A tough act to follow

Typhoons, infinity pools and the financial crisis have all played their part in shaping Sibos conferences over the past decade, but securities services veteran John Gubert places Singapore as the best of them all in his top 10 events from the last 10 years.
By John Gubert
Ranking the best Sibos events of the past decade:
1. Singapore 2015
2. Hong Kong 2009
3. Sydney 2006
4. Boston 2007
5. Toronto 2011
6. Vienna 2008
7. Dubai 2013
8. Boston 2014
9. Osaka 2012
10. Amsterdam 2010

Being asked to rank the different Sibos of the past decade, taking into account the conference venue, location and programme content, is far from simple. From a location perspective, it is not surprising Asian Cities scored highly, while European ones fared less well. Given the industry love affair with breakfast meetings, ease of access mattered a lot for venues; Osaka was challenging; Toronto was walkable and Sydney perfectly accessible. No specific venue scored highly, although more modern convention centres like Singapore proved more amenable.

The relative securities content of the different Sibos was more difficult to judge. I assessed it on my recollection of on or off conference hall debates. Most Sibos are rich in content, albeit to declining audiences as delegates prioritise client meetings over education.

Sydney 2006 was all about “raising ambitions” and saw meaningful debates around the problems of post trade derivative management with, above all, a need for more automation. Given the estimated US$1.2 quadrillion of contracts in this space, the debate was timely and prescient.

Boston 2007 securities plenary considered innovation in a changing landscape. The larger players questioned, with some self-interest, who would still be around in 2015. The answer is less players than there were; the space remains, though, overpopulated and underinvested in.

Vienna 2008 was swamped by off conference Lehman Brothers discussions with those delegates, who were not recalled by their traumatised bosses, seeking precedent in the 1995 Baring Brothers default or the 1998 Long Term Credit Management failure. Many, as a result, missed the excellent and opportune Big Issue debate on Financial Systemic Risk.

HK 2009 enjoyed a typhoon on the night of the Standard Chartered party at the top of one of the iconic tower blocks of that City. The big debate was about the Asian Century. And panellists worked to ensure belief in the then mantra that transaction banking was a major driver for sustainable growth in financial services. The Asian, and specifically, China’s role in world economies, is still much debated although realism has replaced the unbound enthusiasm of Sibos 2009 for all things BRIC. And perhaps a more realistic realisation of intraday and operational risk has tempered the belief that transaction banking needed hardly any capital and offered almost infinite returns on risk assets deployed.

In Amsterdam in 2010, “rebuilding trust” was a sensible logo as the banking industry struggled in the post crisis years. Few knew that the worst was still ahead of them both in terms of the discovery of new scandals and the cataclysmic level of fines on the industry. And Amsterdam had a series of worthy debates on such issues as the Single European Payments Area (“SEPA”), Basel III and cloud technology. Memory says few realised the economic consequences, in the form of the decimation of fee income for many, of SEPA. Few fully understood where Basel III, especially for systemically important entities, would take their capital needs. And cloud computing was treated similarly to Blockchain today, as the next must have for the industry if it were to survive the consequences of its data hunger.

The cavernous halls of Toronto 2011 brought in calls for Segways to be supplied to delegates to enable them to make the tight timings of their packed speed meeting agendas. And, between sessions on technology and regulation, delegates enthused about the impact on consumer banking of the five billion mobile devices around the world. The same debate today would extend to other market segments given the number of mobile devices had risen to 8.6 billion and mobile users to some 4.7 billion. With a world population of just over seven billion, its reach, power and ability to change industries remains the most critical revenue challenge of our day.

2012 took us to Osaka, which is a splendid City although the logistics of the conference location and different parties made it a challenging physical endurance test. Osaka missed out from the absence of PRC delegates due to geopolitical disputes between them and Japan, just when we needed input around China’s economy and Renminbi convertibility or payments. I chaired a session on “Evolution and Revolution for Securities Markets” where the learned panellists eschewed Che Guevara and opted more for Darwin as a role model.

Dubai 2013 talked of reinventing the custody model yet again whilst locals were optimistic about regional wealth flows as oil prices remained around the $100 per barrel level. How events change environments! Just two years later, across the Middle East, the message became budget deficits and new borrowing demand.

Boston 2014 was excited by Bitcoin and embryonic discussions on the potential of its single distributed ledger technology on the entire banking industry. It was too early for anyone other than the born again “bleeding edge” technologists to proclaim its supremacy over all other platforms. Most business people at Sibos saw it more as a niche distraction at a time when revenues were challenged and costs continued to rise. I was part of the Global Custodian silver jubilee panel in Boston and few in the market utilities warmed to my theme of surplus and costly market infrastructure needing convergence to eliminate duplication.

Singapore 2015, in the incredible Sands Expo and Convention Centre, was only spoilt by the air pollution from neighbouring countries. Debate regionally was around the critical issues of reform in China and India. ASEAN integration, although far different from the EU model, is impacting the entire securities life cycle. And, the Renminbi, little used at the time of HK 2009, has since become the fourth largest payment currency by value with the involvement of 1700 financial institutions.

As Sibos after Sibos shows, nothing is constant. Little is certain. But, undoubtedly, for those who can work with change, there is growth and opportunity left in the transaction banking model.