March has been a month of exploring places where change is happening even faster than we realize.
First, I forayed into the land of emerging technology at SouthBySouthwest, or SXSW. This is the huge annual conference that runs three overlapping festivals -- on music, film and tech -- in downtown Austin. SX (“South By,” as it’s affectionately called) has no fintech track, which can make it less appealing to financial professionals than, say, Money 2020 or LendIt (where I also spoke this month on the OCC fintech charter and a panel on China). Nevertheless, I always urge people to go. For one thing, it has great financial content, including panels and product unveilings by major financial companies.
More importantly, SX expands the horizons of finance people, because we tend to forget that fintech is more 'tech' than 'fin'. Its drivers are the huge technology trends reshaping everything about how we live, with finance being just one small facet. It’s easy to underestimate the speed and size of these changes because most of them are developing over the horizon, out of sight, in the tech world itself. SX is the efficient -- and fun -- way to go see them up close, from cars and robots to health and food.
This year’s big trends included artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual reality, voice technology, and bots, including chatbots, all of which are coming soon to a financial product near you. So are the related challenges around cybersecurity, cybercrime, privacy, data ethics, and many more thorny issues that were thoughtfully explored by SX’s speakers. I posted live to my facebook.
Plus, it was extremely cool to walk around on Mars, via a VR headset, at the NASA booth. And don’t even get me started on seeing the creators and stars of Game of Thrones….
My second exploration in an accelerating world was geographic -- a week in Jakarta at the Fintech Stage Inclusion Forum, sponsored by the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network for central banks, financial regulators, innovators and banks on how to regulate fintech to build financial inclusion. Regulators came from at least six continents, sharing experience and ideas on how to regulate fintech and how to use regtech, themselves, to redesign the regulatory process itself.
Every time I speak at a global conference like this, my takeaway is that U.S. policy lags far behind the world’s leaders on fintech and regtech. There are good reasons for this -- in some ways our problems are less urgent than those of the developing world, plus our fragmented regulatory structure makes it hard for American policymakers to galvanize change. We need to move forward, though. If we don’t, we could lose our edge in innovation.
Meanwhile, fresh on the podcast this month is a millennial building for millennials - Ollie Purdue of LOOT.
Plenty more excitement to come! As always, check the wesbite for more updates:
April 10th, London - Innovate Finance
April 12th, London - FCA International FINTECH Conference
April 19th, Washington - World Bank workshop on Digital Financial Inclusion
April 20th, San Francisco - Brief international financial regulators on fintech
April 26th, New York - FINXTECH Annual Summit
June 15th, Austin, TX - Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI Emerge)
Technology is transforming finance, and regulation too. But most of us need to move faster to make it work!