Paris Fintech Forum 2018 — Our Experiences

Paris goes by many names. It has been called the City of Love.

It has been called the City of Lights.

And recently, it has been called the City of Fintech. And not without cause. From January 30th to 31st, the centre of Paris became the stage for the annual Paris Fintech Forum, hosted by Altéir Consulting. Being a fintech service provider ourselves, we spent two busy days at the conference. There, we met a multitude of people from all walks of the industry. But what was Paris Fintech Forum like?

Short version: It was a trip worth doing and we won’t spare you the details. So here comes the long version: Our review of the Paris Fintech Forum 2018.

Coming to Paris Fintech Forum: The Journey

Getting to the French capital didn’t present major problems, thanks to the great rail connection between Paris and Germany. We simply met at our office in Cologne on January 29th in the evening. Five minutes later: We boarded a Thalys train at the nearby Cologne main station. Three and a half hours later: Bon soir, Paris!

Luckily, our hotel and the event location both were within walking distance from the station, too. This way we could avoid the dense Parisian car traffic. We strongly recommend you take advantage of the train connection as well, if your company is based in Liège, Brussels or the German Ruhrgebiet. It is an unstressful way to travel. There is a wide choice of hotels in the vicinity of the Palais Brongniart, the convention’s location, too.

For our part, we chose to stay at the Ibis Grands Boulevards Opera. Despite the name, it did not emit a theatrical flair. However it did feature a typical characteristic of Parisian inner-city hotels: Space-saving rooms, to tell the least. Barely a hand-width of clearance separated one team member’s head from the bathroom’s ceiling. The modern, clean rooms and the short way to the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 somewhat made up for the lack of latitude, though.

Initial Impressions: The General View

One check-in was done. The next awaited us at the Fintech Forum’s location. Regarding its history, it’s hard to imagine a location more heavy with meaning and relation to the financial industry. The Palais Brongniart is located at the Place de la Bourse, which translates to “Stock Market Plaza”. And indeed: The Palais Brongniart holds the multi-country stock exchange Euronext, with other locations at Amsterdam, Lissabon, and Brussels. Before that, it housed the Paris share market, way back to the 19th century.

Expectedly, the Palais Brongniart, named after its architect, is a stunning, neoclassical building: Brightly illuminated halls, lined with soaring pillars. Those halls provided plenty of freedom of movement — during breaktime the elbowroom shrank dramatically, though.

Our unobstructed glance at the entrance area was fleeting — the Paris Fintech Forum was a sellout.
Our unobstructed glance at the entrance area was fleeting — the Paris Fintech Forum was a sellout.

And having just spoken of lines: The registration process for the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 turned out a bit time-consuming. That was less due to the process itself. Rather, it the frequent failures of the registration IT at both booths slowed the process down. One half of the team waited in the quick line and was ready in no time. The others had to school themselves in patience.

We made sure to be among the early birds of the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 on both days. A good decision, not only in regard to the registration: The breakfast served on location was quite popular. Thus, not everyone got a taste of an original French croissant — let alone any baked goods at all. The late arrivals came away empty-handed, we learned.

But that wasn’t a big problem. The staff provided a steady flow of drinks and snacks during the Paris Fintech Forum. A good portion of culinary courage was a prerequisite, though. Many of those little delicacies had neither a label, nor a tell-tale appearance. The proof of the pudding was in the eating. Not that we encountered any pudding at all.

Paris Fintech Forum 2018 Overview (video by Paris Fintech Forum)

Another notable thing at the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 was how the organizers handled the language barrier. While the event itself was held in English, we saw many visitors with special headsets. Given out by the event host, they translated whatever was spoken on-stage. By way of contrast saw a good deal of company booths with French-only lettering and marketing materials. The Paris Fintech Forum 2018 was not only an international but also a very French conference.

The First Day: The Busy Hours

Our first stop after arriving was the Main Stage area. In this big semi-circular hall, Laurent Nizri officially introduced Paris Fintech Forum 2018. Nizri, Altéir Consulting CEO and Acsel Vice President, made clear, that while the event is a “Fintech Forum”, it should not be mistaken as a sole fintech conference. Related “techs” like regtech or insurtech would also have a voice here — and those “techs” are legion. Indeed, the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 featured a diversified lineup of more than 200 speakers and talks. From compliance to crowdlending, from investors to robo-advisors — if your company operates on the backwash of financial services and technologies, you would have found at least a few talks and presentations of value for you.

A few words to the attendees by Laurent Nizri, Altéir Consulting CEO
A few words to the attendees by Laurent Nizri, Altéir Consulting CEO

Aside from the Main Stage, the talks and presentations of the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 took place in five separate rooms. The first session we attended is a great example of the variety of topics discussed in the Palais Brongniart. Under the memorable title “Blockchain — Yes, but why? What? How?” the company Capgemini staged a panel discussion on blockchain technology and its role in the industry. If you already had encountered blockchain in the past, there weren’t many things to surprise you. But for beginners, the panel gave a throughout overview of the whole topic. The same was true for many other talks, too. The great variety of topics dealt with at the Paris Fintech Forum happened at the expense of depth in some cases.

Why? How? What? Capgemini left no questions unanswered, when it came to blockchain.
Why? How? What? Capgemini left no questions unanswered, when it came to blockchain.

Some of the prominent topics dealt with at Paris Fintech Forum were:

  • Blockchain
  • Regulations
  • Payment
  • Co-opetition
  • Investments and Fundraising
  • InsurTech
  • Internet of Things

The networking areas constituted the other big part of the Paris Fintech Forum. They turned out to be more profitable for us. At least seven such areas spread across the Palais Brongniart. Most were run by official Paris Fintech Forum partners such as Wirecard. The two public networking spaces were especially well-frequented. You could always find decision makers and business envoys sitting there and engage them in conversation.

The semi-public Brello Lounge, run by Altéir in cooperation with Ohana & Co, also offered meeting tables, but only by registration via a specific Brello app. A table was booked for short 15-minute sales pitches and business partners were assigned via a matchmaking system. This sort-of “business speed dating” worked out surprisingly well, so in hindsight, we wish we would have made more use of the app to schedule our sales pitches at the Forum.

The big windows at the networking lounge really brought those orange chairs to bear — a perfect setting for a CoreWallet sales pitch.
The big windows at the networking lounge really brought those orange chairs to bear — a perfect setting for a CoreWallet sales pitch.

And on the subject of pitches: Paris Fintech Forum 2018 featured two on-stage company pitching events on both days, one taking place before and one after lunch. At the end of the day, the hosts awarded some of the pitching companies with prizes in categories like Best Pitch, Best Business Model and many more. The aforementioned partner-run meeting areas featured their own pitching sessions as well, a worthwhile example being the Go Global Sessions.

We didn’t spend much time in front of the pitching stages, dividing our precious hours between hearing keynotes and talking business. Doing so led us to the two exhibition areas of the Paris Fintech Forum. The big international players monopolized the Palais Brongniart’s basement, while the first floor presented the small companies and startups with their very own sandbox. The term “sandbox” is not a mockery, mind you, but an actual description of conditions. A large pile of sand filled the middle of the room. We learned that it cleaners had used it in the past to clean the wooden floor of the building. Well, it did draw some attention to the startups and to the Corbeille space right next to them. That was, where the interviews were conducted.

The sandbox area on the first floor was the “playground” for some enthusiastic fintech startups.
The sandbox area on the first floor was the “playground” for some enthusiastic fintech startups.

The many-faceted line-up of Paris Fintech Forum 2018 did not keep just us occupied. Word had it, that the rainy weather outside had caused major flooding on the Seine outside, but no one inside the Palais seemed to realize anything, even though the river was mere one and a half kilometers away. Such is the mesmerizing power of fintech…

The Evening: The Parisian Chic

In the evening, the host concluded the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 with a great gala dinner for a selected audience. The suspected main criteria to choose the participants for the dinner: The title row at the application folder. Obviously “Sales Manager” was the wrong title — from three forum attendees in our team, only our two founders received an invitation to the dinner. Our sales manager had to put up with eating alone. He settled for burger and fries at Bioburger Victoire— a decision he didn’t regret.

You don’t need a Grand Hotel to get your share of Parisian cheese.
You don’t need a Grand Hotel to get your share of Parisian cheese.

Meanwhile, at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand, our two co-founders had to wait just a little bit longer for the buffet to be opened. So they enjoyed a glass of champagne and listened to an interview the host Laurent Nizriconducted with the French minister of Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi. Sadly, the acoustic of the Grand Ball Room was far from ideal, so the talk with this prominent guest didn’t show to advantage – instead, it contributed to an overall atmosphere of nervousness. The dinner itself was pretty pleasant, with interesting dialog partners sharing the table with us, for example, the founders of Bucket Technologies and RiskConcile and the famous Joseph Lubin, CEO of ConsenSys. The food was of catering quality, but just as we expected they had fantastic French cheese on the plate.

No matter whether cheeseburgers or camembert triangles, we returned to our hotel with a feeling of utter contentment and conference-induced fatigue. So much for a great first day.

The Second Day: The Departure

The second day started with a hearty breakfast, which we choose not to take at the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 but a small coffee shop near the hotel. It was a storybook lesson in modern payment. No less than 5 terminals for electronic payment lined up in the store. On the other hand, making change for a 50 Euro banknote at the counter turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle. Paris, the city where the future of payment has indeed begun, when compared to Germany.

The second day of the Paris Fintech Forum 2018 began with a talk with Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, a global cellular network provider opening its own bank as well — a very insightful presentation. After that, the first half of day two at the Palais went by pretty much like day one, with us concentrating on presentations and sales pitches. It was a lot more dragging than the first day, due to the increasingly stuffy atmosphere within the halls. We also realized that many attendees, especially those with longer journeys than us, had already departed by lunchtime. Luckily, we could meet with a few fellow businessmen we knew from the Money 20/20 in Las Vegas — and we agreed on meeting each other again at the upcoming Money 20/20 in Singapore, Asia’s number one finance hotspot. It’s a small fintech world, indeed.

In the game of networking we were dealt a good hand at Paris Fintech Forum.
In the game of networking we were dealt a good hand at Paris Fintech Forum.

FinLeap, a fintech incubator situated in Berlin and Milan, hosted the Lunch. Invitations followed the same rules like the night before, it seemed: The title filter was turned on. Yet our two founders used the opportunity to swap ideas with the CEO and co-founder of FinLeap Ramin Niroumand. This made the second day at Paris Fintech Forum all the more successful for us than it already was.

In the end, tiredness got the better of us, too. Finding all taxis taken in front of the Palais and nobody there, who could give us the number of one, we fell back on Uber to get back to the hotel. We packed our stuff and boarded a Thalys back to Germany. Au revoir, Paris.

A fair share of attendees left early during the second day — most had a long journey ahead of them.
A fair share of attendees left early during the second day — most had a long journey ahead of them.

How was Paris Fintech Forum 2018: The Résumé

Looking back on those two eventful days, we have to say that we’re glad to have been in Paris for Altéir’s Fintech Forum. The event had a cosmopolitan flair with many international guests. The event featured talks and presentations on diversified topics, which didn’t reach as deep into the matters as we would have preferred in some cases. On the other hand, bringing together a wide array of specific sectors of fintech and payment under one roof has the potential for uncovering synergies, which are not obvious in other contexts. In comparison, Money 20/20 EU puts forward more PSPs (if not too many), but isn’t nearly as diverse as the Paris Fintech Forum. To put it straight: We will likely be participating next year and will evaluate if running our own booth is worthwhile for us.

À bientôt, Paris!

Did we miss something? What do you think, what was Paris Fintech Forum like? Let us know in the comment section. And if you’ve missed us at the networking area, you can use our contact form.

Images © trimplement GmbH, Cologne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.