I wandered around the exhibition hall of a FinTech conference, late last year. It doesn’t really matter which one – I have attended, covered, organised and spoken at so many of these events over the years – many of them combine into one generic spectacle. The speakers on the agenda include the head of digital at a progressive Asian bank, the flavour of the month unicorn CEO, the paid for keynote speaker whose presentation I have seen repeated in several cities on several stages many times before. I stopped to speak to someone I knew – who’s company had bought an exhibition stand on the main floor of the soulless venue.
“How’s the show been for you,” I asked?
He signed. “Ya know, we were convinced to buy this booth because of all the senior bank names on the agenda – but all these guys do is go straight to the lounge, do their 20 minutes on stage and leave. We never meet them.”
There, in one, this guy had nailed the con – the utter lie – of the modern conference circuit. They were sold lead generation, an opportunity to network and do business and all of that ‘opportunity’ was based on an illusion.
I wrote a few years ago that most people attend events either to ‘learn something’ or to ‘meet someone’ – we rarely get to do both. As the curtain closed on the first FinTECHTalents Festival in October last year – I spent the Uber drive home thinking about what we could do better, how we could improve the show for 2019.
I knew, we needed to get rid of ‘the stage’.
I have sat in darkened theatres – row 48, aisle seat so I can exit easily – watching big name speakers say one or two mildly interesting things as attendees checked their phones or took a nap. In my career I have seen Steve Wozniak, President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Madeline Albright, Mike Bloomberg and countless other well-known people speak on stage. I have been in the same room with all of these people – but they wouldn’t know me even if I landed on the hood of their chauffeured car with a dramatic flourish. There are lots of people (me included) who would spend big money to see Beyoncé at the O2 dance and sing at a concert.
How much would it be worth to have Beyoncé sing in your living room*?
I saw a random picture of an industry event on the Twitter the other day. Large room, with rows and rows of chairs, high stage, with speakers – probably on bar stools 😉 – far away from the audience (far away from their community, their network, their ecosystem). There was a wide expanse of floor space between the front row (always empty) and the stage.
I call that space The Wasteland – where no business happens ever.
In venues all around the world – there is a man sitting in row 28 of a darkened room watching a six-person panel speak for 20 minutes. There is a woman on that panel – who gets maybe three minutes of speaking time – who has the right contacts, and access to budgets – that would make his business fly. And they are never going to meet. The lack of ‘learning’ offered by a poorly thought out panel, across the abyss of The Wasteland – mean that connection, never mind hearing anything worth Tweeting, never happens.
We want to change that. We are changing that. FinTECHTalents Generation 2019 will not be the conference you are sold – it will be the conference this industry deserves.
Our Welcome stage will be low and jut out into the middle of the audience. We will offer our speakers the chance to speak and express their expert knowledge – not hide in an over bloated panel with an inexperienced moderator.
FinTECHTalents will open with a debate – between senior figures in the FinTech space – weighing in on the central conundrum that sits at the core of the modern FinTech revolution – Where we are going and do we need banks? This ‘US Presidential-style’ debate will feature (as of now) Starling Bank, Asto, Facebook and HSBC and the audience will weigh in on the winner.
In the afternoon – our streams will be sectioned off into ‘Discussion Rooms’ highlighting various themes our industry is facing. Each of those rooms will be arranged around tables – there will be no stage, no Wasteland. The speakers will sit in with the audience. Roaming room ‘chairs’ will moderate the discussion – allowing the audience to interact, engage and actually meet the people featured on each session. The rooms will not be organised around ‘speakers’ and audience – but a community coming together, knowing each other’s names, peers meeting each other in a room that is designed not for escape or napping – but for learning and connecting.
Over the past few weeks we have been working to make sure the people in the industry who do things – people at banks, FinTech companies, academic programmes – will be attending the event. Whether they are a speaker, a presenter or just a fellow delegate – the FinTech community will be at FinTECHTalents.
Each exhibitor and sponsor of the event will be assigned a community manager – who will support and help connect all of the people who ‘do’ at FinTECHTalents with the people who need to get ‘the do’ done.
We have so much planned for FinTECHTalents this year. Returning will be craft beer and live music and our community of computer science students. This year our students will expand to include design and business students. A talent lounge will be set up – making it clear and simple to match companies that need to hire new skills with the people who have them.
A third day has been added to our agenda – which will focus on artificial intelligence and RegTech. AITECHTalents will examine how AI will impact our Society, our Industry and our Workplace in the coming years. RegTECHTalents will look at how technology is shaping and innovating the world of regulation and compliance.
All of this will be held – not at some soulless venue that no one enjoys trudging on the DLR to get to – but at PrintWorks in Canada Water, home to many a rave and a fashion show.
Our industry is at its best when it is full of joy, and innovation and vibrant debates on the future of financial services. Conferences should be more than just pithy Tweets, or endless meetings and bland conference fare… FinTECHTalents will not only be the event you see on Twitter but one where you leave with a head full of knowledge and a pocket full of business cards.
That is unless the old fashioned, giant stage, empty Wasteland, boring panel type of event is more your style – then have fun. As for us – we will be sipping craft beer with the architects of the future of financial services this November. Why don’t you come and join us?
*Beyoncé is not actually booked to perform at FinTECHTalents – but ya know ‘Call us! We’ll send a car, and save you some craft beer and everything 😊