From Sydney to Toronto and back again – the SIBOS top 10

In the run up to last year’s event in Toronto, we asked John Gubert, who has been to more SIBOS conferences than any of us, which were the most memorable. Here, once again, is his report.
By Joe Parsons

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 is always 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.

Although Toronto 2011 was liked for is ease of access, there was a lot of criticism around the cavernous and impersonal Conference Centre. Toronto made the top ten mainly because of the vibrant consumer banking debates around mobile devices, which at the time reached some 4.7 billion users. Today we are approaching a ten billion figure.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.

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.

Geneva 2016 displaced Amsterdam in our top ten, not only because of the scenic beauty of the City and its surrounds, but because the programme was truly forward looking with the global payments’ innovation initiative, the “coronation” of T2S as it went truly live, after its lengthy development gestation, and the participants focus on the strategic meaning of block chain, cyber, AI and other future technology challenges. But Geneva was special, because, across the transaction banking space, people were clear that innovation was a necessity despite the disruptive noise of mandatory regulatory, technological and geopolitical change.

Toronto 2017 has though failed to make the top 10 rank, not so much due to its facilities but more because the promised “fourth industrial revolution” remained so aspirational rather than inspirational. I was hoping for more tangible deliverables in core activities with live dates being announced for product changing developments. Perhaps it was over expectation and SIBOS Sydney also will be challenged and unable to really move the technological revolution debate from the hypothetical or the laboratory into the real tangible world. The industry is under siege and needs above all radical surgery to both its cost base, its client connectivity and its data management; and it needs it within realistic timeframes.

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. SIBOS Sydney 2018 is in the new superbly updated Convention Centre with its backdrop of my personal favourite among the world’s great harbours. The challenge of SIBOS is to show the industry is in a “fourth industrial revolution” which will produce a renewed, vibrant, robust and secure operating environment.


Singapore 2015


HK 2009


Sydney 2006


Boston 2007


Toronto 2011


Vienna 2008


Dubai 2013


Boston 2014


Osaka 2012


Geneva 2016