" class="no-js "lang="en-US"> EXCLUSIVE: "Where were you fintech?" - Stuart Thomas in 'The Fintech Magazine'
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: “Where were you fintech?” – Stuart Thomas in ‘The Fintech Magazine’

Stuart Thomas roams the aisles of the world’s biggest consumer electronics show in search of an industry that really should be taking notice

The impact of new consumer technology on the financial industry is inescapable. Just look at how insurance has changed over the last few years. No longer are insurance companies making wild assumptions about their users; instead, the smartest operators are using the smartest connected technology to refine their products. Locket, for example, gives you money off your home insurance, dependant on what connected security technology you use. Vitality discounts health and life insurance products using data from your smartwatch.

The difference this makes to ease-of-use, customer satisfaction and risk is massive.With embedded finance already one of the top trends, financial and consumer technologies are only going to become further entwined in the coming years. So, what better place to discover what’s around the corner than the largest showcase of them all – The Consumer Electronics Show, held once a year in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada?

This was the biggest it’s been in years (CES was forced to go virtual in 2021), with over double the attendance and 70 per cent more floor space than last year’s show. This year saw more than 115,000 attendees from 151 countries walking the 2.2 million square foot of exhibition space, spread across eight venues that was shared by 3,200 technology companies exhibiting their latest offerings.

The attendance audit of 2023 hasn’t yet been released by CES, so it’s hard to say exactly who was there, but taking a peek at the audit from 2020 reveals some surprising insights and proof that CES can point us in the right direction when thinking about how financial services can make the most of ‘what’s coming next’.In 2020, the largest category of interest from attendees was AI, with 32,271 attendees registering an interest in this topic, closely followed by smart homes with 31,009. It’s no coincidence then that just three years later, these are having significant impact on not just finance, but almost every industry.

Artificial intelligence in the form of ChatGPT, a Microsoft-backed AI, has taken the world by storm in the last six months, with rival developer Google soon to be releasing its own generative large language bot called ‘Bard’. My guess is Amazon and Apple won’t be far behind… the former probably using AI to upgrade the Alexa voice service to finally fulfil the promise of smart homes.

Right now though, there’s already huge evidence of this type of technology revolutionising the way we work. My local garden centre is using it to write online product listings; influencers are delegating the task of writing content descriptions for maximum SEO; and just the other day I read about a design company who used ChatGPT to send a very scary email full of legalese to a company with an outstanding invoice. Will the worlds of ecommerce, copywriting and lawyers be replaced by artificial intelligence in the near future? Well, if the attendance records of CES are anything to go by, I’d be keeping my career options open.

AI was very much in evidence at this year’s show, with a huge presence from the automotive and mobility, digital health and IoT industries, all of which demonstrated technology to utterly blow your socks off.

Samsung announced a new SmartThings station – an active push from another A-league tech company into creating a truly connected world between all of our devices, fulfilling the promises made about intelligent white goods some years ago. The world’s second-largest technology company by revenue, had set up the most incredible display that was larger than my street, laid out like rooms of a house which you could wander between and see all of the ways that your home and devices can stay connected through its platform. IoT oozed its way out of this stand and seeped into almost every industry in some form or other, but perhaps the most notable new presence for IoT was within the automotive and EV industries.

I’ve always criticised CES for some of the stupid announcements that come from car manufacturers, which often demonstrate ‘concept’ vehicles that will never see the light of day – the Mercedes ‘avatar-inspired’ car, for example.

While this year, some of these concepts were certainly less grounded than others, if you were able to look past the ridiculous designs, the constant theme was an IoT connected future, powered by AI where we no longer have to actually drive vehicles… they drive themselves. In recent years, I don’t believe any other industry has seen as big an advancement towards a connected future in such a short space of time as the automotive industry, and it’s obvious from CES that this connection is only going to get more profound.

As more cars become electrified, the EV charging infrastructure becomes more robust and governments open up legislation to allow technologies like self-driving capabilities, it won’t be long before everyone has a fully connected car that can drop you off at the airport before returning home by itself to charge. It wasn’t just big vehicles that caught my eye, there were plenty of smaller innovations, too, in the form of personal light electronic vehicles, otherwise known as PLEVs.

My favourite was a briefcase-like object from Yadea that unfolds itself in seconds into small bikescooter hybrid designed for last mile journeys and which just delighted my inner child. Robots didn’t make as big of an impact as I thought they might. They roamed the floorspace, but these were just characterless cubes of plastic that vacuumed with varying success or carried random boxes around the show for seemingly no purpose. The only real robot that caught my eye was called AEO, which although it reminded me of something dreamt up in an 80s retro sci-fi movie, seemed to have a fair bit of utility – sterilising environments, moving packages and checking up on people in care situations.

Although CES convinced me that our end at the hands of robot overlords is a long way off, this is an industry that is about to boom when it starts to incorporate new artificial intelligence. Of course, CES had a lot more to offer than just AI, robots and EVs… on show were all sorts of magical and ludicrous devices, from wee-wee monitors that tell you if you’ve had a few too many beers, a pram that takes your baby for a walk without you, and a bed that gently vibrates you into a meditative state. What was clear from almost all exhibits, though, was that we are about to enter a renaissance period for technology, powered by artificial intelligence and IoT… if ChatGPT isn’t sat at my desk in five years writing ‘I told you so’, then I’ll be very surprised indeed.

But of all the wonders at CES, there was one thing missing. Fintech.

In 2020, only 2.6 per cent of the attendees were registered as being employed in the finance industry, and I’m not much more optimistic about this year’s fintech attendance, either, indicated by the fact that, although CES is the largest opportunity for tech-related companies to get their products seen by the industry and the world through the insane amount of media presence, I could count on one hand the amount of fintech exhibitors that had showed up, all tucked away into the deepest darkest back alleyway of the show floor.

And that’s a crying shame because there’s a huge opportunity here for this industry to introduce some of the most amazing technology in finance to the wider world, to run a reconnaissance on all the latest and greatest advancements and to make some really meaningful connections.

It’s never too late to make a change, so considering this is one of the biggest events for technology and for global news coverage that you can get, I hope to see you all there in 2024!


This article was published in The Fintech Magazine Issue 27, Page 58-59

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