You know by now I like TV shows, especially to survive long flights like this one when I am not blogging or working or sleeping.

We are gladiators with a suit” is how each member of the team of Olivia Pope, the hero of Scandal, a US made TV show, define himself. These guys are often doing the groundwork.
They are relentless, they get their hands dirty, they are not afraid to break the rules and they trust each other, often when nobody else believe in their mission (these guys are often called to solve cases no one would take and their leader, beside sleeping and beeing madly in love with the President of the United States, is a true genius in dealing with these apparently unsolvable problems).

Allow me to make a jump back in 2008.
As Gottfried (SWIFT CEO) said in his opening speech at Innotribe at Sibos this year :

when Innotribe started SWIFT Management had no idea what this ‘thing’ was all about.

These are textual words, and despite – of course – being a bit emphasized, they are actually accurate.
FinTech was not even a commonly used word, back then.
Innovation merely existed as a vague concept, no fintech accelerators, no challenges, no Labs…

This is the first Innotribe stand at Sibos in 2009, in Hong Kong, with pictures from the very first Fintech Startups gathering (the Challenge came one year later) – please notice Lazaro Campos, you will see later in this post as well.

PS : notice Kosta and Peter with a suit and an unusual version of Mela 🙂


This is the Innotribe Stand in 2015 in Singapore just beside the SWIFT stand and actually since the very first session using the SWIFT stand as the second scene because the Innotribe stand was too small.

What you see inside is the most beautiful interactive all-round screen I have ever seen, in what I think was the most beautiful place of every Sibos I have ever attended.
We were gladiators.

Now something else…
It is actually the first time I check this. I didn’t know I was in the picture as well.

TransferWise Innotribe 2011

This is the link of Tranferwise pitch at Sibos 2011 :

Now everyone talks about Transferwise as the greatest example of Fintech Unicorn.
We were gladiators.

This is the article that announces the official opening od Level39, roughly two and a half years ago : it mentions Innotribe as one of their first events.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 05.37.11
Now, you would ask, why this rather nostalgic, maybe Innotribe too focused, kind of celebrative and self-celebrative type of post ?
Without making another useless list, I wanted to pay a tribute to the pioneers.
Most of them still around, who believed in this shift from the very beginning, when FinTech had to be explained (still has to, in some context, admittedly), when thinking of a startup working with a bank was in the best case a secret proof of concept in some remote place in the basement, and only ONE bank had a truly structured approach for Innovation and investment : CITI. But just starting.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 05.50.29

I had a recent, long overdue, super refreshing catch-up conversation with a true friend, a gladiator as well and we were both observing some of the disappointing consequences of a booming trend : shallowness, irrelevance, lack of content, greed, luckily confined and absolutely not defining the current system, but for someone who has seen the whole story is – lets say – easier to spot and easier to get bothered by.

So this is a gladiator’s celebration.
The beauty of it is that the ones who were there to share these moments and many others I had no time to report here, will read this and smile.
The good news is that the last two hours of this flight literally went away without me noticing anything.

Let me finish with one of my favourite pictures, recently : Lazaro and I at our FinTechStage event, in Barcelona, with a very symbolic black t-shirt convergence.


If you have met Lazaro already, you know why he has all the rights to be in this post.

Stay Tuned



Fintech IQ or the unbundling of FinTech skills

The abundance of FinTech sources makes very complicated to separate noise from substance.

The number of ‘experts‘ in this space is as puzzling as the proliferation of “Top XXX Fintech” where XXX equals Influencers, Experts, People to Watch and the criteria to put together these “who’s who” are to say the least subjective. (the only “objective” one are based on social media influence, but this again is fuzzy, because it does not capture the “quality” of the network – hear me, CityAM).

What is required (or suitable) to be meaningful in this super hyped space ? (my absolutely challengeable opinion of course) :

1- deep understanding of how financial services actually work. The ACTUAL financial services, which are given 98% by banks or financial institutions (yes, even the alternative lending is actually a fraction of the traditional one). As trivial at it may sounds, a decade in a bank is not enough to claim this. Not even two. Simply because the multiple businesses of financial institutions have reached a complexity that very few people can claim to have faced.

2- be a tech savvy, enough to evaluate the replicability of the technology you are facing at given time. To be more clear and to give the simplest example, in the era of Internet, it’s all about scale. Countless startups have failed because the architecture of their great idea did not scale fast enough or was not robust enough even in the AWS (if you dont know what that is you are not passing point 2, btw) era. Do not forget that integration with existing systems is the biggest challenge a startup willing to sell to banks has to face. You can outsource these assessments, of course, it s what we called an expensive due diligence, but here again – you need to know who you work with and here is number….

3-  have a solid, multi-dimensional (tech, business development, sales, financial structuring, security, entrepreneurs, investors, bankers) network that you can pull when you need at the fastest possible speed. This is a VERY delicate point, as some people confuse the number of LinkedIn connections with the opportunity to reach out to as many of these guys as possible at any given time. I have extensively spoke about being a Connector in another post, and this is not the same, although the WAY your network  will help you is certainly influenced by the mindset with which you have developed it

4- (still not optional) figure out where the capital is and how to reach it and have some experience in how to deploy it. It’s obviously easier if you are a FinTech investor, but if you are not, understanding if and when is a good time to ask for how much money to do what is a real asset. You would say – I hear you – that this is not a FinTech expertise, but a generic investor skill. Well, point is FinTech needs capital by definition, whether is to fund a start-up or to convince a large bank to concept-proof a new idea and make the link from the ideas to the funding in the best possible way is invaluable. This comes back to point 3 again, there are Ways and ways to “connect” to investors, but you get that by now.

5- (optional but extremely compelling if added to the previous four) : have a vertical expertise in the new FinTech frontiers that only a (business) blind can’t see : Insurance, IOT (again, failing point 2 if i have to explain the acronym), Distributed Ledgers, Financial Inclusion, combined with the right pinch of business acumen to get the best out of being the (amongst the) first mover.

6- (optional and often the one that is the most visible, but compelling and lasting only when the previous ones are also at play) be a FinTech opinion leader or a successful CEO/Founder (the latter by definition implying most of the other assets). I am the first one witnessing that keep talking at conferences without deepening your expertise won’t make you compelling long enough, as substance will lack, sooner or later.

Supposing we all agree with this hypothesis, it would interesting now to figure what are the best combinations of these skills serving which community, as – of course – is kind of hard to be all of it at the same time.

Thoughts welcome, of course !


Stay tuned


Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley : the TV Show, the Reality, the dilemma.

I just came back from Silicon Valley and also finish watching the two seasons of the homonymous TV Show.

If you are not an entrepreneur or a VC you can’t possibly understand half of the terms used in that TV show. But if you are one, you can perceive a number of nuances that are very close to the truth in the complex mechanisms of the relationship between start-up and capital.

The show is, voluntarily, grotesque (so that neophytes can find it also funny, because it is) but if you look at it with a business eye you will realise how different is SV from the rest of the world.

Here is few facts I came back from my quick Californian trip :

  1. “what do you do” is one of the first question (often before ‘whats your name’) that people ask when they meet you for the first time,
  2. SV is the corner of the world with the highest number of Fast Wealth people, with unprecedented proportions,
  3. there is a calvinist approach to business : you build and sell companies only to build and sell bigger companies, and rarely get satisfied or condescendent about ‘I have enough’ (I am borrowing this concept from a dear – Italian – friend of mine living there for a while now and during dinner we talked a lot about the boundaries between wealth and ‘no need for an income’, both leading to – in theory – a better life quality but only if your mentality is right)
  4. the competition is fierce, for everything. Talent, capital, branding, sales. You almost feel guilty if you are not systematically at the top of your game. Very Darwinian…
  5. the ‘give back’ to the community (once you have made your wealth) is much more common than in the rest of the world. No wonder you have the two biggest philantropic organisations of the world headquartering there,
  6. appearance is way less compulsory that elsewhere : value matters way more that formalities,
  7. personal relationships are at risk : not only (if you are not two Italians) is virtually impossible to meet on the spot, but often it passes way after most of the business imperatives. Shallowness is sometimes the consequence.

If I compare London to Silicon Valley, the difference is just so important I wouldn’t even know where to start, but one thing is certain : two third of the most successful companies in SV were built by foreigners.

The question everyone is asking stands still : what will be the next Silicon Valley ?

Many cities in the world are looking to build the next FinTech leading eco-system (see my FinTech Game of Thrones post) and for most of them SV is the model.

My question would rather be : de we WANT another Silicon Valley?


Stay Tuned


Fintech 40 : We’ve seen the future and it’s blockchain

Blockchain, the technology behind the bitcoin electronic currency, may not have the best resume but big things are expected of it by the Fintech 40, the people identified by FN in June as the most influential in European fintech.

That is a big change from September 2014.
Then an FN poll of fintech names showed that “big data”, using computers to extract useful intelligence from vast databases, was seen as more promising. Blockchain came second, with its fans largely venture capitalists rather than executives in finance.

We asked the Fintech 40 : “What emerging fintech innovation will be the most disruptive to the financial services status quo ?”

Below are their thoughts on the blockchain. Visit next week for their views on peer-to-peer finance, big data, mobile technologies and more.

• On the blockchain…

Oliver Bussmann, Group chief information officer, UBS
Radical technologies such as blockchain present a unique opportunity to simplify and accelerate banking processes in a much more networked, transparent and decentralised way. With blockchain you can theoretically settle a securities transaction in seconds instead of days and bring far more transparency to cross-border payments… just a few examples of how this disruptive technology could become a major game changer.

Roberto Ferrari, General manager, challenger bank CheBanca!
Blockchain is showing itself to be a multi-purpose platform that can bring not just financial services but the whole economy into a new digital age. It is a new, agnostic, distributed public ledger that can be applied securely and efficiently as a massive shared digital banking and transactions ledger for the clearing of derivative contracts, securities and asset servicing, syndicated lending, trade finance, bonds and much more including property.

Udayan Goyal, Co-founder and partner, Apis Partners
Blockchain. The concept of the distributed ledger and smart contracts will fundamentally change the way all transactions are done – be they payments, securities, trade finance or like. The hub and spoke model in existence today will be replaced with peer-to-peer networks.

Credit scoring and underwriting. The advent of big data will completely disrupt the way credit underwriting is done. We will move to a big data analytical model in real time rather than relying on credit bureaus and manual underwriting processes. This will be spurred by people putting their accounting information in the cloud through companies such as Xero.

Distribution. Distribution will essentially become mobile-centric, led by the emerging markets who will leapfrog existing physical distribution in developed markets as there is no legacy infrastructure.

Chris Skinner, Chairman, Financial ServicesClub
Peer-to-peer lenders and new payment models are gaining all the investment from venture capitalists. Having said that, the biggest fintech innovation is the use of shared ledgers based upon the blockchain technologies. After all, if you can move $100 million on a Sunday morning instantaneously at zero cost, then the whole counterparty banking and settlements system is turned on its head. That’s exciting and is the reason why I’m doubling down on cryptocurrencies for the near future.

Steve Gibson, Managing director, Euclid Opportunities
The easy answer here is blockchain. The more challenging question is whether this will be a disruptive revolution or collaborative evolution. Our sense is the latter – emerging blockchain providers will partner with existing market participants to provide next generation efficiency, transparency and security.

Stefan Tirtey, Managing director, CommerzVentures
We believe that over the next two to three years the application of “big data analytics” and machine learning can disrupt the lending to underserved client segments. In the mid to long term, we feel that blockchain technology, or its successors, can be just as transformative or even disruptive to the financial services industry.

Who would have anticipated that the invention of the internet protocol in 1974 would enable applications such as the Web and cloud computing? Well, it did, creating billion-dollar markets and disrupting several industries in the process. We believe that the financial services industry might just experience its own “1974 moment”. Way to go!

Eric Van der Kleij, Head, Level39
The advent of the blockchain and distributed ledger technology really feels like a pivotal moment for financial services. As a lifelong entrepreneur myself, I am drawn to the varied and truly life-changing applications of this technology.

Nektarios Liolios, Managing director, Startupbootcamp FinTech
“Distributed ledger” is growing in popularity and is entering more niche segments of the financial sector. As the technology is getting more mature and the incumbents more willing to engage with it, there is unprecedented potential to tackle a range of expensive, risky and inefficient processes, such as securities clearing and settlement.

Matteo Rizzi, General partner, SBT Venture Capital
It’s not an innovation per se, but the deployment of real-time settlement for domestic and international payments – and distributed ledger/blockchain could be one way to deal with it – will disrupt the correspondent banking model…


Copyright : Anna Irrera