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FinTECH Talents Virtual Conference North America 2020: Distance? What Distance?

by Hannah Duncan

Welcome to the new age of industry festivals, where you can catch all the talks, hot goss and invaluable insights in just a few clicks. There’s no need to book a flight or stand in long queues (which is something of a disappointment to us Brits). FinTECH Talents has earned a solid reputation for organising some of the best virtual festivals around. This time, we were heading to North America. Like totally awesome! I hopped aboard my sofa and was whisked away to the event, like a scene from Disney’s Bed Knobs and Broomsticks. To the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! FinTECH Talents North America had begun.

The agenda for the day was peanut butter and jelly-packed with good stuff. Whether you’re one of those next-level tech heads, a curious community banker or a media mogul, there was something for everyone. I picked out a couple of panel shows that got really me going. Then true to my heritage, I poured a cup of tea, grabbed a biscuit, popped on my top hat and got watching.

Fintech for everyone! 

Scott Astrada, Director of Public Policy and Social Impact at Affirm kicked things off with a rousing speech named “The State of the Nation”. BAM! Straight in. You could almost see that famous star-spangled banner fluttering behind him, and hear the distant undertones of the U.S. National Anthem as he spoke. He delivered some stirring, yet measured opening remarks, on the “creativity, rigour and expertise” of the fintech community. My favourite bit was when he said, “Progress means that nobody gets left behind”. I love that. Because, as well as reminding me quite a lot of Woody’s speech in Toy Story, it was really touching. Togetherness is exactly why we need fintech. Fintech is for everyone, with every budget, not the privileged few.

I caught up with Astrada afterwards to find out more about why he feels events like this are important. Not one to disappoint, he pinged back with this gem, “What we do here can help solve the challenges we face as a society, especially in terms of racial economic equity, the economic devastation in the wake of the pandemic, and financial inclusion and an economic recovery.  So we have a responsibility in our space to engage, listen and contribute to solutions. This forum, with all the talent and creativity, is one of the best ways to spark collaborative and inclusive progress”. This guy is always on. 

Adapting to change

The “fintech for everyone” theme continued throughout many of the panels, which were as vibrant and diverse as the products behind them. I particularly enjoyed the lunchtime debate, Where is the Heart(land) of Banking? I watched Technology Chief of Staff of Cross River, Jesse Honigberg, fire out this gorgeous quote, “Change happens incrementally when it’s done right. Make technology part of your DNA. Technology is not a destination, it’s part of the journey”. It was beautiful, poetic, and couldn’t be more accurate. Anyone else feeling a “Philosophy for Fintechs” anthropology in the air…?

Another favourite for me was Lisa Violet (amazing surname), Chief Audit Officer at Varo Finance who revealed, “How people work is different to their parents. People are very transient right now in the workplace, with more gig roles. Now it’s more pay as you go… More micro loans and more micro consumer loans”. As a gig worker myself, I can hardly disagree. I found her insights really meaningful. Violet (God I love that surname), really whacked the nail on the head there. And what’s more remarkable is the way that this information is shared. It’s not being hoarded up and locked away. These guys are not like those Goblin-like creatures who protect Gringotts Bank (I made a fantasy reference there to be kind, but I think we all know a few incumbents I could have named instead). Fintech is open, inclusive and here to make things better. For everyone. I love that this research is shared and passed so freely. Everyone has good intentions, we all just want to help. Go team!

Fintech Finance’s very own Editor in Chief, Ali Paterson feels the same. Gleaning bits of invaluable information and networking with open-minded people is where it’s at. Catching up with him after the event, Paterson said, “These events are important for those golden nuggets of insights you can’t get from googling; and connecting with people at random and those unexpected encounters”.

Big names for big gains

Get your geek on because, gracing the stages were a bunch of tech icons. Yet another advantage of the virtual event. Fintech’s greatest and good were able to attend easily, and more people got an option to ask questions. Plus, no starstruck sweaty handshakes, which must be a relief for the speakers.

Sure enough, fintech A-Lister Jim Marous, face of The Financial Brand was there, hosting a panel and doing his thing. He talked Community Banks and Credit Unions – Tech Challenges and Opportunities in a not-to-be-missed sesh with the likes of Charles E. Potts, Australia A. Hoover, Benjamin Maxim and Kelly Wagner-Grull.

I took a deep breath and reached out to this Top 5 Fintech Influencer to ask what he thought of the event. I was pretty amazed that he replied. What a lovely guy! “The effort by everyone was exceptional and it showed, and the platform was one of the best I’ve used for an event like this”, Marous explained. “At a time of massive disruption in the financial event world, it was great to see an event expand beyond into the US and on a virtual platform. The challenge of testing a new platform and bringing together speakers from all sized organizations made this event a great testing ground for events in the future. Everyone is still learning as we go, but it was an important way for organizations to understand the scope of challenges the banking industry in facing in a world impacted by COVID.”  Well said Marous! 

Devin Banerjee, who is none other than the Senior Financial Services Editor at LinkedIn News (I know, right? Crazy impressive), agreed. Of course, I couldn’t resist reaching out to him via LinkedIn, (to quote a very suave George Clooney … “What else?”) after the event. Within half an hour (WHAT a professional), he came back to me with this, Perhaps ironically, in this new normal of remote work and virtual interactions, I view conferences as being more important than ever. Networking and knowledge-sharing are vital for financial services and the fintech ecosystem, and those activities shouldn’t stop because of the pandemic. Kudos to conference organizers who have reimagined value-adding events like FTT for the pandemic era”. And just like that, I’m following Banerjee for life. 

What did you think? 

With more than 2,000 delegates joining across the day. It’s fair to say that the team behind FinTECH Talents once again smashed it. Like any half-decent journalist, I had a nose around online to see what everyone thought…

“Learning how to ‘Build a Bank’ at the FinTECH Talents Virtual Conference. Insightful, exciting and some very good networking! Made me realise how much I miss conferences!” – Serena Khemaney, Fintech Finance

“Such a fantastic chat at #FTT20Virtual happening now – great conversation not only on #banking itself, but the human side of the business…Love the authenticity and the passion” – Theo Lau, Founder of Unconventional Ventures

“Loving the #openbanking discussion in the US from not just tech but also a regulatory POV #FTT20Virtual” – Urvashi Prakash

So… What did you think? Let us know in the comments or catch up on any bits you missed with the replays next week. FinTECHTalents proves that it’s not the miles apart, but the shared mindset that makes a great event. So the next time you see a festival goer with a million wristbands festering on his arm… Just remember that guy is not the real deal. He’s so 2019. It’s the people who made it work from their ironing boards and sofas who are the true festival heroes, the headliners, the die-hards. So there.

All that’s left to say is thank you the wonderful team behind the event! Thank you for bringing all of us fintech nomads together. We need you. To the legends that are Lisa Moyle, Liz Lumley, Victor Cruz and everyone else who helped out, from over the pond, we salute you! We dunk our biscuits (or as you say “cookies”), raise our gins and take our top hats off to you, our North American brethren!  Cheers!

Looking forward to the next one… who knows…  you might even see me on stage …