Ghela Boskovich has focused on business development and futureproofing through making the financial service industry more flexible, customer-centric, adaptive and creative, while being an avid supporter of inclusiveness, diversity and the creating of strong communities in FinTech and Financial Services.
You have a background in art history, marketing and economics. Your Art History Master’s thesis was Pointillism as a revolt against Industrial Revolution. Could you elaborate more on the relationship between art and the banking industry, from a socioeconomic point of view?
– I do think art is a representation of the socioeconomic and political morals and values of the time, and it is an opportunity to express conformity or revolt against it. In terms of what I looked at from Pointillism, it was a direct revolt against the industrial revolution and the mass production of products that were all very similar. Pointillism was a movement against this, for example with Seurat, where he was taking an individual point that made an entire composition, and instead of saying ‘I’m going to produce a factory line and I’m going to make this efficient’, he said ‘I’m actually going to recognise the importance of each component of the masterpiece’.
When it comes to banking and financial services these days, art is interesting as an expression of that, because it has moved to the multimedia world. We have the opportunity to express it verbally, visually, physically… and we see it through video, through virtual reality, through canvas and paintings and print media; we hear it in songs. Banking is also going through a change in models.
There’s a similarity now in terms of how we see, produce and consume art and the way we’re starting to see how we can produce – not even produce, but manage, control and transact and shift – commerce and money. So I think there’s a direct relationship with how creativity will also help shape the banking model, so art has a direct impact by inspiring creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
You founded FemTechGlobal to bridge the gender gap in FinTech and the financial services industry. What are the main premises the network is built upon, and what are its biggest successes and challenges?
– FemTech is about connecting diverse ideas, in fact its premises is: diversity of perspective leads to better solutions. Part of the challenge in the industry is that there is a fundamental gender gap. I don’t want to focus just on gender, though. I think there is a lack of difference. When you have similar people with similar backgrounds and experiences and viewpoints, there is no way you can arm yourself with the tools to adapt to outside pressures or to where the market is going. So the network itself is about actually providing a platform for people to share their different thoughts and experiences and perspectives. This allows those differences to have a voice at the table and have an influence on the way we start to shape policy or business models. I think it’s one of the most important things; it’s almost an insurance policy. Diversity is an insurance policy against dying out. And the banking industry needs an injection of that.
I do think that in terms of where FinTech is going, it’s no longer a challenger, but rather a collaborator.
So, in what direction do you think FinTech will advance in this context?
– I think that one of the challenges for FinTech is in terms of funding for women specifically. Women receive seven per cent of venture capital and investment funding to launch start-ups and technology. Women of colour receive 0.2% of funding. And the funny thing is that this is blocking the evolution of the industry. So, part of the challenge in allowing FinTech to really take off is finding the right way for people who have incredible ideas to get access to the funding they need to build them. If FinTech or the Tech industry alone doesn’t shift the way it starts to distribute its appetite for risk and investment, then I think it’s going to go the way all single-faceted industries go – down the drain.
I do think that, in terms of where FinTech is going, it’s no longer a challenger, but rather a collaborator. FinTech, by the way, may have only been a hashtag for a few years, but it has always existed. I call the abacus FinTech, as a small piece of technology that allows us to count and calculate differently, calculators are also FinTech… FinTech is kind of one of those things that has existed in one form or another forever, but its opportunities are going to be limited if we don’t diversify.
When it comes to cryptocurrencies, one of bitcoin’s earliest contributors has now written it off as a failed experiment. Would you agree or disagree on that? Is bitcoin more important as a catalyser for innovation than as a currency?
– One of the challenges around bitcoin is how it’s perceived in the marketplace. I think it’s not a failed experiment, because we’ve learned about how to transform currency into a digital space and we’ve learned that we can drive the operational costs of transactions closer to zero by turning them into a digital currency. I think there are advantages of looking at bitcoin from a token perspective, from a provenance perspective, and from an ease of use and exchange perspective.
I don’t think bitcoin per se will necessarily gain traction in the next five years as a legitimate or more legitimate type of currency, but I do think that banks and certainly central governments will start to look at digital currencies like bitcoin as an easier way of recording and accounting transactions.
Today, nearly every global bank is experimenting with blockchain technology, it has the potential to transform healthcare and Dubai aims to become the world’s first “blockchain-powered government”. What an exciting time! But are there some bigger challenges when it comes to this type of technology in your opinion?
– I think everyone loves the blockchain, but it’s overhyped. Dubai may be looking to do the first fully integrated government on the blockchain, but Luxembourg has its own particular initiative called InfraChain, where they’re definitely looking at using distributed ledger technology across the board. I look at Estonia, which also has an incredibly digital government. And experiments along this line of moving government towards either a distributed ledger or a fully digital stack are kind of mandatory now.
But my primary fixation around blockchain is not about the blockchain itself, but rather about how we choose to record and what we choose to record on the chain. I think the more interesting thing is what are we putting out there, and one of the primary challenges is how do we maintain the privacy of transactions. One of the things that is of interest to me right now is zero knowledge proof, the concept of how we actually put something out there that has been consented to by both or all parties in the transaction, that can be verified by the regulator, but that still maintains the privacy and integrity that we require for transactions.
Banks can learn from FinTechs how to be more agile and more adaptive, and FinTechs can learn from banks about risk assessments and focusing more on the business objective aspect.
As banks are also more and more interested in blockchain technology, they often partner with (smaller) FinTech start-ups. What can banks learn from start-ups; and what can start-ups learn from banks?
– Banks can learn from FinTechs how to be more agile and more adaptive, as well reducing the barriers for entry into working with banks, looking at simplifying requirements to work with start-ups, looking at smaller POS that can be executed very quickly, to think in terms of agile methodology and to actually adopt it. Also, banks can adopt design thinking methodology, which hasn’t been the case in terms of the processes and procedures that are part of a bank’s workflow in order to get projects launched and to get IT integrated etc.
I think FinTechs can learn about risk assessment from banks. Fintech’s need to understand that they need to have a solution with a very high impact; it can’t just be a pretty frontend customer experience; the solution has to fundamentally provide efficiency. FinTechs are sometimes not speaking the same language from the perspective of business objective, as they are sometimes so obsessed with the technology they’re looking at that they forget the business objective aspect, so they can learn from banks to really pay attention to this.
Banks can learn from FinTechs how to be more agile and more adaptive, and FinTechs can learn from banks about risk assessments and focusing more on the business objective aspect
You are Head of FinTech & RegTech Partnerships at Rainmaking, home of StartupBootCamp. There you help teams launch, pivot and scale new businesses. What are your favourite parts of this job, and what are some of the challenges?
– My favourite part in putting together partnerships for FinTech and RegTech programmes is actually bringing together banks that seemingly have competitive issues, and actually putting them together in a room and really getting to the heart of some common problems that the industry is facing. The other fun thing is looking at emerging technologies and watching the evolution of an idea come to a solution, and really watching those entrepreneurs have that lightbulb moment, where they get what a solution could be or how they picture the potential future. That’s really fun.
The challenges are, as you know, that there are lot of great ideas that haven’t been built, but there are also a lot of great ideas in existence that are in a growth stage space for start-ups that don’t have opportunity to get in and talk to those banks. If there is a way to build a bridge, where we can collect the right solutions to the use cases for the banks, then that matchmaking is what’s challenging, but also incredibly satisfying to see. So, I think the favourite part for me is watching solutions meet problems and seeing problems get solved.
What are some of the FinTech and RegTech start-ups you would guess could make a big impact, or that you would recommend we follow up with in the future? What are the most interesting ones to you?
– I think there are a few that I find interesting and they deal with identity and deal with privacy. One of them is a company called QED-IT, which is a trustless audit platform that looks at how to maintain privacy on the blockchain, and not necessarily just the blockchain, but how to maintain privacy and proofs. I look at companies like Scannovate, which is a KYC AML, but also identity management, which I find really interesting. I look at AI, Nexus AI and Cognition X as companies in that space that are quite interesting. I pay attention to emerging machine learning solutions. One of my preoccupations lately is coding for bias in AI, and that biased data that we train machine learning on, how do we fix that and other companies addressing the bias aspect of AI machine learning.
More on the RegTech side is what I’m most interested in. That happens to be around people, happens to be around privacy and happens to be around looking at your cash flow, which are some of the things to which I pay attention.
When it comes to microloans, how do you feel about them? Can technology help here, for instance in developing countries?
– Absolutely! I think microlending is incredibly important, and from a financial inclusion perspective it’s a key entry point to encourage community growth and entrepreneurship. And when you say microloans, we really are talking about microloans. But it’s also a way to get someone included in the system and to start giving them a credit transaction history. Giving them access to funds is incredibly important, so I think microlending is crucial.
I think it’s also incredibly important to look at financial inclusion as a safety net for banks, which have a market to serve and a need to broaden that market. And, frankly, everybody wins when you bring more people into the system.
Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution ~ Nabokov. This is a quote from your Twitter profile. Could you elaborate more on the thought?
– Ideas are a lot more dangerous than say action, or revolution. Why? Because they are actually at the heart of revolution. In fact, I don’t think you can have a revolution without revelation. An idea is the genesis of everything. In fact, actions are only ideas being expressed, put into motion, activity based on ideas. If one wants to change the system, one has to address the ideas of the system. Revolution doesn’t have to be painful either. Start with an idea, play with that idea, watch it change, watch it take shape and then let it do its work. Revolution can be easy if you start with the right idea.
Disruption says what you’ve done is fundamentally wrong, while collaboration says this is working, but can work better. So, I tend to avoid the word disruption. I think it’s overused, while I think collaboration is a lot gentler word, but also a more productive word
In the start-up world people use the term “disrupt” a lot, though it has a kind of negative note. How does this relate to these ideas in different ways to have a revolution in a more subtle way?
– That’s interesting, because disrupt does have that very negative connotation. It says that what was before was wrong, it wasn’t working, it wasn’t right. And I think it also says that we want fundamental change. Disruption doesn’t have to be that fundamental, it can simply be: “I’m redirecting you by a single degree on your path, and you end up in a very, very different destination”. Disruption says what you’ve done is fundamentally wrong, while collaboration says this is working, but can work better. So, I tend to avoid the word disruption. I think it’s overused, while I think collaboration is a lot gentler word, but also a more productive word.
Don’t tell me you’re disrupting, tell me that you’re collaborating, tell me you’re working together, tell me that you’re venturing on this together, and I’ll pay more attention to you than if you tell me you’re disrupting.