Archive for May, 2013

Unified Field Theory redux or The Internet of Things: Education & Training

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Our family is in the midst of the university evaluation process for our younger son. This statement in no way describes the frustration and disappointment of this byzantine and nearly unreliable methods for trying to figure out how to best educate a child to compete in the global economy. (is this even the purpose of advanced education?). The methods and mores of fast food merchandising seem to have permeated the presentations by our own candidate colleges.

I’ve known that the value of college loans exceeds that of credit card debt and that credit card debt exceeds the total of mortgage debt in the US. Now I know how and why. During one college visit, I mentioned to its representative that $60,000 per year for a four year programs “is a lot of money; it doesn’t matter who you are.” She looked directly at me, paused for two beats and replied,”then you should probably know that most children take 5 or 6 years to graduate.” We calculated on the ride to the hotel that borrowing $40,000 over four years would result in a $250 per month payment for about 20 years. Continued assumption of such debt cannot persist.

And it’s all going to change and here’s how. I hope that you’ve heard of Coursera and the emerging world of Massive On-Line Open Curriculum. After all, what’s the difference between sitting at home in front of an iMac or in the back of the auditorium where the graduate assistant lectures to 300 in English 101?

Education and training, both formal and on the job, will be accessible as required and provided by those who are in the best position to educate. This could be a colleague, an expert from afar or even a machine who understands our needs. I think of Siri on the iPhone.

Our college-aged children have grown-up with tools for information access that were the stuff of science fiction when I was at that age. I was taught how to use the library, a quest for the information. Sources were limited. This is not their problem. They want to know what does it mean and how is this information best applied to them as individuals.


There are several warning signs of over-stimulation, inability to focus and just too much information hovering about the young student. Or else, teenagers are really still just teenagers. For now, let’s look at the good. They are able to follow their own threads of interest and learning. They can study at nearly any time of the day or week, i.e. the library is always open. They can collaborate with others from far away and at nearly no extra cost. They can travel in time by accessing videos of people and places that may no longer be with us.

Children, thanks to their own lifetimes of technology interaction, know how to access information. They require practical experience with emphasis on how to and when to apply this information. If basics are required, they’ll develop the building blocks at home taught by appealing instructors via the Internet. When hands-on experience is required, they’ll venture to that location. I doubt if any one of the presently structured university locations will will be able to offer it all, no matter how many latte bars or trimesters abroad that are promoted.

I envision a near future where the well rounded will describe their educations as a mixture of on campus, on line, practical experience and self-directed travel. They will be able to demonstrate skills based upon interest and learning. Expensively achieved degrees will not matter much to them or as much to their futures.

Unified Field Theory redux or The Internet of Things: Healthcare

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Is it all falling apart or is it finally coming together or is it all coming together dangerously fast? In the international banking executive briefings that I attend, usually as a moderator, better received are the discussions that portray technology trends in the financial sector within the context of “what are others doing?”

These others often include an examination of the success stories in retail such as the Apple Retail Store; uses of technology in education and training. Overall, most briefing clients are interested in what trends and likely outcomes influence the clients of US banks.

This and the two following blog posts summarize what I’ve observed will affect the behaviors of the clients of US banks which, in turn, will affect what banks do. What banks do is important to each of us even if few of us are enamored with our bank.

Healthcare: I attended a Duke University medical conference in April with a broad range of senior and experienced industry representatives. How dire is the healthcare funding model in the US? $40 trillion to 60 trillion unfunded is a safe range for analysis. How much is that? One million seconds will pass in the next 12 days; 1 trillion seconds will pass in the next 33,000 years making unlikely our capability to save for this eventuality. Prevention, thereby reducing need, is the sole solution for this particular fiscal cliff as much sooner than later we will be out of money for correcting what ails people.

Prevention will take 3 forms: 1) Home Healthcare. Examples were offered where insurance firms proactively fund home modification, e.g. moving the bedroom from upstairs to the main level of the home before the accident. Such a measure is less expensive than repairing the injuries that result from contending with stairs at an advanced age. 2) Mobile Medical Devices. Our phones (I wonder how much longer that they will be used for voice conversations) track where we are, like it or not; they may as well track how we are and they are plenty of such apps in either in Apple or Android Stores for using our mobile phones to measure elements of our individual health. Just as “ET phoned home”, our phones will monitor us and call for help before we even know that we need to. 3) Genomic Mapping. It’s almost a matter of ‘Privacy be Damned’ but there is no point in waiting until we’re too old to navigate the stairs or for the cell phone to contact the hospital if a predisposition to a serious ailment could be avoided. There will have to be many changes in employment laws and a wholesale reformation of insurance regulations to give the individual confidence in such sensitive revelations. To the MDs in the Duke audience, this mapping approach will be the most effective in providing care for all without requiring it all.


Finovate San Francisco: lots of ideas and energy

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Seventy-two companies presented over two days in a format of 7 minute demos. That’s all, folks. Then the microphone and lights are turned-off. I sorted the 72 topics as follows. Please know that one company could fit into a couple of these categories:

Investment-19; Personal Financial Management (PFM)-18; Payments-15; Mobile Banking-15; Lending-10; Security-10; Cards, credit or other- 9; Identity, e.g. fraud prevention- 7; Small Business focus- 6; Rewards- 4; Back Office-2.

Voted Best in Show: FamZoo, LendUp, Money Desktop (3 time Finovate winner) , PayNearMe, Tip Ranks. A roster of PFM, Underbanked, Mobile PFM, Payments (for the underbanked, imo) and crowd-sourced Investment advice.

I especially liked P2B Investor if only for their courage (“I’m here to fund your brains out” and distributed such tee shirts to remind us of this slogan) and the quality of their presentation. Even in this intense format, a couple of presenters will take 7 minutes to tell a four minute story. P2B’s demo was friendly and to the point: crowd-sourcing for purchased receivables.

Also of note was Intuit’s, now the owner of, foray into the small and medium business marketplace.

I’m impressed by the persistence of PFM and Payments demonstrations; the waning of Rewards as I guess that all merchants either figured-out that Groupon benefits mainly Groupon or that coupons can be issued by nearly anyone if one seeks that ‘nearly everyone’ market. What do I mean? Merchants determined that Groupon either attracts one-timers because of the daily deal or existing clients happy for a discount. There are only small increases in the attraction of new and continuing clients. In short, not worth the hassle and cost.

Back Office brings up the rear as though the magic of reliable, secure and available transaction processing is best left to unnamed others. Kind of the electricity or gas-pump model. It’s just there when needed. I feel that presenters should address their back-end integration schemes. To me, partnering with these bold and clever start-ups would be a way for the trusted and unknown Back Office / IT companies to freshen and to revive their brand images. These start-ups may not frighten the enterprise and a gap is widening.

From a couple of big bank execs, I heard the following dismissal, “How are they (the presenting companies) going to make money?” Maybe true and a scan of the alumni list may surprise. Recalls the M&A executive who in 2008 declined a now wished-for acquisition because “How can anybody make money in mobile?”

Large enterprise take-aways from the presenters at Finovate: 1) the design of a mobile banking experience, not to mention the functions available on a large bank’s mobile site, can look interesting, inviting and even fun. No requirement to look like and do like everybody else looks and does. 2) the voted Best in Show at Finovate offer insight into the large swath of Millennials in today’s work force and in the customer bases of all banks. They care about ease of use, social responsibility and they’re likely to prefer the advice of a wide range of unknown and like-minded over the branded professional financial advisor. 3) Technically savvy customers are willing to exchange a measure of personal information, aka privacy, for a just measure of personal value. Location Awareness, photo sharing et al is only the beginning.

Each of the 72 in the Finovate pageant attempts to reduce or to contend with the too often frustrating complexity of understanding and managing our financial affairs. The right ideas are hard to discern; the inevitable result is not.

I attended Finovate Spring in San Francisco

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

I still love San Francisco and evermore so. The notion of “another time, another chance” even though I had a time and a chance as this city was my first duty station in the Navy. Imagine the Era pre-PC, pre-Apple, pre-Google Maps! The biggest change that I detect is that Market Street and the now chic SoMA, South of Market (Street), was then the border between reward and risk. Back then an apartment on Telegraph Hill went for $350; and a house in Oakland rented for $275. That’s right. All pre-Internet.

I enjoy Finovate for numerous reasons and did so before my wife’s studio received the chance to design an app for the Conference. The venues are interesting and stimulating: a former fish market in London and a furniture market in San Francisco (SoMa). The foods are varied and delicious: Seattle coffee; fresh pastries; healthy snacks; many kinds of beverages; and a long networking cocktail hour.

The purpose of Finovate is to introduce new ideas in finance. Attendees represent the 72 presenting companies, a healthy mix of investment types and a sprinkling of larger firms who might adopt these new ideas. The best part of the venue is that presenters are only permitted to demo; they are not allowed to show slides or chart-ware. What a relief! And each presenter is permitted a maximum of 7 minutes to excite the audience.

Having attended four Finovates, I look for patterns and new concepts. A great gulf exists between the concepts of the start-up companies and the assurances of performance required by the large financial enterprise. I suggest to my own banking clients that Finovate is worth attending even if the following rule of mine is accurate: 30% of the ideas are uninspiring; 30% could be achieved within 180 days by nearly any firm with a competent technical department; 30% of the ideas intrigue and cause one to wonder what what might be the consequences if that idea took hold.

In a separate post, I’ll sort the presenters and ideas with my own commentary.



Northern Movements by Yvette Brown

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Arrived a little early for a luncheon appointment at 425 Market Street in San Francisco. Saw a ‘multi canvas construction’ then read the artist’s description reprinted below.

My own most memorable dream is of flying; I’ve even awoke convinced that I actually did! “Structure ….. is an illusion.” “We are all bodies in motion, flowing around and over the rigid boundaries we try to erect.” Also helps to explain the behavior and impulses of our teenage son.

“My work is about the deep psychological and physical responses people have to motion. I create images that tap into the rich vein that lies between our dreams of flying and our nightmares of falling out of control.

My paintings hover somewhere along the invisible line of tension between awkwardness and grace. I strive to capture the frozen moment in which balance is either lost or regained. I tend to avoid faces because they give too much away. I want to leave more for the viewer to interpret. Is a figure filled with the elation of soaring? Or is there a violence bubbling just beneath the veneer of beauty? It all depends on what we bring of ourselves to the viewing.

I often break my figures up into multi-canvas construction of varying depths in an attempt to contain aspects of the image- much in the same way that each of us tries to impose some kind of structure on the chaos of our lives. But that structure, as hard-edged as we try to make it, is an illusion. It distorts the picture we present of ourselves in ways that can be both flattering and grotesque.

But the truth is that, like the figures I paint, we are all bodies in motion, flowing around and over the rigid boundaries we try to erect. Life is not so easily contained. This is not such a bad thing.”

-Yvette M. Brown

Blue Pane Studio delivers 4th app for Finovate Conferences

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Finovate SF

Enhancements are: Trip Report feature; Contact Presenter; Ratings; Tagging.