Fintech Week, an annual symposium on all things financial tech, looked a little different this year. Like most events since early 2020, Fintech Week operated in a fully digital medium this October 19 – 22, 2020. (Recaps of some of the breakout sessions and keynotes are available on the conference website, here.)
Despite any challenges one might expect for an event that went virtual for the first time since the first Fintech Week was hosted on the campus of the Georgetown University Law Center in 2017, the event was a wild success. Event organizer and founder, Georgetown law professor Chris Brummer said, “We were blown away by the thousands of participants worldwide, and delighted to push the conversation well beyond the beltway, and on a global scale.”
One thing that has always been core to the Fintech Week program is that it would bring together top voices in the financial technology industry who might not always get a chance to discuss openly their views. After bringing these individuals together, expert moderators and members of the fintech community stoke deep discussion. The panel discussions and breakout events this year were particularly reflective of the top concerns of the day. For example, this year in 2020, in addition to the discussions around “Transformational Technologies” and a demo day in which vendors and technologists would be able to share their advances and get feedback from participants, there were sessions focused on inclusivity in fintech and broader conversations around equity, justice, and democracy as driving values for the Fintech community.
Now that the even has concluded, it seems fair to say that the conversations were made even more rich this year by the virtual setting in which they took place. As mentioned in the previous quote by organizer Dr. Chris Brummer, by moving to a fully virtual space, the conference was able to attract an audience beyond individuals with access to Washington D.C.
The conference audience included a diverse group of regulators, venture capitalists, diplomats, technologists, and academics, each providing different perspectives on the key question: “What does it mean to innovate in financial technology while creating values for communities and giving greater access to financial services and inclusion?”
While the challenges provided by COVID-19 are undeniable, it is equally undeniable that the topics covered at Fintech Week are more important now than ever. As markets the world over do their best to manage the ongoing fallout of this pandemic, they are faced with challenges uniquely suited to be solved by innovative financial technologies. Banks are being forced to adapt to improve their digital banking access rapidly, old-school institutions are being made to keep up with an increasingly refined cryptocurrency market, and the only thing that is becoming more certain is that uncertainty is our norm.
Fintech Week was sponsored this year by several top legacy financial institutions and cutting edge firms. This, in addition to the diverse spectrum of topics discussed, indicates that the fintech community is determined to be more than a flash in the policy pan.
After opening remarks which fit into the “Making (or Breaking) Money” content track, the first panel was focused on how crypto currencies are performing in Asian markets. More specifically, the panel discussed policy, impact, and strategy. The makeup of this panel set the tone of the panels and presentations that followed: sessions on Day 1 were led by a mixture of regulators like Brian Brooks from the Office of the Comptroller, innovators of industry like Aaron Stanley of CoinDesk, and academics like event sponsor Chris Brummer and Marco Dell’Erba of the University of Zurich and New York University.
The commitment to a diverse spread of backgrounds being represented is a hallmark of what made this event a success. Discussions around central bank digital currencies were able to include international voices from regulators and innovators – legal scholars could push back in the moment and refine the ideas being discussed by venture capitalists. These diverse perspectives allowed for commonalities in values and sticking points to arise, crystallizing the conversation for attendees. It became clearer and clearer as the conference went on that this would only be more and more essential in the future as different entities around the globe take steps forward with new technologies and issues of interoperability arise.
Day 2 of the conference was more focused on Transformational Technologies, with presentations and panels that covered Machine Learning, Cloud Architectures, and broader conversations about the challenges and opportunities presented by rapid technological advancement for regulators and the communities they represent. These conversations and presentations culminated in a panel discussing Quantum Computing and Fintech with an international panel of experts. This set the stage for Day 3, focusing primarily on new technologies and how they’re being used.
After the first half of Day 3 in which experts discussed real world implications of new technologies and the markets that are looking most promising for the Fintech industry, the Demo Competition kicked off. Judges came from dYdX, Piper Sandler, Fintech Sandbox, LendingClub, and Citi. After 2 hours of rapid demonstrations, Andres Wolber-Stok of Citi, Maria Admajee of Beacon Platform, and Christopher Brummer of Georgetown University Law Center announced the winners.
On Day 4, the conversation shifted to cover inclusivity and equity in fintech. This began with an unflinching discussion entitled “VC after George Floyd” moderated by event organizer Chris Brummer. The panel included venture capitalists, academics, and thought leaders. This set the stage for broader conversations over the course of the rest of the day that covered individual strategies and broader policy analysis. Conversations spanned flash presentations on including women in fintech or “digital hustle” to deeply thoughtful panels of underrepresented leaders in the fintech space.
Whether next year’s Fintech Week will be online or in-person remains to be seen, but one thing that the even this year has proven is there is value in bringing together the best and brightest virtually. What may have been lost in interpersonal closeness is more than made up for in diversity of thought, a broadened base, and rich conversations.