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Cold but exhilarating in Davos

20 January 2017

We're just back from our second visit to the Davos 'fringe' with Innovate Finance and several FinTech momentum players.  Numerous events and discussions on a wide range of topics take place alongside the main World Economic Forum event and, if you have the luxury of time, attending an event on a topic you know nothing about is a wise thing to do. 

Lacking that luxury, we focussed on FinTech and Digitalisation.  This is some of what we learnt:

 

  • Blockchain is becoming less theoretical as entrepreneurs focus on specific applications for the technology.  There was a great deal of talk about the 'internet of value', smart contracts and the 'internet of things'.  The developing world, with less infrastructure to adapt or unravel, may be wholesale early adopters of Blockchain across government and business but applications in the developed world are likely to be more targeted.
  • Successful start-ups offer a solution, sometimes to an unrecognised problem and sometimes to a problem that couldn't be solved without sophisticated technology.  On the theme of Responsible and Responsive Leadership, much was made about the prospect of using technology to unlock wealth potential for millions worldwide and the related need for access to payments and credit.  We heard from Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder and CEO of Paytm, which in a very short time has acquired 180 million customers in India, approaching the State Bank of India's total of 220 million. The exponential growth of Paytm was greatly assisted by India recently demonitising certain bank notes.
  • ICOs (Initial Currency Offers) were discussed – issuing digital currency to fund a start up in digital currency or Blockchain. This trend will no doubt gather pace despite a recent, well publicised hack.
  • Cyber-security was, unsurprisingly, top of the list of risks and concerns and not just for the financial sector. We heard from Eugene Kaspersky, Founder and CEO of Kaspersky Labs. His advice was to employ hackers to find the weaknesses in your systems.  
  • Disrupters and incumbents went head to head with Peter Smith (CEO of Blockchain) and Ralph Hamers (CEO of ING Group) vehemently (but politely) disagreeing about the impact of technology on existing banking groups but agreeing that the way forward will be a mix of partnerships with a few technology companies winning through to take a share, at least, of a very big global market for financial services.
  • The FinTechs are going to require significant funding in the next few years, both from the traditional markets but, in particular, from the alternative lenders.

 

With so much to pack in and so many people to meet, the hours were long but the cold kept us focused!

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