Will cryptocurrencies rule the future? How can digital technology bring modern banking amenities to remote communities? How will we balance the drive for financial innovation against concerns over privacy?
No one can claim to have all the answers to these questions. But when Interac collaborated with Elevate, the world’s fastest-growing tech festival, to create the 2019 Money stage, we hosted a forum for the most informed predictions.
Participants were asked to consider the future of money and technology from a myriad of vantage points, from the innovation labs of Silicon Valley to the stalls of small business owners in Africa. Here are six takeaway lessons from the day — about the fascinating future of money, the promising present, and even the past …
#1: The Renaissance was a golden age for financial innovators
During her talk, “The Future of Commerce Requires Trust,” Debbie Gamble noted that Florence in the age of Michelangelo and Botticelli was also an exciting locale for new ideas in finance. Indeed, said Gamble — who is Chief Officer, Innovation Labs and New Ventures at Interac — innovations in money helped bankroll all that seminal art.
Gamble explained that the Medici family not only ruled Florence and paid Michelangelo’s bills, it was also instrumental in inventing double-entry bookkeeping, letters of credit, and holding companies in the modern sense.
“This was part of the backbone of the financial structure that we take for granted today, but it also meant that the Medicis were able to expand their empire quite quickly,” said Gamble. (She was also careful to note that “the Medicis were certainly not perfect.”)
#2: The value of online commerce will reach $4.8-trillion by 2021
And 2021, Gamble pointed out, is just a couple of years away. People who enjoy in-person shopping shouldn’t be worried about that figure, though: She predicts that bricks-and-mortar retail will be able to compete and survive in tandem with online commerce.
#3: Women are gaining an elevated position in tech — at last
While introducing Gamble and two other women panelists at the Building the Trust Foundation discussion, Dana O’Born of the Council of Canadian Innovators noted: “There are more women speakers at this conference than there are males.”
Cheers and applause ensued.
#4: In Africa, (air)time is money
Cryptocurrency entrepreneur (and superstar U.S. vocalist) Akon was on hand at Elevate to build awareness for Akoin, a cryptocurrency digital wallet designed for the needs of Africa.
In the meantime, African ingenuity has created an ad hoc solution for digital money transfers in countries where fintech infrastructure isn’t quite in place yet. Akon explained that cellular phone minutes are used as a trusted currency in many countries. It’s not unusual for SIM cards that are pre-loaded with thousands — or even millions — of airtime minutes to change hands in lieu of hard cash.
#5: Digital ID won’t mean the end of anonymous transactions
Members of The Global Impact of Digital Identity panel — including Neil Butters, Director, Products and Platforms for Interac — unanimously agreed that the rise of digital ID won’t spell the end of anonymous digital interactions.
“I think it’s important that there are anonymous transactions,” Butters said — as is already the case today. For example, “When you use your Interac Debit card at a terminal, you’re not sharing personal information with that merchant.”
On the other hand, panelists also agreed that certain kinds of digital transactions will always involve some data collection, for legal and security reasons (compliance with anti-money laundering laws, for example).
“There comes a point where transactions do need to be tracked,” Butters explained. “Both [anonymous and tracked] transactions need to exist, and the challenge before is, ‘How do we differentiate?’”
#6: There’s room for more in Canada’s digital ID ecosystem
The Global Impact of Digital Identity panelists also talked about what seems to be a curious over-representation of Canadians in the digital ID sphere around the world. Even if there are lots of Canadians in the field already, Butters said there’s room for more.
“We’re basically at Ground Zero on building an ecosystem that Canadians can trust for reliability,” he said.
Asked to offer advice for talented tech professionals who have an interest in digital identity, Butters said: “My recommendation is to get on board.”