Sibos 2012 Summary: Reflections After Osaka

With a multitude of presentations in plenary and breakout sessions, as well as separate tracks on specific topics such as corporate, compliance, Innotribe innovation, standards and technology, no participant could attend all of the sessions at Sibos. Regardless of which of them they chose to attend, however, several themes stood out by the end of the conference. It also became clearer that corporates and financial institutions still have different perspectives.

For banks, regulation and compliance was a constant theme. Presenters and panellists looked at everything from how to implement regulations to whether regulations should change. While there are potential benefits from stronger governance, implementing the multitude of rules will require significant resources. Some said they regarded regulation as “insidious”, for example the expanded data requirements for consumers under Dodd-Frank 1073 leading to transaction banking customers demanding the same transparency. Sibos provided opportunities to understand nuances of the regulations better and look at practical solutions for implementation.

Technology was also a regular theme in most of the sessions. There were extensive debates and discussions on everything from technology solutions, to improve process efficiency or manage cash better, to the longer-term opportunities offered by mobile phones, tablets, cloud technology and big data. Although resources might be scarce in banks, top financial institutions have already begun implementing leading-edge technology solutions. New players are coming into the space as well.

While Asian financial institutions are clearly aware of the dynamism in Asia, some participants from other regions seemed to benefit from seeing it first-hand. SWIFT Middle East and north Africa (MENA) chief executive officer (CEO), Alain Raes, said that what surprised him during the week was the optimism and the ‘can-do’ mentality in Asia compared with the rest of the world. Bankers from Europe or the Americas may have echoed the same refrain. And despite the absence of most Chinese bankers, the growth of China and growing internationalisation of the renminbi (RMB) were comprehensively discussed as well.

The Corporate Perspective

While corporates were also looking at technology to drive value and efficiency, albeit it with different applications than banks, the underlying themes of the Corporate Forum showed that they may be seeking something a little different from what their bankers currently offer.

One consistent theme among corporates was the need for standardisation. Corporates gave examples of how they had to meet different standards from dozens of different banks for services such as cash management, trade solutions or internet connectivity. Implementing those different standards, they said, takes people, time and money. One corporate treasurer commented that he attends Sibos primarily to push for more standardisation.

Even as speakers from SWIFT and banks discussed the advantages of bank payment obligations (BPOs) and direct corporate connectivity to SWIFT, corporates themselves seemed to be looking for enhancements to the options already available. While BPOs do seem more efficient and faster, some corporates said they want a more holistic solution that blends the services such as payments that come with letters of credit (L/Cs) with the advantages of the BPO. And implementing SWIFT connectivity, said one corporate, required higher and more expensive security levels than they would normally need to install.

Technology Innovation

Innotribe speakers who highlighted some of the latest innovations in financial services added an extra dimension to the proceedings. Whether it was Nobel laureate Mohammed Yunus and a roomful of financial social entrepreneurs talking about innovation at the bottom of the pyramid, lessons in digital payments best practices, or the spectacle of women’s world judo champion Aiko Sato throwing FSKTN director Christopher Sier to the mat, participants were assured of being challenged at Innotribe presentations.

Presenters came up with new or different viewpoints in a number of sessions. Even as banks are going about implementing near field communication (NFC) mobile solutions, for example, speakers from Commonwealth Bank and BCG both said that NFC is likely an interim step that will be superseded before long by cloud-based mobile solutions. JP Morgan’s Japan director of research, Jesper Koll, gave a passionate presentation on why he is bullish regarding Japan’s economy, even as others see a rather gloomy outlook for the country. Many transaction bank heads said that transaction banking has made a mistake around the technology they offer by spending too much energy on ‘bells and whistles’, instead of plain vanilla solutions that customers really want or in solutions that truly bring value to their customers.

Drop in Attendance

Throughout the conference participants stayed busy with full days of presentations, as well as meetings with financial institutions, clients and vendors. Despite the record numbers of more than 1,700 registrants from Japan alone and over 6,000 registrants in total reported by SWIFT, Sibos veterans said there seemed to be a significant drop in attendance compared to previous years.

The lack of Chinese bank exhibitors and the absence of most Chinese attendees may have contributed to a smaller conference. Having the venue spread over multiple conference halls, where participants walked outdoors between buildings, and many sessions in a hotel next door to the conference centre, may have given the impression that attendance was lower than it really was. Those attendance levels didn’t diminish the after-hours events, and participants enjoyed everything from on-site receptions at the end of the day to meals and entertainment at venues all around Osaka.

As participants headed home to regroup before starting their preparations for Sibos 2013 in Dubai, they could be sure that they’d taken away great learning, innovative ideas and new contacts that the conference continues to provide.

 

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