By @SimonCocking. Great interview with  Theo Priestley Emerging technology evangelist, strategist, startup mentor @AlchemistAcc and @MSA_LDN. Comic collector and gamer. Tenacious and irrepressible Scotsman.

Your background briefly?

I’ve spent the majority of my career transforming financial service organisations in Europe, leading and architecting both operational and technology change. I’ve always studied how the tech trends shift, and as a serious hobby I started providing industry analysis to enterprise vendors

How did you end up doing what you do now?

I’d love to say its all been part of a grand design, and it has. As a geek I’ve always been interested in emerging technology, studying how the trends shift and affect businesses. Around 8 years ago it became a serious hobby and I started providing industry analysis to enterprise vendors, at the same time I began blogging on various topics of interest. Later it just turned from a hobby to a career as a technology evangelist and advisor.

Startup mentor! What tips do you give to those you mentor? Are there any that you find you self saying more than once!?

I wrote about this before on Forbes; Understand your product and understand why you exist at all. Many startups focus on funding more than the product, primarily because of the amount of noise and attraction generated by big valuations and unicorn IPOs. As a mentor I give them a different perspective, offer them a sounding board. They ultimately make their own decisions, I just give them the tools to consider the wider picture.

In the wider banking / innovation / fintech world, what are you excited about?

I hate to overuse the term ‘disruption’ but I’m excited for the possibilities around how fintech startups are approaching traditional banking and financial service products and services. When you boil it down, regulation forces constraints on the types of products that you can offer and how internal processes need to comply, but how those products are offered and the way customers are services and can engage is now wide open. For example, a current account is a current account is a current account; there will never be anything flash about it, but how you create a unique service around it tailored to individual needs would be. I’ve seen banks playing with video conference type facilities in-branch, but who wants to even walk into a branch to access this facility?

Can traditional banks successfully innovate to deal with the rise of FinTech banking disrupters?

Yes and no. I’ve seen banks playing with remote video conference type facilities in-branch, allowing customers to talk to someone based in another office, but who wants to even walk into a branch just to access this kind of facility? Banks are still clinging onto old ideals, and therefore readily accept halfway houses as a basis of an “innovative” solution. The other trend I’ve noticed is that the same Board and C-suite members move from older banks to challenger banks and apply the same thinking all over again, thus repeating an endless cycle of copy-paste banking culture and customer service.

There’s not enough new blood entering the traditional banking sector because fintech is perceived to be hottest. It’s hot, riskier and ultimately offering quicker wins, but moving the needle for traditional banking is probably more challenging and potentially more rewarding. Fintech Innovation Labs and running Hackathons are a good start, and collaborating internally and externally with people who have ideas, but many approach this piecemeal because it’s the in-thing to do rather than drive it across the organisation as a strategy and culture. They think about ROI, they think about it in a project context, they think about what a business case for a hackathon would look like. You don’t.

That’s the starting point for innovation for incumbents; to answer how far are you willing to go, and how much are you willing to stake in order to innovate. If you’re not all in, then maybe you shouldn’t have skin in the game.

If you could make everyone in Banking do what you told them, what would you command them to do?

Challenge the regulators to move as fast as the pace of change moves.
Build for the generation that’s coming after the so-called Millennials.
And provide more financial education to society in general. As an industry it is utterly woeful in providing even the basics of managing personal finances.

Will bitcoin achieve wider adoption or not? What are your thoughts on the viability of wider adoption of cryptocurrencies?

Did you hear about the DAO hack this week? Not a good sign.
I’m going to stress my last point though, because if we can’t educate the basics of money and finance, what hope has cryptocurrency got of becoming mainstream? I think blockchain, the tech that underpins it all, has more of a future in and outside of finance than bitcoin at the moment.

Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?

For emerging tech trends in general I love reading what Robert Scoble is up to and the tech he’s discovered. He’s relentless and I love that. For fintech I follow Brett King, David Brear, Spiros Margaris and read what they’re thinking about. Tom Goodwin at Havas Media is also another one who speaks his mind about the state of the media and marketing industry. In all, those that stand their ground with their opinions get the most respect from me.

How do you manage online / offline, work/life challenges?

Blimey. These days there’s hardly a line at all between them. We are all always online whether we like to admit it or not. It’s just all part of life now. However I’m learning that when I’m going on holiday, don’t expect more than one word answers anymore.

Will there be a “Bank of Facebook” or “Bank of Apple”?

If fintech has taught anything, it’s that the definition of “bank” has been turned on its head. Did you know Starbucks has more customer money held on its loyalty cards than some banks hold in deposit? Apple has announced you can transmit money to another via iMessage. When I posted this recently a friend at Nordea Bank made a comment about having to be regulated and how, in the end, those organisations have to have a bank account to hold the money in the first place. But again, its just an example of traditional and old thinking.

What is a bank today?

If a customer is happy to place funds in a system that rewards their loyalty, and uses that system to pay for goods and services but it’s not a financial institution, then perhaps how we define a bank has to change completely.


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