A fintech review of SXSW

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Your Financial Revolutionist was at the SXSW (or “South By”(SX) to those in the know) festival last week, and as always, it was an experience. The event is one of the biggest in the world, with some 70,000 people descending on Austin, Texas for the week-long business and cultural shindig.

But if you’re in the fintech industry, it can be a bit overwhelming. The vast majority of those 70,000-odd people attending are not related to anything financial technology-oriented. The key is finding that small percentage attending that are from the fintech world – typically a who’s-who of emerging and well-established companies, as well as leading investors. So how do you know what panels to attend, what parties to go to and which people to seek out? It can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Luckily, we’re here to give you the lowdown from SX, as it pertains to fintech.

Unsurprisingly, much of the fintech-related discussion centered on the usual hot topics of the day, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, diversity and the unbanked. On the financial inclusion front, the ability for technology to democratize financial access was a big point of discussion; one panel featuring fintech luminaries such as Ladder CEO Jamie Hale discussed how technology has increased access to financial services, particularly for communities that have been historically left behind. EarnUp was another company we had our eye on for bringing financial inclusion to low income consumers. And apropos of International Women’s Day falling during the event, we heard from several panels on the benefits of inclusion and increasing female representation in the business world.

Authenticating and securing identity in the digital age was also a big topic (and one we’ve covered in the past) and we were glad to see several interesting firms operating in this area, including Civic Technologies, which seeks to create a blockchain-based global digital identity platform. We especially approve of their blockchain-powered beer vending machine.

The SXSW Pitch event was also the place to be to see the next generation of cutting-edge startups. We saw demos on how AI can be used in the future of electronic trading, transportation and medical diagnosis. And how advanced analytics technology can help businesses harness “smart data” in any number of ways. Of course, we have to mention cryptocurrency, which was also much-discussed, including at a panel featuring the Winklevii Twins (who operate their own crypto platform, Gemini) extolling the virtues of Bitcoin and other cryptos.  

SX also attracts a number of investors looking for the next big thing. In that vein, there was big news from The Omidyar Network, announcing it was creating an impressive new fintech-focused venture firm called Flourish who ran a flurry of impressive gatherings each morning. And there were great conversations at SX and around Austin with leading VCs, such as David Blumberg (Blumberg Capital), Aaron Jacobson (NEA), Hans Morris (Nyca), Vik Sasi (Dreamers) and Ryan Falvey (Financial Venture Studio) – along with VC arms of industry stalwart’s Verizon, GE and Comcast.

And lastly, we have to mention the networking (a/k/a parties), which were aplenty. Some centered around CBD/cannabis, while others had robots and DJs. Staying closer to home (and our reality), Capital Factory’s startup crawl is always worth exploring and The Fintech Luminaries event is a must-attend, and the FR was proud to partner.

All in all it was a whirlwind, and we look forward to doing it all again next year!

Robert Jaeger

Rob provides high-level consulting and advisory services to assist C-level management teams with product strategy and development, operational strategy, business development and technology enhancements. He currently advises several early-stage Fintech companies. Previously, Rob was a Managing Director at Markit, where he led the equity division. He joined Markit after a successful exit (via IP sale) of ETF Consulting Group, which he founded after working as a proprietary trader at Goldman Sachs and portfolio manager at WG Trading Company. Rob received his B.A. in Finance from Washington University in St. Louis.