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Triumph of technology

Peter Williams

Finovate is a unique conference that showcases software companies and their latest offerings. Originally established in the US, where it still operates with conferences in the spring and autumn, it now also runs a European conference and since last year one in the Far East too.

This is not a gadget show but an opportunity for firms to demonstrate their latest software and business applications to fellow industry enthusiasts, potential partners, clients or investors, and competitors. You may well ask, as I am not a technology guru, what I was I doing there? The simple answer is that I am a firm believer of the benefits of technology – indeed my early career successes were largely due to the harnessing of technology. However my attendance at Finovate was more to do with my search for the ‘Holy Grail’, but more of this later.

As readers know I frequently speak at, or chair, industry conferences so it was fun to be able to sit in the audience and see others work and notice how well the conference ran. I must say that I was very impressed by both the format and the organisation. Typically a financial services conference will see speaker sessions of between 20 and 60 minutes, with an occasional presentation lasting longer. Even panel sessions tend to give each speaker five to 10 minutes to make opening remarks but in the knowledge that they will be called upon, as part of the panel, to say more later. At Finovate Europe each firm was allowed a maximum of seven minutes to make its pitch. Often there were two presenters from the firm as an extra person was needed to operate the technology, mainly iPads and iPhone or Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Some even had video links to colleagues abroad and many had instantaneous live online demonstrations, which included moving money through accounts around the globe.

During the two days of the conference there were 64 presentations and they all went remarkably well with no serious communications problems, as all of the presentations were in English. This last fact made me feel particularly humble. The vast majority of presenters were either the founder, chief executive or senior vice-president of their respective organisations and were all clearly specialists in their field. Yet for most English was not their native language. I sat there in awe. How could they all deliver a polished presentation in under seven minutes, using live technology and while communicating in a second language?

In total speakers and delegates at the conference came from 36 countries including most of central Europe, Scandinavia, India, Australia, the US, Germany, France, Spain, South America and of course the UK.

The main theme of the conference was tools to help banks. In the UK we tend to have a jaundiced view of banks, especially in regard to their financial planning activities, and this opinion was reinforced by the FSA review of bank-based advice that was released while I was at the conference. (I read the story, using my Samsung Galaxy phone, on the Financial Adviser website.)