Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another Sibos is over and the big debate is not the fallout from the GFC (global financial crisis) or whether SWIFT can truly trim EUR 30 million off its bottom line (although if the sliver of a sandwich the journalists were fed in the press room is anything to go by, the McKinsey consultants have certainly been cutting a swathe through SWIFT's balance sheet).

The bigger story, other than the typhoon that wasn't really a typhoon, was whether there really was 5,000 delegates in attendance. At the opening plenary, SWIFT claimed that more than 5,000 people were attending Sibos in Hong kong, yet the exhibition floor looked thin on the ground most days (particularly the one on the third floor which saw less foot traffic than those lucky exhibitiors with first floor stands. 

However, today, suddenly from out of nowhere hundreds (not thousands) of bankers converged on the closing plenary. Where had they been all week? Well with a convention centre so spread out you needed to run a marathon to get from one room to the next, looks may be deceiving. Maybe there really were 5,000 registered delegates (there also seemed to be an awful lot of people employed to wipe drops of water off air conditioning systems with long mops - presumably they were not counted as delegates).

Anyway, jokes aside, keeping with the innovation theme SWIFT introduced at Sibos last year in Vienna, the closing guest speaker was Guy Kawasaki, ex-Apple and now running his own technology venture company. He boasted about how the "egomaniacs" at Apple flew first class (on flights longer than two hours), drank fresh orange juice and had a Bodendorf piano. Those were the days and perhaps there were a few bankers in the audience also lamenting the loss of first class travel and fresh orange juice.

Kawasaki trawled through his 10 ways for companies to be innovative - none of the corporate names he mentioned however were banks. Funny that. Despite all the Innotribe sessions in the world, I doubt there will be many bannks at Sibos next year with all their apps hosted in the cloud or providing financial services linked into social networking sites.

The sheer weight of the legacy infrastructure banks (particularly those large global networked banks) have to live with, makes innovation of the Apple and Guy Kawasaki kind difficult for banks, even if they did have fresh orange juice or Bodendorf pianos in their office.

People spoke about social networking and collaborative technologies but I saw very few real-world examples of banks using these technologies in the B2B space. I cannot see it getting past most boards, although Citi's Banking Evolution platform, announced at Sibos, was an example of one bold move in that direction. But then Citi is a technology start-up more than it is a bank.

Yes it handles transactions and enables customers to send and receive money from around the world, but it differentiates itself in terms of technology, and if it has its way, all the smaller and medium-sized banks will be white labelling its technology.

The Citi view of banking is that you don't need to manufacture the parts in order to be a transaction bank. You can insource them and assemble them and still call yourself a transaction bank, although I do expect that transaction banking in the future will be less about owning the payment or moving money, and more about what you do with the information associated with those payments and the customer making them.

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