Fintech influencers and can openers
Unlike some of my peers who have seven million Twitter followers apiece and feature on every influencer list there is and ever will be, I am not a “list” regular. I appear on some and I am grateful for the people who read me or nominate and support me to get me there but making it onto those lists has been a side show.
It is a pleasant and unintended side-effect of a small part of the work I do and unrelated to the bulk of my work which, due to corporate sensibilities, takes place behind closed doors as most of what we build, and definitely how we build, is not for public consumption. Banks are very private. Secretive, paranoid or aware of the fact that we don’t build with new tech in the most linear, agile and effective way possible. Whatever your favourite reason, we don’t cook in an open kitchen and, even the more PR happy banks, share but a fraction of what goes on.
Anyone who has worked in, for or with banks will tell you that influencing decision-making and strategy in a corporate is an art form and one that has absolutely nothing to do with how much you know about the topic in question, how respected you are as an expert on said topic, your stage presence, gravitas or public following.
Decision-making in banks is a slow process, moving in fits and starts, by osmosis and metastasis, accelerating and slowing down for seemingly irrelevant reasons and although it is never democratic, it is also not predetermined where in the hierarchy the penny will drop.
So who are the influencers influencing, and when?
What do influencers and kitchen gadgets have in common: they are only useful if you know how to use them
A few months ago, I was with two friends, let’s call them Mike (working in the industry) and Charlie (not). Mike explained to Charlie that I had just made an influencer list on fintech and emergent tech which he found out about because some social media algorithmic magic suggested he should follow me. Mike was proud of me. Thank you Mike. Charlie was vaguely impressed though hardly interested, but since we were on the subject of Mike knowing random stuff, what Charlie really wanted to know was if Mike also knew what Bitcoin is.
Hilarious. But mostly funny cos it’s true.
Having access to someone with knowledge is only useful to you if you know how to use it: if you know what top line descriptions translate to and which of your gaps or needs these experts could legitimately address.
The industry is producing lists of people who can answer questions. Who can not only offer their expertise but reach out to the community of their peers and get you even more insight. A lot of these influencers sit in organisations that know they are there, of course, but don’t always know how to use them. Don’t always realise the depth of expertise they could have access to. It’s a joke among us all, how those of us with corporate masters will be invited the world over to opine on things that we are considered world leaders on only to overhear a stressed analyst in the cafeteria saying they haven’t slept for three days trying to pull together a report on a topic they know nothing about and we literally know everything because of age, experience, luck or lack of other hobbies.
What do influencers and exotic spices have in common: they are only useful if you know you have them
You know that thing, when you buy tamarind or star anise for a specific recipe and then a few months later you buy it again for a different recipe because it’s not your staple and it didn’t even occur to you to check if you had it in the cupboard?
A friend on every influencer list was once contacted by a consultancy, to freelance with them for a contract with his then employer.
The employer had reached out to the consultancy seeking expertise in this one niche thing and the consultancy looked for the influencer, the industry expert and found him in the office of the client themselves.
Hilarious? Only if it doesn’t happen to you.
And it’s not even a sign that my friend was not effective or that his organisation didn’t value him. Both could not be farther from the truth. It’s just a question of muscle memory and the weird mechanics of corporate decision making. You may have access and influence in 102 places but a decision is made in the 103rd place and that’s just too bad.
What do influencers and eating plenty of fruit and veg have in common: the benefits are indirect and longer term
You know when I know my work inside the corporate is succeeding?
When people come up to me and explain my ideas to me like I won’t believe what is happening right now. Then you know you have impact, influence and traction, albeit not fame. You know it took time and effort and success often came from unexpected corners, corners you hadn’t even visited because that’s how ideas work. They germinate and spread and find fertile ground. And when they come round and find you, you know that this thing we do, has worked.
When an idea lives without you and despite you, then that’s success. A nod, not to your influencer status but to your mission: moral and organisational.
We all know influence doesn’t always come with leverage and nine times out of ten we wish it did but the tenth we don’t mind one bit because success is sweeter when it comes voluntarily and through the efforts of more pairs of hands than just yours and your exhausted team’s.
Keeping it real: look who’s talking and tell me why I am listening
Most things in you kitchen are functional: gadgets or spices, they are there for a purpose and are very rarely interchangeable. Unless you are looking for a can opener, you are unlikely to be interested in one. And we would all do well to remember that, as voices in the industry, both when we are facing inside our own organisations and when when we are facing out.
When I am in the audience in a conference hall or meeting room, the question I always ask myself when someone takes the floor (in a cranky Statler and Waldorf voice) is “who are ya? Why am I listening to you? What have you done that gives you the right and relevance to be talking to me?”
The answer very often is “not enough” and I do walk away because life is short and I will never get my time back. But often there is more then enough and I listen and I learn either directly, because they have something specific to teach me, or indirectly. Because they say something that makes me think, that influences my thinking forevermore and I will never pay them back enough for that gift.
So when I stand on stage or by the corporate projector, I feel the weight of my own scrutiny. Who am I to be here? I don’t doubt either my knowledge or my experience, but I do hold myself up against my standards because what I know is what got me there, what I give, however, is all the audience will get. Will I give them something that will start a chain reaction of thoughts that will take them somewhere I have not myself arrived at yet? Will I start a process of slow osmosis that will get to an answer eventually, even long after they’ve forgotten my talk? Or will I give them the thing they came for, the conceptual can opener that fits the shape of their problem?
You won’t always be the can opener, but if you remember to ask yourself who’s listening to me and why, you will be well on your way. Why are they here? “Because I am an influencer” could well be the answer but it is not an answer that will serve you. You need to be a can opener.
And before the pressure gets overwhelming, remember the best thing about those lists: you are not alone. There are people out there thinking alongside you, people reading, reflecting, building and correcting.
Your influence is not always visible, it is definitely not always leverage and very often it is no good to you whatsoever. But it is always, always a ticket to the ball where you will find like minded folks. And if you are very lucky you may end up being someone’s can opener: your experience providing the answers just when they were needed the most.
Which is ultimately what it is all about.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ new resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!