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Suits or jeans, canapés or pizzas? The fintech shuffle moves on …

I had a realisation over the past two weeks of conferences.  Having attended Finovate, SIBOS, Innotribe, a Financial Services Club meeting on cryptocurrencies and several dinners with bankers, we are at an impasse.

It’s the meeting of two tribes, and the tribes do not mix well.

One tribe is full of suits, fine wines, Michelin-star restaurants and business class jets.  The other is all jeans, beer, pizza and Ryanair.  It’s not necessarily quite as extreme as this, but it’s not far off.

I guess the first time this occurred to me was in dialogue about Silicon Valley versus Wall Street.

It struck me again when I attended Finovate last month.  It was specifically highlighted there when Yodlee presented their API developments, with a guy dressed in half-suit and half-jeans/t-shirt (you can watch the video here).

It  was a parody, but one that worked with the developer half of the presenter shouting: “hey man, you need an API”, and the banker half responding: “what the hell are you talking about?”

I encounter exactly such reactions on regular occasions – in one recent Board meeting, the Marketing Director looked aghast and said “I didn’t realise this was going to be a technical meeting” – even though I try to translate what these things mean as I go along.

It’s weird in fact that, twenty years ago, I predicted that banks would have technologists on the Board.  Today, banks are technology companies.

Finance and technology has created this hybrid market called fintech, and this market is populated by both breeds of human.  That was clearly illustrated, and has been for several years, by the innotribe at SIBOS. 

Innotribe sits in its own place in the bank show.  By that, I mean ‘in its own place’.  It’s often tucked away where only the need-to-know will find it.  When they do find it, they enter a room of half-bankers and half-technologists and innovators. 

It’s a room that mixes uneasily, as demonstrated last week when I asked: “who here understands cryptocurrencies”, and none of the suits raised their hands.

Talking of cryptocurrencies, it was illustrated once more last night when the Financial Services Club held a meeting dedicated to cryptocurrencies at the London Escalator, a space owned by Barclays. 

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Several of our suits in the audience felt uneasy that they had to come to East London: “isn’t this part of London a bit dangerous”, they asked.  It may well be for a middle-aged man in a suit.  The fintech guys were fine however.  Generally millennials in jeans, they happily relaxed in the Escalator space.

Perhaps it was best illustrated however, by our refreshments.  The Financial Services Club normally meets in old Livery halls that date back to the 15th Century, with suited waiters offering us wine and canapés.  At the Escalator, there were no waiters and the food was pizza, burgers and beers.

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If I’m honest, I’m happy in both communities. We are all human, after all (or are we dancers?).

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Nihat Erdem @mutercim_

    Very good analysis. This jean vs suit war takes also place in banks. The Y generation already stretched and broadened the limits of the bankers’ strict code of dressing. And they go eat pizza for lunch where the suit tribe sits in the bank’s restaurant eating dishes. I am sure the next generation will raise their own flag of jeans with emblems of pepperoni pizza and Starbucks cups. Will it disrupt banking?

  • Interesting metaphor for the challenge ahead. Broadly, suits know banking, jeans know technology. The more successful we are here in London in bringing the suits & the jeans together, the more London will hold its place as a global financial services center. Simple then . . .
    Very good to meet you Chris, thoroughly enjoyed the evening
    Paul

  • Thx, Chris for this insight. See also my post Ties vs. Tattoos where i make a plea for inclusion vs exclusion http://petervan.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/ties-vs-tattoes/