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

FinTech Stage Milan March 2015 30 & 31

FinTechStage in images. Tribute to an amazing event.

As you can imagine, I needed a couple of – resting and sleeping – days after 4 very intense days of FinTechStage.

It’s time to debrief, to celebrate, more important to say thank you and – needless to say – to move forward to the next one. Because the one lesson learned from Milan is that FinTechStage hits the right spot : local FinTech community meeting the international one and building new catalysts of Innovation.
Exactly what happened in Milan.

DAY -1
We started with a week-end of preparation with Ioana and Mariela, drafting the networking wall and the running order…between some pizzas and ice scream 😉

On the morning we had over 80 people and some 50 start-ups attending the crash course to help them understand how to negociate a deal and how to pitch to an investor.
Mircea, Andrew and Tom did an amazing job in preparing the tuition. At the end, we even made Mariano jumping on stage in a very animated Q&A session with the entrepreneurs.

In the afternoon, we gathered Investors, Start-ups eco-systems and Innovators (from banks and insurances).
We ran a networking workshop to make sure the 3 communities had the chance to discuss topics compelling to their own spaces, as well as to get to know each other in a smaller group.

Day 2
The agenda had a clear “fil rouge” :
– understand where FinTech Investors are putting their capital today,
– cover where Innovators from banks thought the investments should go and are not today,
– define how start-ups and financial institutions can work together.
This was the debate of the 3 panels we had.

Italian and international start-ups had also a place on stage. Not looking for capital, but for customers and new business. We explored 2 important themes, inspired by a keynote, featuring 7 start-ups in the related field, payments and banking models disruption and capital markets, in this case, both relevant for the Italian market.
Also start-ups went on stage with their investor. The latter explaining why they put their money on that particular company.

The remaining slots were filled up by what I would call inspirational conversations on financial inclusion and new ways to approach payment disruption. People loved it.

Organisation and infrastructure
Just Amazing.
From the venue, to the great apero party on Monday evening, sponsored by CheBanca! in Talent Garden, to the perfectly arranged plenary room and Tree House of UniCredit. (video linked)

Perfect gorgeous sunny day, feeling like summer.

Media coverage
To report a sentence from Ioana, FinTechStage had a media cover like a Led Zeppelin concert. And it’s true.
Articles and some very nice videos flooded. See some samples here.

Doing good
I announced in the closing remarks our funding of 10 students from the University of Makelele, in Kampala (Uganda). I don’t think I explained myself well enough. Reason being I simply felt too overwhelmed by emotions. Kosta, who knows me well, sent me an SMS saying “I bet I missed some tears” and he was close :D.
The idea is to finance this project instead of give the speakers a token for their time as I already wrote previously – here – in my blog : changing the world one person at the time.

The networking wall was something that most of the attendees had never seen before.
Mariela deployed close to one kilometre of thread to show the connections between people, topics and attendees.
Pictures flooded on that wall !

Finally, least but not last… A huge thank you to my partners in this fantastic adventure :

Mariela for the design, the wall, her creativity, for being my shadow during the whole event and to be so good to find a walk around to anything.

Ioana, for being so fantastically available all the time, for her precious gathering data skills, for her permanent smile and for being always – always – there.

Lazaro, for being crazy enough to jump with me in this adventure, for his support, for stepping up when needed, and for his constant, invaluable advice (for persuading me to do things I would not have done, that revealed themselves to be a REALLY good ideas afterwards).


Ehm, forgot to say, March 31st was my 45th birthday. I never celebrate, but this one will be unforgettable.

The next FTS date ? Coming our soon enough.

Stay Tuned, for real.


The UBER Bank idea

Uber made a difference in already three of my recent trips : one being Bogota, for last year Nextbank, the second being Boston and now I know I will extensively use the service in Mexico City for NextBank Americas (I am actually writing this post in the long 11 hours flight to get there).


For the fraction of my readers who don’t know what UBER is (I could name a couple of them, amongst my favourite readers, the same persons who are right now reading this post with an English-Italian dictionary beside the computer), let me explain : UBER is a beautifully designed app on most smartphones that allows to use a very powerful taxi service, charging directly your credit card and most importantly empowering any driver to become an UBER driver, making some extra money and working whenever he or she feels to. UBER is driven by feedback, to drivers and passengers, is truly ubiquitous and most importantly has a price that varies with demand.

I don’t know why at SIBOS in Boston people was stubbornly waiting in a 200 people line to take a cab back to their hotel or wherever the next meeting was. I had Uber on my phone, pick the hotel just beside the Convention Centre, just 30 meters away and had my cab in 5 minutes or less.
Okay, maybe price was more expensive (but if I can afford it so the bank-expensed SIBOS delegates could too). Maybe you need to download the app and you are too lazy to. Whatever. We are not here to talk about this.

What is GREAT about UBER is what it represents : a true disruption to a super consolidated and traditional business (the Taxis) where technology allowed ubiquity, distribution, social trust and scale in a disrupted way.

The challenge sounds familiar ?
In one of many taxi rides to the Conference Centre I asked myself : why can’t I have an UBER-like bank ?
Let’s play with the idea for a moment and let’s make it easier to bring it to the ground.



  • I will land in Mexico City tonight. I have brought my company credit card, which if course will be charged with foreign exchange commission and even an amount per transaction in certain cases. That is for both payments and withdrawals.



  • A local, Snapchat-like account that lasts the time I stay in the country. With a VIRTUAL prepaid card I can use to pay locally, (ok, planned on time a physical one can do as well).
  • When I leave the country, money goes back to my “global wallet” I have set up with UBER bank.
  • If my bank has a branch, should not be a problem to get a light KYC for a limited amount of money, right ?…

This could happen as well without regulation at all, amongst individuals.

Let me put it this way : if I trust someone, that happen to live in Mexico City, I could have sent him some money, then asked him to issue a prepaid card with the same amount on and give it to me tonight when I land (or get it delivered to my hotel, like a prepaid phone).

Why nobody has thought yet to a similar service ?
The answer is : too soon, and payments are not disrupted yet.

Imagine a future where you could pay with your phone everywhere, where the need for plastic cards would be replaced by virtual ones, and where KYC for consumer, limitedly empowered customers (yet enough to stay few days in a country, not too much to allow money laundering or dirty business) will be easier.

That moment, the UBER momentum will come naturally.
Airbnb is hitting hotels industry the same way.
Who will to this to Banks ?

Stay tuned




MPOS business for dummies

I recently published a post – here – about Personal Finance Management tools (PFM).
MPOS (Mobile Point of Sale) have a lot in common with it, in my opinion.

What are they (to start with) ?
THINK SQUARE. Think of a device plugged into your phone to transform any mobile device into a payment processing device, to swipe your card, or to do chip & PIN.


The number of startups into this market is very big. Crowded market.

I would like to think there is at least one startup or grown up company per developed country and in many places more then one.

The newest trend – a much wiser one – is now to do the same without device, seamlessly, an example of it being Mobeewave.

My point is : is this enough ?
Several banks have now tried to integrate MPOS in their Eco-system, many of them actually commercialising their own devices (partnering with a technology provider).
See here the example of Sabbadell
Granted : if a bank pushes. It might work.
In Italy, the government has enforced a law against “underground” economy and obliged all merchants to have an electronic way to execute payments (read about it here).
Granted : of legislation pushes, it might work.
My point : just not enough.

Devices will become a commodity and all you do is to move same old payments through a new system. If you don’t combine it with real innovation, you are just replacing a device (granted, with a cheaper, already in the market, and faster).
What do I mean by “more” ? Loyalty programs would be a good example.
Not only card loyalty, but consumer loyalty. Buy 10 pizzas have 1 free or being able to pay a pizza with your miles, for example.

Every single MPOS player claim that the DATA will be a mainstream source of revenue for them, as the information they will collect will be unprecedented. It should not only generate new business for financial institutions, but for insurances, or simply raise financial inclusion particularly in developing countries.

Another interesting angle of this debate is to figure out where MPOS have better chance to flourish. One could argue that developed countries could use this technology to develop their networks of small merchants, fight against black economy and money laundering. You could also think of it as a way to promote financial inclusion in countries where in practice there are no other form or payments outside cash. The debate is open.

What is certain, is that MPOS is a very high cash burning business, by nature (not to mention the fact the the biggest factory producing these devices are in China and I believe the biggest is the same one producing all iPhone components), therefore it has to find quick other form of monetisation, and most importantly sync up with the pace at which banks will be able to adopt it.

Stay tuned