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When code is art, how do you attract great artists?

I was having an interesting conversation with a guy who had joined a big bank having previously worked in Big Tech. The guy was headhunted by the bank to be a gamechanger (GC), and had been gifted the ability to do almost whatever he wanted when it came to innovation, change, ideas and so on and so forth.

He had taken that message home big time – go big or go home – and had started to cut a swathe through the stodgy old banking culture. But the CEO had called him into the office to query his method.

CEO: I hear you’ve got some great ideas, but my team is complaining. Care to share?

GC (Game Changer): Sure. You hired me to turn this big bank into a Big Tech Bank. That’s what I’m doing.

CEO: But this idea of integrating developers with risk managers, treasury and compliance people. You cannot be serious?

GC: I’m totally serious. Your boring old bankers should learn Python. Everything is code. All of your people should be able to code.

CEO: You cannot be serious?

GC: I just said I was. You told me that technology is the future of the bank, the bank has to be digital, you’re backing me all the way, blah, blah, blah. If you believe that, then this is the way to go.

CEO: But why should bankers learn to code?

GC: I’ll ask you a different way. Why do you think Stripe is worth $20 billion (as of October 2018)?

CEO: I don’t know. You tell me.

GC: It’s just seven lines of code … but it’s beautiful code.

CEO: I don’t get it.

GC: Well the reason why FinTech is such a hot space is that you’ve got all these young engineers who can see how to do what you do with code. So, they’re writing beautiful code. Adyen is also great code. It’s an art.

CEO: Code is art?

GC: Of course, it is.

CEO: So, what does that mean?

GC: It means that if your code is clunky-bumpy-chunky-wunky, then no one will use it. Engineers are designing the new world of trade and they look at code, and ask if they could write something as good as that. If not, they will use it and they will look for the best version of it. Then they stumble upon one or two companies that are offering code, like Stripe and Adyen, and because they are engineers they will strip it down and realise that it is beautiful code. It’s art. Then they will use it and anything else doesn’t stand a cat’s whiskers …

CEO: So, what should we do?

GC: Well, you told me to come in here and stir up the shack, so that’s what I’m doing. All of your guys see product, process, service and such like from a bankers’ view. It’s all about the regulation, risk and compliance of those structures. Whereas what they should be seeing now is how to code those products, processes and services so that the regulation, risk and compliance is in the code, but the customer doesn’t see it. It should just be simple, easy, beautiful and artistic.

CEO: And that’s what you think these upstarts like Stripe and Adyen do?

GC: You got it, you got it. YOU GOT IT!!!

CEO: No, I don’t get it. What I get is that you’re saying we should be coders first and bankers second?

GC: Well, kind of.

CEO: But we’re a bank. We’re bankers first and code comes way down the list.

GC: But how will you ever create great art?

CEO: We’re not artists. We’re risk managers.

GC: You don’t get it, do you?

CEO: I don’t think I do. Now, have a good day. Miss Simmonds will deal with your severance package.

The conclusion of my conversation with the GC is that the FinTech community are dealing with an internet commerce world of Amazons, Facebooks, Ubers and more who all see code as art. The more intuitive, simple and beautiful the way the code is presented in an Open API form, the more likely it is to be used. That’s why he mentioned Adyen and Stripe, and not PayPal and Braintree.

However, bankers begin with banking products and services and mentality. They see the banking process first and then ask the coders to code the banking processes. No wonder banks struggle with innovation.




About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.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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