| | Payment & Financing Services

Finnish start-up event shines spotlight on European tech

Let’s be honest, some of the worst weather of the year hits Finland during December. And yet, despite the biting cold, Slush manages to attract thousands of leading tech players to Helsinki each year, for what has become Europe’s largest start-up and tech conference. Last week I returned to the conference to find out what will be trending in 2018 and beyond.

2017 marks the tenth year of Slush and the fourth time that I’ve attended the event, which I guess makes me a veteran, right?
When I attended the very first conference it was a much smaller affair – we were only about 300 people back then. But over the years, Slush has grown to host annual conferences and events in Singapore, Shanghai, and Tokyo, that attract more than 40,000 attendees.

Big names and bigger ideas

This year’s event, which took place from November 30 to December 1, started with a bang. An impressive laser show opened the conference followed by a welcome speech by Finland’s President, Sauli Niinistö. The opening keynote didn’t disappoint, either. Former US Vice President, Al Gore, took centre stage to discuss climate change. Gore said he anticipates huge business opportunities from a forthcoming “sustainability revolution”. He presented a compelling a case which further reinforced my view that all responsible companies must work in sustainable ways. For me, that’s a no-brainer.

Over 2,600 start-ups, 1,500 venture capitalists, and 600 journalists from around 130 countries attended. As usual, one of the main aims of the event is to facilitate genuine consultation between investors and start-up founders. I learned that a massive 7,000 “matchmaking” meetings took place. That’s a lot of pitching! Corporate powerhouses including Google, Apple, and Nokia, were in attendance, each eager to spot, and be part of, the next big thing.

Connecting people

While the conference is renowned as a place for making connections and a platform to launch businesses, it is also a forum where some of the brightest minds in our industry gather to discuss a wide-range of trends and issues. I noticed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analysis were among the recurring themes discussed this year.
I also spotted a few familiar faces amongst the crowd. One of our partners, SolarisBank was present, and co-founder, Marko Wenthin was onsite to explain his vision of the future of digital banking. Check out our video interview with Marko here.

Trends for 2018 and beyond

PSD2 will bring fundamental change to the payments value chain, as well as business models and customer expectations. Despite this, the payments industry at Slush this year had a relatively low pro􀀁le. Perhaps this is surprising, but I suspect companies don’t want to reveal anything new before PSD2 gets rolled out in January 2018.

Why would that affect their presence at Slush? Well, perhaps some start-ups are afraid of publicising their big ideas, just prior to the launch and implementation of PSD2. The EU has been slow to inform everyone about the new rules and regulations e.g. when to apply for strong authentication etc. As a result, this could have contributed to the comparatively low turnout. However, I expect we’ll see a lot more ideas in this area next year.

I spotted two other trends which I found particularly interesting: how large and small companies can use a platform economy to develop ecosystems together for their industry, and how AI and robotics can be applied to almost everything in the future.

An example of the platform economy is Osuuspankki (OP) Group, which is the biggest local banking group in Finland. They decided not to launch ApplePay, but instead roll out alternative ways to o􀀂er mobile payments. At Slush they launched BLE (Bluetooth) and ultrasound-voice based functionality. OP-Kassa meanwhile, o􀀂ers everything an SME needs for a physical store and online sales. And the ecosystem doesn’t only rely on merchants, but has consumers included with the Pivo-service (a mobile wallet).

The bundling of merchants and end-users with new payment methods such as BLE and ultrasound-voice enables Osuuspankki to create their own rules. The ultrasound-voice payment method will enable them to bypass traditional players, such as payment terminals, in the payment flow. Osuuspankki is a good example of a company utilising a platform economy as a way to beat the competitors, and create new ways to do business.
Elsewhere at Slush, there were many examples of how AI and robotics can be utilized to semi-automate often tedious processes. In our industry, I think it will be interesting to see how AI and robotics can be applied in our consumer rating and acceptance processes, as well as in customer-service functions wherever self-service can be applied. Watch this space!