Fintech Postcard from Athens – Philosophising on Mental Money Models

Visiting the Oracle at Delphi

It may be one of the few western countries where cash still rules, however things are slowly changing in Greece, the birthplace of western civilisation.

This week I’m writing to you from Athens, having flown 15,317 km from Sydney, Australia to run a gruelling 42.195 km in The Authentic Athens Marathon, this Sunday past. Bizarre, I know, but lots of fun.

It only seemed right then to learn a little about the changes and digital transformation happening in Greece, and try and capture a fleeting snapshot of how the local community is attempting to rouse its innovative spirit, and drive out the economic demons of its recent past. It won’t be easy – the socialised cost of the global financial crisis is still very evident in Greece – from anarchy in Exarcheia to a melting pot of cultures, communities and refugees across the city. In many ways, these are all the ingredients you need for a hotbed of innovation. So what is the firestarter?

In September Efi Pylarinou looked at the necessity for policy reform on the regulatory front to foster the emergence of more fintech activity. In a similar vein, a 2017 report, The Impact Of Digital Transformation In The Financial Services Industry: Insights From An Open Innovation Initiative In Fintech In Greece, from researchers at two Greek universities confirmed this, bluntly stating that ‘the Greek regulation and taxation system prevents the rapid growth of fintech in our country.’

It should be noted however that the government has had some success with regulatory reform to date on the payments front, successfully mandating the implementation of card machines on around 400,000 businesses across the country. The law came into force in full in July 2018, and a consequent rise in VAT revenues was reported. I must selfishly admit its now far easier spending money as a tourist than it was ten years ago, so that has to be somewhat of a good thing.

While a move to cards is a step in the right direction, given fintech is so new in Greece it does seem like a golden opportunity to bypass the plastic money revolution of decades gone and leapfrog to the new world of digital money, as China and emerging economies in Africa and South East Asia have proven to be so successful at, putting the rest of us in the west to shame.

Or maybe there is a chance to leapfrog them again?

Today marks the kick off of Decentralised, a blockchain conference run by the University of Nicosia – the first academic institution in the world to offer a postgraduate degree in digital currency. Efi from Daily Fintech will be speaking on Friday in the morning fintech stream, and she has some fabulous insights and ideas on how blockchain can be unlocked at an infrastructure level to achieve exactly that sort of leapfrog moment.

And as I spend time wandering the Acropolis, the streets of Plaka and the ruins of the magical Delphi, I can’t help but wonder how the innovative philosophical inquiry baked into the bones of this magical country can be reawakened and applied to our creaking monetary systems. So much of fintech today is a boring but slightly better way of doing what our banks already do. We are on the cusp of revolutionising what money really is, and blockchain has in many ways given us the tools to start that revolution. But we still lack coherent mental money models to use the tools wisely.

You never know, maybe out of the ashes of economic despair can come the intellectual seeds of a new money philosophy, from a new breed of Greek philosophers. Maybe in 1000 years we’ll call Greece not just the birth of western civilisation, but the birth of the new money. If anyone can change the way the world thinks, my bet is on the Greeks.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business and the Gig Economy and is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zuper, a new superannuation startup in Australia.

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