The big sleep: “trends in payments” presentations
How can you really still ask me about “trends in payments”?
Once a month or so I will get a very particular kind of speaking request. The ask is topped and tailed with an expression of how much they love my work and how far they have come on their own transformation journey. In the middle is the ask: can you give us a keynote on payment trends?
I can. But I won’t. And you shouldn’t want me to.
The first time I gave a talk on trends in payments was approximately seven years ago and it was definitely not the first of its kind the industry had the pleasure of sitting through. The format was cookie-cutter: hey here are some new techs, new ideas, new business models that may change the way we currently do business so have a look, have a think, keep an eye out, copy, buy and above all think and learn. There is no silver bullet, the world is changing, learn what you need to know to be what you need to be in the new normal when it emerges.
It felt scary only because we didn’t know how much would come down the pipe.
It was true but we won’t ever remember that because although some bought and some learned, most watched and waited for an epiphany or a fairy godmother.
More fools them. The fairy godmothers had a mighty laugh at their expense, locking them in the bewitched forest of quarterly reviews, annual trends presentations and five year projections. They sleepwalked in their enchanted forest, together and aligned in their self assured bubble while the world outside the castle changed like every fairytale reader knew it would. And not a prince in sight.
True love’s first kiss for the tinder generation
The worst fairy tale curses lift when true certainty appears. Forget the trope, men look at someone’s inert unconscious form and fall desperately in love forever. It’s creepy unless you see it as the human aspiration for certainty. The problem is our tale doesn’t come with certainty. Plus the princess, the bank, has had a fair few affairs before. Some worked (Algo trading people, its a thing that worked). And some didn’t. But waiting for the thing that will feel as fresh and certain as Cinderella’s kiss means we will wait forever. Banks have been down this road before, they have useful and hard-earned cynicism, they doubt, they want proof points. And when making decisions about their future, they want to be awake and fully alert, no offence to all the fairytale princesses across the ages.
But all that said, the enchanted sleep of “we have time” has been insidious, banks half waiting for the Answer to walk through the door, a digital-age prince resplendent in application programming interfaces (APIs) and containerisation, while half-heartedly dating cheap imitations, in labs and through proof of concepts (POCs), to deal with fear of missing out (FOMO) and keep up with the Joneses.
And when I get called upon, in 2019, to give talks about the payments landscape or any other version of the question, I am not sure if I am being asked whether they have slumbered too long or whether they genuinely don’t know they are asleep and the world has moved on.
The most glorious seas are yet to be sailed, the most beautiful babies yet to be born, and the best of what I have to say to you, my love, I am yet to say
I always wanted to paraphrase Nazim Hikmet in a banking piece. One off the bucket list.
But the point stands.
The landscape reviews we used to give you were to help you start thinking, they were to make you believe that you were no longer in complete control of the commercial narrative or, indeed, your business destiny. Whether each startup we flagged or each tech we introduced you to ended up being a good bet, whether our predictions were right or not, your reticence wasn’t – and the main lesson was, “sit up, you are not the only storyteller in the room any more. That’s the new story.”
So I can tell you what the payments landscape looks like. Hell. A lot of people are making a living out of doing that, updating their slides once a year and telling the same story since the dawn of the financial crisis, and why not, if the bulk of the market is still exactly where they were eleven years ago, in real terms?
Well. How about because the message isn’t landing and the audience are running out of time?
So here is why I won’t tell you what the payments landscape looks like no matter how much you pay me: it doesn’t matter to you.
It matters to the businesses making the change happen, it matters to the customers benefiting from new capabilities and it matters to the regulators who are learning mighty fast. But it doesn’t matter to you. What matters to you now is figuring out what story you want to tell, what story your clients want to hear from you and what story there is still room in your market for and at what price point.
Then you need to figure out if you have the stomach to change your organisation to deliver to this new narrative. Your people, processes, risk matrices and remuneration structures.
Do you have the stomach to become a viable business in this new world?
Once you work all this out, call me and ask me to talk to you about the art of the possible, call me to reassure you that the tech to build the business you finally committed to exists, and the techies to bring it to life also exist. Call me then and I will tell you everything you need to know about the magic of this new world and what works for you.
But until then I won’t give you placebo slides, neatly organising an avalanche of creativity on a four by four, so you can carry on slumbering till the next bonus round.
As the song goes, “well if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me”, or the story tellers who now own what is normal in the industry you used to dominate.
Some, live happily ever after. Others slumber on. Ultimately we each make our own choices but I refuse to be complicit to the big sleep.
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!