The future of credit unions is community


Two weeks ago I gave the closing keynote at the Boards of Directors and Supervisory Committees Conference of the U.S. National Association of Federal Credit Unions in the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui, on the topic of Profiting From Technology Trends.

The credit union sector in the U.S outperformed commercial banks after the financial crisis according to the very interesting ILO study Resilience in a downturn: The power of financial cooperatives, moving from 42.8% to 45.0% market penetration to a total over $1 trillion in assets, while in the same post-GFC period credit unions increased their market share in most other regions in the world.
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Updating the newspaper extinction timeline for the Arab world


Yesterday I gave the opening keynote at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, on Creating the Future of Arab Media.

My speech and a series of interviews I did afterwards have received broad coverage, including articles in Al Arabiya, Gulf Today, Huffington Post, Emirates 24/7, Zawya, and Gulf News, as well as interviews on Dubai Eye and Dubai One. I thought it was worth reviewing a few of the major points made.
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Keynote slides: Creating the Future of Arab Media


Tomorrow I am doing the opening presentation at Arab Media Forum in Dubai, the largest and most prestigious conference on media in the Arab world.

The slides to my presentation are below. As always, slides are designed to support my presentation, not to stand alone, but may still be of value even if you didn’t attend my keynote.

In my presentation I cover:
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Future/ media/ social media meetup in Dubai – Wednesday 21 May


I am in Dubai for the next few days to do a keynote at Arab Media Forum on the future of media.

I’d love to catch up with anyone who is interesting in an informal meetup to chat about the future, media, and social media in the Arab world and beyond.

It has been a while since I’ve been in UAE and keen to connect with interesting people and hear what’s happening.

Where: A’Rukn cafe, Souk Madinat Jumeirah (location link)

When: 6-8pm, Wednesday 21 May

Register on Eventbrite

Hope to see you there! Everyone is welcome, feel free to pass on word, whoever turns up will be the right people

Creating a prosperous national future: networks and new industries


Today’s issue of AFR Boss magazine includes highlights of the discussion at the recent first BOSS True Leaders’ Legacy Dinner, where 14 of us had an excellent dinner and debated “how Australia could seize the opportunities of the knowledge economy”.

It was a fantastic and sometimes heated discussion, most enjoyable. The highlights of the conversation are published in the online magazine.

At the outset I said (quotes were severely edited for length):

Ross Dawson: We have over a million Australians who live around the world. This Australian diaspora is a way of linking the extraordinary talent we have in this country to the rest of the planet. Far more than any other country, we must look at digital productivity and what that affords us. Australia in the last six years or so has become a truly networked economy with a network mentality.

As I’ve noted before, entrepreneurial migration is highly valuable in forming global networks.

Australia has come a long, long way in the last 6-8 years in becoming a nation with a true network mentality. This is essential given our geographical isolation. However I am becoming concerned that our progress is not keeping pace with the rest of the world.

Later in the conversation I was quoted:

Ross Dawson: How do we get new levels, layers and structures of capital markets where money gets allocated to the ventures that have the greatest potential financial and social impact? We still have explicit and implicit industrial policy in Australia which is in favour of legacy industries, not the industries of Australia’s future or potential future.

Crowdfunding is just one of range of new capital market structures that are allocating funds to where they can have the most value. National regulation is critical in enabling or disabling these innovative approaches.

The nature of politics is that legacy industries have the funds, clout, and connections to make governments pay attention, while newer industries don’t have the impact or access. Yet they are where our future lie. It is critical that attention – and in some cases resources – are spent on the networked, knowledge-based economy that will bring our future prosperity.

The future of travel: vertical train stations to help the growth of high-speed trains


Today I was interviewed on the Channel 7 Daily Edition about the future of travel. Click on the image below to see a video of the segment.


One of the topics we discussed was a proposed concept of a Hyper-Speed Vertical Train Hub, an interesting idea which allows high speed trains to shift to a vertical configuration as they arrive at a station.

Instead of long carriages the train consists of smaller pods that can stay in upright position as the train shifts to be aligned with the walls of a building, where the passengers can alight.

The primary advantage is that the train station can have a very small footprint, which will be increasingly important when space is at a premium in densely populated urban centers.

High-speed trains are proving to be a vital foundation to China’s infrastructure, providing an example that other countries are increasingly interested in following.

The vertical train hubs concept is not that likely to be implemented, but it is a novel and intriguing approach that just might facilitate the adoption of high-speed trains in major centers.


Image source: Evolo

Presentacion: Creando un Futuro Excepcional para su Negocio


A couple of weeks ago I gave the keynote at sCRM-CEM y Redes Sociales conference in Bogota, Colombia, on the topic of Creando un Futuro Excepcional para su Negocio (Creating an Exceptional Future for your Organization).

Below are my slides translated into Spanish. I used these slides and presented in English with simultaneous translation. I was very pleased to get to Colombia and Peru on this trip as it helped me to begin to revive my rather rusty Spanish, but I’m still quite a way from being able to do a presentation in Spanish. I will work at it, and hopefully get more opportunities to get back to Latin America before long.

Many thanks to Rafael Rodriguez for the excellent translation and all his help for the conference!

More Spanish content coming soon…

Scratch: The enormous value of children’s programming languages


I have been aware for some years of the various programming languages available for children. This evening I decided to have a go with Scratch with my daughters, as Leda is now almost eight, the bottom of the suggested age range for the language.

I was blown away. Scratch has an extremely wide range of capabilities, ranging from very simple animations through to complex conditional loops, all done through extremely easy rearrangement of colored blocks.

Any child would be immediately drawn into what they can do, and simply by playing, learn the principles of programming. Scratch’s originator MIT’s Mitch Resnick tells the story in this TED talk below.

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The role of the futurist as a leader


When I was in Amsterdam recently for client engagements I also gave a keynote to the Dutch Future Society about the role of the futurist.

It was a fascinating evening. Given the audience of futurists and those well engaged with the future, my presentation went further out than usual, and the ensuing conversation went beyond that, to issues including the nature of humanity, the ethics of the future, and more.

After the event I was interviewed by Stephan Verveen. The interview, embedded below, covers quite a few of the points raised during the evening.

Freija van Duijne, President of the Dutch Future Society, also wrote a nice post The role of a futurist, keynote by Ross Dawson which summarized my presentation. She noted:

The role of a futurist as a leader

A futurist’s aim is to encourage leadership on all levels. That is, helping people to think in a rich and structured way about tomorrow in order to act to day. Futurists are involved in sense making, giving people the ability to deal with information. Everyone is overwhelmed by the infinity of signals. Futurists help people to open their minds and think of things that they did not think before.

A vital point here is that the role of the futurist is not to provide outsourced thinking about the future.

The role of the futurist is to help everyone to become their own futurist, to think more broadly, to be open to different ideas, to stimulate and provoke into taking useful action.

We are at a critical juncture in human history, when actions we take – or do not take – today will shape our collective future to an extraordinary degree. The future is not predetermined. By understanding the nature of change we can act to create a better future.

Futurists, in grappling with these issues more than most, have a responsibility to help others to think forward and understand the potential impact of their actions.

In fact, in that all of us need to be our own futurists, we all have a responsibility not just to think about the future and how we will act. We also need to help others to think forward and in turn to act better today.

The case for the death of cash by the hand of digital currencies


Recently I gave the opening keynote at the ATM and Branch Automation Seminar run by Payments Consulting Network.

In my keynote I spoke about the broader trends in technology, society, and business, and then looked at some of the uncertainties impacting ATMs and branches. Clearly one of the most important is the future of cash.

I noted that while I’m happy to predict the timing of the death of newspapers, I’m not prepared to make firm forecasts on the death of cash. The uncertainties are simply too big.

There are many payment mechanisms that are replacing cash, notably mobile wallets and contactless cards, and in many developed countries there is clear evidence that these are beginning to reduce demand for cash.

However this does not mean cash will die.

It is a useful futurist exercise to ask specifically why cash might be resilient and still be used for a long time to come. The more important reasons for people continuing to use cash include:

– Black market. Cash is the preferred means of payment for illegal activities. €1 million in €1,000 notes weighs just over 1kg. Beyond organized crime, the informal economy is often significant, with for example estimates of the share of Italy’s economy that is undeclared ranging as high as 50%.

– Personal anonymity. Many individuals engage in transactions that they don’t want their spouses, for instance, to be aware of, or simply don’t like what they do being tracked by banks, credit agencies, or anyone else.

– Concern about financial system. During the 2008-2009 global financial crisis cash issuance went up substantially, driven by fears that banks were not secure places to hold assets. It is interesting to note that in many countries the amount of cash issued continues to rise, while retail cash transactions start to decrease, suggesting an increasing role of cash as a store of value. As much as 60% of the cash float in Switzerland is in CHF1,000 notes, which are rarely used for purchases.

 Immediacy. Recipients of cash can use the funds immediately, leading to discounts for cash payment. Payment processing is getting faster, often to next-day, and in many countries there is a push for real-time payment processing, however the timeframe and scope for that is not clear.

– Habit. Many people are used to cash and like it.

These are indeed solid reasons for many people to like cash. This would seem to provide ample reason for cash to continue to exist indefinitely.

HOWEVER… it turns out that digital currencies such as Bitcoin have the potential to address almost all of these issues.

Bitcoin provides anonymous, immediate transactions. It is transacted entirely outside financial institutions.

Its existence and value is independent of governments that issue fiat currencies. As trust in governments’ financial situations erode, this suggests that people will seek to move away existing currencies.

The last few years’ experience suggest that Bitcoin is a solid, well-tested platform. If we start to get critical mass in acceptance of Bitcoin and well-designed mobile and web Bitcoin wallets it is absolutely possible for it to be a significant rival to cash for peer-to-peer payments.

On the point of habit, it is worth noting that people wanting something doesn’t mean that it will be available. Just as demand for printed newspapers doesn’t mean that there is an economic model for printing them, cash will only have value if people or shops still want to accept it.

Just as check processing systems are likely to be shut down as check usage drops to sufficiently low levels, if cash usage erodes enough, many retailers may not want to accept it and it may not be worth continuing to support as a payment mechanism.

There are however three major challenges for Bitcoin completely replacing cash.

– Volatility. If Bitcoin gathers greater acceptance, given there is a finite number of possible Bitcoins, there will undoubtedly be price overshooting as people join the system, and subsequent price adjustment. As a result, it is highly unlikely that Bitcoin prices will stablize for the foreseeable future. Since one of the major uses of cash is as a store of value outside of the financial system, Bitcoin will not meet those needs well.

– Ease of use. Buying, storing, and transacting Bitcoin can be complex and unwieldy. For broad-based uptake of Bitcoin extremely easy-to-use interfaces to the currency would be required.

– Government regulation. The Canadian tax office recently released a fact sheet on Bitcoin; other government agencies are beginning to grapple with the many implications of Bitcoin’s rapidly rising usage. It is possible that some governments will seek to effectively ban Bitcoin, or regulate it to a degree that makes it unattractive to many people. It can still be valuable to those who seek anonymity, however it could never be a de-facto currency if it is not within regulated use.

This is of course a very simple analysis, and there are many other issues to consider. However there remains a real case that cash could in fact die – or have very low levels of usage – before long. The very important reasons listed above for cash to continue could all be massively eroded by digital currencies.

In short, digital currencies such as Bitcoin MAY be enormously disruptive to cash and payments. The thought experiment is very useful, though uncertainties still abound.

Payments are at the heart of business and society, and it matters enormously if they fundamentally change. There are many other dimensions to the changing payments space, and I will be closely following its evolution.