Over the years, what was once the London BarCampBank has, with the support of Consult Hyperion, turned into an annual fintech unconference held the day before Finovate Europe. I think – apart from great networking and enjoyable discussions – it provides a useful weathervane for our clients. This year – no surprise – two topics dominated the conversations: blockchain and identity.
Well, it was Consult Hyperion’s annual Tomorrow’s Transactions UnConference today, held (as is now traditional) at NESTA, the day before Finovate Europe. Once again we had a lovely bunch of people come along, ranging from traditional bank and payments people to some genuinely different thinkers from the world of alternative currencies and bottom-up financial services.
We started with a “thought piece” to get people thinking differently before they started jotting down their ideas for discussion topics. This year I asked Michael Mainelli from Z/Yen to come along and talk about the Long Finance Report on the potential use of the blockchain in personal insurance (the topic of our recent podcast). I did this because I had a feeling that the blockchain would be one of the main subjects of the day and I wanted to have a discussion that was some distance from the debate about whether Bitcoin will or will not replace the US dollar.
#TTUnconf15 popular pastime is to think of anything and stick it on the blockchain: ships, trades, A/ML, love, kittens, my next book chapter
— Ian Grigg (@iang_fc) February 9, 2015
Ian had a point here. I’ve been in a couple of meetings recently where “blockchain” has been used rather indiscriminately, but as Michael pointed out in his talk, there’s a lot going on this world at the moment and it’s still early days so I think we were right to focus on it.
Michael did a great job and we followed his talk with an onstage Q&A while we collected up the audience suggestions and began to organise them.
Having sorted out the discussion tables and having organised them to be roughly the same size (got this wrong in the payments area, by the way – not many people wanted to discuss that this year, although there was a sizeable crowd for the mobile payments discussion in the afternoon) we got going and the dynamic in the room was excellent with, as far as I could tell, everyone contributing.
One of the reasons why I enjoy the UnConference format is that you can never quite tell what new ideas will come out of the mix, but you know that there will be some. For example, I chaired the discussion table looking at APIs in UK banking and, specifically, responses to HM Treasury’s consultation on same. When I was thinking about putting together a Consult Hyperion response to the consultation, I spent most of the time thinking about security and the identity infrastructure it would need, but I didn’t really think to much about cost, but the consensus in our group was that the Treasury estimate of a million quid is utterly unbelievable.
— rachel oconnell (@racheloconnell) February 9, 2015
Bringing together smart and interesting people and putting them around a table is really enjoyable way to spend a day, especially when there were discussion tables on topics I hadn’t thought about at all in the run-up to the event, such as the very wide-ranging discussion around mutuality and using new technology to build new ways of doing business.
Now, when all the post-its were collated, by far the biggest subject area for discussion was identity. It seems to be heading up a great many agendas. After lunch I rather arbitrarily divided the identity discussions into fintech and non-fintech to make the discussions more manageable. I chaired the rather lively (and fun, I have to say) discussion on the non-fintech applications for the identity and authentication technologies that we are playing with. Having looked at the audience suggestions around the topic I picked three for our table.
- Voting. We had a terrific discussion about whether electronic voting was a solution to anything (and what the problem might be). I’ll blog about this later in the week, but I think the participants were sceptical as to whether any of the proposed solutions would be workable or even desirable..
- Dating. I thought that as this is valuable industry where there are real problems, it might be a good place to try out some ideas for new services. We discussed a number of ideas around attribute exchange and “identity escrow” but participants felt that the issue of liability was, ultimately, going to prevent any such products or services.
- Internet of Things (IoT), where I’m afraid my group was rather pessimistic. Their consensus was that given the state of the art, no-one can afford proper security for IoT applications so they are basically going ahead without it.
I had to head off after the event together to the techUK General Election “Digital Question Time” with the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat spokespersons on the UK IT industry (sort of). This was only marginally not a waste of time, but that’s another story. On the way over to techUK I ran into a potential user of my blockchain plus “Internet of Things” identiverse idea, so I decided stop for a while and explain the core concepts and ask for a second opinion on the use of fintech building blocks to create IDIoT (ID for the Internet of Things) services.
Not a peep. There’s no pleasing some people. Incidentally, our hosts for the day were NESTA, and a big thank you to them for their generosity with the space once again. I should mention that NESTA are organising their annual FutureFest for March 14th-15th, the weekend before the Consult Hyperion 18th annual Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum on March 18th-19th. Oddly, NESTA have chosen to advertise that George “One Nation Under a Groove” Clinton from Parliament Funkadelic will be there over the fact that Nigel Dodd and I will be there discussing the future of money.
Still, looks like a fun event and a great warmup for the Forum as the finalists in our Future of Money Design Award will be getting a FutureFest showcase. Be there or be square.