The future of money might mean we don’t take cash

22 Jun 2018

Karen Contet Farzam speaking at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Karen Contet Farzam blew the Inspirefest audience away with facts and figures that left them in little doubt about a cashless future.

On the second morning of Inspirefest (22 June), Karen Contet Farzam catapulted the audience into the future and explained what it will look like with the help of fintech.

“Fintech is anywhere where technology is used in financial services,” she began. “It is changing the financial sector the way the internet changed the written press.”

As the co-founder of Hong Kong’s biggest start-up community, a French foreign trade adviser, founding board member of the Fintech Association and mentor for several accelerator programmes, Farzam knows what she’s talking about when it comes to fintech.

Within seconds of walking on to the stage, Farzam showed the Inspirefest audience why China has become the world’s fintech leader through incontestable numbers of internet users and e-commerce consumers.

“Today, there are 800m people using internet in China,” she said. “You can no longer lose sight of what is happening in the east.”

Farzam spoke about the difference in regulation between China and Europe, and how it contributes to the former’s exponential growth in tech.

She said that China’s tech scene has more of a tech regulation model that gives companies the green light to experiment with new concepts and put them out into the ether to see what happens. Negative impacts can lead to fines and losses but, ultimately, it gets those new ideas out there faster.

Meanwhile in Europe, regulation tends to come first to solve problems before they occur, but that comes with its own drawbacks.

Farzam said: “How can you achieve 150pc growth when you try to regulate the future based on two-year-old solutions and technology? It’s too late, the world has already moved on.”

‘We don’t take cash’

“Mobile payment transaction has jumped in just a few years from $8bn to $22trn. The numbers just speak for themselves,” she said. “China is becoming a cashless society.”

Farzam further showed the audience exactly how far ahead China is when it comes to fintech, with a number of examples of how the country is on the brink of going completely cashless.

Even at Inspirefest, in a room full of people who are interested, passionate and knowledgeable about the direction in which technology is going, there were giggles and gasps of surprise at the extent to which China has already gone.

Farzam talked about one of the most ancient Chinese traditions, which was individuals giving each other ‘red packets’, often filled with cash for Chinese New Year.

“In 2014, WeChat launched Lucky Money, a digitised version of red packets,” she said. “When they launched, it went viral and 40m red packets were exchanged. Last year, 42bn envelopes were exchanged during Chinese New Year, which is only six days.”

She also told the audience that QR codes are the new cash in China, and said that even musicians busking on streets can receive tips in seconds via QR codes.

But perhaps one of the most surprising demonstrations of China’s cashless world was photos of Chinese beggars who accept QR codes. “What is going to be your next excuse? ‘Sorry, my mobile is out of battery?’”

The shock these examples brought to the audience was palpable, but Farzam warned that this was only the beginning.

“We don’t know what the future may hold, but ‘we don’t take cash’ might be the future of money.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. To find out more about the best event for bright minds in Europe, please visit

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic