Justin Lyon, CEO Simudyne; Patrick Chung, Co-Founder, Xfund; Professor Andy Stanford-Clark, CTO of IBM UK & Ireland; LJ Rich, Presenter

New Frontiers Conference: ten takeaways

10 November 2017

As innovators and decision makers from the worlds of finance and technology gathered in London to discuss “the age of disruption”, we were there to capture the highlights. Here are our ten takeaways from the fourth annual Barclays digital conference:

1. Technological change is not impact-free

In his opening speech, Barclays Group CEO Jes Staley pictured “the age of disruption” heralding an “age of connection” where technology and finance combine to deliver “transformative effects across a range of sectors”. But he recognised that “these are not impact-free changes and they bring challenges. The potential opportunities inherent in them come at a price.” Previewing a theme of the conference, Staley added: “We will need conversations in our societies about data, security, and the future of work…how we balance technological developments and advances with the dislocation they bring.”

2. Every company is a data company

Joseph Sirosh, Corporate VP for Machine Learning at Microsoft, stressed the importance of data, AI and the cloud interconnecting to provide new solutions – and argued that “every company is a data company”. Sirosh took the audience through an example of “connected cows”, where a pedometer combined with data analysis could monitor an animal’s fertility, leading to hugely increased rates of conception. “Behaviour that was never digitised was digitised,” said Sirosh. “It was then analysed through the cloud and then the action was driven. That’s the cycle of implementing AI for any business.”

3. AI is one of many disruptive technologies

Professor Andy Stanford-Clark, CTO of IBM UK & Ireland, looked back on previous disruptive technologies – the typewriter, the PC, the tractor, the barcode – that have changed the pattern of employment, and, in the case of AI and automation, stressed the need to train the workforce to be dynamic and flexible: “We live in a world where technology is disrupting all the time. We need a workforce ready and eager to reskill constantly.”

4. Companies we now take for granted once seemed insane

Patrick Chung, of Venture Capital company Xfund, said that innovative companies generally have a view that “at the outset is incredibly contrarian to the rest of the world”. He expanded: “Who would have thought you could invite a complete stranger to sleep in your spare bedroom and operate a hotel for a night? Who would have thought you could pretend to be a taxi cab? Many companies that we now take for granted, at the time they were born seemed insane.” Aiming for “moonshots”, said Chung, is the hallmark of a “great, or maybe a truly insane” company.

5. The next generation’s jobs haven’t been invented yet

Julie Chakraverty, founder of career support community Rungway, pointed to a World Economic Forum report that says 65% of jobs that current schoolchildren will fill in ten years’ time haven’t been invented yet, with the panel saying that it’s easy to imagine the jobs that will go due to technology, but more difficult to imagine those that might arrive. Chakraverty sees becoming “digitally educated” and flexible as being the keys: “How do we do this? We ask questions, and we create an environment where no question is seen as stupid.”

We live in a world where technology is disrupting all the time. We need a workforce ready and eager to reskill constantly.

Professor Andy Stanford-Clark

CTO of IBM UK & Ireland

6. Technology can help turn savers into investors

When you’re in the company of one of the world’s most successful asset managers, even at a technology conference, it’s handy to get some financial advice. Rob Kapito, Founder and President of BlackRock, said: “The biggest issue facing people today is that they have not saved enough money for their retirement.” With low interest rates, he worried that “there’s more cash sitting around than ever in history – people have been good savers but haven’t been investing. People are in cash because they’re worried about security. We’re trying to build technology so investors can feel confident that their money is safe and we can put them in investments to help them achieve their goals of retiring in dignity.”

7. Younger generations value experience over ownership

Panellists discussed the importance of understanding consumers, and how life experiences mould people’s perceptions of value. Alison Hoad, Chief Strategy Officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, argued that, broadly, millennials are more likely to live “in the moment” due to the era they grew up in. She said: “Millennials do value experience over ownership, and that’s because they haven’t had the opportunities to own as much as the generations before them.” Rob Kapito of BlackRock said that millennials value gamification: “Find the financial game that people feel comfortable and safe with. The winners are going to be the people that have the game, the technology, and the brand with the best reputation for keeping their promises.”

There are 1.25 million vehicle accidents globally each year. One day we may ask: ‘Why did we ever let the humans control cars?

Michael Hobbs

Managing Director of Accenture Digital

8. Redefining our relationship with technology

In recent years, the human race has interacted with technology on an unparalleled scale. As our dependency on tech grows, is our relationship being redefined? Michael Hobbs, Managing Director of Accenture Digital, believes so, arguing that the human race is beginning to trust technology more – particularly artificial intelligence. He said the safety aspect of tech will lead to a change in thought: “There are 1.25 million vehicle accidents globally each year. One day we may ask: ‘Why did we ever let the humans control cars?’.”

9. Regulation beyond banks

In what was a recurring theme throughout the day, key speakers advised businesses to prepare for upcoming changes in social media. As a fluid form of communication, MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria predicted a rise in regulation in the market. Ittycheria said: “In the past, money laundering was quite easy to do, until governments said: ‘The banks have to take some responsibility for this’. I believe this will happen with social media: the onus will be on platforms to regulate or face heavy penalties.” Christopher Greany, Barclays Head of Group Investigations, also saw internet service providers potentially facing further regulation: “Internet service providers have a role in protecting society. So do banks, but we’re heavily regulated and ISPs aren’t, and that may need to change.”

10. Don’t be scared to rethink

Panellists emphasised the importance of the financial industry challenging its own processes. Todd Mcdonald, founder of operating system R3, stressed the dangers of corporations standing still: “Banks and financial institutions are in a lot of trouble if they keep the status quo.” Mcdonald added that there was a need to “rethink” the underlying infrastructure of the financial markets. Jes Staley was certain that any “rethinking” still had to have the customer at the centre of the model: “What is most important to us in innovations such as mobile banking and integrated payments is not the technology, but what it means for our customers and clients. What it enables them to do.”

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