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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Biometrics, Blockchains, and Bots with David Birch

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Biometrics, Blockchains, and Bots with David Birch

Mallory Kwiatkowski


Today’s show is a special treat because my guest is brilliant and funny and original, and he’s also a friend. Dave Birch is a London-based author, advisor and commentator on digital financial services and Global Ambassador for Consult Hyperion. We often run into each other in different parts of the world, and in December we found time to sit down and catch up in London’s old City.

As I told Dave, I talk with people on these topics all the time, but a lot of what he says in this conversation is either different, or is said in a more compelling way, than what we normally hear. He’s definitely one of the most entertaining guests we’ve had on the show!

In our conversation, Dave explains that he’s obsessed with digital money and especially with digital identity. Echoing the episode we recorded last year with Greg Kidd of globaliD, Dave believes that our identities should be controlled by us as individuals, rather than issued to us by governments. He thinks we should be able to have multiple digital identities that we can use selectively in different ways, so that we can reveal less or more information about ourselves, tailored to the needs of each given situation. He gives great examples (I’m pretty sure this is the first time the topic of internet dating has come up on the show!)

One intriguing result of the system Dave envisions is that it might afford an opportunity for banks to become the main keepers of trusted identity. They seem uniquely positioned for that role (which, among other things, could help them stay relevant in the digital age). Dave has ideas on how banks should be able to share KYC information. He has ideas on tokens. He has thoughts on open banking. And he’s skeptical that crypto and blockchains will solve all the problems people are dreaming of for them.

As we talked, Dave kept saying, “I used to think that, but now I think this.” That way of talking captures the intensity of the learning journey he is on. He’s grappling with the hardest issue ahead of us all, namely privacy. We know our current methods of protecting privacy are not fit for today’s technology, and we don’t really know what to do about that. Dave is trying to figure that out -- to envision how to redesign the system with new ways for people to be able to protect their own information and, at the same time, to be able to use it to unlock new opportunities for themselves. And with new ways to make that happen within a system in which everyone’s information is accurate and secure.

Dave and I recorded our talk in London, in the Armourers Hall following up a great event there on insurance innovation sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, or CSFI. I hope everyone listening will try to go to London this spring for Innovate Finance’s global fintech summit, which is held in these same buildings in the old Guildhall. That’s in the old City, near St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, and the remnants of the City’s old Roman wall. I often find that thinking about new technology in ancient places like these somehow makes me learn better. Dave and I had our conversation on a cold afternoon, sitting in a draughty little room without central heating, but with a lovely fireplace keeping it warm. I found myself learning something every minute.


Link to full transcript

Podcast with Greg Kidd of Global ID

Podcast with Sanjay Jain

India’s Top Court Limits Sweep of Biometric DC Program - Court case involving Aadhaar

Books Published by David Birch:

Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin

Identity is the New Money

Digital Identity Management

Blockchain: A Legacy of Transparency by David Birch

Scott Galloway's book, The Four

Pivot Podcast

Financial Times Article by David Birch, One Virtual Account Number to Rule Them All

Could bank account numbers be portable like mobile numbers? by David Birch

Podcast with Anne Boden of Starling Bank

More information on David Birch at and

More on David Birch

David G.W. Birch is an author, advisor and commentator on digital financial services. He is Global Ambassador for Consult Hyperion (the secure electronic transactions consultancy that he helped to found), as well as Technology Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (the London-based think tank) and a Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey Business School. An internationally-recognised thought leader in digital identity and digital money he was named one of the global top 15 favourite sources of business information by Wired magazine and one of the top ten most influential voices in banking by Financial Brand; created one of the top 25 “must read” financial IT blogs. His Twitter account was found by PR Daily to be one of the top ten followed by innovators (along with Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He was also rated Europe’s most influential commentator on emerging payments by Total Payments, and he was recently awarded “Contributor of the Year” by the Emerging Payments Association.

Dave’s last book “Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin: From money we understand to money that understands us,” was cited in the LSE Review of Books as one that should be “widely read by graduate students of finance, financial law and related topics as well as policy makers involved in financial regulation".

Dave graduated from the University of Southampton with a B.Sc (Hons) in Physics.

More for our Listeners

We have great podcast episodes in the queue. We’ll talk with with Walter Cruttenden, Co-Founder of Acorns and Co-founder and CEO of Blast. We’ll have one with Steve Cohen of Basis Technologies on artificial intelligence and another from Boston with Lamont Young, who’s leading digital innovation at Citizens Bank. And we’ll talk with one of the most thoughtful people in finance, Brian Brooks, General Counsel of Coinbase.

We also have three great shows coming up with Washington officials. One is with Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury, Craig Phillips, whose team issued the Treasury fintech report last year. We’ll have a conversation with Paul Watkins, who is leading the innovation initiative at the CFPB. And we’re excited to have a second episode coming up with the Chairman of the CFTC, Chris Giancarlo.

Brett King’s new book, Bank 4.0 (available now on Amazon) will be the subject of another show -- I co-wrote the regulatory chapter with him.

Remember, it’s really important that you subscribe to Barefoot Innovation on your favorite podcast platform and very importantly, that you leave a 5 star review to help us grow the show. I hope you’ll also follow along with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Come to for more information and to subscribe to the newsletter and get the latest podcasts as soon as they come out.

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*The views and opinions expressed during the Barefoot Innovation podcast series are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Barefoot Innovation Group and its employees. Barefoot Innovation Group does not verify for accuracy the information contained in the podcast series. The primary purpose of this podcast series is to educate and inform.