‘Like everyone else, we’re looking for the next killer use case beyond crypto’

4 Dec 2018

Eoghan Considine, director, FCAT Europe. Image: Fidelity Investments

Leading the European research division of what he describes as ‘a technology company that does finance’, Eoghan Considine fills us in on the emerging tech trends in fintech.

Click here to read more stories from Tech Trends 2019.

Before joining Fidelity Investments in 2007, Eoghan Considine worked for a number of years with start-ups in London. “I am a technologist/engineer at heart but really enjoy launching new products and businesses,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.

Now director of FCAT Europe, Considine leads Fidelity’s technology team in Europe. FCAT stands for Fidelity Centre for Applied Technology and represents Fidelity’s research division. “When I joined FCAT, I was able to innovate as an intrapreneur in a multinational context,” he explained.

Considine breaks this role into three main responsibilities, the first being to explore new and emerging technologies and how they might impact financial services two to five years from now. In this regard, FCAT has been doing lots of work with virtual and augmented reality, and founded new design principles for working with these emerging technologies.

Considine’s second line of responsibility is to incubate new business, which he says is “a real passion area” for him. Last year, this led to the launch of a business that enables employers to help their employees pay their student loans, tackling a major issue in the US where student debt has reached $1.5trn and graduates carry an average of roughly $40,000 in student loans.

Thirdly, Considine manages the FCAT Lab, where his team builds and showcases the latest innovations and experiments it is working on.

We put some questions to Considine about the tech trends he has seen over the years and what his team is watching out for in 2019.

You’ve been with Fidelity for more than a decade. How have you seen your sector and workplace change in that time?

There have been a lot of changes, specifically in the tech environment but also in the physical working space and in how we get things done. For me, the biggest technical environment changes are the advancements in building and releasing software. The advancements since the days of physical infrastructure using IBM ClearCase and IBM Build Forge to what we’re doing in the cloud today are stark.

The physical workplace has also changed a lot. Once upon a time it was offices, then cubes, now we have really modern ‘agile’ office layouts where the space is designed for maximum collisions, so people can collaborate and work more efficiently. At Fidelity, we have embraced the modern working environment offering different types of collaboration spaces – we have stand-up spaceships, countless video conferencing rooms (which allow me to work face to face with my teams across the world each day), break-out areas etc.

‘The advancements since the days of physical infrastructure using IBM ClearCase and IBM Build Forge to what we’re doing in the cloud today are stark’

As a workforce, we rely heavily on technology to work remotely, cross-geographically and in a faster manner. Today, we use all kinds of portals, platforms and tools to do our work, adopting and building our own as required.

At Fidelity we have also evolved the methodologies in how we work. We have a lot of expertise in Agile and have built a really strong base of Agile processes. The Agile principles remain the same, but we use a more Lean Agile approach, adopting the Eric Ries methodology from The Lean Startup. We are also heavy users of design-thinking practices. We engage the customer early to build early feedback into our product development process.

In summary, we take the best of what works best for us, from Agile and Lean start-up to design thinking. It is not hugely prescriptive. I like to keep it lightweight, so we use these as guardrails.

What emerging technology do you think will be an area of focus for your industry in 2019?

The main themes we’ve been working on will continue into 2019. We have been working on crypto and blockchain-related activities since 2014. A lot of that work was confidential, but we recently made a public announcement about our crypto and blockchain goals. We actually accept bitcoin and Ether at Fidelity Charitable – you can view digital assets on Fidelity.com. Most recently, we announced we would offer trade execution and custodian services in cryptocurrencies for our institutional clients.

‘We feel the day of the username and password is in the past and that a next-gen wave of authentication is emerging’

Our blockchain incubator continues to run experiments and explore new opportunities for products and services. I think it’s still really early days for what blockchain is capable of. For example, bitcoin can only process three or four transactions per second, Ethereum 20 per second, while Visa can do more than 1,600. Once this problem is resolved, it will open up so much more potential.

Virtual, augmented and mixed reality are still big, although becoming more pervasive. Have you met ‘Cora’? We created her as a proof of concept with Amazon Sumerian, the new service for building and running virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D applications from Amazon Web Services. Cora is an experiment for customers to interact with a virtual financial adviser in VR.

Identity management, authentication, security and personal data management are also areas of big interest to us. We feel the day of the username and password is in the past and that a next-gen wave of authentication is emerging. We are trying to get ahead of this and become leaders – so watch this space!

Are there new technologies you expect will significantly ramp up in the next year?

Blockchain will continue to develop. Like everyone else, we are working hard to discover the next killer use case beyond crypto. We have more products coming to market in the crypto space which are exciting. Sorry though, I’m sworn to secrecy!

Artificial intelligence (AI) has certainly been increasing its share of the sci-tech headlines in the past year. What would you like to see from AI in the near future?

Sometimes there is hype in the media around this. I see my kids watching adverts on TV for toys with AI.

While AI (and I don’t like that term) has been around for a long time, only recently have all the ingredients been available to do some interesting things with machine learning (massive machine processing power, lots of data and smart algorithms).

We are running both an incubator and a centre of excellence examining use cases mostly in machine learning but also in deep learning to enhance our customer experiences. We recently acquired two of the world’s first Nvidia DGX-1 supercomputers to run these experiments.

What do you think will be the ‘next big thing’ in fintech?

It’s hard to predict the next big thing but there are a couple of things that everyone is talking about, such as the disruption of incumbents by start-ups. Nobody can afford to sit still as margins are being eroded and new entrants to the market are occurring all the time. In the past, there were much higher barriers to entry, but these are lowering all the time. The Bull market has been raging for literally years now and it’s being propped up by FANG (Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google) – but a correction will have to come at some point.

The crypto market ($140bn market cap) is still very volatile. The role of Government and regulators is going to be extremely important. Maybe these stable coins are what’s needed, I don’t know. But it’s a big thing.

I was sitting in College Green in Dublin recently, admiring the beautiful old banking building, wondering if those bankers could ever have envisioned Revolut or other non-bricks-and-mortar banks. What would happen to fintech if an Elon Musk disrupted it? Could we be doing finance on Mars?