Innovation

Getting ready for a smarter world

Past experience suggests humans adapt slowly to change - Innotribe 2018 offered pointers for those preparing for 2030

We came to Innotribe 2018 and found the future. “Welcome to 2030,” said Jane Frankland, managing director, Cyber Security Capital, opening the Thursday morning session on ‘Securing the future state’. By then, we had already fixed the crucial flaw in the internet, learned how to secure our identities (and trust each other), got to grips with quantum computing and discussed the future role of artificial intelligence (AI) – so the challenge of securing the future state seemed well within our grasp. “In 2030, there is more peace, more stability and more distributed wealth in the world,” said Frankland.

The week began with Brett King’s keynote. “I want to give you some disruptive themes,” said the author of ‘Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane’, and CEO of mobile financial services provider Moven. “Make no mistake. Banking is going to get disrupted by the technologies we’ll be talking about.” So-called ‘strong AI’ – machines with equal or superior intellectual capacity to humans – is coming soon, and by the early 2030s, we’ll be outnumbered by robots. But King’s core theme was less about the “systemic shift” arising from the recent and ongoing “infusion” of technology into society, and more focused on the difficulties we create for ourselves through our reactions to disruption.

“In 200 years, we haven’t learned to accept change from technology,” said King. We’re linear thinkers, and technology-driven change is too fast for us, he asserted. Just as once there were Luddites, so now there are Paris taxi drivers burning Uber drivers’ cars. But change doesn’t stop happening just because we resist it. “We have zero historical precedents for the proposition that we can stop AI from changing the way we work and live, so we had better get used to it and we had better get ready to adapt,” said King. By 2030, we will be living in “a world that is smart”, and our jobs and lives will have been transformed. “In banking, it’s not being a good bank any more that makes you competitive; it’s being good at the technology that underlies banking,” said King.

Fixing a hole

No wonder Tuesday’s sessions on quantum computing were so well attended. But there was a lot more of Monday still to come. “The internet is fundamentally broken,” said Monday’s day anchor, Ghela Boskovich, founder of Femtech Global.

“There are certain things that do not work and there are protocols that are missing.” Fixing the internet was the focus of the session ‘Beyond the bubble’ – and there was an important reason for fixing it. “The base-layer need for identity was not satisfied by an open protocol. Almost all the problems we are seeing now emerge out of this missing piece,” said Stephen Berlin Johnson, author of ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, discussing the original architecture of the world wide web.

Solution: blockchain. “For the first time now, we can create that massive, decentralised database of interactions, of trust, of identity, without any person or organisation controlling and owning the database itself,” said Johnson. Trust was the theme of the day, decentralisation the route to achieving trust, and in the session entitled ‘If trust is in the network, what’s the point of you?’ we began to learn what that means for us.

 

“We’re coming from a very governed, very structured, highly-regulated industry, and now we’re looking at a technology that asks us to completely revisit the value of centralisation,” said Boskovich. Technology gives options; trust is contextual. “In a radically decentralised context, blockchain fosters trust; it can also be used in less decentralised contexts to foster trust. It’s incumbent on us to figure out ways to use the technology,” said Joseph Lubin, CEO, ConsenSys.

On Tuesday, the technology under discussion was quantum computing. In the morning and early afternoon, we drilled deep into the present and future science, and in the afternoon came a debate on the practical applications, during ‘The impact of quantum computing on financial services’. Day anchor Leda Glyptis, chief of staff, 11FS, asked about the time horizon for financial service providers to start thinking about quantum. “It’s within the realm of possibility that this will happen more quickly than we think,” said Stacey Jeffery, senior researcher, CWI. “Maybe the first area where it will matter is security. A lot of the security solutions we have now will be broken by quantum computers.”

Uh oh. Alejandro Perdomo-Ortiz, senior research scientist, Rigetti, was not fazed: “This is the best time to throw these difficult problems to the scientists. We’re very excited to take the challenge and work with you.” Overall, the day gave us a clear understanding of quantum computing and its role in financial services, but also a definite sense that banks and financial institutions cannot and should not try to tackle its challenges alone. “We’re left with a promise of hope,” said Glyptis, in her closing summary

Explaining AI

Hope, and perhaps also reinforcements, given the potential of strong AI. Wednesday’s session on ‘The ethical side of AI’ offered a practical guide to working with artificial intelligences – and understanding the perspective of regulators. “Computers cannot be wrong; they can only do what you ask,” said Tony Fish, founder, AMF Ventures. AI is a system, not a finite piece of technology, the panel agreed, and the people behind the technology hold the liability. “Algorithms have parents,” Clara Durodie, founder and chief executive, Cognitive Finance, reminded us. “Do ask the hard questions at the point of buying an AI system,” Durodie added. Explainability is key, panellists suggested, but it’s less about explaining precisely how an AI tool came up with a specific recommendation than understanding the broader framework for the decision, including the data inputs.

After all that, how on earth do we secure the future state? On Thursday morning, Cyber Security Capital’s Frankland detailed a wide range of cybersecurity and related threats, and reached a reassuring, if perhaps surprising, conclusion. To secure the future state, with all of its reliance on new technologies, we should look after our people. “We need to be investing, training, having the career pivots. Technology offers quick wins, but it makes sense in the long term to focus on the people,” she said. We need our people to be both clever enough to manage strong AI, and motivated.

Will we be ready for 2030? In the closing ‘fireside chat’, ConsenSys’ Lubin seemed to think we are giving ourselves a strong chance: “This is an exquisite, beautifully curated experience up here. I think it’s incredibly encouraging that the finance industry is exposed to this sort of innovative thinking.”

And that concluded Sibos 2018’s comprehensive introduction to 2030. We’d had ‘Sensemaker’ sessions every lunchtime, and in the late afternoon, ‘Curated Networking’, at which the day’s speakers were available for further discussion. In the closing moments, as if to remind us that we should be preparing for Sibos 2019 before Sibos 2031, Innotribe bowed out of Sydney to the sound of ‘London Calling’ by The Clash.

A look at the future of money

The popular ‘Future of Money’ session at Sibos 2018 began with a hand-drawn animation. We watched as ‘Miss Tech’ entered the traditionally product-centric world of financial advice and, via the use of data, moved it towards an ‘experience consumption’ approach, thereby growing first share of mind, and in due course, share of wallet. In the digital economy, “We no longer think about buying products, but about consuming experiences,” said moderator Udayan Goyal, co-founder, Apis Partners.

We’re all customers of technology companies, and those technology companies have a massive amount of data on us. “What those companies are largely trying to do is customise experiences and provide those experiences to us,” said Goyal – thus, converting share of mind to share of wallet. “If you’re already a customer of a big data company, the cost of acquiring you, to sell you a financial product, is close to zero. Think about how they can price those products relative to somebody who actually has to acquire you as a customer.”

A sobering thought. How do incumbent financial service providers and users respond? One option is collaboration. “Here we have the consumption of experiences in which the financial products are embedded in the experiences. This is how many people see the future of money,” said Goyal, indicating the happy-ever-after closing scene in the animation – the well-advised family celebrates in their family-size house with a family-size car parked outside. As Goyal pointed out, nobody decides to buy a mortgage; people decide to move to a new house.

The end point may be clear but the journey is far from straightforward. “All our industry’s IT, all the processes, all the people are still product-aligned. A good first step is to mask that from the customer with a new front-end, customer journey-based experience,” said Neal Cross, chief innovation officer, DBS. The past doesn’t have to hinder the future, and the priority is to contextualise banking within customers’ lives. Jie Song, senior director, Ant Financial Service Group, said: “When we talk about strategy, at Ant Financial we’re really talking about user values.”

A key route to the future involves open banking, suggested the panel, but taken in its widest sense – using digital technologies such as cloud and APIs to connect more easily and flexibly to customers and other service providers – rather than in relation to regulatory-driven initiatives.

“Last year DBS launched the world’s largest API platform, without the regulator mandating it or telling us what to do. Why? Because it’s good for business. We can have thousands of partners, staff and clients helping to make us successful,” said Cross. The future isn’t a new obligation or cost; it’s where the money is. Invited to give one piece of advice to the audience, Cross added: “Make new friends, new partnerships; your greatest asset is your staff; look after your customers; run quickly.”