INTERVIEW: In Conversation with Money20/20 Europe’s Content Leaders

INTERVIEW: In Conversation with Money20/20 Europe's Content Leaders
Once again, FindBiometrics will be reporting live from Money20/20 Europe this year.

Money20/20 is one of the most important conference programs in the financial services industry, and with biometrics playing an increasingly important role in FinTech, it has also become one of the key avenues for solutions providers to meet with their peers and potential partners. It’s a state of affairs to which FindBiometrics Digital Content VP Susan Stover can attest, having attended the latest Money20/20 USA event, and indeed moderated a panel there on the topic of “Invisible Authentication: How UIX-Focused Biometrics Can Make Passwords Disappear”.

So with Money20/20 Europe right around the corner – slated to begin in mid-June – Stover naturally jumped at the opportunity to speak with the event’s Content Leaders: Elena Mesropyan and Gary Dempsey. The three start things off with a consideration of the key takeaways from last year’s show, and then set their eyes ahead to June, with the discussion touching on organizers’ decision to “rip up the rule book” in terms of the typical structure of a conference agenda, what technologies and trends they expect to see this year, and who should attend, in addition to broader issues like the importance of trust in digital finance and the need for cross-industry collaboration.

Read the full FindBiometrics interview with Money20/20 Europe Content Leaders Elena Mesropyan and Gary Dempsey:

Susan Stover, VP of Digital Content, FindBiometrics: FindBiometrics and Mobile ID World reported live from Money20/20 Europe last year in Amsterdam. The central theme was “Transformation”. What were the major takeaways from last year’s show, and how did it inform the upcoming agenda?

Elena Mesropyan, Content Leader, Money20/20 Europe: Thank you, Susan. That’s a great question to start with. 

Banking transformation was indeed one of the biggest themes in the agenda and rightfully so for 2019. So, if we distill it into some of the key takeaways, it’s worth zooming in on a few of them. 

The first one would be the long game and long-term sustainability. The key question here is how do you future-proof your business model and your offerings to make sure that you are still around in 10 years? What’s critical here is not simply the endurance element, because that can be reached by expanding and extending venture funded runway, but the profitability or at the very least a feasible plan to profitability with sound unit economics.

That’s why for the 2020 Money20/20 Europe show, one of the big questions in our agenda is called, “How do I build a boringly sustainable business model?” We’re quite fond of the question and the boring part of it in particular. With that theme, we are bringing the question of profitability back into the game and declaring “boring” the new sexy. We’re planning to explore some case studies and examples from Europe and around the world where companies have prioritized sustainability and profitability versus the growth-by-all-means rhetoric, which is widely romanticized in the industry today.

Gary Dempsey, Content Leader Money20/20 Europe: Another important takeaway was the potential for open banking. 

The concept of open banking is arguably one of the most progressive pieces of regulation, tightly connected to the idea of open data economy and open finance adopted one way or the other around the world. 

In 2019, conversations about open banking remained focused on the regulatory and compliance aspect. While that’s a perfectly relevant angle, we have to move further than that. So next year, we will take a very operational approach to conversations about open banking. The regulatory perspective on its development is vital but open banking and its progression towards open finance and an open data economy is a very operational matter. 

One of the big questions shaping the agenda in 2020 is called, “How do I surf the wave of regulatory change?” Open banking will have a place in that question, in addressing how to capitalize on open banking and how open banking can pave the way to an open data economy.

Elena Mesropyan: That’s a particularly interesting one because conversations around open banking usually take a very compliance-first turn, but we want to take an operational approach, as Gary mentioned.

There is another key takeaway worth mentioning: that back-end efficiency is the new competitive edge. There is more to a winning market strategy than front-end improvements, which is what the majority of businesses tend to focus on. When everyone in the market levels-up with user experience, the back-end can be one’s source of unfair advantage. Moreover, the user experience is not only a front-end exercise; the experience can be ruined by back-end issues like the speed of delivery, for example.

So in 2020, we will be exploring the ways that companies can make the back-end work for the front-end better. For example, what are the best practices in the customer onboarding journey? How do companies take away existing friction points by making changes to their tech stack?

These and some other questions about best practices for back-end efficiency are a part of our agenda for 2020 and will be covered under the theme called, “How can infrastructure become my unfair advantage?” We’re very excited about that question.

Susan Stover:  In terms of consumer focus and the customer journey, that’s something we focussed on in the panel, “Invisible Authentication: How UIX-Focussed Biometrics Can Make Passwords Disappear”, I moderated at Money20/20 USA so, it’s great to see this conversation is continuing in the Europe show.

As you both touch on, this year, Money20/20 Europe has decided to “rip up the rule book” on how a typical conference agenda “should” be structured, focusing on eight major questions instead of dividing the event into industry-specific tracks. What inspired this move to a more interdisciplinary conference structure?

Gary Dempsey: There were two important reasons. 

First, we took several months after the 2019 show to interview C-suite and EVP/VP-level executives from a variety of companies that were present at Money20/20 Europe. We wanted to speak to as many stakeholders as possible to find out what they thought of past shows and what they wanted from our future events. But more importantly, we wanted to understand the real challenges of leaders in finance and tech and their goals for 2020 and beyond. Those findings were instrumental in informing our themes and that’s what shapes our agenda for the 2020 show. 

The second reason is what you can call a subsector fatigue or industry-specific tracks you mentioned. Every industry event in this space is theming their shows around isolated topics like banking, payments, blockchain, lending, etc. But having those conversations in isolation doesn’t address real challenges because as companies get increasingly diversified and enter new verticals, they face similar challenges. So the move towards highly contextual industry questions was a natural evolution of our content. 

We threw out the subsectors of the past and based our content around eight big questions. They allow us to explore the most critical topics in the industry in a more contextual and practical manner. Needless to say, they significantly expand the universe of topics to explore in general – they apply to all stakeholders in the industry and every business should be asking themselves these questions over the next year and beyond.

In 2020, we’ve set ourselves the goals to make sure there are no rehashed themes, no sales pitches, and certainly no “thought leadership” on our stages, and what we mean by that is our speakers won’t be onstage giving their thoughts on the future of the industry, they’ll be providing real, actionable insights. With a 100 percent curated content organized around the eight biggest industry questions keeping everyone up at night, our guests will be leaving the show with concrete strategies to improve and future-proof their businesses.

Susan Stover: I think it’s such a great move in terms of addressing what your conference attendees are looking for. And for us, just a question that piqued our interest in terms of one of the eight conference questions is, “Why Can’t We Get Trust Right?”. What are some of the technologies and trends we can expect to see at Money20/20 Europe exploring answers to that question?

Elena Mesropyan: I’ll be honest with you – that was one of the most difficult questions to shape. We knew exactly what we wanted to include in that question, but what exactly is the common denominator? We took a hard look at the very core of those topics that were previously separate on our agenda and are still very separate at other events. 

You’ve already guessed the exact word I am talking about – trust. The matter of trust has been and will remain one of the most pressing challenges in the industry in 2020 and beyond. How do you securely connect and conduct business with someone you will never meet? Or, how do we enable universal and secure access to public services online? It all comes down to trust, and trust (although it may not seem so immediately) is a very operational term. It ties together everything that has to do with identity, cybersecurity, and privacy.

And at Money20/20 Europe this June, you can expect to see innovators showcasing their approach to building the fabric of trust between individuals and private and public sectors. 

However, we don’t aim to give a definitive answer to what the system of trust should look like because there hasn’t been and there is unlikely to be a single right answer. There are different models of establishing trust and we want to show the variety of players attempting to build and own the layer of trust, tying together identity, security, privacy, and convenience, of course.

The US, Europe and APAC have very different experiences with systems of trust and technologies used to build those systems. Who is to say what the right model is? I don’t think all models are universally applicable; there are reasons they’re different in those regions. But we can certainly assess and showcase different approaches and types of companies that are maybe best positioned to build those systems so companies can decide the best course of action for themselves.

Susan Stover: Why is the question of trust so foundational to the future of mobile and digital finance specifically?

Gary Dempsey: Mobile and digital finance is built on the opportunity to attribute accurate and measurable set of characteristics to someone online, whether it’s a business, and individual, or even a device. It comes down to one’s identity and the ability of others to identify and verify another business, individual, or a device (think machine identity) in a trustless environment. Who is best positioned to build the fabric of identity? I think if we had an answer to this question, there would be no reason to explore the theme around trust. We don’t know the answer but we are very much keen to discuss the possibilities at Money20/20 Europe this June.

Susan Stover: Money20/20 conferences the world over have always been a great meeting of the minds. What is the role of collaboration in the payments and banking spaces now, and why is it important for Money20/20 to facilitate cooperative discussions?

Elena Mesropyan: That’s a great question. In the financial services industry the reality is much less adversarial than it is made out to be for the sake of entertainment and Twitter buzz. 

We know one thing for sure: the competitive landscape and the roles of old and new actors are changing and without a doubt, in 2020, we’ll see a different set of players than we dealt with even a few years ago. Partly because of the natural selection within the industry and partly due to the changing local and international dynamics as a result of consolidation and new players that are aggressively pursuing new industries (for example, technology companies entering the financial services industry).

But I want to return to an important point I made at the beginning about reality versus perception. It’s not always a zero-sum game. New types of companies aren’t necessarily there to run someone out of business. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes collaboration in the market, and even if passionate entrepreneurs initially set out to run someone out of business, today, they’re learning their lessons from either facing the complex reality of regulations, expectations, and, possibly, even their very first economic cycle, or they’re simply being dragged into this reality by regulators, for example.

There’s a natural place in the market for old and new players. The set of players is evolving and those that are ready for the change will find their sweet spot. If you think of it from a customer perspective, think about the bank account, for example. Having a bank account with an online bank doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re exclusive with that bank. It’s very unlikely to be a widespread behavior, right? The variety of players in the market, old and new, will go through a natural selection and each settle in their own use case. So, it’s a matter of finding your place in the ecosystem, whether it’s front-end, or back-end, or maybe both. 

All of that leads us to another big question for the 2020 show and it’s called “Where do I play and how do I win?”

Everyone is cornered to find their unique proposition, at home and on foreign turf. Just like with all other big questions, there isn’t one definitive answer, but there are examples of companies that either found their place successfully or are redefining it in response to the new reality and can share their learnings and experiences.

Susan Stover:  So, on that note, who should attend Money20/20 Europe?

Gary Dempsey: Money20/20 Europe is the place to be for anyone with an ambition to learn and make a difference for their professional development and growth, for their businesses, and for the customers. We don’t like to call ourselves a conference, Money20/20 Europe is a show for a reason. It’s an incomparable experience, packing three months’ of meetings into three days. We deliver more than 60 hours of content across six stages and, with 1 in 5 attendees from the C-suite, we create a space where anyone can run into anyone.

Money20/20 Europe is where the biggest minds in money come together to create the future of money. Whether you are a CEO or an evangelist, or deep in the trenches – everyone who’s anyone should be there to connect, learn and transform the trajectory of the business. You leave Money20/20 Europe with the motivation, strategy and tactics to take your business into the future.

Susan Stover: Anecdotally I can attest to that, Gary. I always wear my runners because I’m just running from meeting to meeting between sessions and just being able to talk with a company and seeing the whole wide swath of, like you said, from C-level to those in the trenches. I’m really looking forward to speaking at the show in June, and of course meeting face-to-face with folks! 

Here at FindBiometrics, we’re currently reporting on the results of our 2019 FindBiometrics Year in Review survey – the identity industry’s longest-running annual review. For many years in a row, our respondents identified Financial Services as the most exciting area of application for biometrics. 

I’d like to turn the table on the question for you: From your perspective, how has biometrics changed the world of finance over the last half of this decade?

Elena Mesropyan:  There has been a steady march to the mass deployment and adoption of biometrics-based technologies. Behavioral biometrics, in particular, was a huge step forward in securing access to personal devices and accounts. Behavioral biometrics allow for a much richer profile of an owner and, ultimately, to use continuous authentication versus static. It allows both users and companies to be sure at all times that it’s the right person in front of a screen accessing sensitive information without necessarily intruding the experience.

Another important achievement for biometrics-based technologies is an unmatched rate of inclusion. For nations with massive parts of society in the shadow of the formal financial system, biometrics are the link. Through biometrics-based technologies, billions of vulnerable people around the world gain a chance at own prosperity and mobility as well as an opportunity to participate in their nation’s prosperity and enhance their quality of life. Your biometric data should be all you need to use services – you can pay with a selfie today and it’s just fascinating. So, I’d say frictionless inclusion into the formal financial life and the opportunity to improve the quality of life for yourself, your family, and, ultimately, the society you live in are the biggest achievements.

Susan Stover: I think it was two years ago at Money20/20 USA where someone said, “Frictionless is the new F word” and we’ve really run with that.

Elena Mesropyan: That sounds very much like Money20/20.

Susan Stover: Well, we’re really looking forward to attending Money20/20 Europe this year and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.