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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
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Ain’t No Party Like a HPS Party…

By Hannah Duncan, on behalf of FF News

I’m writing this in scorching hot Marrakesh. A lively band is belting out “Bamboleo” full throttle just a few metres away. Across the conference, feet are tapping and shoulders are shimmying to the addictive beat. There are game zones, massage chairs, caricaturists, virtual rollercoasters and pinball machines. The tantalizing waft of cakes and desserts. And the murmur of accents from across Europe, Africa and America melding together. Hardcore fintech legends including Liz Lumley, Ghela Boskovich, Archie Hesse and Abdeslam Alaoui Smaili pop up around the room like magical video game characters… And that was just the 3pm coffee break!

So, how did I end up here? It began with a WhatsApp.

An unbelievably beautiful location

QQ” pinged Ali Paterson, Editor in Chief of FF News. “You want to go to Morocco?”

Uhhh… YES!?! The mission was to go to Marrakesh and report on HPS’ famous WeMeeting23. It was an extraordinary opportunity to plunge headfirst into the EMEA fintech scene. A couple of emails from the incredibly helpful Ruby Yeomans later and I stepping off the plane.

The hotel was jaw-droppingly good. I don’t have a financial service, but I’d be tempted to start one and sign with HPS, just to get this lavish treatment once a year. The king size bed was like floating on a cloud. The breakfast buffet was a delicious food maze. And the three swimming pools were straight from a high-res 90s holiday brochure. It’s clear HPS looks after it’s clients.

The first evening was magical. We gathered around a pool, surrounded by palm trees, live music and more delicious food than you could imagine. Only the occasion chatter about embedded finance reminded me that we were at a conference at all.

Panels, Pirates and Ghela’s Iconic Aura

The next day, we thudded into a vast cinema-like room. Pink and red lights glowed. Pirates of the Caribbean music pumped out the speakers. Fintech Future’s Dave Wallace speculated that it must be because HPS is full of adventure.

Before long, the unmistakable silhouette of Ghela Boskovich hit the stage. If you don’t already know her, let me make a quick introduction. Ghela is a well-known fintech figure and speaker. She’s founder of FemTechGlobal, Head of Europe for The Financial Data and Technology Association and fervent campaigner of all things data. Probably she’s best known for her big hands, bigger hair and even bigger opinions.

My favourite moments are when she clashes with a panellist. When Ghela flexes her talon-like fingers, it’s like a hawk going in for the kill. She muses, “I have to disagree with you there”, the audience holds its breath, and I press “record” on my phone (typical journalist). Throughout the two days of panels, Ghela grilled, flipped and singed panellists like kebabs on a grill. I appreciated it.

The content was mostly interesting, juicy and relevant. Of course, there were a few sales pitches here and there. But overall, it was valuable both for clients and journalists. When it came to the speakers, however, there was an obvious lack of women. During the time I was there, I saw just two female panellists. I’ve been assured several dropped out at the last minute. But nevertheless, this is something HPS must work on. Having iconic women moderators like Ghela and Liz Lumley is brilliant, but it doesn’t compensate for male-only panels.

Discover what I learned at the WeMeeting24 Conference

Does HPS have the best party in fintech…?

Three words I thought I’d never hear: ABBA meets Morocco. That was the theme of HPS’ Gala Dinner. So it was with a mix of trepidation and curiosity that we ventured up the candle-lit path towards a grand marquee. The air was warm and the sunset painted the sky all shades of pink.

As we arrived, we were offered champagne that was so delicious, it made my soul sing.

Later I discovered that it was £48-a-bottle Veuve Clicquot. WHAAATTT. A drink that I could never afford as a freelancer in London. The appetisers were tiny miracles, dancing across your mouth like perfect little ballerinas. From souffles to seafood, the flavours soared and sparkled. Every colour seemed to glow out from the party, and the excitement in the air was palatable.

As we sat down to dinner, the vast array of delicious dishes was extraordinary. Tellingly, clients and guests were snapping pics before diving in. And with good reason. It was sublime.

Dave Wallace summed it up best, “The food is an eclectic mix fusing sushi with Moroccan flavours – it’s a reminder of why feasting is such an important way of celebrating”. He wasn’t wrong, each nibble was a party in itself.

The best fusion of all wasn’t the food though. Nor was it the delicious mocktails. It was the Moroccan twist on ABBA. I won’t deny that when I first saw the invitation, I felt a shiver of cringe run up my spine. An ABBA night sounded like something I would actively avoid back in the UK. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Maybe it was the champagne, but seeing those dancers bash out move after move… I had to wipe a tear. It was enchanting.

As the evening went on, guests were treated to live music, wild dancing and homespun hats. We twirled on the floor next to glittering performers on stilts and laughed the night away. I asked up-and-coming legend Barbara Listek from Disruption Banking for a quote. Without a second’s thought, not even a blink… she summed it up in one freshly-made word, “FUNTECH!”. That made my night.


If you get the chance to attend the glittering WeMeeting24, do it. There ain’t no party like a HPS party.

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