Category: Articles

PSD2 – the second coming is nigh

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Not only is PSD2 (Payments Services Directive) the second iteration of PSD it is also seen as the second coming by many in financial services, particularly that random bunch of new players broadly placed under the brand of Fintech. If you are not familiar with the 170 odd page delight of a read then here is a link to it though I highly recommend Starling Bank’s far shorter explanation, which also exudes their excitement for it. For a longer more detailed insight try this from Out-Law.

The excitement is brought about due to PSD2 promising to deliver an open payment network through APIs (PSD2 will do much more but this is the bit people are focusing on most). These will let companies with the appropriate license have the ability to make payment instructions upon bank accounts. Those with access are known as payment initiation services providers (PISPs) i.e. make payments, move money. The second group can aggregate transaction data from multiple institutions and are known as account information services providers (AISPs). The final text of the European wide regulation got rubber stamped in the European Parliament at the beginning of October. This means that by the beginning of December the countdown will begin. Member states and their banks / financial service providers have two years to implement the changes and place them into law. By the 1st January 2018 (if not a smidgen before) the second coming will be upon us.

In parallel to this in the UK we have the Open Banking Working Group (OBWG). A group brought together in response to the request from the Treasury for information on APIs and open data in banking. The OBWG is co chaired by The Open Data Institute and is represented by a host of experts across six sub committees from many aspects of finance. The aims around data access are similar to that of PSD2 (and their will be alignment) but the individual customer seems to be slightly more of a focus for the OBWG.

Let me state that I personally think both of these initiatives are brilliant. Access of this nature has been long needed to not only stimulate the market but more importantly give banking customers (pretty much all of us) access to our own transaction data in a more useful form than a downloadable spreadsheet. I have said this plenty of times in the past. The ability for payment instructions to be made on top of the existing accounts effectively means that the entire banking experience could be replaced by a third-party service and allow you top operate your banking across all institutions, with which you have a relationship, in a single interface.

That above are just the obvious use cases, these changes should unleash upon the world a wave of innovation like nothing the financial services world has seen…or maybe not. Plenty of people are imagining more such as Mondo, David, Matt etc. All good.

But I have a few concerns….

Banking is a slow moving ass and sometimes needs the stick of regulation to get it moving. What if the mandatory nature of this regulatory stick does not lead to an ideal solution to the problem it is trying to fix? The Technical Standards for PSD2 are 12 months behind the regulatory standards. This means there will be 12 months of analysing/designing/guessing how the compliant solutions should operate. The authentication methods to be used for access to data and the creation of payment instructions are key implementations upon which the hopes of many rest. Get this wrong and implement some clunky awful and unworkable solution and the blossom of innovation they hope to nurture will never appear.

Are the right level of people involved in the creation of these technical standards? I hope the very companies that desire this the most get to have an at least equal say in the design of these access methods. I also hope that people with experience of doing this kind of change before are also involved. For example the W3C (Web Governing Standards Body) are currently building out the Web Payments charter. The timescales align very well but I believe the twain have never met. The PSD2 proposed changes feel like they should fit perfectly or at least very well with the changing nature of payments as part of the fabric of the web. Leaving this design to bankers and policy makers alone feels risky to me.

In the UK the Open Banking Working Group have explicitly stated OAUTH as a mechanism of choice to be used for delegated access to data which is good news. While it may not be perfect it is a widely used standard and I believe these changes should be looking to use the best of breed of today rather than trying to create new standards.

Another aspect I am not clear on (and maybe completely wrong about) is the nature of access available to the individual customer. PSD2 refers to PISPs and AISPs but what about the humble user? Can I choose where I plug that data? Will I only be able to choose from an approved (by whom?) list of licensed and regulated AISPs? Can I not use the data myself in my own apps if I have the talent to build such things? Can I link that data to AISPs in other countries? What about companies outside the jurisdiction of PSD2? Are there rules around this data that make it far more sacred than it needs to be? People have been able to download and upload spreadsheets wherever they see fit for decades.

This automated feed does indeed bring greater risk but that being said hampering it with rules for rules sake may present more of a risk to growth than the threat risk perceived.

I am also concerned that banks will see this as yet another regulatory demand placed upon them outside of their business strategy. This means compliance as a bare minimum and nothing else. This is what the Fintech horde are hoping for. Complacency compliance instead of the incumbent providers taking the massive opportunity before them and making a real digital step forward. Clearly some banks will play this differently to others and history will no doubt show who played their hand most wisely. This is another reason that the people driving PSD2 cannot just be the banks or the regulators.

And finally…what happens when Apple/Amazon/Facebook/Google apply for their AISP/PISP licenses. Second coming gets a California style hype boost then and bank boardrooms across Europe hit the panic button. Maybe.

PSD represents a fundamental change to the way banking operates across Europe and possible the most seismic shift in ‘centuries of stony sleep’. The implementation of it will be key to ensure this delivers truly open payments and data access and not just the change that satisfies the regulation minimums. Let’s see what happens between now and January 2018 and then beyond.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats

Make things open, it makes things better e.g. blog freely

I was lucky enough to see Ben Terrett, the then Head of Design at the Government Digital Service (GDS), speak at the RSA in September. His talk was entitled ‘From Persuasion to Usability – Design Meets the Internet’ about how design at it’s best. One of the great things (out of many) that Ben spoke is making things open makes them better. One of the examples of this openness at GDS is through their great use of the humble blog.

People at all levels in the organisation write posts about the work they are doing/have done, the things they have learnt, the things that are broken etc. That sounds a really simple thing to do but in my experience getting that level of commitment to publishing in this way is not an easy task. Sharing that widely inside an organisation is not the norm let alone outside.

Now GDS are spending public money so they are of public interest but I think companies that are part of the private sector in competitive industries would do well to copy the model. I asked a question to Ben during the talk about whether or not this could work in the private sector and his original answer was that he did not know as he had not tried it but that it should.

‘ is a public project done with public money so you should publish everything have full transparency. But at the same time we believe in being open…one of the founding principles of the Internet is being open. In a private organisation it would be slightly different.

Having said that the examples that I have shown you there are font sizes and colours and I can’t see that there is any competitive advantage in keeping those secret. I think the privacy thing would be way smaller than you think it would be. Certainly you should be open by default…Openness also means just talking about what you are doing…having a culture of blogging, having visible leadership, having leaders that are on Twitter, blogging, talking about what they are doing…’

Ben CEO Fonts

I love Ben’s answer. He makes it sound so simple yet in my limited experience it is a very hard thing to achieve unless that belief is shared at the very top. You have to have enough people in the organisation that are bought into it and that are also willing to write. When Ben or Mike Bracken or Tom Loosemore post it shows that this is something right from the top and that, I imagine, encourages others to get involved (I wonder how people are chosen to post actually?). It is not just for leaders though it is for all levels of staff through out the organisation.

The ability to write in this way is a real element of leadership. The encouragement of others to do so even greater. The written word can be easily misconstrued and is also almost irrevocable and as such maybe is seen as an act of transparency too far for some so called leaders.

There are other issues with this way of writing and publishing. The simple act of giving people a voice and a platform to speak flies in the face of the command and control structure of most large organisations. It may collide with the professional one way broadcast output from the communications department

Also for most the day to day work alone prevents this kind of sharing and writing when it is not deemed important. When all that matters is hitting deadlines then how you got there is seen as of little consequence and is not reflected in your annual objectives. Showing your working out helps join up an organisation because no doubt someone is facing similar challenges everyday.

GDS Blog

The blog is such a simple thing on the face of it but so few companies have really used them well. In the constant strive for the almost mythical differentiation, then doing some basic things really well can make you stand out a mile. Most people get excited about the new platforms and new forms of media and reach and sharing but ultimately writing openly, honestly and interestingly is a powerful skill. The blog can amplify the impact of those words greatly and I wish we saw more good usage of blogs inside and outside of companies.

Ben is now at the Co-Operative along with other colleagues from the GDS including Mike Bracken. One of the first public things they have done is to start a blog. ‘Make things open, it makes things better’ is seemingly far from a platitude.

You can watch Ben’s brilliant talk and Q&A here. He covered a hell of a lot more than the one thing I have written about.

Future of transactions workshop homework

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a future of transactions workshop by James Haycock of Adaptive Lab. It was facilitated and designed by the brilliant John Wilshire and Scott Smith. This post is not really about the workshop (as it is a work in progress and if you want to know more you should speak to Adaptive Lab, and you really should because it was brilliant) but it is about the prework for it.

The task was to come up with three scenarios on potential impacts to transactions in the next 5-7 years.

I typed a lot of notes and half thoughts the night before. I just rediscovered those notes and have decided to tidy them up slightly and post them. Mainly so I remember them a little better hopefully. We touched on some of the topics below in the workshop but certainly not all.

These fragments will hopefully form parts of a series of posts in the future but here is the list

How far can transparency go? Transparency is the big one for me. Governments and organisations are pretty bad at it.
Gov decisions, lobbying.
New civic infrastructures? Bank network how it works becomes open to public scrutiny.
Data source proving.
Tax regime badging of providers? Certificates for businesses that pay taxes well?
The buffer of banking? Buffers radical transparency around wages, customer numbers, funding, burn rate etc is great. What if a bigger org took that approach?

Show the end to end of real transactions. Explain the cost by showing the steps? Ties into transparent banking? Would also be horrific reading.

This call is being recorded for training purposes. Access to all calls, transcripts, system entries, mistakes highlighted? Compliance failures in realtime? Human to human contact too risky in the future because of regulatory regimes?

Sensor capability in phones, augmented wearables. Sharing value chains. Bounds of awkwardness. Medical data. Consumption data. Obvious but…

DNA pay. Saliva quicker than a fiver. Oof.
Awkward biometrics. Contextual I.e. Callsign. Face interactions. Photo with ID via webcam. Selfie sign up / payments. Stolen fingerprints. Face/off

Digital identity – addressless, real name, differing personas, countryless,
Tokenised payments. One time vs long time customer?
Entitlements commercial vs personal? Blurred lines between who you are at work?
Identity a Mixture of software and hardware. Paper and digital. How will that mix play out? Embedded? Non-hack able?

Banking products of today too blunt. Still tied to a branch. Sort code.

Regulatory – 5 years after PSD2? What other regulatory changes will there be (cyber hardening etc.)
Combined data by user, regulatory analysis of merge. Other industry equivalents? API for everything? Then what?

Using regs to drive change may not deliver the best solution. Regulatory fails? European cookie, bank account 7 day transfer, regs / bodies build joint industry solutions not fit? PAYM

Personal Data Stores – can that hand back to customers work? Technical/design challenge to overcome apathy. Can it scale? Will it be just a nerds dream?

Does anyone really have the power to tie together? Gift data? Sell data? Inherit data?

Crafted me vs real me vs aspirational me. Spotify / scrobble / Netflix watching. Share who you want to be. Share who you really are? APML for marketing vs APML for health service. .

VRM – purchase power. Tender vs browse. Personal RFP? Only viable for some transactions. Primark not big players?

Transfer – soft SIM. No lock in to anything. As the sign up gets ever more seamless, saying goodbye will become just as seamless. Hardware? Lock out free?

Midata for social web? Apple? Apps purchased on Apple = purchased on Android if you switch? Banking corollary?

Ecosystem of finance? Business models? No data analysis allowed/must be fully public?

Backlash to tech? Artisanal banking. Paper & branch only. Handwritten ledger. IT free bank? No longer possible?

W3C payments. Money at the HTTP level? What does it mean. Walled garden payment silos vs cross industry collab?

Digital transfer of assets, algorithmic proof.
Decentralised dreams. Stay as dreams. A singular entity usually creates the ‘best’ solution that goes mainstream.

America stops running the world? DNS, money routing, AML? Not everything has to go through them. New pipes. whatever happened to WiMAX? User made mesh networks on a huge scale. Linked to our own personal Loons.

Like I said a bit of a random splurge but an interesting (for me) reflection on where my head went in relation to that question at that time. Pretty proud of the fact that I did not mention the Blockchain…way too obvious. Thanks for the invite it was a great event and switched back on long dormant parts of my brain.

Proper Digital Engagement

I am a big fan of well designed notifications. I have seen a couple of fantastic ones recently.

This one by Capital One highlighting a rising charge


And this one by new guys Mondo, which is a simple but beautiful you have spent this much today.


From this article on them over at Financial Brand.

Proper digital engagement not just talking at people on Twitter.

We are so close to the perfect mainstream mobile…

…yet still so far and there are a few things stopping us from getting there. Yes I am currently trying to buy a ‘Midrange’ Android phone and yes it is pissing me off.

The biggest, well smallest, problem is hardware vendors obsession with less memory for ‘selected markets’ i.e. poorer markets. The 8GB smartphone is no use to anyone rich or poor, when the OS takes up over half that space. Aimed at emerging markets because people who can’t spend a lot on phones can’t buy apps or take photos they must assume.

When will smartphone makers just agree that 32gb is the entry level for today stop using 8GB models to make people think about a flagship purchase instead. Apple keep their previous years model available but just with 8GB so no one thinks about actually buying old models and keeping the secondhand market thriving. Stop being dicks.

In fact 64gb is not really a stretch. 32gb / 64gb NAND chips are currently trading between $1.50 to $3.00. If the baseline for all smartphones was 32gb the price of those chips would fall through the floor. I know the margins are thin and the rest of the components will be sub dollar if not sub 10c but come on…move the ecosystem along without adding more complexity and confusion to your customers. Also why don’t phone companies just install the OS on a separate memory chip? Limit their own OS to a certain size and give customers the stated space so 8GB really is 8Gb not around 2gb once the OS is installed (yes I know the software needs to allow for that etc.).

In the UK the Moto G 3rd gen is £179 for 8Gb and £209 for the 16gb (which also features dual SIM slots) is currently the king of the mid range. But it looks like £30 for about 75c of memory. Not quite Apple levels of price gouging but still it looks like the 8GB versions are just useless and limiting the life of devices (which clearly to sell more phones you obviously want to do, especially if you make phones but it looks increasingly like a shitty short term strategy and very wasteful). Although I suspect Motorola also want people to consider their higher end flagship e.g. the Moto X Play.

We have the basic components for the perfect handset for most, yet no company really seems to be capable of executing on it. For me the perfect handset looks something like this.

Perfect Device

  • 4.5 – 5″ screen. I don’t want anything bigger, 4.5″ is plenty big enough for most. The iPhone 6 screen is 4.7″, My 4S is is just 3.5″ and I manage just fine…not the size, it is what you do with it etc.
  • 2gb of RAM, should be enough for most things
  • A decent enough quadcore processor, something that runs current OS versions well and is good enough for the next few too
  • 720p resolution is just fine
  • 32GB of Flash storage memory, 64Gb even better
  • MicroSD Card slot
  • 3000+Mah Battery (bigger, again better. The thing should last a full working day of real usage)
  • Android 5.0/5,1 as close to stock as possible with a good track record for updates
  • As good a camera as is possible. 13mp seems fairly entry level but stats are meaningless here just make it good and fast and decent in low light

How skinny or heavy the phone is not really of major concern. Yes it needs to be made of sound materials with a decent look about it but a rectangular device is what we are aiming for. I currently use an iPhone 4s in a Skech case which is over 13mm thick. And weighs over 160g. I would trade weight, thinness and screen size for battery life everytime. There must be some sort of golden ratio for these things, a sort of mobile phone version of knob feel? Pocket/hand feel? (this is reaching peak innuendo now).

I want all this for under £200 I expect it to be available for nearer to £100 by the end of 2016. These parts are available in devices under this price today just not seemingly all in one device. A few of the Chinese brands are getting very close but those devices are not widely available in the UK and are not sold by reputable/mainstream suppliers or directly to the UK.



The Nubia Mini 9 by ZTE looks like an almost perfect device apart from there seemingly being no 32gb version and it not really being for sale over yet here and may never be widely.

The Moto G 3rd Gen feels like it is getting close (they are hampered by their confusing naming scheme, average cameras and their various market models defined mainly by stupid storage restrictions).

The Sony M4 Aqua was a great device crippled by an 8gb only model (in the UK). Look at Sony’s own website lavishly praising the device on all fronts except one. Try and find out how much memory it has. 

The Sony M5 looks even better but Sony have said they will not launch it in the UK instead going with the much more expensive Z line (Z5 entry level = £439).

The company that really nails the ‘good enough standard for mobile devices’ will win a huge share if they can execute right. Insisting on making a multitude of SKUs for different markets and crippling them with low memory to stop people buying them over flagship models or just plain not making them available in all markets is just annoying. Sony the M5 is a total winner of a handset. No wonder you are reputedly losing 1 million dollars a day through your handset division. Employ fewer MBAs and more designers.

All the pieces are there to make what I see as the perfect mainstream handset, just that for a variety of business model reasons or design blindness, no one seems willing to make it. Will a company be brave enough/insightful enough to do it and execute well enough to disrupt the market and force the other players to raise their game?

More Issues

Another bugbear of mine is the way mobile phones are sold. Feels like the purchasing shift is only just starting to switch away from devices all being bundled with a contract and provider so the devices are not sold the same way as other electronic less infrastructure bound devices. Roll on soft SIMs.

This powerful play by telcos also means handsets are sold by a number of bizarre firms you have barely heard of that get them from who knows where. The mainstream retailers sell a few pay as you go / SIM free but it is still very limited / focused on a particular telco. Roll on more unlocked direct sales from manufacturers. Xiaomi, ZTE, Huawei et al have a great opportunity to really disrupt the way phones are made and sold. No way I am going to commit to a 2 year contract at £45 as I know have a contract under £15 a month for all you can use minutes and text and a good few GBs of data. The model of phone ownership for me has changed.

If only Apple would stop being ‘luxury’ providers and make a spec of iPhone that matches the above and prices it around the £250 mark. I would not be considering an Android device. I suspect it would dent Android growth significantly. Game over record profits at Apple I suspect as well though as fewer people buy the £700 flagship devices. Business is complicated innit.

Fix it

Come on handset and telcos sort it out. Move the market and set 32gb as the standard for memory. Build the best phone you can at the right price point. Your focus on market/region specific devices is crippling you. Don’t force purchase choices by setting limitations aimed at making people think about the next level up. Fewer models, fewer restrictive features. The less flash memory the more your brand disappears off my shopping list in a flash.

Blockchain Bandwagon

As more and more banks & VC’s start investing in Bitcoin and ever more the Blockchain it seems this almost nursery school age technology is destined to play an ever greater and more influential role in the future of finance. It is being breathlessly lauded as the potential destroyer of almost every complex process of today around the transferral of goods, services, documents, IP, identity, contracts, laws, house ownership etc. etc.

I have not really written anything about Bitcoin or Blockchains before but someone asked me recently what I thought about them. I have to admit I have not put in the time to really understand the mathematics behind The Blockchain. My almost A Level standard maths studies at college and university fell apart around plotting 3D sine waves. I never studied cryptography. I am however fascinated by the fact the technology behind the Blockchain has seemingly solved the problems around transferral of ‘digital assets’. Cryptographic proof of transfer, units of work distributed across a network, the ledger of those transfers open to all. It sounds great.

I also never studied economics so I can’t tell if the Blockchain relates well to some age old theory that economists seem to like. ‘It is just like fractional reserve banking’ or something something gold standard. No idea.

The thing that interests me most about it is its openness. The fact that this has allowed a sizeable ecosystem of businesses and applications to build up around it in such a short period of time. This is also seemingly the one thing none of these keen investors are interested in. I haven’t done an MBA either so I know nothing about business models really but I believe that open and lots of funding from VC’s/banks don’t really go hand in hand.

I liked Fred Wilson’s comment that it could become a protocol like the foundation of the Internet. Will the development around the blockchain mean that good enough beats over prescribed just has it has done in the past with the likes of TCP/IP vs OSI. I am watching the W3C Web Payments group with interest but I feel it is going to be a very difficult challenge to supplant the existing rails/work with them well enough to make everyone happy. We are headed for another set of silos surely? I do hope not.

I also like what companies such as Eris are building. Blockchains without the Bitcoins. Build your own. It is just a database at the end of the day (and apparently has something to do with marmots). In fact everywhere you turn there is something new. Some reimagining of something old but in a new time. The Elements Project being another interesting avenue of investigation/work. The openness just allows people to build and therefore we might see some age old problems, that the exisiting rails just can’t technically or economically support, finally become a reality e.g. do blockchains/sidechains allow micropayments to move closer to viability?

It feels like it has further potential to be the basis for real changes to the financial rails. The complex back office processes required to facilitate the movement of assets and traded goods feels particularly ripe for improvement. This seems to be where the bulk of the investment from banks is focusing.

Maybe some companies or industries will create their own ledgers and currencies for specific types of trade. Again a rich angle of investigation. But I do wonder about the what if they did some of this experimentation in he open? Made a public ledger of an exisiting trade flow? Allow others to access all that information? Build upon it?

What this openness and high speed evolution and creation has done is chipped away at the rules and regulations and made people in governments believe their may be a better way. Where once the view might have been this will definitely be regulated out of existence it is now clear that some countries will do the very opposite. It is also driving the debate about opening up the networks further. Midata v2 / standardised banking APIs loom large in the UK. Payments Service Directive 2 (the revenge) includes some great stuff around access to account for third parties to gain a foothold / build an ecosystem upon.

Will all this investment bring further innovation, smooth the edges and bring about the manufactured normalcy field to make Blockchains and crypto currencies more understandable / accessible to mainstream users? Or will the more protocol like nature mean it will merge into the vapours of the cloud and become another strand of plumbing few need to truly understand.

For me the key point is the open nature of Bitcoin and it’s by product the Blockchain is the thing that make it great. I would like to see more investment from banks to build things in the open / for others to build upon freely and see where it takes us. Not sure capitalism works like that but we shall see.

From my lofty position of having pretty much zero education in the relevant technical / economic areas on the subject, these are my reckons.

The shapes of things

In addition to last weeks post about shelves and boxes that fit them perfectly I have more dull thoughts about searching for things for my house. We have had a new bathroom fitted recently. We are at the finishing stages now and we are buying accessories. We are looking to solve an old problem and our new shower has brought about a new problem.

1. Why aren’t toothbrusher holders designed for elctric toothbrushes?

Tiny little pots that even in pairs can barely hold four electric toothbrushes and two tubes of toothpaste (adults and kids tubes). My Google searching has not revealed much that answers this tech savvy, dental hygeine aware, nuclear family need. Bravo to Next though who have.

Next toothbrush holder

Only downside is their range of colours / designs don’t match out bathroom. So close yet so frustratingly far. Next, please do a plain grey version of the sandstone range.

2. Why are there no bath mats that go round corners?

The door to our new shower is on a corner. I would like an L Shaped Bath Mat. I can only find this one which seems to no longer be made and also looks like it is from the 70s

l shaped

My only option it feels at the moment is to get a large square one and cut it. I mean it is 2015 can’t I 3D print / weave one on demand yet? No robo looms in the old mill towns of West Yorkshire? Pah. Better yet maybe a talented artist on Folksy could make one for me?

My interior deisgn inspired reckon today is something about spotting the ever changing user need. Designing an item with the bigger context in mind of how it will be used in an ever evolving space. Also why isn’t this stuff easier to search for? Come on Web 3.0 nerds solve this massively complex problem so lazy fat people like me can buy better bath mats and toothbrush holders. It is what the marketing dollars are VC funding you to fix.

PS: I need to think of some tenuous links to banks and stuff for my day job. I think user needs driven products is an obvious one to make though. Surely the Blockchain can solve this problem? It has been mooted to solve almost everything else. Done.

Expedit Ecosystem

I assume that at some point that most of Europe and increasingly the rest of the world have owned, used or set their eyes on IKEA’s Expedit/Kallax shelving unit. Picture below to jog the memory of those not familiar with IKEA product names.

This tweet from one of the great Internet Dan’s reminded me of it’s ubiquity

A brilliantly insightful wry aside on the potential ubiquity of Elon’s garage destined wall hung battery. What happens when they fit inside the Expedit shelves everyone has? Or something like that. I am not as smart as Dan.

This brought back memory of my recent attempts to find suitable lego storage that would fit inside the Expedit’s hollows. I just wanted to search for something that would allow me to stack two boxes on top of each other and fit nicely in one hole. I searched high and low for boxes of similar dimensions but the semantic web has just not progressed that far to allow me to search for a ‘transparent box with a lid that is less than 33.5 cm wide, 38.5 cm deep and no taller than 34cm’. Also why is the aperture of the Expedit so frustratingly not a perfect cube?

When I first started searching I expected to find a wealth of things already. An ecosystem of Expedites (people who build things to  fit inside Expedit’s) as people sought to fill the holes in inventive ways and make nice products others could buy. Aside from clever alterations and Heath Robinsonesque contraptions on IKEA Hacks and Pinterest there really wasn’t much you could actually just buy. I thought maybe there are loads of projects on Kickstarter? I found one.

Eventually after a longer time than I care to admit searching I came across these cake boxes on Lakeland. They fit very well.

So my overwrought reckon is that there is clearly a market for things to fit inside Expedit shelves. IKEA should standardise the size / make more stuff for it than the limited boxes, drawers and a wine rack that they sell today. Build a ecosystem of things around those ubiquitous holes. A real opportunity for people to tag up their existing storage / shelf converting wears with some decent sizes and the badge of honour ‘Fits Expedit Exactly’ or ‘Klearly Kallax Kompatible’ (maybe that latter one needs some work)

Big opportunity for Elon perhaps? Stop all this futuristic reinventing the way we power our homes, fuel our cars and get into space and make a range of clever storage boxes for IKEA’s famous shelving units. I still need some better LEGO storage for my son. If anyone more disciplined or focused wants to do a Kickstarter around a LEGO storage range for Expedit then count me in.

Where is the Uber of banking? Nowhere hopefully.

Chris Skinner wrote an interesting post a while back entitled ‘Where is the Uber of banking?‘.

And then we have this widely shared piece of insight from Tom Goodwin


‘Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.’


And he is right it is but what I want to take umbrage (uberage?) with is the way this headline/trend is being used by the ‘fintech thought leaderati’.

We now see lots of platitudinous use of ‘Uber’ as the bogeyman for banking. Finally the thing we have been reckoning could happen to banking (a player comes out of nowhere to disrupt an entire industry globally) now has a name and a face so it is obvious the very same thing will happen to banking.

Maybe it will. This move to no ownership by the controlling company might continue to play out to the advantage of the few. What happens when the model of ownership it is built upon collapses? Matt Webb wrote a great piece on the change in ownership structures around this new breed of companies. It looked at an example of just such an ownership scheme going belly up in the form of UK courier network City link. He talked about a Coasian flip…


‘TaskRabbit workers paying the cost of the company pivot. Neighbours of Airbnb hosts soaking the externality of strangers in their space without choosing to accept it. Drivers who used to be employees being encouraged to be independent Owner Drivers – still in City Link livery – bearing the risk of the company’s capital expenditure and future success… without seeing any of the potential upside.’


Matt spoke about both the bad and the good of this flip but also around the models that might be needed to make this more beneficially to the ’employee’ of these kinds of networks. Dan Hon also said a thing that stuck with me on the rhetoric around Uber et al. Software eating jobs.


‘What irks me is when companies like Uber take that software-eating-jobs position and then distort it into a “we’re providing jobs” message. That’s not fulfilment. That’s not helping people succeed. It’s meat-puppetry.’


Network ownership

Who owns the network itself if the company providing it goes titsup? If Uber burns through all that funding and has to switch it off? Will the customers and drivers be picked off by other players such as Lyft and Hailo and their ilk? Do we have easy driver / customer portability between networks? Do your Uber ratings go with you?

The big focus should be on the networks. It is clear that Uber and AirBnB have built networks of need and intention. Allow an easy flow of people needing a car to get them from one place to another or an apartment for a weekend.

Banks are of course networks but the customers have no easy way of speaking to each other. They have no real way of declaring those needs to the network only to the singular owner of each banking network. Also the needs are multitude not singular (well they kind of are). An ecosystem of service providers also has no way of interacting with that network because of a lot of laws and regulations. Can someone make a network of money needs open to all where before there was none? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Bernard Lunn went into detail on ‘Why the Uber of banking Fintech model is a mirage‘ looking at what this network would mean from a delivery / manufacturing point of view.


‘Uber of banking is a mirage because of two fundamental differences:

  • The commoditized service providers (aka Banks) have more power than freelance taxi drivers.
  • The full banking service is more complex than getting a passenger from point A to B.’


So the rules are complex and doing an Uber like thing within banking would be very difficult. Maybe the blockchain is the answer? Decentralised disruption! We could build a decentralised network of needs and intention to buy. The intention economy powered by the blockchain. My hippy ways think this would be a lovely thing indeed. No one has yet managed to really crack the whole decentralised thing for X at any sort of decent scale and adoption. I bloody hope they do soon though. If not we will continue to have the likes of very well designed and funded business models that play around with ownership and transferral of risk without necessarily providing the benefits of real customer control and power.

Other bugbears

It is frictionless! It is like the payment is not even there, it is so frictionless I did not even feel like I was paying for my £50 limousine trip! Maybe I get a bit miffed about Uber being the be all and end all because it feels like it started off as a service for rich folks on their smartphones too lazy to leave their champagne and caviar and walk outside to flag a taxi or to have to actually speak to a human being at a cab company. But what about Uber X? That is not for rich people, it is launching in Newcastle. Yes, I know. Uber and Hailo etc solved a real last mile (well, ten yards) kind of problem. Is my taxi nearby/outside right now? If the price can be made good enough to benefit both the drivers and the wider public i.e. not just those who can spend £50 on a single journey then I am all for it.

‘But what about the sharing economy?! It points to new forms of ownership, no one will need cars anymore.’ Usually said by people in massively expensive to live and drive cities with impressive public transport infrastructures or ‘free’ shuttle buses to their giant donut shaped offices. I guess this ties in well to the banking for rich people by rich people, which is always going to be an attractive market.

And then there is the CEO.

Of course like any other low powered middle manager I think I would like to see some Uber style disruption in banking…just the good side of Uber not the bad. But maybe there is no such thing as good disruption? You don’t make omelettes without breaking a few eggs, hey?

There is a need to understand the network dynamics and ownership models that enable these new wave of Internet behemoths to disrupt all the things. Don’t just judge on growth alone though. What are those new models of ownership doing for the way the world works not just from the incumbents being disrupted but those that work within both the old and the new.

Having the Uber bogeyman will hopefully make some banks do interesting things in response other than spout missives like we will be the ‘Uber of this bit of financial services’ or ‘We are the AirBnB of mortgages’ but please be careful what your platitude wielding thought leaders scare you into doing.


Update 19/05/15: A couple of people have asked isn’t P2P lending the Uber of banking? Well I guess it could well be. A network of people and their money being used to fund needs and wants of folk. I guess the fact that P2P lending institutions still need to keep capital in reserve should it all go wrong means the ownership model and transferrral of risk is not quite as high in some regards of meat puppetry but investors can still make losses. An angle for a future post certainly.

Pianos in public places

St. Pancras and Sheffield rail stations being two examples of the genre. Pieces of infrastructure dedicated to those that can play. Allowing people to entertain bored commuters, to show their skills, to make something in spaces where creativity is usually limited to excuses for trains running late.



My very obvious reckon is this…what are the enterprise equivalents of pianos in train stations? Infrastructure built for those that can play? Is there a map of all these places? Somewhere that those that can show their creative skills to make something in spaces where creativity is usually limited to a set of strict business requirements.