Thoughts From the 2019 Seamless Conference

Seamless seems to miss the point, or does it?!

From an unusually cloudy Dubai and as the sun (or lack thereof) sets on the latest iteration of the Middle East’s leading Payments and eCommerce conference, one is left wondering if this year, again, our industry has missed the point.

Bringing together the regions’ leading lights in Payments, eCommerce, Retail and Identity, the talk again was centered around who “owns the consumer” and how to best engage with the consumer. But what was most striking was the lack of understanding that as consumers, we own ourselves.

And effective consumer engagement relies upon there being an interconnected and co-dependent infrastructure; a data-centric commercial infrastructure, after all we live in a world of connected commerce. The conference expo brought together all the elements of the show under one roof, but unbelievably the organisers still kept the representative groups apart, in their own enclaves or islands-of-existence. Surely the message could have been better served by mixing up the exhibitors a little; put a payments gateway next to a retail analytics company, next to an identity provider, next to, next to and so on. Perhaps then our industry will put two and two together and get the right answer…the user experience must be seamless, frictionless, value-driven and encouraging of a user proclivity that reduces costs, increases acceptance and drives trade with loyalty, whilst putting security and trust at its core. These are all goals that have underpinned Sequent’s values for the best part of a decade in the mobile payments space…make it easy and safe to pay for goods and services and identify ourselves through devices we carry with us or wear.

Many at the show also spoke of a collision between MarTech and FinTech; the fusion of understanding the customer, helping them mine for value and ultimately completing a transaction that delivers value to everyone in the sales chain. Not a new topic of course, but one that still demonstrates a data-centric infrastructure approach still needs to evolve. Issuing banks sending vouchers to consumers for acquiring banks to sell coffee. And here PSD2 and Open-Banking promises to deliver; breaking down the barriers between industries that for centuries have maintained their own impenetrable walls. Let’s just make it happen a little quicker, please!  For me this is what the Seamless show is desperately trying to encourage.

One thing is certain though, our purses and wallets are about to get heavier; seriously heavier. How many perso-bureaux, card issuers and loyalty providers are pushing “metal” cards, a la Apple Credit Card. There is a belief that a metal card extolls premium values and exclusivity.  I understand as an industry we are looking to get away from plastic, but given this and seeing the industry having to stoop to such vanity is worrisome. But judging by the comments of one scheme that the “other” scheme that won the right to launch the Apple Card issued so many waivers in certification does tend to suggest that the barriers I speak of in the collision between MarTech and FinTech are definitely being blown away…a good thing.

What will the future portend when our digital devices not only facilitate the transaction, but tie it to the consumer experience by providing value added digital services?  FinTech and MarTech can provide significant consumer value by ensuring account holders receive offers for goods they have a real interest in purchasing, then pay for the products with the account of their choice or points or cashback they’ve earned. Now that would be a seamless! experience!

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