" class="no-js "lang="en-US"> Citi Bank’s Digital Symposium Was a Real Mind-Bender…
Friday, April 19, 2024

Citi Bank’s Digital Symposium Was a Real Mind-Bender…

We sent financial journalist Hannah Duncan to report back on the wildest, weirdest and wackiest panels of the day… She didn’t disappoint!

The venue for Citi Bank’s Digital Symposium was enchanting. A grand Georgian style mansion right on the embankment. Gorgeous. I sashayed into Savoy Place like a fintech Cinderella. Inside was the usual scene. A matrix of mostly men in suits.

As I navigated around the man maze – like a PAC-MAN looking for skinny latte – I heard a Peruvian voice that lifted my soul. “Hannah!”. It was Fabiola Marin. Back in the day, we’d shared a desk. Now working for Citi, and one of the event’s organizers, she fast-tracked some introductions and promised to show me the whiskey bar later. Legend.

Soon we were piling into an impossibly grand theatre. After a quick wave to Zumo’s  Amélie Arras – who conveniently wore the reddest jacket in the room – it was time to get stuck in!

Caption: The competition is fierce , but Amelie wins the “reddest jacket” on the balcony.

Building the Institutional Digital Asset Infrastructure

One panel which stood out was, “Building the institutional digital asset infrastructure”. Ok, so the title is soul-sucking. But the content was cracking. “Interoperability between chains is going to be so important”, revealed Isabelle Chase from TRM Labs.

“Interoperability” was the word of the day. It came up so often that I started wondering if it was even a real term. It’s when different systems plug into each other and exchange information. Like when you borrow your friend’s charger. Or use the same plug for different countries. From crypto wallets to banking systems, interoperability will our newest buzzword for the next years.

The panel submerged into a deep and enthusiastic discussion. They covered how blockchain is a necessary –  but incomplete first step – for institutionals. “Blockchain doesn’t solve all the problems”, emphasized Tongtong Gong, from Amberdata. “It doesn’t have analytical index complexity”.

Despite attending a blockchain refresher recently, my brain was getting mulched. The content was so immersive and in-depth it felt almost psychedelic. Unrecognizable from the usual banking conversations.

Although I probably needed some quiet time and a painkiller to process everything, I really enjoyed the panel!

My one massive complaint to Citi would be that there wasn’t any chat about sustainability. Like, NONE. And this would have been the perfect panel for it! Mark Carney has made it clear that institutional managers like pension funds are the frontrunners to help us meet our climate goals. We are literally relying on institutional fund managers to stop the UK from going underwater. Scary, right? Technology must have sustainability as a core focus. Why wasn’t this covered? Not cool.

Metaverse Panel

One of the quirkier panels took place with two members joining from the Metaverse. Like a flurry of other banks, Citi has set up a virtual branch. The audience craned their necks at the giant screen, to see two steampunk avatar bankers. It was surreal, a little creepy but memorable. Almost every member of the audience snapped pics on their phone. And you could feel a whisper of excitement in the air. All these serious hard-nosed bankers started to look like kids opening a PS5 on Christmas Day. Equal parts heart-warming and unnerving.

Caption: The metaverse panel… Surreal!

 

The panellists were not wearing typical banking attire. Gone were the slicked ducktail haircuts, Italian suits and flashy watches. Instead stood two slightly swaying characters with horns, colorful beards and gothic jewellery. I think if they’d stepped into a real branch, they would have been swiftly escorted out.

I was quite enjoying this panel until the metaverse was presented as an ESG option. This gives me palpations because it’s really, REALLY not. The metaverse will require 1,000% of the computational energy we currently use. It will be devastating for our climate emissions, and probably reduce very few flights. I mean, honestly, who wants to holiday in their living room?

Um… And not to be contentious, but if Citi Bank really wants to reduce its impact, it should stop financing fossil fuels. According to research by Shareaction, Citi Bank is the second worst in the world, spending more than $332.9 billion on oil, coal and gas since the Paris Agreement.

How to Create an Innovative Ecosystem

Lunch, networking and a few panels later, I found myself settling in to watch the “How to create an innovative ecosystem” talk.

What I most loved about this panel were the chilled, philosophical vibes. I felt like we were meandering through Ancient Greece. But instead of the meaning of life, we mused fintech.

One of my favourite moments came from Innovate Finance’s Adam Jackson. “[People] overestimate the effect of technology in the short-term and underestimate it in the long-term”. A little pop went off in my brain. What a quote! “It’s Amara’s law”, he shrugged. I was getting wise Yoda vibes from Jackson.

Citi’s David Cunningham made a friendly moderator. I think this is why the panel looked so comfortable. None of the usual fidgeting or side glances. When Cunningham declared the FCA was a “national treasure”, the room smiled. Now I picture the regulator as a chuckling David Attenborough.
Caption: Adam Jackson and Charlotte Crosswell OBE enjoy a chuckle.

Further Venture’s Deniz Güven – perfectly described by Cunningham as Fintech’s International Man of Mystery – brought up the critical nature of interoperability again. “Digital assets are global, fintechs are local”, he stressed.

Güven went on to offer pearls of wisdom for other founders. “If you can find the link between [clients] and money, and how they define money”, he began. “You can be the best financial system in the world and change the ecosystem”. Güven is a relatively unsung legend. How he created Mox blows my mind because he pioneered an entirely new operating system for Standard Chartered.

The whole panel was star-studded. Legends at ease. Even Editor of The Banker, Joy MacKnight in the audience! I was also especially thrilled to chat with Charlotte Crosswell OBE at the end. I’m a fan. I’ve literally written an article about how iconic she is.

Blockchain Whiskey, Book Signing and Iconic Views

True to her word, Marin escorted me to a rooftop whiskey bar where I met one of the brains behind of BlockBar, Charlotte Shaw. Over a refreshing – yet surprisingly strong beverage – we chatted about how blockchain enhances security in the alcohol industry. Something I’ve also noticed recently with fine wine investments. One to watch!
Caption: Me enjoying a surprisingly strong whiskey cocktail… Two more and I’m belting out “Delilah”.

The whiskey was good. Very good. Before the room got too fuzzy – or I broke into an impromptu rendition of something Tom Jones – I popped over to see 10x’s Leda Glyptis. (Someone I have also written an article about!). It took a while because she had a hefty queue of guests eagerly awaiting a signed copy of Bankers Like Us.

This book was a great shout from Citi, and it matched the tone of the day. Banks need to update their technology. They don’t really have a choice anymore.

One thing that I find strange is that the banks that are best at technology, are generally the worst at sustainability. And vice versa. Take a look at those who have a branch in the metaverse. And then look at their climate record. There’s a weird correlation. The technology is amazing, but how will we be able to enjoy it if we’re under water?

I’d love to see digital events that put the planet at the centre. If I get an invite back next year, this is what I’ll be looking for.

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