11 takeaways from Sibos 2019

Geoff Whitehouse Head of Editorial and Comms
5min read

Last week, the world’s biggest banking conference hit London for the first time. So what did more than 11,000 delegates see and hear at Sibos 2019?

Sibos 2019 is done. My back and step count suggest it was a pretty full-on week.

This year felt different. Not just because it was in the city I live in… no, because after years of talking about disruption, it felt like things might actually be changing.

There were still plenty of ‘threat vs opportunity’ narratives floating around, and as one journalist mentioned in passing, ‘I think this panel has had the same title for the last four years…’ But mixed in with that were some fascinating insights on ESG investment, the future of cross-border payments, and plenty of big announcements.

Given that we’re rather fond of the number 11, and with 11,000 delegates attending, it’s only fitting to have 11 takeaways. So here’s the good, the bad and the buzzy of Sibos 2019.

  1. The joy of plumbing. Stolen, with pride, from Leda Glyptis. Plumbing may never be cool, despite her concerted efforts, but it is getting a lot of attention. SWIFT gpi rightly got a lot of attention, but more on that later… because Nick Ogden’s at it again. Taking aim at the inefficiencies and opaqueness of banks’ liquidity positions, Ogden’s latest venture is reducing risk in international payments. ‘It struck us that the key thing is, if we can make liquidity visible to a party that can authenticate it, then you de-risk the financial chain. Hence RTGS.global’.

    More details here. A huge challenge, but if you were going to back one guy to crack it, I think it would be him.
  2. ESG going mainstream. It was fitting that Sibos delegates discussed sustainable investments in the same week that Greta Thunberg delivered a headline-grabbing speech at a UN climate crisis summit. The cynic in me thinks there’s some major window dressing occurring. But to their credit, the Sibos sessions called this out and looked to address it with the various panellists.

    Barclays’ Damian Payiatakis summed it up well, arguing sustainability isn’t a trend but the next phase of investing evolution:‘It’s not a case of ESG ‘going mainstream’, but the mainstream becoming ESG focused’.
  3. Interviews galore. We had the pleasure of hosting some of the biggest names in banking and fintech during our time at Sibos. We also managed to record a news show, two episodes of Fintech Insider OnAir – including one with HSBC’s Niall Cameron – and an episode of Blockchain Insider.

    The fintech special is out now, featuring experts from iProov, Funding Options, Currencycloud and Jumio, plus a very special announcement from OakNorth and Shieldpay. There’s much more to come, so make sure you’re subscribed to Fintech Insider to get it while it’s fresh.
  4. Buzzword bingo. AI, RPA, API, DLT, ML, VR. FML.

    The finance industry – banks, consultants, vendors – have an amazing ability to obfuscate through acronyms, using and abusing them to the point of meaninglessness.

    Seemingly every single fintech on the planet decided it could find/replace ‘software’ with ‘AI’ and see the news published far and wide. Or proclaim it was building an innovative way of supporting back office operations using DLT. Cool. Got any clients? Oh...

    It’s Taylor’s Law.
  5. Slogans. Slogans everywhere. Related to the above, but any chance could stop with the meaningless jargon straplines and empty modifiers? I get it: you need to stand apart and it’s hard because there are 10, 15, sometimes 20 other firms fighting for attention.

    Pivots, thriving and being in the now, connecting innovation, navigating to next.🤢

    We really, really need FS without the BS. Okay it’s time to get back to the positive…
  6. Innotribe continues to shine. Where else can you hear about black holes, multi-cloud strategies and whether the future will be more like Star Trek or Star Wars in one place? Our own Leda Glyptis prompted and provoked on the Future of Money panel, taking on the entire notion of value, money and exchange. And all at 9:45 in the morning, too.

    It was my favourite part of the show by far. From Eric De Gelder’s inspirational talk about overcoming adversity, through to Andreas Weigend’s ‘Data for the people and people for the data’.

    I understand some people’s critique that it’s sometimes too esoteric for their day-to-day. To me, it’s the place that prompts and probes. It educates, it entertains, it enlightens a room full of curious thinkers. You walk away with more knowledge and the ability to ask smarter questions.
  7. Awkward encounters. Tuesday saw some interesting (accidental? intentional? or they know the future?) scheduling: back-to-back fireside chats with LSE CEO David Schwimmer and HKEX CEO Charles Li. Awkward.

    Sadly, the proposed takeover was banned from the discussion. Schwimmer claimed Shanghai, not Hong Kong, was the centre of finance in APAC. Li, for his part, had more insightful comments about the need for a single market infrastructure and how HKEX is building the best in the world. Let's see how that one plays out.
  8. ‘A satisfactory philosophy of ignorance’ (With apologies to Richard Feynman).

    Professor Brian Cox opened Innotribe with a (big) bang. Genuinely, one of the best Sibos sessions ever. Using science to dive into the notions of critical thinking and how to consider the future, he explored the fundamental science behind everything from stars and planets to atoms and microbiology. All that backed with images on the huge screen from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Event Horizon array… so, so good.
  9. Is that a Starling on the floor? This felt like a ‘moment’ to me. Vendors come and go, or more accurately, get bought and merged into larger entities. But this year, for the first time, we saw a ‘challenger’ bank, Starling, exhibiting in the main hall.

    Huge shout-out to the team there for showing the 11:YEARS documentary trailer on their mega screen and hosting a live-streamed Q&A with Simon on the show floor. They created a clean, simple-yet-striking space – let’s hope there’s more of this to come next year.
  10. GP-aye! Back to plumbing and SWIFT gpi. At Sibos, SWIFT discussed the results of gpi’s new Instant service, which aims to make global payments as fast, frictionless and seamless as their domestic real-time equivalent. The trial, which involved 17 banks, saw every payment processed end-to-end within 25 seconds, with the fastest in just 13 seconds.

    Twenty-five seconds seems like a lifetime in a world of contactless, instant notifications and the like. However, Instant can be used by all types of bank end-users from large multinationals through to SMBs; it’s even an option for retail and e-commerce platforms. In this context, it’s really impressive and opens up a world of cross-border fintech possibilities.
  11. Chonky pandas and unicorns. It’s not a Sibos without swag and the hordes of Swagpies. We had the best swag with our little unicorn; maybe we’re biased, but it’s so damn cute. Special mentions go ICBC’s ‘chonky panda’ that is a firm favourite of the Media team (and my cat, Lou), Finastra’s bulldog and Hunter, the Wells Fargo pony.

If you’d like to hear more about SWIFT gpi and the future of cross-border payments, take a listen to our Insights show with SWIFT, HSCB and ClearBank here.