Ahhhhh! They're all Smiths!

After spending a month in Europe co-producing the Future of Money video in Berlin and then presenting it at Sibos in Amsterdam, I have finally returned home to New York to catch my breath and reflect on what just happened.

The week at Sibos was both enlightening and discouraging. Being surrounded by thousands of similarly outfitted bankers was surreal, and Matrix-like. The video we presented during Monday morning’s keynote was intended to plant a seed about what is going on, to provoke them, to inspire them. The feedback I received afterwards was mostly positive, but the message seems to have mostly gone over their heads.

The problem isn’t just that we are speaking different languages, but that we live in different worlds.

The impression I got over the week is that the finance industry is in the business of making money and maintaining the status quo. They threw around a lot of words like “rebuilding trust” and “resilience” and “innovation,” but I never heard any conversation about what those things mean and how they intend to do them.

There was talk about real-time information, cloud computing, and mobile technology – and how banks can use these things to operate more efficiently with each other – but not about how the industry can be revitalized to actually improve the quality of people’s lives by empowering them with new tools and information. (We were mostly referred to as “end users,” or sometimes more fondly as “customers.”)

One evening, I was invited to an exclusive VIP dinner, where I sat at a round table with Paul Saffo, John Hagel, and the CEO of Swift himself, Lazaro Campos. Lazaro picked my brain about the future of banking and asked me what young people want. The answer to me is so simple and obvious that apparently it’s elusive or opaque to those who can make it happen.

I told him that I don’t trust banks, and that there is nothing about a bank that would entice me to feel pride in being associated with it. I’ve had time now to think more about it, so I’d like to expand on what I meant.

All the decisions about where I spend my time, attention, and money say something about me. For example:

I buy organic food from local farms and products and services from local businesses. – (I believe in building resilient communities by supporting local economy.)

I have a garden, I fish, I hunt, I brew beer. – (I find empowerment, gratification, and joy from understanding where food comes from and how to get it myself.)

I recycle. – (I understand that we live on a planet with finite resources and I want to reduce my impact.)

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. – (I prefer not to buy products that were produced in a country where people’s labor had to be exploited so I could “save” a dollar.)

I practice yoga and meditation. – (Physical and mental health are important to me.)

OK, this could go on, but these are just a few lifestyle choices to make a point about the way I want to interact with my environment and my own body and mind.

Now, what does my bank say about me?


I haven’t found a bank that offers a real competitive advantage over another, in terms of how it represents me and my lifestyle.

So, what WOULD I want from a bank?

As Caroline Wooland put it in the Future of Money video:
I would share almost all of my information with complete strangers because I feel there’s an integrity to the way I live, and it’s fine for other people to know about that.
I feel the same way. Why don’t our banks operate like that? All I know about the way my bank works is that I deposit my money there, and then they take that money and go make money off of it. Where is that money going? Where is it being invested? Can I have control over how you use my money? Can I set a standard of where I allow you to invest my money, so I can be proud to say my money is being invested in green technology, or local initiatives, or ANYTHING that I care about? Or is it just being thrown around in a speculative market and making money off of itself, without generating actual value or wealth for the world?
If so, that doesn’t make me proud. It makes me ashamed.
Intelligent Investing Opportunities

I make almost all my purchases on my debit card or on the credit card that’s linked to my bank account, because I like keeping track of where my money goes. So, in terms of spending, my bank knows who I am and what I care about. I’d also be happy to link my Twitter account to my bank account so they can know the kind of people and organizations I talk to and the articles I’m reading, to give an even more granular understanding of what I’m about. I’d link my Meetup account so they know the kind of events that interest me and the conferences I attend. I’d link my foursquare account so they know the stores and restaurants I patronize. I’d basically provide everything, if in return, I could have a service that was like the eBay or Netflix of investing. Show me opportunities where I can micro-invest in things I care about. Recommend ways I can save money on the things I already buy regularly. Show me how I can leverage my network and invest with a whole swarm of people. (Think Groupon for investing.) And then make each of these investments a part of my digital identity. I WANT people to know. I’ll wear it like a badge. Give me a service that empowers me to invest intelligently and in a way that represents the ethics I believe in, and I’ll tell everybody about it. This information will become part of “Social Credit Score”, which will be more important than our current credit scores one day. Oh, I’ll also need you to provide a Reputation Management service for all this information.
Real-Time Data Visualization

This should be obvious, but Mint.com is the only service I’ve seen so far that actually has cool visualizations of the flow and distribution of my money, and it’s still not robust. I want a better version of that. In real time.
Social Network Analysis for Co-Production Opportunities
I need a bank that understands that I’m connected to the web and my network pretty much all the time, and they are as real a part of my “wealth” as money. I need a service that helps me visualize my social networks and exchange information with them rapidly and easily. I also want to be able to find more people who share my visions and interests so that we can take action together. I’ve been succeeding at this serendipitously so far – (if I hadn’t become a member of Space Collective, I wouldn’t have found @gabrielshalom and the Future of Money video wouldn’t have happened.) But I want some more intentionality behind this. Again, like Netflix recommendations, but for people and projects. There are a lot of people out there who want to cooperate and collaborate in order to manifest something together and make their lives and the world a better place. How do we find each other? Could a BANK help hook us up and then provide us with the information and resources we need to take an idea to action? Could we display projects we want to work on that are socially responsible and environmentally sustainable, and the bank links us to the investors that can help actualize it? I need a service that helps link unmet needs with unused resources. Where’s the database that makes this information transparent and available?
Complimentary Currencies for Local Economy
Money is not going to go away anytime soon, but it is not the ideal form of currency for every kind of transaction. Why is it not simple for individuals and communities to implement local currencies in order to exchange goods and services, and build trust, relationships, and resilience? Could a bank help with this? And I’m not talking about a centrally issued currency. I’m talking about taking some tips from initiatives like the Metacurrency Project and Open Money, and providing tools for communities to create their own currencies.
“WHAT?!!?”, says the bank. “BUT WE’LL BE DISINTERMEDIATED!!!!”
Well, that’s a narrow perspective. What will happen is a strengthening of local economies, and a multitude of new business opportunities that will arise BECAUSE there is that infrastructure that keeps things moving even in times of “economic crisis.”
And besides, it’s already happening. It makes sense to have a commons, and it makes sense to share resources when appropriate and viable. It makes sense to remove the layers of abstraction that money creates, and to design currencies that actually rebuild social fabric. It makes sense to know the people that are within your proximity, and be aware of the resources they have at their disposal, and have systems in place that allow them to be exchanged.
So, returning to the dinner table last week – Lazaro, these are a few things I want. Will they come from a bank? That’s up to you guys. I’m telling you the values I have, the way I want to live and work, and the tools I need. I have a vision of a new kind of economy, an open society, and new models of peer to peer production.
But does the financial industry care?
Well, here’s a quote from SWIFT’s Deputy Chairman, Stephan Zimmerman, during the closing plenary. You can watch the video here to get the full context, but this is what he had to say about the expectations of Gen Y:
I wonder, are those convictions strong enough to overcome the realities of what makes the financial industry or system tick today………. My own take on this is that the prevailing values may be stronger than the new values.
That one statement was like a punch in the gut. My interpretation of it was “It is what it is, and it’s not changing.”
If that is the ethos of the financial industry, then I don’t understand what they mean when they call for “innovation.”
I will say that I had a great time with the Innotribe team (the tiny contingent of creative troublemakers at Swift). They seem to be trying hard to make a real impact, and are really willing to take risks. (hell, they invited me there.)
But if “the financial industry” at large, (whoever that is), doesn’t understand that there is a new mindset that is spreading around the planet, how can they expect to tap into it?
It wasn’t lost on me that I got looks of skepticism and cynicism by some of the bankers that week. I also got plenty of looks that made me feel like someone was going to pat me on the head and say “Awwww, well that’s a cute idea! But you obviously have no idea about how the world works.”
I do get it. Everyone gets it. The wheels are barely being held onto the cart to keep the grand illusion of this dog and pony show going.
The word “vision” means seeing beyond what is. It means a fundamental shift in the way we choose to interpret the world and our place within it. Everything about “the way things work” is, and always has been, an evolution of socially constructed realities. What happens when we change the meaning of reality?
This isn’t a recession. It’s the growing pains of a transformational evolution in how humanity functions.
People are waking up, consciousness is evolving, and the infrastructures are being built to make it easy for people to communicate, connect, collaborate, and build a world that is mutually beneficial FOR ALL. Beyond a zero-sum game. It’s possible. It’s a choice. We can all be a part of it, and everybody wins.
Join the party.