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Technology + Human Ingenuity = The Future
Venture Capitalist Spiros Margaris, the founder of Margaris Advisory, is one of the world’s experts on Fintech and related subjects – No.2 Banking Expert (Klout, July 2017), No. 1 Insurtech Expert worldwide (IPFC, May 2017), No. 2 Fintech Expert worldwide (IPFC, May 2017), No. 1 Fintech Influencer in Germany, Switzerkland, Austria (Fintech Switzerland, April 2017, No. 3 Fintech Influencer (JAX Finance, February 2017), etc. – will be addressing the Cyprus FinTech Expo in November. He spoke to GOLD about how he sees Fintech transforming the financial industry and how the future is not only about technology.
By John Vickers
Gold: What began with startups trying to change the banking and financial industries through innovation and technology has now been adopted by the banks and financial service providers themselves. So is Fintech ultimately going to be simply about using technology instead of people?
Spiros Margaris: No, I don’t think Fintech stands for technology that replaces people, although technology per se permits companies to provide services with fewer human resources involved. Fintech is about more than technology; it is about empowerment. For instance, it helps people with less money than the wealthy ones to experience good-to-excellent banking services that they can afford. We see this with Fintech remittance services that allow people to transfer money for a small fraction of what the established players charge. Another example is that Fintech solutions allow banks to provide better banking services through their superior technology solutions and better overall user experiences.
Gold: You have said that you believe that Fintech companies will change the financial industry in the same way that another innovative disruptor, Amazon, has changed the business model of many retailers forever. But much of the financial industry has already been technology-based for some years. What more can it do?
S.M.: Just because a company uses technology doesn’t mean it uses cutting- edge technology or knows how to deploy it in a way that adds real value. Many people designed computers and phones, but it took Steve Jobs’ vision and fantastic Apple team to create a great overall user experience and provide a truly distinguished design. Good Fintech companies are like small Apple businesses that provide customers – even banks – with great solutions that also have a great feel to them and are cheaper than current offerings.
Gold: I was fascinated by an article you wrote about the future of Fintech, which you described as “A Combination of Barbarella & 2001: A Space Odyssey”. Please explain!
S.M.: In short, we know that the digitalization of all industries will stop for no one – and we either adapt to it or watch it pass us. However, I’m convinced that the future is not about technology alone, but the combination of technology and human ingenuity because both can benefit from each other’s strengths and create a truly win–win situation. I believe that the two movies mentioned in my article serve as inspirations for entrepreneurs. Both movies have the essential elements of what financial technology ultimately should be and what it should aim for. Barbarella and its heroine, who inspired and influenced pop culture for decades, showed me a sexy fantasy future that seemed so enjoyable and exciting that I wanted to be part of it. 2001: A Space Odyssey addressed all the basic fears and impacts associated with technology and artificial intelligence (AI) by taking us into space. The excellent directing by Kubrick, the movie cinematography, and the special effects were so masterfully done that it felt real. It intrigued us so much that we wanted to know what might come next. So to sum it up, in the end, we’re all well served by thinking and dreaming as big as possible. Even if we falter, we’re still further ahead than we were before. Knowing this, I look forward to witnessing the next innovations the Fintech industry and tech giants will offer us.
Gold: I was also impressed by the fact that in 2015 you made two predictions, which appear to have come true in the space of these last two years. What did you foresee for blockchain technology?
S.M.: I think it will take time until we see blockchain go mainstream, and as I have said many times before, it won’t be the silver bullet that solves all our issues as many like to hype it. I believe, though, that we’ll be surprised where blockchain experiences the greatest implementation success. One place where it already has a tremendous impact is the technology behind the digital currencies like itcoin.
Gold: Your second prediction concerned cognitive computing, which you said is going to have a massive impact on every aspect of business and finance. What do you mean by this?
S.M.: It is becoming increasingly clear that Artificial Intelligence (AI), with the new advancements in machine learning algorithms that mimic the human brain, will change how most businesses stay competitive. For instance, unless you deploy some form of AI in combination with machine learning or deep learning, you can’t anticipate the needs of your customers. The implication might be that potential customers will perceive your services as not cutting- edge or, worse, as not fitting for their needs at all.
Gold: There is an accepted view that the future is all about technology but you have just said that, actually, it is about the combination of technology and human ingenuity. So it’s not a question of computers and AI taking over completely?
S.M.: I think that, as with many things in life, it’s better that we work together than against each other. This also applies for AI and humans, where we should use AI for things that are too boring and too repetitive for humans to do and allow people to do things that are more interesting to them. Of course, I know that is an idealistic view, but in essence, I believe that the combination of technology and humans strength will bring out the best of each.
Gold: How important will the issue of cyber security be in the new world that you envisage?
S.M.: Cyber security will be the big ‘elephant in the room’ that increasingly defines how we work and how people access innovative services. It’s not unlike the terrorist attacks that change the way we experience flying at the airports. Something similar will happen with cyber attacks slowing down innovation implementations and ultimately worsening the potential of great user experiences.
Gold: How did you come to be recognised as one of the world’s great influencers as regards Fintech? The term had not been invented when you were studying strategy and leadership and I noticed that you even did a course in Styles in Art. What was the big breakthrough?
S.M.: I think I’m lucky to have made some right professional moves (money management, banking and startups) in my past that suit me perfectly in my role as a venture capitalist and influencer. Then, of course, my love for art helps me appreciate beauty in every form, such as when I look at great design or user experience, which I think is very helpful when evaluating Fintech solutions. It’s about connecting the dots, as Steve Jobs so beautifully said, that makes all the difference as an individual or as a company. Last but not least, I was lucky to have been at the right place at the right time and that my commitment and work ethic are appreciated by my great supporters, without whom I could have not made it (period).
Gold: How do you answer the question “What exactly do you do professionally?” these days?
S.M.: In my role as a venture capitalist, I look for investment opportunities within the Fintech and Insurtech space. I advise startups, financial institutions, insurers, and tech companies on their Fintech and Insurtech strategies. I use my social media activity – primarily my Twitter handle @SpirosMargaris and my LinkedIn account channel – to share some of the great thoughts of the great authors I come across when I conduct my research and who I believe will impact our industry. Then I also speak at think tanks and conferences to help advance the Fintech and Insurtech industries as much as I can.
Gold: What can delegates to the Cyprus Fintech Expo expect to hear from you in November?
S.M.: I’ll address how Fintech can empower people, as well as nations, to focus on real issues, like helping the under-banked or unbanked people of this world. I believe this is a truly worthy goal to aim for when you want to bring innovation and change to this world.