Mark Casci: We need to stop thinking of tech as disruptive but rather empowering

KPMG Building, Sovereign Street, Leeds, where the event will be held.
KPMG Building, Sovereign Street, Leeds, where the event will be held.
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Jim Watson, the great molecular biologist, came up with one of my favourite quotes when he wrote: “Sometime or another, someone will tell you that you are not ready to do something. If you are going to make a big jump in science, you will very likely be unqualified to succeed by definition.”

In effect what the American scientist and author was saying was that if you are preparing or contemplating doing something amazing, you are doing so with no experience or background, the very essence of being a pioneer.

Software

Software

This morning I will be in the very fine surroundings of KPMG’s offices in Leeds to help host an event staged by NorthInvest to bring together our oldest and newest financial institutions.

The #LeedsFintech Summit will look at how fintech firms can work more effectively with the established financial networks that we have in Yorkshire.

And no doubt during the conversations we will hear fintech firms described as disrupters.

Many people working in tech tend to reference themselves as such, almost wearing their disruptive impact and influence as a badge of honour. The Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things” is one many hold dearly.

David Duffy the CEO for Yorkshire Bank, pictured their offices at Briggate, Leeds..14th December 2015 Picture by Simon Hulme

David Duffy the CEO for Yorkshire Bank, pictured their offices at Briggate, Leeds..14th December 2015 Picture by Simon Hulme

For me however, it is a word which I have never liked.

Fintech, like many tech firms, in my opinion is a force for good, a step in the right direction to doing things in a better, more efficient and convenient way.

When used correctly it can give a voice to the voiceless, democratise something previously only available to elites and bring people from all corners of the globe together.

This does not feel disruptive at all to me but rather enabling and empowering. A question of semantics I guess but one that irks me each time I hear it (including from my own mouth).

02/12/2008 PA File Photo of English Pound Notes.

02/12/2008 PA File Photo of English Pound Notes.

When I talk to banks about fintech they virtually all see it is exciting and terrifying.

Many, of their own volition, are happy to talk on record about closer co-operation and alliances with the sector is not only advisable but essential if they are to remain competitive on a long-term basis.

And already this process is starting to bear fruit.

Take for example the recent announcement from Yorkshire Bank that it was to work with fintech Ezbob to offer lenders an application process of just a handful of hours rather than up to two weeks.

Using the fintech’s software along with the bank’s algorithm and brand, it can now help SME’s access capital rapidly, meaning they do not need to rely on credit cards or other high interest lending facilities when they need capital on an urgent basis.

As David Duffy, the bank’s chief executive said to me: “It is old and new but keeping both and not replacing old with new. That balance is very important.

“We are really creating a bank which is ready to adapt to the future and the really exciting part to start that with is this fintech.”

The question is now how we can extrapolate this one example of cooperation into a model that is mutual beneficial to the established and the modern practitioners in finance, as well as benefiting the whole of the regional economy.

If we get this right we can build a financial sector which is future proof and world-leading but also one which also subscribes to a healthy moral code, a welcome move away from the leveraged and macho sector which caused so much economic hardship a decade ago.

Again I come back to the use of the word disruptive and how pejorative it sounds. When I think of disruption I think of inconvenience and irritation. I do not think any of these tech firms are making me feel either of these emotions.

And of course, the problem of moving fast and breaking things is that sometimes things can get broken which you wanted to keep. As Jim Watson would say we are not qualified to start mapping the process yet but we are making a healthy start.