• Trending Topics: A Glance Back at Sibos 2015  

Trending Topics: A Glance Back at Sibos 2015

This month, SWIFT’s annual Sibos conference attracted over 8,000 attendees to Singapore for what its organizers call “the premier business forum for the global financial community.” Take a look at our round-up of the event below for a taste of just some of the subjects that were making the headlines as major players assembled to discuss the future of finance.

Day one of Sibos 2015 highlighted just how hot the topic Blockchain technology has become for the financial industry. In 2014, coverage of distributed ledgers took on a more introductory tone—one commentator noting that, to some attendees, Blockchain probably sounded more like a problem related to a dysfunctional toilet than a payments revolution in-waiting. What a difference a year makes. Hosted by Innotribe (SWIFT’s FinTech innovation initiative), the “New Kids on the Block(chain)” session attracted over 1,000 conference-goers to a room set up for significantly fewer bodies.

Introducing the discussion, ING’s Mark Buitenhek summarized the mixture of wide-eyed excitement and uncertainty that seemed to define much of the chatter around Blockchain at Sibos. “We’re moving from complete disbelief to engagement of both newcomers and banks in this area. But the jury is still out on whether Blockchain, or anything that represents a Blockchain will be the solution to every question that we have,” he said. The panel discussion leaned towards the notion that Blockchain technology would indeed be a major catalyst for transformation, with Oliver Bussmann of UBS claiming, “Banking processes in place for 100 years plus will be massively disrupted.” Elsewhere though, mild cynicism snuck in, as noted by Daily FinTech; “Many commented that Blockchain was top of the Hype cycle, meaning that in a year we will be wondering how it disappeared so fast and then X years later we will all be using it even if most of us are not aware we are using it.”

For a more detailed overview of the subject, check out our Banking on the Blockchain series.

Blockchain Seminar SIBOS
Standing room only: Sibos attendees packed out Innotribe’s main Blockchain session.

We recently blogged about the sometimes strained relationship between banks and FinTech startups, pondering whether they are best characterized as arch enemies or complimentary entities. It was a question firmly on the agenda at Sibos as well.

Kicking off day two of the conference, the “us and them” mentality appeared to rear its head during the Big Issue Debate as Michael Gorriz of Standard Chartered alleged, “A lot of companies are coming in and taking the easy part of our job out—payment services—and offering them for free.” Patrick Maes of ANZ said there was a clear solution to such disruption; “FinTechs are an opportunity to solve our problems. We must build an ecosystem of collaboration.”

Maybe the reality of how banks and FinTech enterprises can and do co-exist isn’t so complicated really. Previewing Sibos in an interview with Finextra, Eric Van der Kleij of Level39 was asked if the future of financial services lay in competition or collaboration. “It’s both,” he replied.

SIBOS roundup blog 2
Panelists discuss the relationship between banks and FinTech during the daily Big Issue Debate.

While Twitter users were going hashtag happy with terms like “collaboration” and “blockchain” throughout Sibos, there was another, less inspiring, word that seemed to keep finding its way into analysis of the conference: “uncertainty”.

Multiple outlets noted a feeling among attendees that the industry was on the brink of game-changing digital breakthroughs, but that they remained unclear on exactly when the revolution would be booting up.

“Once again,” deduced one reporter, “the reigning theme at Sibos 2015 … is one about business model – What does the bank of the future look like?” Bobsguide drew the same conclusion; “Overall, there is a sense that something needs to be done, but many industry players do not know exactly what to do with new technologies.” Bank Innovation ran with a similar story; “While there is broad consensus of the need to innovate more in the financial services industry … the debate is still on to explore what are the best ways forward.”

With so many possible futures seemingly on the table, it’s intriguing to imagine the big stories flowing out of Sibos in the years ahead.

With their name above the door, SWIFT had every right to ensure the real-time payments standard they regulate, ISO 20022, was firmly on the agenda. No less than 21 separate seminars and sessions taking place throughout Sibos featured the term “ISO 20022” directly in the title. That’s a lot of ISO 20022. And if that doesn’t mean anything to you (or even if it does), check out our blog on the topic!

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