It’s Not All About Winning, Unless You Win

I had a wonderful time at the City Debate last night, Tuesday, 6 March.  Here’s a photo of all of us at the start:

CSFI & CISI City Debate:

  • Antony Jenkins (10x)
  • Nikhil Rathi (London Stock Exchange)
  • Michael Mainelli (Z/Yen)
  • Ruth Wandhöfer (Citi)

You can spot Ruth on the left, with Angela Knight in the centre who chaired proceedings, and Alderman Alan Yarrow both as Chairman of CISI and as Lord Mayor Locum Tenens.  The pre-debate vote was neck-and-neck, 51% “no” (Antony and my side) and 49% “yes” (Ruth and Nikhil’s side).

From the questions it appeared a hostile audience to Antony and me.  I had that queasy feeling you don’t like when you’ve volunteered for a competition just for the fun of it, then suddenly realise you could lose in front of all your friends.  How can one’s self-esteem ever recover?

Now you can see me in full ‘must win’ mode, or as my friend George Littlejohn would have it – “Michael could be up for playing Churchill come the next biopic.”

City Debate 2018

Thus it was a genuine surprise, and relief, to find that we moved the audience significantly to our side, 73% to 27%.  Whew.

In case my position had anything to do with swaying opinion, I set out the case against, below:

“This House Believes That Fintech Will Save The City” (NOT)

Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, Your Excellencies, Fellow Aldermen, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

You heard Antony’s compelling words.  My argument balances his.  If Fintech doesn’t destroy you, then … Fintech will remain, a small comfortable parasite on the technology and trade centre that is our global City.  So what is the City, what is Fintech, what needs saving?

Yesterday, the Inspector of Ancient Monuments assured me that London’s archaeological evidence proves over 100,000 years of trading.  I ask you, many of you too also ancient monuments before me, to join together and take a long-term perspective.  Bloomberg across the road sits above two millennia of Londinium.  We convene over a millennium old stocks market.  Gresham’s Royal Exchange opposite is over 450 years old.

With the tragic exception of Edward I’s expulsion of the Jews in 1290, what distinguishes London is that, by comparison, it has treated all comers from outside the walls fairly, so long as they adhere to “meum fidem, meum pactum”.  Lombards, Huguenots, Rothschilds, Warburgs … Mainellis.

We are an SME City.  24,000 businesses provide 483,000 jobs in the square mile, with 1,200 more each year.  Yes, 250 firms provide 50% of the jobs, but they work with 23,750 deal-making SMEs.  Large and small produce 3% of UK GVA from less than 1.5% of the workforce, three quarters of the UK’s services trade surplus, some £68bn.

Urban legends mislead us.  The City was a deal centre before and after WWI, but was a feeble financial centre from 1939.  The finance legend was kept alive by Italians and Americans, Autostrade in 1963 creating Eurobond markets on neutral territory.  When Thatcher lifted exchange controls in 1979 and Big Bang broke cartels, financial services boomed.  Most of today’s behemoths were SMEs 30 years ago.  Bloomberg dates to just 1981.

You’ve heard of a Baker’s Dozen, 13?  I recently learned that a Banker’s Dozen is 11.  Just seven banks, not even 11, gets you to over 95% UK market share.  Cartels remain.  Domestic banks pursue a decades old, yet rational, strategy of hampering account switching.  If you want to be a success in retail Fintech, go to a country with over a thousand banks, Germany, or over six thousand banks, America.  Make some marketing director’s career rather than annoy a UK bank strategist.

Our retail fintech story is government lies for children, baubles with no Christmas tree:

  • M-Pesa in Kenya dates to 2007, eight years before the UK notices Fintech.
  • Retail Fintech kids unable to afford desks sit in Level 39 beside the compliance & admin battery hens of Canary Wharf, while Berlin, a quarter our size and not a global financial centre, raises more Fintech finance than we do.
  • China has 13 Fintech unicorns to our four. Even that requires forward-dating things like WorldPay, 1995, just to  fake our numbers up.

Then we put our regulator in charge of a sandbox, letting government bottlenecks choose our winners.  Any country whose regulator is in charge of innovation has deep problems.  The wider City is lawyers, accountants, maritime, insurers, not a fintech pimple.

Google Trends awards the term ‘Fintech’ around 100 points.  In January 2015 it was an insignificant six points.  Our government claims creation of a sector it didn’t even notice four years ago, putting some mobile app lipstick on the antiquated systems of some oligopolistic banks.

I came to the City in 1984 to put computer technology into Messels, then Shearson-Lehman-Amex.  We old-timers should celebrate the progress of automating wholesale finance.  We’ve been doing real Fintech long before this insulting term was mashed up.  It’s as facile as saying your heartbeat keeps you from dying.

London is a science & tech city.  From Tudor ‘New Learning’ to Gresham College, Francis Bacon, the Royal Society, Industrial Revolution, Wheatstone telegraph, or DNA (the work was done at Kings, not Cambridge), London has been at least as much about science & tech trade as it has been about finance.  Technology-Media-Telecomms is a significantly larger percentage of firms under 100 employees than finance, insurance, or professional services.  Our centuries of tech drive regtech, instech, arttech, filmtech, songtech, medtech, edtech, traveltech.

Finance moves with technology too, from cuneiform to papyri to tally sticks to spreadsheets to databases and now databases-plus, smart or distributed ledgers, blockchains.  But smart ledgers are ‘wide tech’ for identity, documentation, and agreement exchanges, not just payments.  Tech is for all sectors and the City of London is the most intense place on the planet to do tech deals.

So does the City need saving from Brexit, the wider UK, perhaps AI?  To paraphrase Streisand, “people who need to trade with people, make London the luckiest City in the world”.  As long as we focus on face-to-face, commercial, global deal-making that AI and telecoms can’t replace, deal support will thrive, from financial and professional services to hotels, culture, healthcare, or entertainment.

With or without Brexit, we need quality education and training, health, infrastructure, broadband; airports (plural); an in-visa-ble as possible access to people; a functioning housing market; a simple tax system.  If Britain is open for business, try opening a bank account.  What always needs saving is the rule of law, innovation, and open deal-making.  We are deficient, but not desperate; in danger of having our Emperor’s clothes disrobed, but with time to knit some new garments.

In conclusion, profound changes would be needed to even start to be a standalone Fintech centre.  Silicon Valley, in total, is still only half the size of London.  Fintech propaganda hides three decades of wholesale finance automation.  Our real strength is over 500 years of wider technology and open trade.  Sell Trade in Tech not Fintech.

So, do you vote for deep tech or mobile gimmicks, do you vote for City deals or for Canary Wharf turkeys, do you vote for people or machines?  Our centuries of success are built on growing SMEs in open, global trade, not some three year old government mashup.  Please vote for yourselves, the deal-makers of London, not this facile motion.

References

https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/economic-research-and-information/research-publications/Documents/research%202016/Clusters-and-connectivity-finalV2.pdf

https://www.cbinsights.com/research-unicorn-exits

From Archives To Modern Lives – Deep In The King’s College Scientific Archives

From Archives to Modern Lives: Frontiers of Trade and Technology
A survey of past and present innovation in association with King’s College London Archives, Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Surprisingly for some, London is, and almost always has been, a science city.  From the Gresham College days of the Tudor ‘New Learning’, Francis Bacon, the foundation of the Royal Society and on to the Industrial Revolution, genetics and even ‘fintech’, London has been at least as much about science & technology as it has been about trade & finance.

The World Traders had a wonderful day indeed.  Our main event, from 15:00 to 17:30, consisted of fully-illustrated presentations by six distinguished speakers, each at the very top of his or her own area of expertise. They referenced key objects of lasting scientific importance from King’s College London.

We handled numerous artefacts ranging from the original Wheatstone Telegraph of 1837 to the original DNA photo, “Photo 51”, to Barbara Cartland and Ted Hughes and Alan Ginsburg materials. Dr Brian May (yes, of Queen!) is an enormous fan of stereoscopy, heading up The London Stereoscopic Company http://www.londonstereo.com/, and created a 3D film for us. It feels like serious Livery one-up-person-ship that we can brag, “as we wore our 3D glasses Dr May leaped out from the screen to ‘Greet the Worshipful Company of World Traders’”.

The reception and dinner were on the eighth floor of Bush House in Aldwych (a building recently taken over by KCL, previously occupied by the BBC) with dramatic views from the City to Wesminster.

Wheatstone’s Cryptographs and Cipher

The full programme:

15:00 for 15:15      Reception, 1st Floor, Bush House, 101 (Auditorium)

15:15 – 15:30          Welcome
Deborah Bull, Assistant Principal King’s College London

                               Introduction
Dr Jessica Borge & Dr Geoff Browell

15:30 – 16:15         Computer Code
Artefact:                  Wheatstone’s Cryptographs and Cipher Post/ Telegraph TBC
Dr Jamie Barras
Professor Mischa Dohler

16:15 – 17:00          Life Code
Artefact:                   Photograph 51 TBC
Professor David Edgerton
Professor Karen Steel

17:00 – 17:45          Visual Code
Artefact:                   Wheatstone’s Stereoscope TBC
Denis Pellerin
Professor Reza Razavi

17:45 – 18:00          Concluding Remarks
Dr Geoff Browell

18:00 – 19:00          Drinks, 8th Floor, Bush House (South)

19:00 – 21:30          Dinner, 8th Floor, Bush House (North)
Guest Speaker: Dr Carina Fearnley

Surging Financial Crime In A Digitised World – Can We Turn The Tide?

Some remarks made before the CityForum Strategy Round Table on 3 November 2016 at the Guildhall.  Just before the publication of this ENISA report to which we contributed:

enisa-cover

“May I offer a warm welcome on behalf of the City of London Corporation.  We are delighted to be hosting you today here in the heart of the City.

The growth of cyber-related businesses – and indeed the tech and digital economy in general – is of great importance to the City of London Corporation.  As we move more towards a more a digitally enhanced economy in the City of London, especially in light of the challenge we now face to our more traditional financial services offer by way of the political challenges that are ongoing.  The growth of new industries such as fintech and cyber enhance the role of the City of London as a world-class centre for business and professional expertise and services.

The City of London – both large institutions and small businesses  – are subject not only to political or economic challenges but also technological ones.  And whilst the level of expertise around cyber in our banks may be developed, there are always individuals – or even individual states – looking to undermine our dominance as a global hub.

Later today, my colleague Mark Boleat will address this gathering on the importance of international partnerships and how we can work together to meet those challenges.  We have made great strides in securing international partnerships to foster shared intelligence and prosperity in this space – and we are grateful to have Cyrus Vance joining us later, and we are grateful for his continued support for initiatives such as the Global Cyber Alliance.

But we also believe that there is an exciting ocyberpportunity here to harness the burgeoning tech expertise in the UK.  Our dominance of our more traditional financial services markets, markets which provide amazing access to both finance and services, talent and data, could enable us to create something new and secure not only for our digital way of life, but increase our general economic prosperity too.  We have in the past discussed the important role that insurance and reinsurance can play in making this risk ‘normal’.

And of course – that knowledge and expertise here in the City also includes our own Police force – the national lead for economic crime – and we are  fortunate to have them join us today as well, and to have the Commissioner, Ian Dyson, speaking.  Only by working in partnership with our Police and security forces can we begin to build a prosperous City which is secure, confident in its own abilities, and ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century. cyber_cover

There is a saying that “the opposite of danger is taking risks”.  In the cyber space I believe that is truer than ever, and I hope that today’s conference suggests some of the technical and financial risks we need to take, from using distributed ledgers and blockchains for added, rather than reduced, security, or a Cyber Re, similar to Pool Re, for national resilience.

Thank you.”

ChainZy – Anchoring Mutual Distributed Ledgers (aka blockchains) In Reality

Over the Last year there was a lot of hype about mutual distributed ledgers (MDLs, aka blockchain technology).  Leaving aside the coin-based systems of Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum, I think Z/Yen’s practical work in the field is fascinating.  Much of Z/Yen’s work was featured in the FT recently.

We have been working with mutual distributed ledger (MDL) technologies since 1995 for complex multi-party transactions, but until recently financial services people dismissed MDLs as too complex and insecure, until Bitcoin terrified them.  The mania around cryptocurrencies has led to a reappraisal of their potential.  Equally, MDLs are getting easier to implement and manage at a time when people are rethinking the future of financial services.

Z/Yen have a lot of work  on, a project with SWIFT on The Impact and Potential of Blockchain on the Securities Transaction Lifecycle, ‘proof of concept’ and ‘use case’ demonstrators for clients, courses, and ongoing research.  Z/Yen and Long Finance share their research widely, e.g.:

EY Front Cover

Sharing Ledgers For Sharing Economies: An Exploration Of Mutual Distributed Ledgers (aka blockchain technology) Michael Mainelli and Mike Smith 2015
Journal of Financial Perspectives, Volume 3, Number 3, EY Global Financial Services Institute (December 2015), 44 pages.

Z/Yen published the work of one significant 2015 research consortium (InterChainZ) online back in September.  InterChainZ has been working for the past year on multiple MDLs working together.  Z/Yen used their suite of MDL technologies built up over two decades, dubbed ChainZy, to build a set of seven ‘use cases’ working together.  InterChainZ aimed to answer a core question – “what elements of a trusted third party are displaced by mutual distributed ledger (MDL) technology?” by providing a basic demonstrator of MDLs, including variants of blockchains, and comparing how they might work within selected financial services use cases.  InterChainZ provides a generic demonstration suite ChainZy Logo of software providing an interface to MDLs for tasks such as:

  • selection & storage of documents;
  • document encryption;
  • sharing keys;
  • viewing the MDL transactions;
  • viewing the MDL contents subject to encryption structures.

The software permitted the testing of a variety of MDL technical configurations. It was then employed to discuss and test various practical applications of MDLs.  The outputs were shared with participants as joint intellectual property for their own future use.

InterChainZ has shared some learning online. This includes the above video – titled “Boring is Brilliant” – where participants (DueDil, PwC, and SunCorp) explain what mutual distributed ledgers are, and how they could be employed.   A few of the key learning points from InterChainZ were:

Terminology: Early in the InterChainZ project it became apparent that the further discussion moved away from Bitcoins and blockchains, the easier conversations became.  Bitcoins and blockchains were burdened with too much baggage.  Terminology is evolving rapidly, hence the team’s emphasis on “mutual distributed ledgers” as the term of choice.  The technical focus might be on boring ‘ledgers’, but the excitement is in the applications above.

Identity: It also became clear that ‘identity’ issues are universal.  One of the great advantages of doing consortium research was that the identity chains were both ‘use cases’ and essential infrastructure that would have had to be built for anything else of substance.  Distinguishing ‘identity’ from ‘transactions’ and ‘content’ made processing and distribution sense, at the expense of a bit more complexity in comprehension.  While InterChainZ showed that MDLs can work together, and the project explored many different architecture possibilities, what was explored is certainly only a small portion of what is possible.

Architecture Choices: MDL architecture has to reflect the economic and commercial realities of numerous businesses working together.  This dictates that many different architectures are needed for many different situations.  One ‘blockchain’ will not suffice for most business-to-business work.  Different business uses require different node structures.  For example, the Master node architecture would be appropriate where a regulator is confirming all transactions in a market as being from valid market participants.  The Supervisor node architecture might suit a small group of large organisations interacting with multiple smaller ones.

Validation: Core to identity and architecture is the method used for validating new transactions.  While Bitcoin blockchain’s ‘proof-of-work’ validation approach is fascinating, and suited to having seven billion people confirm retail transactions, it is not appropriate for wholesale markets.  One of the basic premises for InterChainZ was to focus on exploring “non-blockchain consensus or identity” MDLs, i.e. what benefits could be achieved when not using currencies or tokens.  This decision provoked some external criticism, principally questioning whether there were benefits to MDLs without proof-of-work validation mechanisms.  However, Z/Yen long ago achieved around 1 billion transactions per day, a benchmark a few are now touting, by sacrificing token systems for other validation methods.

Content Chains: The project developed a number of MDLs that directly stored documents, as well as MDLs that only recorded the ‘hash’ of documents.  This led to the development three conceptual MDLs, “identity chains”, “transaction chains”, and “content chains”.  Corporate and individual identity chains authorise access to a transaction chain.  A transaction chain holds the core ledger records of all transactions, but only a hash of original documents.  The content chain is an MDL holding all of the original documents.  The content chain might be managed by a third party for storage and retrieval because of its size.  This conceptual structure is quite flexible.  The only technical difference between the chains is that the identity and content chains have a fixed length hash field while the content chain has a variable length field.

Further Research – IntereXchainZ & MetroGnomo

At a basic level, the project showed that MDLs work and can work together, but current research, IntereXchainZ goes much further, pushing forward four themes:

Simplify

  • market functions – order matching, margining, account functions, clearing, settlement, as well as possible uses of a token currency within exchange;
  • usability and ergonomics to enhance the end-user experience – exploring the end-user experience by connecting to off-the-shelf wallets for cryptographic key management;

Integrate

  • integrity proofing – dynamic anomaly and pattern response additions, monitoring and testing facilities;
  • Content Hash-Addressable Storage Market (C#ASM) – extending the ‘identity’, ‘transaction’, and ‘content’ chain thinking that emerged from InterChainZ into an indexable archiving system both as a ledger itself, but also supporting other ledgers;
  • data taxonomies, encryption levels and tracking – how feasible is it to have differently labelled categories and ‘data boxes’ (e.g. health, car insurance, home insurance, driving record, etc. on a person’s MDL) that can only be opened as a group, to encrypt levels with levels (first order health data perhaps before detailed data), to provide access records (who opened, when), and might homomorphic encryption have a role;

Automate

  • facilities for automated creation of new mutual distributed ledgers – a parameter driven system providing options for permission management, proof of stake and identity settings, supervisor-master and other node settings, ‘voting’ permutations, and peer-to-peer structure settings;
  • exchange functions – processes to make the basic interacting ledgers into a demonstrator of a full exchange, with numerous ‘use cases’ therein, e.g. sharing identity functions with transactional functions and storing relevant documents securely and permanently;

Control

  • management and control features – management information, performance statistics, visualisation;
  • documentation of standards for mutual distributed ledgers and legal entity identifiers.

And 2016?  Z/Yen are launching a new timestamping service next month with the support of at least one government.  We call it MetroGnomo, a “world record service”.  This is being launched in an experimental mode using MDLs based on ‘agnostic broadcasting’.  The intention is to increase speeds further, increase resilience, and provide a useful, free service showcasing Z/Yen’s technologies.

Kuring? No, But Konfirming The Origins Of Kawasaki Disease

Here is a nice story about the ancient Barts Pathology lab helping advance modern medical science a teensy bit over the tragic Kawasaki disease:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/kawasaki-disease-an-unknown-illness-with-no-definitive-medicaldiagnosis-and-no-known-cause–but-it-may-all-be-in-the-wind-10376403.html

“Gee’s post-mortem examination findings, preserved in a single paragraph written in 1871, recorded signs of damage called aneurysms in the coronary arteries running across the surface of the boy’s heart.”

BartsOld3

For me, this museum story began in 2006.  Professor Will Ayliffe and I were aghast at the state of deliberate neglect when we made an ‘illegal’ tour of the then abandoned facility.  I was on a board with the Clinical Pathology Association (CPA) as a subsidiary, UKAS.  The CPA had a Trust to which we applied for cataloging, and the CPA Trust funding came through in 2009/2010 with Dr Ken Scott’s support (the CEO of CPA).  Professor Adrian Newland also lent his support, thus drawing in Barts Trust support.  The publication of this article by Carla Connolly on her work – http://www.ibms.org/includes/act_download.php?download=pdf/2012-March-St-Barts.pdf –  and this Gresham lecture – http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/anatomy-museums-past-present-and-future – (supported by Gresham Professors Tim Connell and Frank Cox) and City of London support through Wendy Mead kept up the visibility, leading to the permanent museum arrangements.  And it turned out the historic collection was useful, perhaps invaluable, as long suspected.

http://www.smd.qmul.ac.uk/about/pathologymuseum/

Sadly (individual), yet hopefully (medically and scientifically), perhaps more to come. I think it is a great story, or backstory, for all of us in the City, Gresham College, and the scientific profession.