Every year, in December, a tree is erected in the middle of Trafalgar Square in central London. It is covered in twinkle lights and topped with a star and shines like a beacon during the chilly and rainy weather that tends to mark the Christmas season in the UK (rather than reflect gently falling snowflakes that settle on clean, clear West End streets that only really exist in Richard Curtis movies).
Most people who rush past this tree, come to visit, or cast a glance as they wait for the 91 Bus probably don’t think of its freight shipping journey across the North Sea. Fewer still probably wonder about the 50 to 60 years this tree spent in a Norwegian forest, growing taller and more substantial in its evergreen lushness. A fair number will know that this tree is a gift, from the people of Norway, to Great Britain for the support the nation gave during World War II. The Mayor of Oslo has overseen the cutting down of a holiday pine, for gifting to the UK, every year since 1942. But for most, it is simply a Christmas Tree – pretty, festive and seasonal – gone by 6th January leaving only needles for the street sweepers and an empty square filled with post-holiday angst.
It is hard to see a forest consisting of 80 plus years of European diplomacy, farming practices, cross border transportation and 3.5 kW of low-wattage halogen bulbs but for the tree.
Our financial services industry is full of silo’ed and segregated projects. Working groups that meet to discuss (for years and years) on how to migrate from one ISO standard to another. Products are developed in isolation without looking towards the customer in any meaningful way. Supposed innovative FinTech offerings that end up serving only a small, narrow group of customers.
Still so many of us ask – why has this industry been so hard to a-hem…disrupt? Why has the status quo, where so many consumers and small businesses experience a less than satisfactory service, remain almost unchanged? How do you evolve an industry that maintains its power through trust, with methodologies and processes designed to develop business and products that people are meant to love?
Over the past decade have we been so focused on the shining, twinkling FinTech tree we failed to see the forest that brought it to us and continues to do so, year after year.
FinTECHTalents – in both its physical and virtual formation – was never designed as a ‘FinTech’ conference. From our launch in 2018, the Festival was offered as a date and a place where a ‘FinTech audience’ could gather to ask ourselves the Big Questions around innovation and digital transformation. The event was a place to hear the stories that could offer us the lessons and strategies needed to create a real future for financial services.
When researching for the launch of our Nordics Virtual event a strange thing happened. Ask a pretty broad question to anyone outside of the five countries that make up ‘The Nordics’ (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) and you hear a range of comments. Most described the region as possessing a progressive population, one that created startup friendly ecosystems, and nailed the identity dilemma. Many looked wistfully north at the journey this region has been making to eliminate paper cash from everyday life.
Talk to people from the region and you get a very different story. Words like “conservative” and “traditional” came up a lot from people at banks. Difficulties in partnering with FinTech companies was mentioned. Scarcity of funding for startups came up in reports and data-based analysis. Even the work toward creating a cashless society was met with a world-weary sigh of “We talk about that all the time”.
I started thinking, where is the reality? Why do some of us see a cool, progressive Scandi-style FinTech community, while others see a pale, stale and backwards financial services environment?
Or was everyone just glancing at the trees and ignoring the forest?
Søren Rode Andreasen, of Danske Bank asked me a question, I immediately was angry at myself for not considering prior. “Liz, will FTT Virtual Nordics be an event for the Nordics or about the Nordics?” It made me stop and think – and reconsider my speaker acquisition strategy.
What was this event really about? Was it a showcase of Nordic FinTech – so people in the US and Asia and other parts of Europe could learn the stories and challenges and strategies of this region? Or would it be an interactive, virtual gathering where topics around payments, identity and digital transformation could be discussed by a regional community?
I decided it needed to be both. This 2020 Virtual world has offered many of us a gift. We can now listen to and engage with people all over the world (yes, I know the technology has existed for quite some time). But now we are all Virtual, practically all the time. Skipping from an American podcast, to webinar from Singapore to a Zoom call with Baltic regulators. While bankers in Stockholm are probably tired about watching yet another panel of Swedish FinTech players talk about eliminating cash, a banker from Florida might view it has revolutionary.
It is hard to get excited about a single tree that grows amongst thousands in a forests in northern Norway, chosen for its adherence to guidelines and tradition. However, place that tree in the context of a chilly London evening in December and it becomes sparkly, imposing and a focus for our attention.
FinTECHTalents Virtual Nordics will be a Festival both for and about the region. A showcase on the progress and innovation of the region for those around the world who would like to know more. But also an open invitation to join our regional discussion to those working on payments, and identity and what it means to be in financial services in the 21st Century from all around the world – all from the comfort of their own PCs.
FinTECHTalents Virtual Nordics will be about the Forest and the Trees.
This October 14th – find your FinTech True North find the answers to these questions.
Show me the money, where can Nordic FinTech find its capital?
One of the major pillars of an effective FinTech Hub is access to capital for new companies. Is capital hard to find in the Nordic region? Where can it be found now and what can be done to improve support and funding for startups?
Working from … Home, Remote, Distributed wherever…
The future of work has often been promoted as one where anyone can work anywhere, in any time zone, empowered by digital technologies that enable outcomes over inputs. This set up is no longer a choice, but how most of us work in 2020. What tools, strategies and procedures are needed to make sure your team works together when they are not together?
The Class of 1984
In 1984, Olof Stenhammar founded Swedish derivatives exchange OM in 1984 and in doing so became a global pioneer in electronic trading. Is Nordic innovation still defined by the launch of OM? How influential has the initial team been within FinTech over the past 35 years? To understand the current state of Nordic FinTech – do we need to re-examine the Class of 1984.
The Lunchtime Debate – Is Nordic Innovation a Myth?
Conventional wisdom regarding disruptive companies in the Nordic region will throw up tech giants like Skype, Spotify and even Rovio (home of Angry Birds). Others point to innovation in payments, with countries like Sweden publicly moving towards a cashless society, and names like iZettle, Klarna and Holvi are almost the elder statement of the FinTech ecosystem.
However, if you dig deeper into twitter chats, blog posts and Zoom conversations a different FinTech reality emerges – one of incumbent bank complacency, an aversion to partnerships and lack of capital and support for startups.
What is the reality? Is the Nordic region more open to innovation, is it a myth told through sycophantic press articles or is the Northern European financial services industry no more immune to the swings and roundabouts of any traditional industry dealing with disruptive technology and upstart new entrants?
Identity Rules in the Nordics and Beyond
The Nordic, Scandanavian and even Baltics states have had much success with national identity schemes. How does it compare to the rest of the world? Will the Asian model dominate? How will ‘Big Tech’ play a role globally? How will culture and politics impact identity innovation and progress?
The Journey to P27
Once completed, P27 will provide a single payments infrastructure for almost 27 million people living in the Nordics region. The project is ambitious, wide in scope and involves the banks and payments ecosystem of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. What has been the journey so far, what else needs to be done and how will this pan-Nordic payment platform pave the way for additional innovation in the region?
The Open Banking Salon
Open Banking initiatives are rife throughout Europe and the Nordics are no exception. While banks, PSPs and new entrants focus on open APIs, marketplaces and data – is anyone in the industry really looking at the needs of the consumer? Is the true promise of Open Banking yet to come?
Inclusion, the Environment and FinTech’s true impact on Society
How does the Nordic region understand financial health? How can prosperity be enabled? Does the move towards a cashless society hinder of enable these efforts? What impact will COVID-19 have on the national and global economies – and does FinTech have an answer?