Disrupting Finance: shaping a brighter future

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While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.” These are Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England’s words as he recently discussed climate change and financial stability. Furthermore, against a backdrop of scandal and mistrust, there is a rapidly growing appetite for a fairer and more empowering financial services future. Salt’s seminal Disrupting Finance 2015 event therefore, couldn’t have come at a better time.

Disrupting Finance, which provided a forum for champions of innovation, received an overwhelmingly positive response. Industry pioneers gave presentations and contributed to expert panels across three main areas: Better Banking, Responsible Investing and Technology in Finance.

The event was sponsored by EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services; Sword Apak Aurius, provider of specialist financial systems to the UK banking sector; and Syndicate Room, the UK’s only investor-led equity crowdfunding platform.

Pioneers

Trust in banks is at an all-time low and the financial industry is under huge pressure to offer services people can believe in. Meanwhile disruptors and innovators are multiplying in their numbers and offering creative alternatives. Disrupting Finance addressed the state of the industry, and put the spotlight on those pioneers and their solutions.

Three eminent figures made keynote speeches at Disrupting Finance, starting with Lawrence Bloom, chairman of triple bottom line energy company Be Energy and #24 in Salt’s World’s Top 100 Compassionate Business Leaders list.

Bloom made a rousing speech calling for the financial service industry to adapt to deal with today’s global challenges. He discussed climate bonds, and suggested that these bonds would become increasingly important as the adverse effects of climate change become more obvious. “My suspicion is that this will become a trillion dollar business,” he said.

Millennials

The millennial generation will also provoke massive changes in the industry, he explained: “Over the next 25 years, 32 trillion dollars, the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world, will pass from one generation to another. 69 per cent of millenials say investment decisions are a way to express their social, political, and environmental values.” He added that 69 per also cent see these impacts as ‘extremely important’ in investment decisions, moving away from a mindset that is purely on a risk-reward basis.

Bloom painted a picture of a changing financial world, and quoted Winston Churchill as he wrapped up his presentation: “The time for prevarication…of delay, is now over. We are in a period of consequences, and that’s why discussions like we have today are really important.”

Growing shoots

He concluded: “We cannot see the future, but at least we can see what’s breaking through, and nourish and nurture those growing shoots that are just budding through. Between us we will explore what is breaking through, we’ll make it real, and create an economy and a world in which our children, and our children’s children will be grateful to live in.”

A Better Banking panel followed Bloom, hosted by psychologist and Salt columnist Dr Hamira Riaz. Charles Middleton of ethical bank Triodos, Omar Shaikh of the Islamic Finance Council UK, Chris Hewett from the Finance Innovation Lab, and Mark Elliot from event sponsor Sword Apak discussed how lasting cultural change could be instilled in the banking sector.

Riaz said: “I think many of us will agree that with the financial crisis, foreign exchange libel rigging, PPI mis-selling, and tax avoidance scandals, banking has been causing a bit if a stink for quite a while now.”

Moving your money

Bruce Davis, co-founder of the world’s first regulated peer-to-peer investment platform Abundance, was next to the take the stage. His keynote speech took a closer look at the work of Abundance, before discussing a move to a more value-led system, and what he hopes will be a more diverse future for the finance industry, in which new innovations and new spaces for people to put their money in will be encouraged. “But,” he added, “it won’t happen because of policy, and it won’t happen because a bank decides to change its colour, it will happen because you move your money. We are conservative with our money, and unless we change that attitude, we won’t change finance.”

Next, the Responsible Investing Panel, led by Deirdre Lane, adviser on banking energy, emissions and commodity markets, looked at the role of platforms in a growing alternative market. The panel was made up of Lisa Ashford of Ethex, Tomas Carruthers, CEO of the Social Stock Exchange, Julia Groves co-founder of the UK Crowdfunding Association, Julia Dreblow, SRI adviser, and Tom Britton, co-founder of crowdfunding platform Syndicate Room.

Salt editor Alicia Buller hosted the Technology in Finance panel, with panellists Imran Gulamhuseinwala, partner and EMEIA FinTech Leader at EY, Ian Cruickshank of RateSetter, Jonathan May founder of Hubbub and director of the UK Crowdfunding Association, and futurist Nils Elmark.

EY

Imran Gulamhuseinwala discussed what sustainability and disruption mean at EY, which has an umbrella view of innovation in the industry. He noted that “what we do in FinTech is fundamental to the financial services industry because it’s driving a lot of the innovation we are seeing.” Imran’s perspective outlines how FinTech innovation is increasing financial inclusion, improving productivity and mobilising dormant capital for the benefit of the wider economy.

In the hour set aside for breakout workshops, alongside one which was led by Sophie Guibaud from Fidor Bank, focused on creating customer centric finance EY held a session on its recent Moving Mainstream report, which looks at European online finance alternatives. EY director Tom Bull and Tania Zeigler, from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, discussed the recent evidence that alternative and mainstream areas of finance are becoming increasingly connected.

The fact that traditional financial systems are undergoing large scale change is undisputed. This is driven in large part by changes in how people are interacting with financial services, and it is likely to continue changing as society does..

The event showcased a range of ways in which that change is unfolding. Whether, for example, it be through a broader adoption of the principles of Sharia financing, or through the challenger banks allowing their customers the freedom to choose products and services that reflect their personal values, or through easy access of finance via alternative models of crowdfunding and progress in FinTech. The industry is changing right here and right now. EY was proud to be both a sponsor and part of the discussions around these key themes that help in building ‘sustainability’ with the financial services world.

 Divest or engage?

Finally, Steve Waygood, chief sustainable investments office, made the closing keynote speech. He introduced Aviva’s Roadmap for sustainable capital markets, before moving on to the divestment versus engagement argument. He urged investors not simply to disinvest, but to try and make a difference by forcing corporations to transform their practices. He cited examples in the mining, and oil and gas sectors when engagement had forced companies to abandon damaging projects.

“I think divestment is giving up, there’s no cost of capital impact, all it means is that they have an easier AGM and investors that don’t care. I have seen engagement do amazing things.

“If there are things you want to change, own them, and then make sure your fund manager is a vociferous owner in engaging repeatedly. If you want to change the problem, and I think climate change is huge as a strategic issue and we can’t walk away from it, then engage.”

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