Banking and Finance Technology Forum (BFTF) 2011 Singapore Wrap-up

Written by Zennon Kapron || March 10 2011

Yesterday was the 7th Annual BFTF which was held at the Traders Hotel here in Singapore. The event featured around 20 international speakers, 8 sponsor/vendors and was attended by about 100 delegates. The event, although smaller than in previous years – and smaller than similar events, was excellent. I was expecting the conversations to be thought-provoking, but was genuinely impressed by some of the debates and discussions.

I had the pleasure of chairing the event and in my opening talk, I brought forward what I saw as the overriding theme – ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, or essentially the idea that although technology is constantly changing the challenges that technology poises remain the same: how to get the best ROI and still mitigate the ever increasing risk. Luckily enough for me, the rest of the discussions did fall into the same vein. The four broad topics that were covered in the conference were business intelligence, cloud computing/virtualization, security in banking and risk management.

There were many good discussions, but there were a few key points that I felt were worth mentioning:

Fostering innovation – One panel discussion focused on the need to foster innovation in banking. Discussions revolved around the Google model where employees are given 20% of their time to start their own projects. Another panelist talked about getting paid to fail. To encourage innovation, employees were actually given bonuses even when they failed (assuming it was a ‘reach’ target or basically something above and beyond the normal). Of course measuring what counted as a legitimate stretch can be a bit thorny, but an interesting idea for sure.

Risk Management was a huge topic at the event and was actually the final topic of the day as well. The panels on this topic were packed with experts and really had some in-depth and sometimes even scary discussions about the importance of risk management. There were plenty of examples of things going wrong; one panelist mentioned the internal risk itself that a crisis will make a normal person do abnormal things. Of course having 4 external risk management vendors/consultants on the panel and one Chief Information Security Officer from the World Bank meant that the recommended solutions were very very thorough and sometimes even a bit too ambitious for a bank. Matthew Walker, CEO of PassWindow, agreed with the conversation, but realistically pointed out at the end of the conversation that it needs to be a balance between safety and reality as ‘business still needs to happen’. Jim Nelms, from the World Bank, had a great quote on the topic of business continuity planning: “The first best day to start was 5 years ago, the next best day is today.”

Technology Leading Regulation and the Business – In one of the panels I was moderating on technology innovation, I brought up the idea of the business and technology groups being aligned – a common issue and another that is nearly ever present. A member of the audience had a comment and suggested that technology should even be ahead of the business and even regulation, which admittedly, was something I hadn’t considered before. He went on to suggest that with the proper technology in place, the entire financial crisis could have been averted. I didn’t quite agree with that assumption as, yes I suppose it could have, but it would’ve needed to be very complexly designed with some incredible foresight into potential products. Yet the idea was interesting. After a bit of debate, the conclusion seemed to be that getting the proper technology in place (read: SOA, etc.) could prepare you as much as possible, but to predict regulatory changes is nearly impossible.

Social Media also came up several times during the event. It’s clear that banks are focused on it, but how to use it still appears to be a bit muddled. One of the best comments was brought up by a speaker who mentioned that you’re more likely to read a customer’s facebook feed and what’s wrong with your service than reading your own customer service emails.