What I am reading in FinTech – Feb 2, 2015

FinTech 50 for 2015 is out – These are the top 50 FinTech companies in Europe. A good snapshot of where innovation is happening in FinTech. About 30% of the companies are in Payments. But the bulk of activity is in B2B ie software for banks/FIs.

US Fed has released an interesting paper on improving the US payment system. It is interesting for several reasons. First, it acknowledges that US payment system is way behind other countries. For eg, India is ahead with real time systems such as IMPS and RTGS. Also, it leads in adoption of standards such as ISO 20022. Second, it points out that all the countries that have been leaders have done so because of strategic reasons and because of mandates. This report, on the other hand, segments the market and finds the business cases. On the whole, US Fed finds good business case for some options without taking into account latent demand. It’s interesting because while India leads in payment system technology, it lags very badly in the technology adoption.  Third, it considers “decentralized digital stores of value that can be exchanged” aka bitcoin with a central clearing system! In other words, bitcoin along with ACH instead of blockchain! Just shows how very little of bitcoin is understood.

Privacy at risk from Big Data – Simple report here and the full paper here. This essentially means that each one of us has a unique transaction footprint. If a small part is identified (as small as 4 transactions), the rest becomes visible (for as many as 90% of people in a study of 1.1 Million people).



What I am reading in FinTech – Jan 19, 2015

Athens public transport moves to mobile ticketing with Mastercard’s payment system – Something to mull over for the Delhi and Mumbai Metro operators. If Uber and Ola can have a wallet to pay, why not the metro?

A snapshot of who’s who in FinTech startup space aka a periodic table – A great overview. The best thing about an overview of startups is how quickly the next one is needed. Hope the good folks at CB Insights keep at it.

Loan officers at Banks make better decisions than computer algorithms. At least that is what the author says. I find it interesting that the study is focused on unsecured cash loans – an area where one expects humans to do better. Also, the algorithm in question is based on actual performance data of last year. A lot of people I know would ignore that approach and would instead build an algorithm based on how the best of their officers work. Perhaps, the results indicate as much about the assumptions as they do about the results.


Review: Fool’s Assassin

Fool's Assassin
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked my first Farseer book only a few months ago. I don’t even remember why I picked it up from many that have been lined up. But once I did, it came to dominate my reading like few other books have. Soon I was finished with the first book, then the first trilogy and then the second trilogy. And now with the first book of the third trilogy. All of these books are long and take time and effort to read. But one after the other all 7 books kept me hooked.

What kept me hooked are two things.

First, Robin Hobb is a master of creating the inner world of a character: thoughts, feelings, struggles, dreams. This world is so detailed that it is probably half of the books. But it feels so real that it kept me glued. Understanding the characters starts to feel like understanding ourselves – my person and humanity in general. This is so so rare and rewarding that this alone is reason enough to read this trilogy of trilogies.

Second, the lead character of FitzChivalry is unique. He is very divided between what he wants to be and what his birth demands of him. He has also evolved over time – a kid to a teen to a young man to a a man in his middle age. Hobb has kept his character true for all these phases. So, now he seems like a friend known over a long period of time.

With the latest book, there is a third reason – Bee Farseer. A very unique character like FitzChivalry and already a strong reason to come back for book 2 and 3 in this series.

This book like others in the series is slow paced but rich in details. Characters are the unique strength of the series but the story is also great. Keeps you wondering what’s next. I did not like the ending but that is a small complaint.

Overall, I would recommend this book to every one who loves a good read. A must read for lovers of the fantasy genre. This series is one of the cornerstones of this genre. This book will take a bit of time to hit the book stores. Good time to pick up the earlier ones and then get to this one if you are fantasy buff. This book is great read stand alone as well.

Thank you NetGalley for an early review copy.

Common traits of inventors

Yesterday I picked up a new book Inventors at Work. It is very similar to Founders at work and consists of interviews of well known inventors. I was struck by one paragraph in its introduction that summarised the common traits of inventors. I’ve reproduced that paragraph below (added breaks and emphasis are mine)

What I found is that all of these very different inventions sprang from a set of common traits in their inventors: perseverance, drive, motivation, a touch of obsession, and—perhaps most importantly—a buoyant inability to see experimental failure as anything but a useful and stimulating part of the invention process.

I was also struck by the fact that most of the inventors I interviewed expressed a similar set of preferences and work habits. They like to work on multiple projects simultaneously in multidisciplinary teams, freely sharing their ideas with others. They reach out to experts in other fields and ask lots of questions.

They wake up in the middle of the night and sketch out their ideas on paper or visualize them vividly in their heads. They prototype ideas using materials that they are comfortable working with.

They use physical exercise to relax their minds and jack up their concentration. They seek mental stimulation and different tempos of thought in areas outside their specialties.

Most strikingly, they value slow time to ponder, dream, and free-associate.

So ingrained are these traits and habits of mind that none of the inventors I interviewed could imagine ever ceasing to invent, even if they retired from their professions.

The last bit also reminded me of Maker’s schedule from one of Paul Graham’s essays. I’m sure there is more good stuff in this book.

The side effects of being social: Noise

There are two paths between my home and office. The shorter one takes the longer. Yes, there is traffic but since I walk to office, traffic doesn’t matter. I didn’t even notice this curious anomaly for a long time as I almost always take the longer route. I avoid the shorter route as it is very noisy and it turns out that it takes longer also for the same reason. I need to push myself to get to the noisy stretch and that slow part makes the shorter path longer in time.

It seems that our work follows a similar pattern. We need peace and quiet to settle into our work, think about the issues that we need to resolve and then get at it. Look at “think work” like coding, designing, writing, understanding customer etc – all takes quiet uninterrupted time. In all these case, the best part comes only after some immersion into the problem/challenge. This immersion takes time but we seldom get it. We have multiple demands on our time and several of these are transactional.
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