Exclusive Interview: Leigh Gilmore – FinTech Conference Disruptor

After getting a great response from Leigh’s first article, we wanted to talk with Leigh to understand what she’s doing differently, why FinTech, and understand what you can get from attending. If you can make it to the DC area on May 24-25, register here (using LTP200 for a discount, of course!).

LTP: Leigh, you previously wrote about how ‘FinTech Conferences Are Broken.’ What are you doing at your conference to make it different? Start by at least telling us about the conference!

Leigh Gilmore: I am excited about this one, Patrick, because it’s definitely not broken, but neither is it ‘fixed.’ Of course, we have a great agenda, but the discussion will be ‘audience-led,’ and will go in many directions – as they should do. We can say we have the modeling clay (the agenda, the venue, the faculty, and the participants) but we don’t yet know what the sculpture will look like – because the audience will create it!

The conference is called “Creating Sustainable Bank-FinTech Partnerships to Leverage Innovation” and it is bringing together a targeted group of senior executives from within banks and FinTechs who are currently fighting the good fight, trying to map a path forward. These are people from incumbents and startups who are passionate – but practical – about FinTech. These guys have been tasked with monetizing their partnerships, with moving from PoC to production, with seeing an actual, tangible ROI from their investment.

It’s at The Westin, Old Town, VA and starts at 1:00 PM on May 24 through 4:00 PM, May 25. Everyone gets out in time to head home for the long weekend!

LTP: You’ve been in the conference industry a long time but not FinTech. What is it that excites you about FinTech?

LG: I started my career in the telecom industry, in Europe, in the very late 90s. It was the time of deregulation; incumbents were flailing or sticking their heads in the sand. Startups, ISPs, kids working out of their garages were everywhere!

This whole FinTech ‘thang’ reminds of that on almost every level – the fears, the analyses, the paralysis, the excitement, the inevitable partnerships, the struggles, the failures and the successes that are coming. The many, many Emperors who turn out to be naked! And those who are indeed wearing glittering new clothes! I love the energy and the chaos! I am also delighted to have stumbled into this space, because I believe these technologies and the products and services they enable are truly transformative, inclusive, safer and more transparent.

The financial world that my children will know will look nothing like mine. The banks that win will be the ones who stop channeling King Canute. Stop trying to hold back the tide. And beyond that, as the stunningly wise Margaret Hartigan of Marstone said, they will have to be “kind.” To partner – to truly be a life partner to their clients, which is how I think they can win, these banks are going to have to… care. That is, if they want to service the 10-year-old with her allowance through the financial phases, products, and services of her lifetime. What an exciting world to be part of, right?

LTP: Going forward, what would your vision of a conference uniquely give to the FinTech ecosystem that isn’t being met now?

LG: It’s easy. I think what is missing right now are smaller, cleverly curated meetings. Conferences and meetings where people leave the fold, step out of the clique, forge connections, build relationships, exchange ideas, debate PsOV, share considerations and concerns – gatherings where the room crowdsources issues to discuss and the same room crowd solves those challenges. I am a huge proponent of SIB. (Small Is Beautiful). I can’t bear this obsession with being in a room with 1000s of people. Value happens when someone else’s idea canoodles with an idea that has been dancing about in your brain. Aha! moments occur when you are open to listening. The FinTech space right now is very LOUD. That’s normal – this is an exciting, young and competitive sector. But people still need to step away from the quotidian, leave all that braggadocio behind and take the time to hear and engage with people

LTP: How do you think about engaging participants at a FinTech event?

LG: Ha! Thanks for using the P word! Firstly, my team and I have to be prepared. It always shows when an organizer throws stuff together.

Secondly, I work with my moderators and speakers to help them get the most out of their sessions – no speaker likes to deliver a presentation in front of a yawning multitude.

Thirdly, I foster a culture of participation and insist (very nicely!) that my participants commit engaging, to asking questions, to disagreeing, to voting. It’s like anything. I can lay on the greatest spread, the most delicious banquet ever but if you don’t pick up a single morsel and pop it in your mouth, you will never know how good it tastes! And then you have to use props and tools to break up the day – puzzles, icebreakers, quizzes, polling, voting, LEGOs, modeling clay, coloring books – oh yes – and prizes. I never force activities and I try to steer away from the ‘cheesefest,’ but my team and I work hard to make sure everyone meets everyone. It is like being the hostess of a very successful day-long party.

LTP: What should participants think about when choosing which events to go to? Do you have any advice on getting the most out of conferences?

LG: The organizer has to do his part and participant has to do hers. Call the organizer and ask to speak to the producer, the program developer. You will learn in a heartbeat if it is for you. Check to see how many sponsors are speaking on the program – that can be a clue as to how many product pitches you are paying to hear. People need to think about what they are trying to achieve and then find an event geared up to meet those needs. But once you have found the right conference – pertinent speakers, relevant topics, you have to step up! Back to my food analogy (what is wrong with me?!), a conference is not a served meal. Rather it is a buffet – you need to get off your tush, get over there and eat. Oh and stay away from the cake – you already know you like that. Try something the dim sum, something new.

LTP: Where can people sign up?

LG: Right here: Bank-FinTech Partnerships – Overview – iiBIG. If your readers put LTP200 in at registration, they can benefit from a $200 discount to the friends of LTP. Seriously though, as I said above, if you are not sure this event is for you, email or call me. Hope to see you there!

LTP: Thanks for joining us, Leigh. We’ll see you at the event!

Patrick Rivenbark

Patrick is building and strengthening partnerships for MEDICI, FinTech’s Global Knowledge Network. MEDICI enables collaborative innovation within FinTech’s complex ecosystem of banks, financial services providers, startups, investors, and innovations programs