By @SimonCocking. Delighted to bring you our interview with Dave Birch, with some great insights and thoughts of FinTech and the possible future for banking. See more on his website here.

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

I joined a consultancy after University, thinking that I would explore a number of different businesses to see where I might want to make a career, but I enjoyed consultancy and was tolerably good at it so I stayed in it. After a few years, some colleagues and I decided to form our own consultancy to specialise in looking at new technology (particularly around networks, security, digital communications). That was how Consult Hyperion got off the ground. The first project that we won was with the Bank of England Central Gilts Office. Over the years we have steadily built up a professional practice that is, I think, recognised for the quality and integrity of its work. We are a niche player – payments, identity, financial inclusion and transit ticketing – but in those niches we are at the top.

What is a typical day for you at Consult Hyperion?

There is no typical day, which is exactly why I like it so much. Yesterday I was in our office and we were working on a model for helping one of our banking clients develop their strategy towards the blockchain. Tomorrow I’m going to the European Commission for the day. The week after next I’m in Washington. I really enjoy the variety, and I really enjoy meeting new people, which is the biggest perk of the job.

If you could have any clients you wanted, who would you like to work with, and what sort of changes would you recommend to them?

Personally, I would love to work for the Bank of England, helping them to plan the end of notes and coins and the introduction of digital currency.

We enjoyed your TEDx talk about the future of money. What sort of reception has it had, and has it sparked any interesting developments?

I rather like the discipline of the TED format. It’s actually quite hard to boil what you want to say down to 18 minutes! I think the ideas I put forward about the decentralised future of money did stimulate some thinking about the impact of new technology. And it gave me the idea for a book as well!

What do you mean by ‘identity is the money’? Is this along the lines that our on-line presence / digital profile will be a way to validate someone’s trustworthyness or not?

Well, “identity is the new money” was a better title for a book than “an economy based on pseudonymous persona with strong authentication and interoperable reputation based on attested attributes renders conventional means of exchange obsolete”. But the key point is this: the control of identity will be central the new economy.

How did you come to be a member of the FinTech mafia? Have they all ever met up in one place yet, and how much influence do you think they/you are having over the future of banking? (Lots hopefully – just wondering if you have seen the impact yet?)

I think the mafia thing is a bit of fun. The idea was that there were a few of us who were being referenced and retweeted a lot, so people in the banking world joked that we were a kind of mafia influencing thinking behind the scenes. Of course I am flattered to be seen as influential, but I feel a bit guilty about it, because the only reason that I get blogged and tweeted about is because I have top, top people around me in the office and I listen to what they are saying, then repackage it in a more user-friendly way! I am genuinely lucky to be alive at a time when messing around on Twitter is an actual job.

I’m not sure that the mafia is the right paradigm! But I am proud of being recognised as a thought leader and I think our clients do ultimately benefit from the ideas that I can bring in with our teams.

What Fintech trends are you excited by?

I tend to think in terms of social, business and technology trends intertwining and reinforcing. I’m very interested in the social moves towards privacy and how this might create business opportunity for companies who can exploit new technology (like mobile, biometrics, blockchain and so on) in interesting new ways. I don’t see privacy and security as trade-offs and I think I can see how we can get both.

How well are conventional banks responding to the changing Fintech developments? What should they be doing better?

That’s a really tough question. The fintech space is exploding because the newcomers think that new technology means that they can overcome inefficiencies inherent in the current structures. If that’s true, then banks will use them too! If Bitcoin really was faster and cheaper, then banks would be using it because payments are (in Europe) a third of their costs. The potential unbundling has more to do with regulation and risk: technology makes it possible, but technology isn’t destiny, as they say.

Do you think bitcoin (or something similar) will achieve wide adoption, if so how soon, or why not?

It is really not clear to me that cryptocurrencies will obtain mass market traction. Digital currencies, yes. But cryptocurrencies (that is, currencies that derive their value from cryptography, not from an issuer) seem to be to be rather specialised in appeal.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

My lucky number is 10, my favourite colour is sky blue and my favourite meal is meatloaf with mashed potato.


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