This post was first published by Michael Scanlan on the CCgroup blog.
In 1987, I went on holiday to the Soviet Union. Don’t ask.
Anyway, when I was there, I went into GUM, the famous department store in Red Square, to buy some souvenirs. Armed with a fistful of roubles, I navigated the Byzantine counter routine. You ordered from one person, paid a second and picked up your purchases from a third. Huge queue due to the ancient paper ticketing system! This was the most bizarre queuing system I’ve ever encountered. Until, that is, I attempted to get into Apps World 2013 earlier this week. Hundreds of tech savvy people stuck in a queuing system that waited for paper passes to be printed out from creaky old printers. I lost count of the number of times I heard someone say “surely there must be an app for that.”
What there is, though, is an app for just about everything else and that’s what Apps World is all about. Despite my inner geek being wowed by the Ordnance Survey apps (and thanks for the uber-nerdy t-shirt that caused my wife to collapse with laughter, guys), I was really there to see what was going on in FinTech innovation. FinTech innovation and mobile payments in particular, is something I’m cynical and enthusiastic about in equal measures. Enthusiastic because it genuinely has the power and potential to revolutionise how we pay, especially in the developing world, but cynical because I’m not sure that enough people are getting it right.
If you can remember the Soviet Union, then you can probably remember the early home computers and games such as Jet Set Willy and Elite. Unlike today’s computers, software for one was incompatible with another. What worked on a Commodore 64 wouldn’t work on a Spectrum and so on. Computers were individual things and the idea of universal connectivity of them was as distant and unobtainable as getting “Elite” status on the game of the same name.
And that’s the problem with mobile money right now. Too many systems, too many of them limited in scope. So, you are splitting the bill after a meal and your friend says “I can send you the money via Barclay’s Pingit.”, “I don’t have that,” you reply. “Oh, just go online and register and then download the app and then I can send you the money,” says your friend. “What? I can’t be bothered with that! Just give me a tenner!” you say before looking at your phone and saying “Oh, no, wait. I’ve got Zapp! Can you send it to me with that?” “No, I’ve only got Pingit!” Repeat until fade…
Back to Apps World then, and it seemed every second stall was promoting some mobile money app. Being in a charitable mood, I didn’t feel like taking issue with them over their claims but, in retrospect, I really should have done. Because that’s the important role of FinTech PR and communications. I’d say that we have a duty as part of the communications world to keep questioning the claims, keep challenging the assertions and use our sector knowledge to pick holes in boasts. And, of course, we should champion those that we think actually make the grade.
I’m still more enthusiastic than cynical as I have seen one or two apps out there which do manage to come out of the silos and look at the bigger picture. I’ll do my bit to champion them and when I’m stuck in a queue to get into Apps World 2014 and someone sniggers “surely there must be an app for this.” I’ll say “Actually, there is. And it does a lot more than just tickets too…”
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