EU In or Out – I’m not making the decision for me, but for the generations that follow.

Since Cameron negotiated the new arrangements with the EU there has been a constant stream of arguments for and against staying in the EU and as on 23rd of June I have to play my small part in whether we stay or go I decided I should at least try and understand the arguments on both sides.

This is not a short term decision. When my parents voted in 1974 their decision set the direction for the next 40 years. We can probably divide the key areas into  the economy, immigration and self determination which seem to be covered so much by the media, but we should add defence, security an aging population and the environment to the list – and I am sure there are others. 

Many of the arguments are applicable only to the moment we are in and I think to make the right decision we need to look at the arguments with greater long term implications – those that will affect Britain over the next 50 years, not the next 5.

The evidence on the economy, immigration and self-determination seem to have no conclusive evidence one way or the other – indeed even the facts seems to be unclear. For example, some camps say that being in the EU costs Britain £8bn per annum in contributions whilst others say it is only £5.7bn when you net off money we get back in terms of regional development or direct grants. This is large number, but Britain spends $250bn on welfare alone so whether it is £5bn or £8bn is largely irrelevant. The majority of this, around 35% of UK government spending pays for our pensions. A small fraction goes to unemployment benefit.

No one is suggesting we can exist as an isolated Island, so the question is really will we have more effective, profitable relationships with EU and the rest of the world inside or outside the EU. Any argument about the economy will fundamentally depend on where were are in the cycle – there will be good times to be in the EU and good times not to be, however as India and China come to dominate the world economy, I’d rather be part of a larger negotiating block than going it alone against economies with 2bn people – we’d just be too small to matter.

With immigration any point of view based on “we have, you don’t therefore you can’t come in” over the long term will only  build elitism, isolation and resentment and I can’t see how it could be sustained. I hear a Muslim on radio 4 say – “When God made man, he didn’t say you live there and you live there”. The arguments for protecting borders can be applied at any level and seem to feed into a human selfishness to keep what we have. As a southerner who emigrated to Yorkshire I am grateful there were no border controls – although I did experience southern xenephobia in my teenage years. Most people would think this point of view as ridiculous – so why then does it suddenly become acceptable when we consider the arbitrary national borders. Furthermore, it seems to me we are an Island that has always benefited from our willingness to adopt a multi-cultural approach, integrate it into our society and grow as a result – yes this is never without pain – no change is but resisting such a change is far more damaging.

 The real long term arguments are then our aging population and the environment. As part of the EU at least part of our silver surfing generation can go and spend their years waiting for God on the Costa Del Sol – reducing the burden on the UK. Immigration, used effectively can help rebalance the population. Rather than focusing on how we keep people out we should be looking at how those that come add value to the economy. 

In many key areas we are simply not independent – we import around 32% of our food and 60% of the fuel we need to generate electicity and I would attest strength in numbers and purchasing power are key here. 

Finally, the environment is undoubtedly the biggest long term factor affecting humanity. This is a global problem not a Bristish one and will require global solutions. 

We might be able to withdraw from he EU, but, despite being an island we cannot withdraw from the world. It seems to me that we are wasting valuable resources discussing points that are largely irrelevant in the longer term. We should be working on the solution, not isolating ourselves from short term problems. 

So, having started this article not really sure which way to go I have ended it on the “in” side. Not because I  believe it is economically better, but because there are issues that matter far more to our children’s future we should be spending our time on.



Finovate day 2 – Rise of the machines 


As I glanced round the auditorium on day 2 of Finovate, one thing struck me. White, male 40 something. This wasn’t me getting hit because I’d made a bad joke it was the make up of the audience. Women were low in number and a represenative sample of the diverse cultures that make up this fair isle even more scarcely represented. Similarly, the presenters largely fell into the 20-50, white male category. 

I fear that if the people making the tech don’t represent society, the results won’t represent their needs any better. There may be no evidence to support this one way or another, but it’s certainly a stark point to consider. 

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning call it what you will but intelligent algorithms cropped up in many of the presentations. Predictive analytics to help the end consumer manage their money, investment management strategies, fraud prevention and virtual assistants to name a few. 

If any of us are under the delusion that machines cannot replace humans in jobs we once thought reserved for us – complex decision making, cusotmer service, for example – think again. We are arguably facing a new industrial revolution that could have the same impact as the introduction of steam power two hundred years ago. 

When  Turing defined a test for intelligence in 1950 he framed it in terms of being able to create a computer that was indistinguishable from a person. Many of todays technologies perform tasks way beyond any human, not just in computational scale as they have always done,  but also in terms of analytical complexity. 

I can say to my phone “Please transfer some money to my son” and it will ask me “how much”, or tell it I have had my wallet  stolen in Rome (in fact their should be a speed dial for this) and in a few minutes, the system will have asked me if I’m ok, told me it’s sorry for what happened, understand where I am, have cancelled my cards and shippped new ones. 

These technologies are starting to fulfil my wish for tools that make my life better, not just my banks cheaper and there were some nice examples of technologies looking forward at predicted financial activity and warning me if I didn’t have enough money and suggesting how I can better organise my limited resources. 

Marketing has traditionally been the least automated of business functions – maybe not for much longer. I have wondered for a couple of years how it will evolve as communications become more personalised, more data is available to drive individualisation, but we are still limited to POH’s (plain old humans) writing marketing material. I saw a demo of technology generating copy – specifically subject lines for emails, automatically, based on limited inforation about the topic. It generated multiple variants, from which it’s only a small step to deploy these and begin to learn what works best and refine it in real-time.

Conversely, another area of technology that saw a of outings on the stage was virtual meetings – connecting customers to real humans by video along with on-screen documentation to help applying for a mortgage or finalising a loan. A few years ago this just wouldn’t have been practical. High speed internet and developing web browser capabilites make feature rich interactive experiences easy to create and deploy.
I could purchase a few tools from Finovate and I’d have  an advanced, mobile enabled bank, with voice driven interaction, intelligent personal finance and investment management with a robot marketing department. None of the legacy technology, scalability or people issues faced by high street brands. Only one problem, there is probably a swathe of paper forms to fill in to get a banking license… where’s my pen. 

For me as a customer, there are just too many decisions, I could spend my entire day, every day, optimising my pension, investments, utilities, car insurace, credit cards. What I really need is a virtual assistant that will deal with all the bots, IVRs and web forms from the companies I deal with and just sort it.  

Maybe in 5 years time we won’t care how many women, men, ethnic minorties or any other division of society  there will be at Finovate – my AI will be watching your AI present and making decisions whether to invest, purchase or pass onto the next one whilst I sip my  mojito from the balcony of the hotel . 

Thanks to all the presenters last week for making it a great couple of days and insipiring me to think harder about how we use all the great technology that is being invented. 

Finovate Day 1

I’ve managed to grab a couple of days out of the office to go to Finnovate in London. Great venue at the old billingsgate fish market, but that aside I thought I’d use the break to jot down some of the main things it’s sparked. The sessions today have highlighted four themes for me 

Create frictionless experiences 

Many engagements with financial services organisations are fraught with friction. Logging into Internet banking, calling the customer services department, re-entering data that’s already available,  having to sign physical paper or waiting for back office processes to catch-up. A selection of the technologies today dealt with these issues. We saw solutions that delivered eye-print and voice-print for authentication and application navigation. 

A number of apps for application processing used photographs of driving licenses and debit cards to capture key data – meaning I don’t have to type my name, address and other information on that pesky little keyboard on the phone. One application also integrated Skype video to live-sign loan applications. 

Make yourself relevant to your customers everyday

Speaking to many of our financial services customers in recent years customer engagement and advocacy have been key topics and the sceptical part of me says – you are a bank, just look after my money and make sure the ATMs work and apart from that don’t speak to me. Furthermore, I’m frustrated that most of the communciations I receive only tell me what I already know – my bank statement is little more than a backward looking MI report . Most of the organisations have so much more data that would be genuinely useful to help me make day to day decisions but it just isn’t leveraged. 

Three cool apps demonstrated features in this regard – I’ll pick on one. Imagine I’m doing a holiday tour of Europe, multiple destinations and currencies and I want to set a budget for each leg of the trip and load up the right amount of currency to a card. Based on my itinerary the App suggested budget options for each country and then tracked my spend against this – suddenly my bank is useful and relevant to what I’m doing right now.  The other apps looked at different ways to make themselves relevant – rewarding kids for chores, planning investments based on intuitve goals and personal choices of investment themes in a pintrest like user interface. 

Connected to everything 

The internet of things applies to computer systems as well as the link between digital and physical devices, one nice integration technology showed the idea of taking triggers from your transactions to feed other activity through a set of “connections” – for example, to an external spreadsheet where I track my budget, or enabling my son to click a link when he does jobs in the house and automatically have money transferred into a sepearte account where he’s saving for the next best computer game – oh and he can see how he’s doing in another Google Sheet. This concept of triggers generated by physical devices or computer systems fed back to physical deivces or other apps has limitless possibilities – in the demo the presenters showed a lightbulb changing from red to green as a result of the API trigger when a savings goal was hit…. In this day of cheap connected devices this type of integration is trivial and can create valuable as well as fun experiences

Service commoditisation through middelware was another interesting theme – a bit like an app-store for key services. Instead of choosing which credit checker you’ll use, have them all, integrate go via the  platform and set which provider is used based on transaction levle rules – shifting the focus from system integration to supplier optimisation.

More than just a card
A multi-card card was demonstrated with integrated electronics that enables you to switch between cards at the press of a button on the plastic. Integrated into it was a battery with a 5 year life span and chips that change the coding on the magnetic strip as you switch cards. I’ve been watching the developing of printed electronics and low powered devices and we are seeing a revolution in the creation of devices that are small, secure, have (comparatively) high processing power – imagine this combined with the previous concept of cloud based triggers – so my card can automactically choose the best way to pay for something, it can alert me if I try and pay for something when i’m close to my limit. Even better, if I lose it, I can immediately deactivate it myself (and not yet, but maybe soon, if its down the back of the sofa I can locate it remotely. ). Battery life and security are still barriers to cards being internet connected, but we’ve moved on from dumb plastic in a big way. 

Roll on day 2 

We are only just scratching the surface of the possible revolution in customer experience made possible by the internet, mobile, big data and evolutions in Human-Computer interation, day 1 has inspired a load of ideas. Roll on day 2

Think big, start small and make the your part of the world a little better everday.