The essence of a FinTech team

Along my short career I find myself wondering what the keys to success are. I have come to the realization that though the media will tell us stories of successful individuals, few key inventions were conceptualized and industrialized by just one person. So what makes a successful team and how would you put one together?

Along my short career I find myself wondering what the keys to success are. I have come to the realization that though the media will tell us stories of successful individuals, few key inventions were conceptualized and industrialized by just one person. So what makes a successful team and how would you put one together?

The idealist within me wishes that I could provide a recipe for the ideal FinTech team. I would like to be able to say in order to revolutionize the world you need 5 analysts, 10 developers and 17 Data scientists but this still wouldn’t guarantee success. So what is the essence of a Fintech team? I may not have all the answers but I do think there are some common elements in truly successful teams.


The word purpose is over used but misunderstood. The true meaning of the word took on a new meaning when described by Viktor Frankl in his 1946 classic, “Man’s Search for Meaning” within the context of a World War 2 prisoner camp. Viktor was a neurologist and psychiatrist who was captured and lived in a prisoner of war camp. He shares his observation on the elements of motivation and depression that he observed in his fellow prisoners.  Personally I think Viktor does a better job at explaining it than I could.

Viktor explains that the reason people survived the Holocaust is they had something else to live for, a true purpose. Sometimes this was as simple as a desire to see their family again, in other cases it was more complex. It is this motivation by purpose is that I believe galvanizes a team.

Salim Ismail insists that all start-ups set a multi transformational purpose. These purpose statements need so be short and to the point so that there is no room for misinterpretation. If your purpose cannot be stated in one sentence, then it has not been distilled into its essence. This helps focus all team members at the same goal. Most importantly it means that all team members should believe in the purpose. Getting this right is almost impossible but I would be willing to bet that successful teams have gotten this right. My memory takes me back to South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team who went through the entire tournament with the purpose statement of “one team, one nation.” A purpose that resonates so strongly in all individuals within the team makes it impossible to fail.


I was in awe of these start-up stories outlining how a group of people started a multi-billion-dollar company in their garage.  In the past few years I found myself in the proverbial garage of multiple different acquaintances and friends, it was only then that I realized what was driving this behavior. I found myself drawn to this group merely because we were enjoying the hard work and the time we were spending with each other. It is easier to accomplish a complicated and long goal when you have good people around you that you connect with. I’m not at all saying that you need to be best friends with all your team members but I do believe that you need to find some commonality to have a human connection.

What about skills?

I’m am by no means diminishing the need for skilled people in your team. I am however making an assertion that even if you have the best skills, without a purpose and connected team you are doomed to fail. Pay more attention to the qualitative things when setting up the team. The things we take for granted like the feeling when you walk through the office doors, the vibe in the room, the “nice to have” social interactions.

So I guess my recipe is this:

Find a purpose that resonates with you. Then find a group of people that you can connect with. If the purpose resonates with your team, I believe you have a good chance of success.

by Tyrone Naidoo

Link to video:

The Evolution of Money – Part 2

The emergence of crypto instruments has allowed digital monetary value to be held without the need for a trusted intermediary for the first time in history. Crypto currencies – the most common type of crypto instrument today – such as Bitcoin, Ether, and many others demonstrate this fact.

(This is a continuation of my earlier blog: The Evolution of Money – Part 1)

The emergence of crypto instruments has allowed digital monetary value to be held without the need for a trusted intermediary for the first time in history. Crypto currencies – the most common type of crypto instrument today – such as Bitcoin, Ether, and many others demonstrate this fact. Anyone who owns crypto currency has a unique private key (akin to a password) that allows the owner (and only the owner) to mathematically “unlock” or spend the value at an associated public address (akin to an account number). The ledger that records the amount of crypto currency at any particular public address is maintained by a network of computers (called nodes) that run a consensus algorithm to ensure that they are all synchronised.

The ingenuity of this network of nodes working together to validate transactions (and reject any double-spending) is that the multitude of nodes ensures that there is no dependence on any single one to ensure the integrity of the ledger. This is a powerful concept – the way to remove a trusted intermediary is not to get rid of the intermediary, but to increase the number of intermediaries that are maintaining the same ledger so that trust in any particular intermediary is no longer needed. Dependence on any single intermediary reduces as the network grows, and indeed the term “intermediary” starts to become inappropriate and even inaccurate.

To understand the financial world’s fascination with crypto currency and blockchain, we have to examine the nature of money. The traditional textbook definition of money refers to its three major functions in society: a means of exchange; a unit of account; and a store of value. Interrogating this further, however, it becomes apparent that all three functions relate to the concept of money representing value. After all, why accept money as a means of exchange for something else of value unless one believes the money has at least the value of what it was traded for? And a unit of account that measures the value of other products needs to possess value itself, otherwise it would be abandoned as a unit of account (as we have seen in any economy that has witnessed hyperinflation). So if the functions of money boil down to the value it possesses, what determines the value of money?

Six characteristics determine how effectively money performs the functions mentioned above and in turn determine its value. These characteristics are:

  1. Durability – if money is meant to store value and does not last long itself, it cannot function as a very good store of value;
  2. Portability – to facilitate trade, money needs to be very portable, and costs associated with transferring it from one party to another diminish its function as money;
  3. Fungibility – a unit of money should be exactly the same as any other unit, otherwise time and energy would be consumed in comparing tokens rather than promoting trade;
  4. Divisibility – the smallest unit of money must be worth less than every other tradable asset, otherwise another token of money would need to be used to trade something worth less than the smallest unit of money;
  5. Scarcity – the oversupply of any commodity brings its value down, and in the extreme case, where something is overly abundant, it cannot be used to trade for other scarce resources; and
  6. Acceptability – money is accepted because the recipient believes it will be accepted by others when he/she wants to spend it. Without the belief that money will be accepted by others in the future, it would cease to be money.

Crypto currency is a better performing form of money (versus physical cash and digital money) in two significant ways: (1) It is more durable (it’s backed up by many more servers across institutions than traditional digital money that is backed up only by the servers of an individual bank); and (2) it is more portable (as it is more seamless to move money on a single decentralised ledger than across different centralised ledgers). Money is supposed to be the most frictionless asset in society, and crypto currency is the most frictionless form of money to date.

The Evolution of Money – Part 3 coming soon!

by Farzam Ehsani








Design Indaba made me do it –

This was the mantra for the 22nd annual Design Indaba conference, hosted by the beautiful city of Cape Town at the Artscape theater.

This was the mantra for the 22nd annual Design Indaba conference, hosted by the beautiful city of Cape Town at the Artscape theater.

The Design Indaba Conference has grown to become one of the world’s leading design events and hosts more than 40 speakers and 2 500 delegates. It draws creatives from all spheres and industries to come together under one roof to share knowledge, inspire and to collaborate with one another.

We talked, mingled and networked; filing our inspiration tanks. There were graffiti artists, dj’s, musicians, sculptors and various sponsor pop-ups and activation units, inviting us into this world of endless possibility and creativity.

Contrary to current perception, Design Indaba is not a conference ONLY for creatives – it is for everyone, from any field of expertise that would like to ignite their senses and intrigue their minds. It’s a jam packed 3 days and I believe that there is something that will speak to anyone’s core. This year was my first Design Indaba and it was a truly immersive experience, exceeding all my expectations.

The main highlight for me, wasn’t the skill or talent of all these amazing people (even though that was incredible) – but rather their thinking, this really stood out to me; they took us on a journey through the lens and into their magical minds!

Ultimately, Design Indaba wants to change the thinking of the world, one conference at a time, one creative at a time, and one business at a time.

It will take a generation of creative thinkers and implementers to see a turnaround. Design Indaba’s primary aim therefore is “to advance the cause of design as a communication fundamental, a business imperative and a powerful tool in industry and commerce, awakening and driving a demand for investment in intellectual capital”.

Investing nearly two decades in this vision, Design Indaba has championed the creative revolution. Here are some of my highlights from the 3-day event (content supplied from the Design Indaba weekly mailer):

The enchanted forest – Can beauty redeem us?

We were welcomed into the Design Indaba Festival 2017 through an enchanted forest of massive tree sculptors that were beautiful and surreal.

These tree sculptures were on exhibition the entire conference and created a magical ambience to the atmosphere in the festival court yard. I felt like I was walking around in a world that was a mash-up of the movies, Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton version).

Read more >

Capturing Cape Town’s scent with Kaja Solgaard Dahl

The thank-you gift for the festival this year was created by this designer, Kaja Dahl, she is fascinated with creativity that uplifts our experience and affect the senses directly.

Her process and the end-product is captivating and just incredible. She truly did capture the scent of Cape Town –whimsical, fresh, enlighten, yet eccentric.

Read more >

Masters in the art of freestyling it

One of my main highlights of the festival was the amazing group called Freestyle Love Supreme. They would wrap up each day with freestyle rap and beat boxing. They were so entertaining and funny, I laughed so hard that may face hurt.

The Design Indaba team chatted to Freestyle Love Supreme ahead of their Design Indaba daily wrap ups and once-off performance on the Thursday at Nightscape.

Read more >



Swahili launches on Duolingo

At Design Indaba 2017, Luis Von Ahn launches the first African language course on Duolingo. The audience went wild when he told us, he then went on to say that the second African language they will be launching will be Zulu. We can’t wait to see more African languages on this amazing app.

Read more >

Arch For Arch: A coda for Design Indaba Festival Day 3

The spectacular finale of the 2017 Conference and a tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was a great honor and privilege for me to be a part of this amazing ceremony and to hear the incredible and humble, Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk. It was a great way to end the amazing festival, I left feeling inspired

Read more >

Thank you for the wonderful experience and we are looking forward to where they go from here.

So, if you think that design indaba isn’t for you – think again. Book your ticket for next year and immerse yourself.

by Mari-Liza Monteiro





The changing world around programmers

In today’s ever-changing world, we find that businesses have become more concerned about what you can do rather than what qualification you have.

Gabriel blogIn today’s ever-changing world, we find that businesses have become more concerned about what you can do rather than what qualification you have. This paradigm is becoming more apparent as companies have an unbelievable shortage of decent coders who are able to deliver to their expectations. This gap in the employment market is increasing as the average university turnout of BSc Computer Science graduates is far less than actual demand.

 This situation has led the industry to change the way they look at qualifications and to focus more on a person’s ability to code and learn. If you are a self-taught coder and have an understanding of industry-relevant technology, you are in a much better position than someone who still has to go into university and learn coding there for the first time. A few companies are willing to take the risk of hiring someone without formal coding qualifications, and have reaped the rewards in taking those risks. The coders that they hire generally seem to be more aware of what new technology is available, and are more willing to learn something new in order to help them grow further.

 We are starting to see a paradigm shift in the industry and the way in which people think. The stack overflow statistics show that the proportion of self-taught developers increased from 41.8% in 2015 to 69.1% in 2016. This shows that a lot of developers are self-taught and a lot more people are teaching themselves how to code each year. People who start to code from a young age show such passion for coding and in combination with their curiosity for learning something new, their love for it speaks volumes. To have the ability to create anything that they can think of on a PC, and to manipulate a PC to behave like they want it to and have a visual representation of this, is unbelievable.

 For those interested in teaching themselves how to code there are many websites to look at. Here is a list of 10 places you can learn coding from, but I will list the top 3 places that I learnt the most from:

Those websites have their own way of teaching code and if youcombine this with some Youtube videos from CS50 and MIT OpenCourseWare you will be all set to learn at your own pace. Hackerrank is a good way to test everything you learnt and you can see how you rank against the world.

 WeThinkCode_ is an institution to learn coding, for anyone from ages 17-35 years old. Their thinking is that you do not need to have a formal qualification to be a world class coder. More institutes like this are opening across the world. Having a wide age gap illustrates that you are never too old to learn how to code. There are also more and more coding education opportunities for young people. It is really easy to learn how to code from a young age as that is when your mind is at its prime to learn new things and adjust to constant change.

 In a programmer’s world you are constantly learning new things and this is what makes our jobs exciting.

The world is ever-evolving and we all need to keep adjusting our mindsets on how we look at things, otherwise we will be left behind while everyone moves forward.

By Gabriel Groener

Why it took 400 years to invent the wing

You would be forgiven for thinking the three photographs below were various “Wright Flyers” piloted by renowned flight pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. They’re not – They are photographs of different flights that took place at roughly the same time…


You would be forgiven for thinking the three photographs below were various “Wright Flyers” piloted by renowned flight pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright.

They’re not – They are photographs of different flights that took place at roughly the same time as the famous Wright brothers’ flight. Not all of these inventors knew of each other’s existence prior to their inventions. This bizarre case of “simultaneous invention” has occurred many times before, and since, the Wright brothers’ flight. The polio vaccine was developed by three separate scientists almost at once. The patent for the telephone was filed by two separate individuals on the same day.

Why does innovation occur simultaneously? We tend to have an idealised view of how scientists work. We have a picture of an individual in a workshop making a few sketches and shouting out in joy at having thought of the wing. If this was indeed the case, then the occurrence of simultaneous inventions would almost defy logic.

The reality is that the inventors and innovators captivate the views, thoughts and ideas of their day as well as existing technology, and it is this trait, that explains the phenomenon of simultaneous discovery.

The story of fixed-wing self-powered flight

The first recorded study of flight was Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Codex on the Flight of Birds” in 1505. John Smeaton was the first to attempt to quantify the phenomenon of lift prior to 1800. Using the concept of lift, George Cayley just after 1800 conceived the concept of cambered airfoil and made the world’s first glider. The glider could barely move any practical distance. Otto Lilienthal, in 1889, took experimentation to a new level. By absorbing the thoughts of his day, he made an astonishing 2500 glides and documented his findings in the famous “Lilienthal tables”. The Wright brothers could not emulate the data in the Lilienthal tables because of an error in the concept developed by Smeaton over 100 years earlier. Out of frustration, they went over and above Lilienthal’s experiments by creating the world’s first rudimentary wind tunnel. They realised that “camber”, “aspect ratios” and “angle of attack” all contributed to various lifts. And so, 398 years after its first study, Wright Wing Number 31 was selected for the historic flight. The wing, by itself, was insufficient for the flight – they had to procure the latest internal combustion engine to power the plane. Luckily for them, this had been developed in parallel, and with its own intricate history. The Wright brothers, by profession, were bicycle manufacturers, not backyard inventors or carpenters – the perfect candidates for flight pioneers. Think light weight rivets, spokes, wheel rims and tubes.

The Adjacent Possible explains simultaneous discovery

The same fascinating story can be found in numerous other inventions such as the Gutenburg press. The movable type, the press, paper and ink all have stories of the their own. And few of them were traced back to “Eureka” moments. Steven Johnson first proposed the concept of an adjacent possible which originally has its roots in microbiology. As Steven Johnson writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“the [adjacent possible] boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.”

We can therefore argue that no matter how much of a genius Da Vinci was, he could not have possibly made a flying machine back in 1505. He was not at the boundary of the adjacent possible. He most certainly contributed to it as he was part of the enlightenment and laid the early foundations of putting innovative thoughts on paper. John Smeaton’s lift equation was wrong but it was a critical contribution in that it attempted to quantify the mysterious phenomena of lift into an equation and enabled Otto Lilienthal to record his famous tables.

What can Fintech Learn about the Adjacent Possible?

The story of the wing is an extreme case study of iterative innovations towards a single invention.

Players in the Fintech space could learn from this theme. Innovation happens on the boundaries of the adjacent possible. For example, crypto currencies could not be implemented prior to the ability to hold distributed ledgers on multiple databases connected in a common consortiumEureka moments are indeed rare. Innovation initiatives should reach out to the world to absorb the thoughts and ideas of the day. Businesses should look within their own boundaries to find their own “Lilienthal tables” – to see what worked and what didn’t, in order to innovate effectively.

The Palau island tribes did, in theory, implement a blockchain in 500AD but the “ledger” was effectively narratives held by the tribes elders

by Dejan Popovic

Which race are you in?

As we hurtle head on in 2017 its becoming increasingly clear that no matter what generation you find yourself in – Xers embracing tech, Y’s passionately living the dream or Z pushing us all faster than we ever believed we could go – if you are not concentrating…this digital world will run right past before you blink.

At Finovate 2017 in London last week, I was struck firstly by the intensity of this pace – the leaps that tech has taken over the past year, but also, and more importantly, by the spirit of partnership.

No longer are we in a world where competition is about being the fastest or the smartest, we are living in a world where winning is about bundling those that are faster and smarter than you into meaningful solutions for the business you are in, and the clients that you serve.

In banking it’s too late for us to say “let’s build our own” or “let’s throw money at disruption”; we need to get our heads around connecting fintech dots to build the best solutions for our clients. In biometrics and authentication, the solutions are overwhelming, similarly in app design and integration.  Banking is less and less about paper trails and complicated products and more about integrating whole life solutions with ease of use and integrated platforms. It’s not at all about selling products and more about connecting the right client to the appropriate product they need for the time of their life that they are in – most often aided by a funkily named chatbot.  The world of social media and banking have converged already (yup ship sailed), payments is fast becoming something everyone does …everyone! We can already buy packaged analytics and information about pretty much anything we need.

Banking has morphed from functional practicality to gorgeous design, insightful user experience and lifestyle products that adjust to the needs of its customers. Tricky thing is that much of that “banking” isn’t coming from banks! So what on earth should banks be doing?

Concentrating? Yes. Trying to keep up? No. Collaborating? Absolutely!

Finovate entrepreneurs brought solutions to banking problems we never even knew existed. They challenged views of what banks do and encouraged us all to ask “how can we help you help us help our clients?”  More importantly though, they showed what collaboration brings.  Over and over as the 7 minute spots passed by, it was clear that these entrepeneurs are building on what each other are building.  Each using bits of what others had built, to supersize the solutions they were prototyping.

And that is the way to stay in the race! So as we train for the year ahead, we need to make sure we have the insight to navigate the way forward, the partnerships with fintechs to supersize our banking offerings and the deep relationships with clients to package this stream of incredible ideas in ways that makes them not only satisfied but thrilled with the way they interact with our ecosystem.

by Liesl Bebb Mckay

The Modern Programmer

IT professionals often don’t get an honest portrayal in the entertainment industry and, for better or worse, the mass perception of Computer Science has been influenced by what people see on their TV screens. Either we sit in a dingy dark room, littered with empty energy drink cans, staring at a terminal with green font flashing and passing by at light speed – with sound effects, or we are cool rich guys creating programs that become self-aware.

IT professionals often don’t get an honest portrayal in the entertainment industry and, for better or worse, the mass perception of Computer Science has been influenced by what people see on their TV screens. Either we sit in a dingy dark room, littered with empty energy drink cans, staring at a terminal with green font flashing and passing by at light speed – with sound effects, or we are cool rich guys creating programs that become self-aware. There really isn’t a middle ground and these perceptions either drive people to developing an insatiable curiosity in the field or becoming fearful and believing that they aren’t mentally fit to join the club.

The demographic of the modern programmer isn’t what it was back in the 70’s. Most IT professionals were – well…Professionals. They were mathematicians, engineers, scientists, accountants, etc. often in their 30’s or 40’s. The programming industry was almost 50% women. What on earth happened?

Well, I have a theory. Computer Science (CS) wasn’t a course at any universities at that time, so youngsters really had no way of entering the field. Not to mention the fact that what they called a computer back then isn’t what we have today. They were big, expensive and obviously fewer. There were no operating systems. They wrote code by hand which was then converted into punch cards that could be fed into the computer and you had better pray that what you wrote was correct – which, if you code, you know it often isn’t – because then you would have to start that lengthy process from scratch. Blessed are those that came before us, for they were a resilient few. By the time we had a CS course it was the 80’s and young adults could learn how to code.

The 80’s was definitely one of the most defining times in modern history. We saw technology really being embraced in the media. Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Terminator and many more franchises showed us a world of technology that seemed almost impossible. In lots of ways we are still catching up the imaginations of the filmmakers and science fiction writers. But I find this time very interesting because it gave birth to the geek culture which has lasted to this day. This culture was very young and male dominated. It was a kind of cult to those who were part of it. This must have driven the women away. Women in general still don’t get the culture. Heck, even I don’t get it to the degree of hardcore followers. Now think about how we perceive these “geeks” in society. Beady eyed, brace faced, drooling, good-grade-getting teens with bad acne (is there good acne?) and thick glasses, always getting bullied by the “jocks”. Truth is, in a quest to fit in, teens only hang out with the group that they relate to and/or accepts them. Learning became the uncool thing and Disco was in. The media neatly crafted and packaged nerd culture. Being a cool kid meant you didn’t even greet the nerd – unless shoving someone into a wall counted as a greeting. And so that was that. Programmers were part of a culture that embraced creativity, logic and intelligence and frowned upon anything less, because in order to be a programmer you needed to love learning and solving problems. Being a cool kid meant you had to love partying, gossip and creating problems.

Things have changed somewhat. Programmers today come in different shapes and sizes. Still not many hourglass shapes, but we’re getting there. The next generation of teens will definitely be more in-tune with technology and the true culture of the geek or the “hacker”. Those that fail to see the power of new technologies will be left behind. Computers are so much more accessible and all schools are starting to teach coding. With innovative colleges like We Think Code and 42, the future of what we perceive as an IT professional will be completely different to what we have today.

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It’s now up to us to make sure that our kids become programmers rather than the programmed. It’s in the small things that we spot the young coder. The little kid that breaks his/her toys to find out how they work. Kids are naturally curious and it’s up to us to nurture that curiosity and not reprimand or punish them for it. We interact with technology every day and we would only be empowering them by encouraging them to learn how to control that technology as creators in the same way that we might teach them how to play a musical instrument. I envision a world where the modern programmer is anyone, in a society that frowns on those that shun learning. Let’s make it happen.

by Sherwin Hulley

Looking through the exponential looking glass

We are now in what some are calling the next industrial revolution. In this time, we are experiencing exponentials more than at any other time in history. An example of this is the exponential decrease in the cost of solar electricity generating technology: the cost of electricity will, in our lifetime, tend to zero.

We are now in what some are calling the next industrial revolution. In this time, we are experiencing exponentials more than at any other time in history. An example of this is the exponential decrease in the cost of solar electricity generating technology: the cost of electricity will, in our lifetime, tend to zero. This not only allows us to solve our own electricity challenges here in South Africa but opens many possibilities on how we solve other challenges such as water security. With the cost of electricity tending to zero the business case for large scale desalination plants more realistic. Given that South Africa has just survived the worst drought in living memory many people are now conscious of water security and are looking for their own solutions.


I’ve just described some of the positive effects of exponentials. There are going to be some effects that will be harder humanity to deal with. Let’s consider another exponential that encapsulates artificial intelligence, deep learning and robotics. We already have driverless cars, experiments on primitive driverless cars began in the 1920’s – the technology is now mainstream. Whether human beings are ready for them is another question. The impact driverless cars have is profound, firstly we no longer need human drivers, secondly, we have fewer accidents as computers driver better than humans and thirdly all our current motor vehicles become obsolete and have little value other than in remote areas of the world.


Let’s extend a bit further into robotics and genetics. Robots will replace human farmers as they will be able to manage the entire farm. Crops will be farmed as raw materials for the advanced food printing technology. Animals will no longer be farmed as any protein can now be printed more cost effectively. Maintenance robots will maintain other robots as well as themselves. Food will be almost free as costs for electricity, water and robots are negligible. In this time of abundance human beings will live in homes built by machines, food, water, healthcare and education will all be free. Disease will be eradicated by genetic medicine that is printed at home after diagnosis by doctor robots. Our children will all have online tutors who are dedicated and configured to optimally educate each child. Humans may take real holidays from time to time but mostly they will prefer alternative reality holidays that they can take from the comfort of their homes.


In this time of great abundance, human beings have lots of time on their hands. With many needs met, people are looking to find purpose in their lives. There are many schools of thought around what we as humans will be focusing on. I believe that the simple answer is that humans will be looking forward at bigger challenges. Humanity has the gift of being able to manifest to the extent of imagination and now there will be focus on terraforming deserts on Earth into arable land, colonization of the Moon and Mars. Since very few people have volunteered for Moon and Mars missions the robots are sent to establish good living conditions before humans move in earnest. Humanity has finally closed the ecological divide – that is the divide in the mind of humans between their actions the impact on the planet. Technology has been very useful in helping to undo the sins of the past, vast ships extract plastics from the ocean. Localized plants remove toxins from the air. Genetically modified plants and animals extract poisons from our waterways. Ecosystems begin to re-establish after animal farming stops. Nature reserves still exist to contain the more dangerous animals.

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Exponentials are the key to these dramatic shifts in the world and these changes may happen faster than we think. We are experiencing exponentials in almost every aspect of our lives, look forward to profound positive changes for both humanity and the Earth soon.

by Jason Suttie


Blockchain in Finance: From Buzzword to Watchword in 2016

In this feature, Farzam Ehsani looks back at the evolution of blockchain development – and nomenclature – in the finance space over the course of 2016. Further, he anticipates the introduction of central bank-issued cryptocurrencies that will truly usher in the age of the blockchain.

If 2015 was the year when many first heard about blockchain, 2016 was the year when many pretended to understand what it was – it was just too embarrassing to admit ignorance of a term that had become such a buzzword.

After all, everyone else seemed to know what it was. “It’s a distributed ledger!” became the battle cry to fend off those that came close to uncovering our lack of understanding.

Yet, the truth is that we’re all learning. Whether it is figuring out what a “node” is or understanding the intricacies of homomorphic encryption and zk-SNARKs, we are all witnessing the unfoldment of this beautiful technology and its implications for the world.

I like to compare blockchain to an extraordinary vehicle that we’ve heard can travel from Cape Town to Cairo in a matter of seconds.

As news spreads of the discovery of this amazing vehicle, more and more people imagine new possibilities, and announcements proliferate: the vehicle will be used to transport maize, coal, sunflowers and more. But when asked what this vehicle looks like – whether it has wings or wheels, belts or brakes – few can offer satisfactory answers.

Such has been the state of blockchain in 2016: a magnificent technology has been discovered, and numerous use cases abound, however, much work needs to be done to better understand and build the underlying platform or “vehicle”.

Protocol growth

While we fell in love with bitcoin and the genius of Satoshi, we also realized that the bitcoin vehicle wasn’t designed for all terrains.

The financial services industry requires a multi-asset platform which is not what bitcoin was designed for. Furthermore, in a regulated environment, actors are known to one another and a breach of trust has punitive consequences. As such, a consensus algorithm such as proof-of-work, intended for trustless participants, serves little purpose except to increase costs and transaction times in a permissioned network.

With this recognition, 2016 saw the emergence of several open-source platforms for the financial services industry, from Hyperledger to Chain Core to Corda (adding to other open-source platforms such as ethereum and Monax released in previous years).

Several more platforms exist in the proprietary space, and many of these will head into open-source territory in 2017. I believe their proprietors will come to acknowledge that any chance of long-term success at the protocol level lies in the network effect, which is hindered by any attempts of monetization.

After all, no one makes money from TCP/IP or HTTP.

Use case among use cases

As vehicle designs (permissioned blockchain protocols) emerged this year, the proclamation of use cases grew louder. One use case in particular will allow all others to reach their highest potential: money.

Moving the most common asset in our economies – fiat currency – onto a blockchain is currently the most significant use case of all. This is because nearly all transactions in our economies involve two parts, one of which is virtually always money.

Money is the lubricant of our economies and its value is in being the most frictionless asset of all (currently, it is not). Unregulated cryptocurrencies have outperformed fiat currency in this regard and the financial world has woken up to this.

Central banks from Canada to China, England to Europe, Sweden to Singapore, USA to the RSA, and many more, are researching, testing, or actively pursuing the establishment of a central bank issued cryptocurrency* (CBCC).

The issuance of CBCC on a sovereign blockchain will allow other financial instruments such as bonds, equities, derivatives, and even land and car registries, to be migrated to the same blockchain and permit a plethora of use cases to come to full fruition.

Without CBCC on a sovereign blockchain, most use cases are stymied. For example, reducing the settlement time of equities to zero isn’t very helpful if the money used to buy those equities still takes a day or two to settle.

Catalyst for the future

The issuance of CBCC on a sovereign blockchain would not only catalyse other use cases, it would also transform the very nature of the banking industry itself.

In the paper “The Advent of Crypto Banking”, I describe a future in which banks might not be deposit-taking institutions, in which bank runs could not exist, and in which banking systems could be more stable and inclusive. The case for fiat currency on a blockchain is indisputable for central banks and regulators.

As we move into 2017, we will see the transformation of blockchain from a buzzword to a watchword. We will see the custodians of our fiat currencies, central banks, move closer to harnessing the power of blockchain technology for the benefit of entire economies.

The amazing blockchain vehicle that once only existed in Satoshi’s imagination will soon benefit the lives of all. Humanity awaits.

*I intentionally use the word “crypto” and not “digital” as central bank-issued digital currency has existed for several decades already.

by Farzam Ehsani


Farzam Ehsani is the leader of the Blockchain Initiative for the FirstRand Group (Africa’s largest bank by market cap).

This piece was originally published on on 20 December 2016 here


A case of keeping up with the Joneses?

The world is changing. Drones are fighting in armies, driverless cars are no longer a fiction of someone’s imagination, robots have the ability to outsmart humans in offering legal and financial advice. Exciting? Most definitely. But for a developing country such as South Africa there is also a sense of uneasiness.

South Africa and the Fourth Industrial Revolution


The world is changing. Drones are fighting in armies, driverless cars are no longer a fiction of someone’s imagination, robots have the ability to outsmart humans in offering legal and financial advice. Exciting? Most definitely. But for a developing country such as South Africa there is also a sense of uneasiness. How will our economy keep up with a changing world while having to fight poverty, inequality, corruption? As one of the most unequal societies of the current age one has to wonder what technological advances will do to the already high Gini coefficient? Are we entering a dystopian world order where some countries will ride the wave of a revolution and others will be left behind, feeding on the scraps?

Prof. Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum has proposed that a fourth industrial revolution is imminent. An industrial revolution is seen as a change in the basic economic structure, driven by innovation and invention. In the late 18th century coal and locomotives introduced the first industrial revolution with mechanization being the key driver.  The fourth industrial revolution will fundamentally change the world that we live in through so-called cyber physical systems where the natural, human and digital world meet. In short, extreme automation and connectivity might mean that boundary lines between humans and technology are blurred with concepts such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the internet of things taking civilization where it has not gone before.

While South Africa’s economy relies heavily on its natural resources the question is whether the country has progressed sufficiently on the ladder of previous industrial revolutions, or rather whether a platform has been created from which to launch into the rising age. One simply has to look at the state of railways and even the huge amount of manufacturing that happens off-shore to wonder whether South Africa has been able to progress industrially with the rest of the world. UBS highlights in a white paper (Davos 2016 White Paper) that South Africa is behind the curve with regard to the evolving of manufacturing along with demographics. In effect, the failure to move to high level of manufacturing with the demographic prime could indicate that SA has not adequately adapted to the second and third industrial revolutions.

The question remains whether the fourth industrial revolution would be a case of keeping up with the Joneses or whether it would be possible to fast track development in order to launch South Africa into the new era.

Africa is a continent that upholds a certain reputation for innovation particularly to overcome obstacles often created by the lack of development in a certain area. The continent is also seen as an early adopter of technology, with success stories of financial applications such as M-Pesa flying the flag for an innovative continent. Pockets of excellence mean that it is not all doom and gloom for South Africa. The financial sector is one of the best in the world and may well be a field in which new technologies will get traction.

The WEF looks favourably towards South Africa in terms of innovation and new fourth industrial revolution indexes in their Global Competitiveness Report (2016-2017) (WEF – Global Competitiveness Report ) with the following global ranks: innovation and sophistication (31st), business dynamism (50th) and innovation capacity (38th ) perhaps indicative of the silver lining of promise that the country will punch above its weight in the revolution.

Although ranked low in basic requirements and some efficiency parameters indicating a lag in fully adapting to previous industrial revolutions, positive innovation rankings paired with the right industry, such as financial markets, could position South Africa favourably in terms of moving towards the fourth industrial revolution.

It would be easy for South Africa to adopt a fearful approach towards the new era of automation and robotics. In a country with high unemployment low-skilled workers are likely to face a world where the job-market has no space for them. Some pessimists are predicting a world where humans are not needed. The reality is that change is coming and being a country that is able to adapt is non-negotiable. Education has been a pain point and South Africa is ranked a low 123d on the Global Competitiveness index for Health and Primary Education. Education is a critical factor to the challenges that a new revolution would bring forth and ensuring that a new generation can hold their own in a changing world will make the difference between those running the race well and those falling out along the way. Adapting education models is an important measure to be put in place if South Africa wants to approach the fourth industrial revolution with courage.

In our experience, it is evident that successful disruption is often birthed within a start-up atmosphere. Where current incumbents, especially in the financial sector, are faced with issues such as integration and legacy systems, a start-up with a dedicated and talented team and a great innovative idea have a greenfield approach that lends itself toward disruption.

Drawing the parallel to country-wide development there is a case for cheering on Africa and South Africa’s jump to the fourth Industrial Revolution modelled as a start-up with leeway to embrace the new era and its corresponding shifting boundaries. Leapfrogging some of the essential factors of previous revolutions toward a new disruptive way of using computer systems to address fundamental social problems. But investments in skills, particularly software development and the required infrastructure will need to be fast-tracked to create an enabling environment for the innovative nature of South Africans – to not just keep up with the rest of the world but to leverage a strong innovative culture and excel.

                               by Charlotte Hauman