Comment: From ponies to payments – technology, disruption and Jersey fintech

Posted: 27/05/2016

Digital Jersey CEO Tony Moretta explores the fintech story for Jersey so far

In 1860, a postal service was set up from St Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California, delivering mail by horseback using a number of relay stations. Dubbed the ‘Pony Express’, the service’s adverts boasted of covering 1,800 miles in 10 days. The express played a big part in Wild West legends but for all its fame, survived just 19 months and made a significant loss. What finally finished it off? The arrival of the Pacific Telegraph line. In fact, the Pony Express closed just two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City. 

This is the story we explored at Jersey’s recent Fintech Unconference in a session by Dave Birch, Director of Innovation at Consult Hyperion.

While the demise of the Pony Express is a cautionary tale of the consequences of disruption, technology’s role in reshaping and at times replacing industries is nothing new. Taking the next steps in fintech for Jersey means adopting a fresh perspective and understanding that the shifts we’re talking about in finance are already happening. But awareness isn’t enough; effective action is required.

Jersey fintech: the (very condensed) story so far

Happily, the backdrop for Jersey’s recent Fintech Unconference was already a vibrant one. We saw from the success of last October’s fintech conference, and the ongoing excellent attendance of Jersey’s NewFinance Chapter, that there is a significant appetite in the island to seriously explore the future of our financial services industry. 

Alongside the conference, 2015 saw the release of a KPMG report that identified fintech as a promising and feasible proposition for Jersey, alongside Digital Health and Jersey as a new technology testbed.

We’ve also seen closer collaboration between Digital Jersey and Jersey Finance in this time, with our joint steering group running for six months. And both organisations working together and reporting to the Chief Minister’s Office. 

Fintech Unconference

The Unconference had three main aims:

• To encourage an equal balance of engagement between ‘fins’ and ‘techs’ 

• To provide an informal space for both industries to come together, share ideas and build beneficial relationships

• To go beyond talk and identify specific proposition development groups to set up, focused on areas where Jersey has a strong likelihood of success and can expect tangible results in 6-12 months

Following the success of our digital health workshop, we’ve seen the formulation of viable and innovative propositions that could make a real impact on the medical industry. The aim was to do the same for fintech with this Unconference.

We heard initially from KPMG’s Jason Laity and Rob Kirkby, who explored the findings of 2015’s KPMG Digital Jersey Opportunity Analysis in relation to fintech.

We then had a very entertaining session with Dave Birch, who challenged attendees to think about the Pony Express – and asked for suggestions about what strategy we would adopt were we directors of the beleaguered postal service. 

It was a fantastic opportunity for us to reframe the challenges of fintech by taking a radical step back. My favourite Pony Express suggestions were ‘riderless horses’ and shorter, lighter messages of ‘140 characters or less’, although no-one thought that one would catch on!

In line with the attendee-led nature of unconferences, we asked attendees to jot down ideas they wanted to discuss on Post-Its, and Dave, with Jersey Finance and Digital Jersey, identified the main talking points. 

The first round looked at artificial intelligence, payments, KYC and Blockchain, with attendees choosing the topic most relevant to them and a spokesperson reporting back to the conference. 

The next round focused on data privacy, skills, cyber security and ‘Jersey as a Platform’ – a concept that looks at jurisdictional initiatives to be used as a platform for the private sector, such as a financial passport. 

Questions included whether government could put in place an ID scheme like the Estonian eresidency model, among other features we could put in place to ensure Jersey is as hospitable and advanced as possible for digital businesses.

What next?

This unconference was all about action – seeing what’s needed, what’s possible and taking our next steps from there. We’re going to work closely with JFL to set up proposition development groups focused on four major areas identified at the unconference:

• Virtual currencies (building on work already taking place with SoJ)
• Blockchain
• Regtech/KYC
• Wealth management platforms

Both agencies will work to build these groups to ensure all key players and those who have expressed a particular interest are invited to join initial meetings. The idea for these groups is to deliver trial products in six to twelve months, which means we need to make sure that all the barriers that could get in the way of the financial and digital sectors working together are removed – be they issues with regulation, funding, skills or more.

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