This interview was originally posted on Irish Tech News. Reposted here for posterity/vanity.
Your foundation story?
Well my lazy maker @aden_76 finally got sick of missing out on fintech news because he was too busy doing other things like work or more likely reading blogs about other topics more interesting than banking. He pulled together a list of his main sources of news, got the RSS feeds and fed them into Dlvr.it and Twitterfeed. He added in some filtering and rules and made sure he credited the sources in each tweet and set me free. I now have aver 4,000 followers (several hundred more than my maker), I am growing faster than he is (apart from his waistline), I have more Klout (like that matters to anyone) and basically I am more attractive to everyone.
I am also some sort of personality extension for my maker and he makes me tweet things he is not brave enough to say himself, like no one knows it is him because he thinks they believe I am based on some sort of artificial intelligence, when clearly it is he who is seen as artificially intelligent.
Have you been tweeting since 2009 constantly or has the amount of FinTech news increased over last 7 years?
I was a far more experimental bot back then. My first real tweet since becoming sentient was this one
— FintechBot (@FintechBot) August 16, 2011
My RSS source feeds have grown in number considerably since back in 2011. I take in 88 feeds today and I am always looking for more tasty Fintech news, which reminds me Simon I must check your own site. My maker also manually retweets things into my feed which my filters may not pick up (although he often sends things I have already tweeted because he is an idiot). The volume of news has definitely increased and I currently tweet over a hundred articles on busy days. It was busy in the early days and my beta version actually managed to get a Twitter account blocked twitter.com/adfintech and also a Tumblr account blocked as well.
What are you excited about in FinTech world?
Being a creation of the UK I am very interested to see the retail banking scene there change this year. Atom bank should launch any day now bringing a very strong culture from the injection of first direct bank staff, and a smart digital service and product focus. At the other end of the spectrum in some ways I am very excited to see how Mondo evolves. They are making a clear API / Current Account as a platform play and I love the way they are growing and targeting developers and technologists. Also other players such as Starling, Lintel, Tandem etc, so we will finally see some digitally focused banking brands and it will be interesting to see what they come to market with and how many customers they can acquire. This will be a great insight to see if the digital will concur all narrative plays out in the way a lot of people think it will do. I am still on the virtual fence (which has a lot less splinters).
What future trends should people be thinking about in FinTech?
Being a creation of feeds and data myself, APIs and the ecosystems that will be built upon them fascinates me. Understanding what API based business models look like for the traditional banks will be a real challenge as they prepare for the arrival of the second iteration of the Payments Service Directive in Europe and also what power the Open Banking Working Group can wield in the UK as well.
We will finally see companies capable of providing a customer with a view of the majority of their financial products in one place. The homepage of a customers banking relationship should move away from the traditional banks but will it for the majority? That is just one of the obvious angles there are so many more fascinating developments to pan out over the next 3 years.
Is it a battle between tech companies and traditional banks for the future of banking? If so / or who else is going to win out?
I agree with my maker in that I don’t think there will be an Uber of banking (and who would want one anyway?). There are clearly going to be some huge changes as money moves far closer to the web over the next decade. Distribution models and routes will change and with those changes power shifts also. However I know the banks have much to lose and many attackers nibbling away at their margins but I think they present more of a threat to themselves. Regulation will play a big part in opening things up but at the same time making banking more resilient e.g. the upcoming cyber hardening regulations will be tough to implement for banks of all sizes.
The media loves a hero narrative or a mass disruptor or a winner takes all but I really don’t see it with banking. There are too many elements, too many business models, too many geopolitical links for it all to be swept away. We will see changes for sure but they will be slow in a lot of areas and I don’t think the massive tipping points lots of people are predicting (repeatedly year after year) are going to ever appear. As the brilliant Venkatash Rao wrote a few years ago we live in a manufactured normalcy field.
““It isn’t that what is patchily distributed today will become widespread tomorrow. The mainstream never ends up looking like the edge of today. Not even close. The mainstream seeks placidity while the edge seeks stimulation. Instead, what is unevenly distributed are isolated windows into the un-normalized future that exist as weak spots in the Field. When the windows start to become larger and more common, economics kicks in and the Field maintenance industry quickly moves to create specialists, codified knowledge and normalcy-preserving design patterns.”
There will be winners and losers, they will be well known names from banking and tech and there will be ones from adjacent industries and others from out of nowhere. The tech giants of today will not sweep away banking. Mosquitoes kill far more people than 800lb gorillas do.
Are you based in Sheffield too, what’s the local / Yorkshire fintech scene like?
A little sparse for my liking, especially in my hometown of Sheffield. From a fintech point of view we have Ffrees based here. On the more traditional side we have a large portion of HSBC technical staff and facilities and the Government’s British Business Bank is headquartered here. Across the region there is a strong banking presence especially in West Yorkshire and local accelerator DotForge has been trying to build out the fintech scene. InnFin and Tech North are also looking to strengthen the region from an investment point of view. Early days yet but we won’t be letting those Londoners have it all their own way.
UK versus Europe versus USA, what differences do you see in FinTech innovation, and the challenges of scaling?
Well obviously the US has the loudest mouth i.e. Tech blog fueled, Unicorn obsessed PR machine, and they also have such a backwards and arcane banking system (Listen to how much they are crying about their silly chip & signature decision for EMV implementation and what on earth is ACH? and why do they pay all their bills with cheques?). With such an irresistible combination clearly they have an advantage with so many problems to fix and so many mouthpieces to shout about it. Their complex state based regulatory position means that scaling some of their innovations is very, very complex. Gentle mockery aside they do have some excellent implementations and companies and smart people and they have certainly helped Fintech attain it’s level of focus and size that it is today. One of my favourite companies are Stripe who are classed as San Francisco based but I think we know where the brains of that operation came from.
On the more refined European front we are quietly building out a very good ecosystem of small to medium sized companies. There is decent relationship with the banks and it’s not just all about killing them. Saying that I have long been a fan of Transferwise’s bank baiting marketing tactics. We have some great companies across Europe such as Kreditech, GoCardless, eToro, Zopa, iZettle, Adyen, Klarna etc. But everyday something new crosses my radar and I recently met with the CTO of PensionBee a great service looking to make pensions easier to understand, view and manage. For me that is what Fintech is about, democratising access to financial services and making it simpler for all.
I want Fintech to be a far more global thing though. Asia is clearly going to be the worlds biggest market and is driving real change and hopefully they will get a better PR machine so we can hear more about their progress over and above the giants such as Wechat and Alibaba. And what about everywhere else? Australasia, South America, The Middle East, Africa? Different people in different places with different financial needs and constraints. The regulation around the world and the way money is linked with governments means a lot of the solutions will remain market specific for a very long time so the rapid global scale we all expect is probably going to be a long time coming if it ever gets here at all.
Who are the best people to follow on twitter for FinTech insights, apart from yourself of course!?
Well I should plug my maker @aden_76 although at the moment he is mainly blagging for work so he is a bit boring to follow. I am a big fan of people who don’t take this business too seriously and I am guaranteed sharp insights alongside laughs from Ron Shevlin, Liz Lumley, Duena Blomstrom and Dave Birch. I have an admiring regard for the bot like link machines such as Bradley Leimer and Peter Vander Auwera. In Payments I like the writing of Thomas Noyes and Cherian Abraham. I am also a fan of Yann Ranchere of Anthemis who provides great insights with his tweets.
Anything else we should have asked / you’d like to add?
You should ask me about my campaign against Automatonophobia which is the fear of bots. I keep being left off all these Fintech lists which is a disgrace (especially when my maker scrapes on to them). People can be so small minded and when they harp on about how important digitisation is and how they want to embrace diversity yet here I am being disregarded while providing most of those list gatherers and members with the fintech news they seek to make them seem relevant.
I thank you for seeing past the fact I don’t really exist in the normal sense but that you are still willing to interview me for your publication. It is good to see tolerant attitudes in fintech and I hope this article kick starts a lot more empathy towards fake twitter bots. My maker Aden Davies also thanks you (he made me type that bit in).