Coming down from a 4-day conference with 8,000 attendees and wrapping it all up in a blog post is hard, because one has to focus on the signal despite all the noise being so interesting.
Last year in Singapore, I had 6 takeaways, having not been to SIBOS for a long time. This year in Geneva I was a returnee.
So to give this some structure, here is the progress report from 2015 Singapore to 2016 Geneva based on those 6 axes (plus 4 more that became apparent this year:
1 Realism. A year ago: Fintech is leaving the Yellow Brick Road and going to Kansas. Throughout 2016 we have been tracking this move to realism in Fintech. Bankers have accepted that they need to take Fintech seriously and Fintechers are talking more about partnering than revolution. I suspect many more deals were initiated in Geneva than in Singapore thanks to this realism.
2 Real Time. A year ago: The one subject that got heads nodding in both echo chambers was the move to real time. In Singapore, it was talk and plans and slide decks. In Geneva it was also demos.
3 Blockchain. A year ago: Blockchain is at the top of the hype cycle. This was even more true in Geneva. Blockchain was the headline of many sessions and was mentioned in every session I attended; but the subject was mostly handled in a pragmatic and non-hype way. The keynote by the IBM CEO was billed as all about Cognitive Computing yet she spent almost as much time talking about Blockchain. There was naturally some Blockchain fatigue and negative talk. My take is yes it is hyped and yes it will change the world.
4 Core banking. A year ago: The dream of the great core system renewal turns into the nightmare of end of life maintenance. This year we saw open source core banking software and platforms built from scratch using modern tools. In Geneva, core banking was like an embarrassing older uncle at a family party – we know he is there but we don’t mention him even though many of us depend on rich old uncle to help pay the bills.
5 Alternative Lenders. A year ago: The credit cycle will not save traditional lending models. There was less talk about disruptive Fintech (e.g alternative lenders) in Geneva. Those ventures were either not invited or chose not to attend. Fintech in Geneva meant either B2B or B2B2C. The Fintech ventures in Geneva were specifically there to do deals with banks.
6. Correspondent Banking. A year ago: Correspondent Banking will survive the transition to real time and SIBOS will always be key to Correspondent Banking. This was the overarching theme of SIBOS Geneva. The problem for a lot of attendees was that correspondent banks were being written out of the script by many technologists and global banks who anticipate a Blockchain future and desire to reduce the number of Correspondent Banks in a network to focus on those who can master Compliance. We covered this subject in more depth in this post on Fintech Genome.
7. Diversity. I noticed the lack of diversity more this year because I was walking around with my colleague and FinFemTech leader Efi Pylarinou. The preponderance of dark-suited males on stage was embarrassing in the 21st century, but it was also the lack of geographic diversity that was apparent. The geographic diversity of attendees was obvious – at one lunch table we counted 8 nationalities – but that was less obvious on stage.
8. Cross Border Trade. In Singapore this was a backdrop. It was why we were all there (it paid the bills), but it was not an explicit subject of conversation. In Geneva there were more sessions and demos about how to make this more efficient (whether Payments or FX or Trade Finance). I expect this will be more center stage by Toronto.
9. Innovation is mainstream. In Singapore innovation was much discussed, but it tended to still cluster around the Innotribe stand, with business as usual being the norm. In Geneva it was in every session and on every exhibition stand and business as usual was less evident (it was there of course but in background).
10. Interest Rates. The macro story that was implicit in a lot of talk, albeit seldom explicit, was the challenge of working in a low interest rate environment. The use of new technology and new models to address this challenge needs more attention.
Snippets of more specific insights are on the Fintech Genome. The conversations will be continued on the #SIBOS Insights topics.