Your background briefly?
I am a management consultant with more than 10 years of experience in defining business strategies and leading global transformations in Financial Institutions at the intersection of Business & Technology.
I have worked as an IT Manager in a Corporate and Investment Bank in France, where I was involved in the development of business applications and learned first-hand about the financial products and processes.
After this experience, I became a consultant. At the Boston Consulting Group during 5 years, I led challenging projects for European banks, from pure business strategy to IT/Digital strategy. It was a very formative experience.
I recently joined the consulting firm Chappuis Halder & Co. (CH&Co), first at the London UK office and now at the New York office. Here I continue to lead business transformations in Financial Institutions, with a focus on technology and innovation. I am the Head of Digital for North America, in charge of the Fintech watch for CH&Co globally.
How did you end up doing what you do now?
When I was working in a bank, I found it difficult to push new ideas and improve the ways of working from the inside, because of the complexity of the organization. In my external advisor role, I have now more impact in the Financial Institutions I work for.
Then I wanted to focus less on the “3 year strategy” and more on “concrete” innovation: how do you build your next innovation in the next 3 – 6 months? The industry is moving so fast. Meeting with entrepreneurs, working with startups and being involved in the Fintech ecosystem is the best way to stay relevant and anticipate the changes in the market.
At CH&Co. I am able to leverage my experience to bridge the gap between Business & Technology, driving growth and efficiency in Financial Institutions by connecting them with the best innovations from the market.
CH&Co is a consulting firm that focuses only on Financial Services. We compete directly with the big four and management consulting firms (Deloitte, Accenture, etc.) but we are more flexible in our approach and provide deep expertise and concrete experience on specific topics such as Regulatory issues, Risk analytics and Innovation/Digital.
For instance on Innovation, we are speakers in major events, we mentor Fintech startups, manage a directory of Fintech firms and work very closely with Fintech organizations such as NextMoney, StartupBootCamp and Finfusion that we co-founded in Montreal. We also have our own incubator to experiment innovation in a very concrete and pragmatic way, participating to startup competitions such as Citi Mobile Challenge and France Innovation.
— Sebastien Meunier (@sbmeunier) July 27, 2016
Congratulations on your recent top 10 rating in the global fintech influencers list – where did it all go right?
Thank you Simon!
I enjoy involving myself actively in the Fintech community, both in the real world (through networking, meetups, etc.) and on social media. Obviously I am honored to appear in several lists of the top Fintech/Insurtech influencers, among great thought leaders in the industry.
For me, it is not so much about the rank, because it can vary depending on the methodology and doesn’t necessarily account for the actual influence you have in the real world. I take it as a recognition of my hard work, my passion for Fintech and my expertise acquired along the years, which is reflected on the quality of my presence online.
Being active online has helped me expand my network and has led to several speaking and business opportunities. In the future, I hope to get even more opportunities and be recognized as a thought leader by writing more articles and sharing more my own insights.
— Sebastien Meunier (@sbmeunier) July 29, 2016
In the banking / innovation / fintech world, what are you excited about?
Well I won’t surprise you, for me the blockchain or distributed ledger technology is the most interesting topic today. I am fascinated by the hiatus between the concept and the practice for Financial Services.
The concept is simple and appealing:
• “Why don’t we exchange everything (Securities, Derivatives, Loans, etc.) the same way we exchange Bitcoins?”
• “Sending digital assets should be like sending emails!”
• “Let’s get rid of intermediaries and save the billions of dollars spent in reconciliations!”
To the point that when all you have in mind is a blockchain, everything looks like a blockchain use-case.
But in practice, the Bitcoin Blockchain was a solution designed to solve one problem: solving the double spending problem in a P2P and trustless environment. Financial Institutions operate in a B2B/B2C, trusted and heavily regulated environment. It should be obvious that for a different problem, you need a different solution!
— Sebastien Meunier (@sbmeunier) July 26, 2016
Banks and Insurances are experimenting many use-cases for asset issuance, clearing and settlement, trade finance, payments etc. Experimenting is good – after a lot of trials & errors some solutions will emerge. These solutions might re-use some features of the blockchain technology, but they will be quite different from the Bitcoin Blockchain. As a matter of fact, the banks’ blockchain consortium R3 is not building a blockchain
Don’t get me wrong. The blockchain technology is not the solution to every problem, but it remains very promising for some specific use-cases (think peer-to-peer applications, storage of “proofs” outside the firewall, etc.). Our role as consultants is to cut through the hype, to assess the actual impact of new technologies with a business perspective. By doing so we are able to educate our clients and support them in their innovation process from ideation to experimentation and delivery.
Can traditional banks successfully innovate to deal with the rise of FinTech banking disrupters?
Developing digital innovation requires specific skills and the right mindset. It is a specific job and not the (primary) job of Financial Institutions. That being said, some banks are better than others at dealing with Fintech innovation.
Generally speaking Banks should:
* Develop a digital innovation culture internally.
Today Digital or Innovation teams often struggle to deliver actual innovation from the inside because they have to onboard/convince many stakeholders, and because working in a more entrepreneurial mode means accepting the possibility of failure (between 50% to 90% of startups fail), which is something banks are not used to. I think that delivering successful innovation in large Financial Institutions is less about Business or Technology expertise and more about Culture & Mindset. Changing the culture is a long process and can’t deliver an immediate ROI. It can only succeed if the impulsion come from the top management. BBVA is a very good example in this respect.
* Be connected to the ecosystem of startups and entrepreneurs, to develop awareness of the risks and opportunities, and to partner with or acquire the innovation directly at the source. This is what they do through their Ventures arms and internal incubators or sponsored accelerators.
Of course it is easier said than done. But banks don’t necessarily have to be early adopters. They have the scale (client base), time (protection of regulation) and money to catch up by “buying” the innovation from outside (see the recent acquisition of the digital bank Fidor by the French banking group BPCE).
The difficulty is to execute this strategy with the right balance, finding the right partners/targets at the right time depending on your industry (consumer lending, payments, investment banking, etc.) and your priorities. The banks that are the most “fit” to our digital age will continue to dominate the market, while some Fintech might successfully scale up at the same time, this is not contradictory.
— Sebastien Meunier (@sbmeunier) July 28, 2016
Will bitcoin achieve wider adoption or not? What are your thoughts on the viability of wider adoption of cryptocurrencies?
First, I consider the Bitcoin system as extremely powerful. The technology involved is not revolutionary in fact: some cryptography/math, a peer to peer protocol and basic storage capabilities. But put together with smart economic rules, these pieces of technology form a very consistent and strong system.
In my opinion Bitcoin will stay. Probably not as “the” universal digital currency, rather as an alternative asset class. Adoption will grow gradually while more and more POS start accepting payments in bitcoin. But there won’t be any breakthrough until one government actively supports Bitcoin as a currency.
Again it is easy to understand: Bitcoin was designed to be decentralized and borderless whereas the monetary system is governed by Sovereign States that centrally control currencies and macro-economic parameters. A general adoption of Bitcoin is impossible in the current system.
I think we can agree on the end game: one day we will all use digital money exclusively. But before that, the monetary system will have to be reformed and everyone will have to get access to basic financial services. It will happen, but not soon.
— Sebastien Meunier (@sbmeunier) July 28, 2016
Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?
Some people/firms get over excited with new technologies and focus more on marketing rather than content. Others do have the expertise but tend to criticize and don’t propose solutions. I like people who are able to reflect, stay ahead of the game (rather than commenting the trends), and deliver their vision while remaining balanced, such as the unavoidable Chris Skinner, and Pascal Bouvier. I also enjoy reading David Birch and Ron Shevlin for their insights and caustic / humorous twist. Also I recently met with Brett King and Bradley Leimer in real life, not only they are great experts but they are also very kind and approachable.
In the blockchain space, I appreciate reading Tim Swanson, Christopher Allen, Vitalik Buterin and Gideon Greenspan from Coinsciences.
There are many other good contributors in this space. I like debates and don’t hesitate to share thoughtful opinion pieces even when I don’t fully agree with them.
How do you manage online / offline, work / life challenges?
It requires discipline! You need to be very well organized and use the right tools. I have a full time job, so I try to read the news and identify the most interesting articles early (6am) in the morning and during the lunch break.
Because I am passionate about my job, the frontier between work and personal life is often blurry. I tend continue to think, read, write and meet Fintech experts during my free time. In this respect, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my beloved sweetheart Danni for her patience and support!
It is difficult to have a real break, but one thing is sacred: if I have no meeting outside in the evening, I like to come home and cook dinner with fresh ingredients – no junk food here – probably my French roots!
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?
I think we live a very interesting period in time where many disciplines tend to converge or combine in a powerful way. For instance the combination of blockchain, IoT and machine learning technology looks promising. In the business space, the frontiers between payments/financial services, commerce, telecommunication tend also to disappear. Major shifts will occur soon. Very exciting times ahead!