awards for my blogs on sustainable finance. It felt a bit silly sometimes. Not to be a dick, but I felt like some of the people in the audience knew more about ESG than the speakers.
Neither of us were really getting much from the talk, which seemed to be repeating quite a lot of well-known things like "people are interested in ESG". Well yeah. No shit, Sherlock. That's been the case since 2010. Later we chatted to AgriTech expert Elizabeth Boerner, and I feel like I got so much more out of it. The big companies do not always know best.
To be honest, I feel that global corporations should be sitting in the audience, not giving talks about sustainability. They have the most to learn. Another person in the audience said to me after, "I felt like that would have been news in 2007!".
It got me thinking. What would be amazing for me would be if climate scientists were invited to sit side-by-side with fintechs or banks. Plus throw in some people who have transitioned to low-carbon solutions from other industries. And then, maybe just an ordinary good person, like a teacher or nurse to keep things grounded. Bring in the people's assembly.
This would be my ideal panel:
Climate scientist: Let's say Sir David King
Someone from Money Rebellion or Extinction Rebellion: Maybe the bravest woman I know, Zoe Cohen
Representative from Orsted (brown to green energy company)
People from bank that are NOT doing ESG well (there are a lot to pick from!!! ... HSBC, Barclays, JPMorgan, Citi...)
Someone from a bank / investment manager that IS doing it well: Like Triodos
A nice ordinary person: ie: My mum, who is a teacher. Or my brother who is a junior doctor. Or anyone who has a caring job.
Money2020 is brilliant at throwing in fresh faces when it comes to other things. Lily Cole and OnlyFans are some of the ones that spring to mind. But I'd love to see that for sustainability. Because literally... Our home, the planet is going to become unliveable and only finance in the right place can save us. There is nothing more important than that.
The best parts of Money2020 were the authentic moments. Defo. When you're chatting to fintech people like you're all best friends on a school trip together. When we ditch the sales and focus on the person. And I think there does need to be a little more focus on humanity too. The impact of our technology on the wider communities. We talk a lot about inclusion. But what about the people who don't have smart phones? We talk a lot about data centres, but not how carbon intensive they are. Or that Microsoft has started putting them in our seas, heating up the waters.
Just being human ALWAYS wins
Taylor Griffin, Video Producer at FFNews summed it up best. We were slouching right down, fingers brushing the carpet, heels off, trying to stretch out our aching knees when she said, "It's been nice to see people just being human". Like a jolt of electric up the spine, I snapped up. "Omg that's it. That's the story. People".
So, that's the blog! I was going to call this post, "Fuck AI. We need PEOPLE". But instead I went with "Being human in fintech". See? Not always an angry old swearbag after all 😆.
What I learned most of all this Money2020 was the importance of human connection. It's only humans and humanity that can save the world.
Just being human always wins. Always.
Massive thank you to Tracey Davies, Scarlett Sieber, Rachel Martin and everyone behind Money2020 for inviting me to this iconic event.
The beach was epic. 🙏🙏🙏