I worry sometimes that my writing these days about how finance, technology and ESG combine will alienate many in finance and technology. It shouldn’t, as these two industries hold the keys to the solutions, but it has moved the agenda from where I came from to where I’m going to.
When I reflect on the last twenty years, it began with a massive focus on regulatory change. Strangely enough, I actually woke up the other day thinking about how Glass-Steagall had been repealed in the late 1990s to be replaced by Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which failed. It was replaced by Dodd Frank and the Volcker Rule on trading, which began as a three page idea and ended up as 1000’s of pages of regulatory rules. So be it … ita sit.
That just shows what a saddo I am.
We then moved into the 2010s, and my focus changed to be all about digital and digital transformation. It was all about change, and the urgent need for change. The change need emerged in the late 2000’s, when cloud computing and the smartphone emerged. The change urgency culminated in the late 2010’s when thousands of Fintech start-ups had ripped apart an industry cemented in the last century.
Almost 30,000 Fintech start-ups worldwide exist today, with billions of investment and amazing results. Banks have tried to adapt but, as evidenced in the 2000’s, most banks had paid token thoughts to innovation but had not embraced it. If they had embraced it, there would never have been a sandbox. A sandbox is designed for children to play; the castle is where the adults do real business.
How do you get the sandbox into the castle?
Well, that’s what everyone grappled with in the 2000’s. By the 2010’s, they had missed the opportunity. That’s why 30,000 Fintech start-ups exist. They wouldn’t need to exist if banks had solved these problems but then, as I often say, Fintechs solve the problems banks cannot or have not solved.
But now we are in the 2020s, so what’s changed?
For me, what’s changed is the demand to focus on our environment and our world. This came home to me when I visited Ant in Hangzhou, China. There was poster on the wall of the office. It was a portrait of Jack Ma and the words: “let’s do good for society and good for the planet”. The poster surprised me. As a European, I didn’t expect to see this. It touched my heart.
I then reflected on these words, and the words of Lord Adair Turner from nearly a decade before. Adair said that a lot of what finance does is socially useless. How can finance become socially useful?
When I look back on the last two decades of banking and technology, they result in this decade. The 2000’s were all about controlling financial rebellion; the 2010’s were all about encouraging rebels to defeat banking bad practices.
My favourite quote these days is from NuBank’s co-founder Cristina Junqueria, who stated: “If banks are Darth Vader, credit cards are the Death Star”. The innovative start-up launched an attack on the Death Star and won. Today, NuBank is one of the biggest banks in South America and soon moving into other territories, and that's in just a few years.
NuBank illustrates the disruption of the 2010s thanks to cloud computing and the smartphone. Banking has been revolutionised in just a decade. What does the next decade hold?
For me, it’s ESG. It’s not about green, but it’s all about integrating and embracing technology and finance to make the world a better place. These things are illustrated well by the growth of apps for planting trees as part of a financial game play. This began with Ant Forest, which I’ve blogged about before, and is now coming to the West via Eiwaz.
So, I may be a simple guy, but I don’t care if my ESG discussions alienate the finance and technology audience. TBH, it should make them wake up, shake up and embrace the agenda. The heart of change lies right here and the call to action lies right here. We need to look at how we can use finance and technology to make the world a better place. After all, finance and technology are two of the four key levers to make this happen.
Two of four? What’s the third and fourth?
… find out in the next blogs …
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...