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GSG account director Matt Kussman spent last week in Austin, TX navigating the multifaceted SXSW conference & festivals.

While other participants caught live music performances and movie premieres, Matt’s schedule was filled with presentations and breakout sessions focused on Financial Services, FinTech and Blockchain. Now that he’s back, we sat down with him to find out what the experience was like, and what his biggest takeaways were when it comes to innovation and the future of the banking industry.

Tell us about SXSW! What was it like? How was it to attend the conference with a focus on Financial Services, FinTech and Blockchain, vs. music or art?

The SXSW experience was unlike anything I’ve experienced from a ‘business conference’ perspective. There were more breakout sessions around specific areas of interest than one person could attend. It was a very networking friendly crowd where everyone was there to learn, build relationships, and grow their knowledge in specific areas. Never have I seen a crowd so collectively open, friendly, and transparent about their companies, roles and reasons for being there.

For a conference known primarily as a music and film festival, there is a strong misconception that this is all it is. Being there from a Financial Services background allowed me to learn more in our industry then I could have ever imagined. From sessions around Banking Regulations to up and coming FinTech companies, to the digital workforce and gig economy, and finally around Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, I was able to ask specific questions and learn more about all of these topics in a small group setting when the sessions ended. Almost every speaker provided their contact information and recommended if I ever had questions to contact them directly after the conference.

What was your favorite experience?

My favorite experience was a session called “Be the Blockchain: A Game Experience for Newcomers”. In this 3-hour session we were grouped in specific tables and walked through the entire start to finish process of how Blockchain technology works. We were physically interacting with other groups as if we were all ‘nodes’ on the Blockchain and step by step were shown how the tool works, how information is received and validated and how bad actors can try to manipulate the platform, only to be shown why this cannot happen on a Blockchain. The hands on approach and small group setting allowed for a lot of Q&A, learning, and ‘aha’ moments around the technology.

What are some emerging trends in the financial services/fintech space?

There were 3-4 major trends or consistent topics of discussion in the sessions and breakouts I attended:

  1. There are no current platforms/technology that truly help the underserved and the under banked. Today it is too expensive for financial institutions to provide them services because of how the system is structured, and there is a lot of opportunity for growth in this arena.
  2. The payments market is ripe for disruption and intermediaries better be prepared (especially in cross border payments).
  3. Blockchain is still in it’s infancy. It is still very expensive, but eventually that cost will go down. No one has perfected the use of the technology and scalability, reliability and security in the space is needed for it to grow and flourish. We do not know what these new technologies will be to help streamline Blockchain and bring it to the mainstream but that is what is exciting as well.
  4. Millennials have overtaken baby boomers in disposable income and over 63% of them do not own a credit card. For millenials, trust is the most important thing they look for in the financial space and they are incredibly loyal and vocal when they find a tool that works for them.

What are some of your biggest takeaways?

One of my biggest personal takeaways is that Blockchain is still very young and unknown. While it is being discussed and used today it is still going to be years until it really is refined to benefit the masses. The internet, and the collection of our personal data, is going to be changing dramatically through Blockchain and other platforms including Solid. Soon we will be able to own our own data, store it and offer/grant access to specific industries/companies the data that they need, not want, and we will also be paid for it.

Secondly, intermediaries throughout financial services will continue to be disrupted more and more each day. I’d expect to see significant change and growth in areas including mortgage processes, appraisals, payments, credit scores, etc, as there is room for all of these areas to be streamlined, simplified and much more transparent.

Any advice for someone considering attending SxSW next year?

SxSW was a whirlwind, but there are ways to approach it to make the experience more manageable and valuable. My biggest tips would be:

  1. Plan ahead, build a schedule, and have back up sessions identified, in case your first choice option is full.
  2. Utilize the SXXPasses to RSVP for 3 events 24 hours in advance, which holds your spot at specific sessions.
  3. Sign up for the mentor sessions that are offer by industry experts, these create opportunity for 1:1 meetings with people, so you can really connect.
  4. Map out where you are planning to go, there is a lot going on and sessions can be blocks or miles apart.
  5. Stick around after the sessions to hear informal Q&As with session attendees.

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