The curse of collective Alzheimer’s: dispatches from industry conferences
One of the best things about industry events is that you see your fintech friends. It’s like a family reunion of sorts with drinks and dinner paid for by corporate marketing budgets and in exchange you have to do some speaking and some panelling on top of hiding away to do the actual work. It’s exhausting. But it’s nice to see folks.
And it’s not the first time I am saying it. Still, bear with me.
It’s all of us, getting together periodically, to lament the state of the industry, bash the incumbents and disseminate wisdom.
It’s all of us. The same folks. The thinkers, the doers, the moaners and the tinkerers, who get together in between bouts of intense activity. To talk. Share and reflect.
Like we forgot the last million times we had them.
Like we forgot the commitments we made. The predictions we made. The progress we made since last time.
The fact that we have already covered this ground. Together. More than once.
The art of forgetting
Alzheimer’s is no joke and I am not joking.
I have seen a loved one lose themselves in its torrid mists of anxiety and confusion and I am not using the comparison lightly.
I fear that an industry asking itself the same questions for ten years despite having the answers, is an ailing industry that is losing itself. Or is it?
For the love of god, don’t ask me about fintech partnerships
It’s been ten years of conversations about whether banks should partner with fintechs. Ten years of partnerships, some successful, some not. Some purposeful, some not. We know the answer and the answer is: it depends. On the start-up’s business model and whether a bank as a partner or client makes sense. On what the bank is getting out of the partnership – if you need a plumber don’t hire a dentist – on whether something was built. On whether the intention to go live was there and shared with compliance. On whether anything saw the light of day.
We know the answers.
We also know now that this was actually not the pertinent question.
It was not the turnkey topic we had hoped it would be.
It was not the big deal.
The real question was how do digitally native capabilities challenge our organisations, our people, our price point and profitability. Oh yeah… And our tech.
We know now that’s the real question, as an industry. Boards talk about it. We at 11:FS talk about it. And we are not alone.
Work is being carried out to answer this question. It won’t be fast or easy but that’s ok.
What’s not ok is, in the middle of all this, to go to a flagship industry event and be asked questions from 10 years ago: no prizes for guessing whodunnit after the movie ends.
Turkeys, Christmas and influencers
We all know not to ask the turkeys what should be on the Christmas menu. Their answer may be biased. And something similar may well be in play here.
Most conferences, with a few notable exceptions, are organised by conference organisers, not industry practitioners. They put on the show, organise the logistics, do the promo – for fintech or pharma – and although they have content directors, those folks aren’t reformed treasurers or budding business architects.
They are conference producers. And when pulling together their agendas, they rely on their little black book, their sponsors, their relationships and industry influencers.
So if they are not setting the scene for the right questions to be asked, it’s not their fault. They are not to know we have moved on, they can’t know what we’ve learned until we tell them.
So why don’t we tell them?
It can’t be that the famous keynote can’t be bothered to produce new slides.
It can’t be just that the corporates don’t want to share.
It can’t be malicious.
It could well be that regular influencers still standing by the podium don’t even know what the engines inside banks and start-ups are really doing.
This is the “messy middle” and influencers tend to deal in broad narratives.
Even the best ones have nothing to contribute when discussing release cycles or breaking down visions of future profitability into user stories.
When you are building, messing up and cleaning up, debating with the board what an adequate early indicator of success is and trying to get your subject matter expert, UX lead, CTO and accountant to not kill each other, why would you call the influencers for a status update?
It may well be that they don’t even know where we are at. What’s really going on.
How could they, if we don’t tell them?
Is anyone even listening
And before I go down the rabbit hole of who influences whom, on what grounds and with what certainty, I will come back to my original point which is, unless we are forgetting and losing ourselves, why are we repeating ourselves, chewing on topics long rendered irrelevant if not resolved?
Is it for those still lagging behind, like remedial math?
Then let’s do them the courtesy of also sharing lessons learned to really help them along. The answers to the questions, before the test.
Is it sheer momentum, the conference cottage industry reproducing itself with a short time delay? Then we better work on this little latency problem.
Seriously. Who is this for? Are they even there? Who are we talking to?
Because if we are talking to each other, we can do better.
And if we are talking to those left behind, we ought to do better.
But if we are talking to the new recruits, the fresh blood, the people who will see this transformation through its next phase, then we must do better. So much better than this.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!