Year in Review 2017: Money20/20’s Andrew Morris on Biometrics, AI and the Future of FinTech

FindBiometrics recently caught up with Andrew Morris, Chief Content Officer at Money20/20 USAThe ensuing conversation was wide ranging, covering everything from the evolution of Money20/20 over the years, to the role of AI and identity in FinTech, and everything in between.

Andrew Morris joined Money20/20 USA four years ago. As Chief Content Officer, he is responsible for setting the agenda for the Money20/20 Las Vegas event, which has proven to not only be a trend-setting conference in the world of FinTech, but is also responsible for facilitating some of the most crucial conversations in biometrics and commerce our industry has seen. Prior to his time with Money20/20 Morris was a consultant in the areas of mobile payments, mobile commerce, online banking, rewards and loyalty programs. His high level expertise on the financial services sector offers a unique and valuable perspective on the intersection of commerce and identity. We interviewed him for our 15th Annual Year in Review event to get a reading on identity and FinTech in 2017.

Here is what we learned from our talk with Andrew Morris, Chief Content Officer at Money20/20:

The conversation about biometrics has shifted to be about customer experience.

“All of the four years that I’ve been in this role, we’ve had some agenda content that talks about biometrics,” says Morris. “Generally the focus was on security, fraud mitigation, and authentication. So it would show up in a security track, or a fraud track– that type of context. And one of the things that I noticed this year that I thought was really interesting is how increasingly we are talking about biometrics in a customer experience context. Because there’s this convergence that’s happening with things like artificial intelligence and mobile interfaces and voice recognition as an interface to the phone, there’s a biometric element to creating a bunch of these seamless experiences.”

Morris tells me that this consumer experience shift trend is illustrated in the iPhone X, which offers face biometrics and voice-based AI interfacing via Siri. At Money20/20 USA 2017 Apple’s Jennifer Bailey presented a keynote during which she walked about how the new Face ID feature on the iPhone X will be replacing fingerprint authentication for Apple Pay transactions. It’s a controversial move, from a customer service stand point, to necessarily nix the iconic Touch ID fingerprint functionality.

“Now I’m thinking about using Apple Pay, I’m almost wondering whether the loss of the fingerprint sensor — maybe that was a more appropriate mode of biometrics for payments since now you need to have the phone angled to see your face to scan it while you’re paying,” he said. “You think it would be better to use your finger. It’s not necessarily which biometric is the most accurate for security reasons, they’re trying to optimize all of them into experiences.”

The number one theme of Money20/20 USA 2017 was Artificial Intelligence.

“Artificial intelligence was a big topic at the event this year,” said Morris. “We had Steve Wozniak, Michio Kaku the theoretical physicist, futurist Ray Kurzweil, all on a track on AI.

“I would say AI was the number one theme of the conference. This whole customer experience thing is a part of AI. But also identity. We talked about biometrics being a part of [Money20/20] for the last several years, but also we had a workshop on the topic that Dave Birch lead, that included the FIDO Alliance, and had a lot of discussions about digital identity, and all the different pieces of that puzzle. So that’s still there.”

The big theme of Money20/20 2017 was “the convergence of AI, and voice, and biometrics, creating seamless experiences,” Morris tells me. And again, this technology is being presented through a customer experience lens, first. This is especially true when mobility enters the equation.

“In banking things are very much still mobile-first. Whether it’s in a retail payments contexts, or whether its interacting with your own device for some other financial services, it’s not an extension of banking on your PC, it’s mobile first,” he says. “So people are wanting to enroll and open accounts and do a whole number of things only on the mobile device. And anything that’s going to make that a more seamless experience is part of the equation. Biometrics is a part of that.”

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The focus on AI will likely continue in the future.

The massive consumer interest – both in and outside the financial industry – is a big part of why Artificial Intelligence is such a good topic for Money20/20, Morris tells me.

“I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago and there was a TIME Special issue on the shelf about artificial intelligence, and they’re thinking they can sell a ten dollar magazine off the shelf in a grocery store on the topic,” he said. “It’s that level of consumer interest.”

Admittedly, part of what is driving general consumer interest is popular fears of what AI and automation will do to the workplace. “But for FinTech particularly it just crosses so many different areas, right? Because it’s in customer experience, it’s in credit decisioning, it’s in fraud mitigation,” he says.

“We really dug into the guts on that first day, and talked  about business applications throughout the event.”

Over the coming months Morris will be thinking about how to organize the agenda for this year’s Las Vegas event and he says he has no doubt some of 2017’s hot topics will remain prominent on the 2018 schedule. “I’m sure AI will be one of them,” he says. “And I think identity will be one of them.”

He says he expects AI and biometrics – specifically voice – to continue to converge, enabling for greater interest and adoption of contactless interfaces. “And that’s going to be true whether it’s making a purchase on an e-commerce website or interaticing with your bank. It’s all going to get integrated. I don’t know whether we’ll call it AI Deep Dive, but there definitely be a track that talks about AI in all these contexts next year.”

Conference tracks might change in the future thanks to the nature of how people become familiar with technology.

Andrew Morris says that one of the more interesting aspects of planning Money20/20 year-after-year is watching the convergence of new technologies into familiar baseline technologies.

“If we were planning a conference in 1996 we might have a tack called ‘The Internet’ and it would be all about how the internet is changing financial services,” he says as an example. “The notion of doing that today is ridiculous. Right? No one would ever think of a ‘The Internet’ track because it’s just woven into everything we do.

“We initially started talking about BitCoin and Blockchain – we had something called Bitcoin World – and now it’s become blockchain tech. And I imagine if you would project forward a few years, it may be integrated into so many different applications that it doesn’t make sense to carve out a track about blockchain anymore, or it doesn’t make sense to carve out a track about mobile anymore. You define it differently because the things all merge together.”

Once again, the evolution in FinTech seems to be heading in the experiential direction. Currently, Money20/20 has distinct vertical tracks covering retail, banking, payments and other mainstays, but Morris suggests even those might change because of this converging nature.

“Maybe it’s going to be more difficult to separate banking from payments from commerce in the future and you end up having technology that kind of gets woven into everything. We might be defining our tracks differently because it’s not based on the vertical, or based on the technology, maybe it’s based on different types of experiences.”

The biggest challenges in FinTech are regulatory, not technological.

“The operating system for FinTech – or Financial Services – is a regulatory environment,” Morris tell me. “And so that always becomes a challenge: how to balance consumer protection with innovation from a regulatory context. As the technology accelerates, the regulation is more difficult. Some of the old rules don’t make sense anymore. Some of the old regulations are not applicable. And you have to think about things very differently.

“And so woven into that idea of regulation and consumer protection are things like privacy, or you know there are some big ethical issues to deal with related to biometrics and identity and privacy. And to what extent do governments need to inject into that to protect consumers? But then you have the really interesting example in India, where the government has used the technology to create digital identity with Aadhaar. They’re not just regulating FinTech, they are proactively using the tech to solve some problems they saw with financial inclusion and trying to bring people into the financial system and solve poverty issues and so forth.

“So, I think a lot of the challenges are not technological challenges as much as they are these regulatory and ethical – where human beings meet the tech, and what the implications are.”

Going into 2018, collaboration is the most exciting thing about the biometric finance arena.

In the 2017 FindBiometrics Year in Review, industry-focused survey respondents agree that industry collaboration is essential for the biometrics industry at large. From Andrew Morris’ perspective the same is true for financial services. He says that  Money20/20 exists to foster this kind of cooperation.

“There’s a whole sense of collaboration,” says Morris. “One of the cool things  about the industry we’re in is that you just can’t innovate without partnering with others. And so that plays into what we do because we’re this meeting place, and this place where companies connect and develop partnerships, but increasingly it’s evident that it’s going to take multiple companies and partners to make these use cases reality. That’s what’s interesting to watch: these partnerships and the collaborations that happen in the industry that make it real.”

In 2018, we can expect Money20/20 USA to become more interactive.

Morris believes that collaborative spirit is one of Money20/20’s greatest strengths, and this year the organization will be working to make the event more interactive, aiming to facilitate the networking that leads to FinTech innovation.

“When you organize content around certain content and theme it starts to self-select people who are all interested in the same topics. We may look at more ways to make those sessions more interactive, let the audience interact more with the speakers on stage, and also interact with each other in networking opportunities that are either tied more closely to the content. So you’re in a room with people that are all interested in biometrics, or all interested in AI, and you can find them more easily,” he explains.

“We also have two really interesting groups of customers. We have a large number of big tech and big banks and kind of corporate types that are in product and technology mode and come to the conference and want to learn and maybe get caught up, in some respects, on their knowledge of what’s cutting edge. And so we need to serve them. But we also have a heritage of being the place where the future of money and financial services is invented, with startups and the real cutting edge innovators. And so we’ll be looking at ways to serve those two groups: both the big corporate customers and those who are really revolutionaries creating the future of money. That’s really what Money20/20 is about. And so you’ll see new ways where we capture that next year.”

January 24, 2018 – by Peter B. Counter