Sibos 2023: The Future of Money – the ghost of panels past
The first time I participated in the ‘Future of Money’ session at Sibos, I was a banker.
Don’t look at me like that.
When I say I am a recovering banker, this is what I mean. That I was one for a long time, not so long ago.
Since then, I have participated in the session again and again over a number of years both as a panellist and a host.
It’s a flagship event, as you all probably already know. It’s a huge honour to be there and a privilege to be there year after year.
It’s no secret that I love Sibos. And that I love the Future of Money. I love how it brings together ‘main event’ concerns and Innotribe considerations. How it marries the ‘meat and potatoes’ side of the conference with the creative, out there, futuristic part.
But what I love the most about it is that it is an ongoing conversation. We come together every year and check in on the same topic. We are, after all, the payments industry. We know money is changing. We know the things we worry about are changing. We know it’s not a one-and-done topic, so we keep coming back to it. Asking the questions. And asking again.
We keep asking the same questions, but the answers evolve and that’s the point.
Over the years, we have spent time talking about things that, a few years previously, we wouldn’t even have known what they are.
Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), for instance.
We held a whole Future of Money on the ethics of CBDCs a couple of years ago. We spoke about digital currencies and programmable money before, of course we did. Did we think the central banks would lead the charge? I don’t think we did. But were we looking in the right direction? You bet we were.
We have also talked often about the tension between what a bank considers ‘value-added services’ and where the need is in the industry for innovation, creativity and investment… and how the two don’t always coincide.
Why am I reminiscing?
Because this year at Sibos we have a Future of Money reunion. Some of the usual suspects who have been on over the years are coming back. Not just to opine. But to be held accountable. What did we say 5, 10, 15 years back?
Were we right?
And, equally significantly, do we still stand by our view of the world then?
I like it. I like it a lot.
And as I think back to all the things I may have said on this panel over the years… I can’t decide whether I want to be presented with statements that make me go “A-HA, I called it! You heard it here first!” or whether I would rather cringe at the opinions of old me. Because if I haven’t learned and refined my views in all these years… what the hell am I doing? Consistency is good. Stagnation? Not so much.
So, I hope I sort of directionally agree with myself but have added insight now.
I mostly don’t remember what I said on these panels, truth be told. I remember the topics, but I don’t remember if I made impassioned proclamations (I mean… it’s me… so probably) or opinionated stances (also probable). So it will be interesting to be presented with a video of old me making an impassioned plea in favour of crypto and digital money when present me caveats every sentence pertaining to crypto about 78 times and talks about citizenship in the context of programmable money. I lose sleep over boundaries of civil liberty rather than proof-of-stake vs proof-of-work. We have moved on. The conversation has moved on. We have learned. We know more now, so we worry about different things.
We worry less about whether the banks will agree to let us play with cool stuff and more about whether they will keep with the times.
We worry less about whether our bank will be a pioneer, letting us create something cool and fintech-y in the lab, and much more about whether the FS world will start participating fully in the digital economy.
So that has changed.
And the only way to get to today’s problem is to go through yesterday’s problems.
So although I may envy old me in terms of the simplicity of the dilemmas she faced, I remember vividly one Future of Money when I said – to some gasps in the audience – that the biggest fallacy banks have fallen prey to is believing they are in control.
In control of timings.
In control of which technologies will become key to our shared future.
In control of what will happen, to whom, when… so far as it pertains to money.
And we were wrong.
Digital was not our gift. We were in its thrall, as a society. And unless we put our skates on, we would be at its mercy.
I got gasps back then. I don’t think I would today.
I stand by that statement and sadly it largely still holds true.
Ultimately, the sum total of unsolicited innovation we have seen in the industry has been a measure of insecurity over usefulness. The rest has been forced, cajoled or legislated.
The true visionary pioneer in this story has been the regulator. And I would bet money that the panel didn’t call that 15 years ago… but they maybe called it 10 years ago… when the winds of change started to blow in this new direction and the regulators made it clear that things were shifting.
And boy have they shifted.
But so much.
So this retrospective is a great idea. It will be amusing. It will be informative. It will tell us how far our instincts were right when it came to what we lost sleep over, even if our vocabulary to describe it was nascent. It will help us work out whether our self-reflection is landing on the right things.
Because God knows we need to sharpen our pencils for what lays ahead.
Wish old me luck.
I will be back on the other side with the verdict on our collective wisdom. And where we go from here.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
Leda is also a published author – her first book, Bankers Like Us: Dispatches from an Industry in Transition, is available to order here.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!