Tony Turnbull’s FinTech foray

Sir Humphrey Appleby this week smashed a bottle of bubbly over the bow of a new FinTech committee, blessing all who sail in her.

At least I assume it was Sir Humphrey. I can’t imagine who else could have been driving this latest committee launch. It certainly sounds like him:

“And to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.” – Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes, Minister (Doing the Honours)

Sir Humphrey: The latest recruit to the Tony Turnbull Government

There has been increasing chatter amongst Australian political commentariat that Malcolm Turnbull is quickly turning into a version of the man he fought so hard to replace, Tony Abbott.

Oh, how quickly they can turn.

The name ‘Malcolm Abbott’ has been landed in more than one place, although if this is the accusation, then ‘Tony Turnbull’ surely has a better ring to it.

Particularly if the Turnbull premiership is viewed, as this publication views it, through his Innovation Agenda. ‘Tony Turnbull’ certainly has the whiff off a slick tech salesperson.

In the short months since becoming PM, Mr Turnbull’s customers – let’s call them voters – are beginning to weary of the constant sales pitch and ask about, ahem, actual policies and results.

To such impertinence, like any good salesman, he pulls a rabbit out of his hat.

That rabbit was the surprise announcement this week of a new Committee on Financial Technology, or FinTech.

Yes, unsuspecting taxpayers, you might have thought that you elected politicians to actually govern – but instead you are landed with yet another committee.

This committee joins the 12 minister Innovation and Science Committee of Cabinet. One suspects there will plenty more to come – health tech, ag tech, education tech – the possibilities are endless.

Nevertheless, there is always merit in at least shining a light on potential growth sectors, and encouraging private enterprise, if for some reason mammon is not enough.

Here at we have long noted that the FinTech sector is certainly a rich well from which to draw. And it one of the most hotly contested slices of the tech sector across Asia. In fact, the sector has such a loud buzz about it that even seasoned insiders in the region are using the word bubble about it.

But so what. Canberra has finally discovered FinTech and that’s all we need to know.

Luckily, the private sector is well ahead of the game and this is evidenced by the somewhat bewilderingly long list of members of the committee. All are worthy and you can see them here. There are plenty more in the sector as well, and again here is a problem with this committee.

There are effectively three representatives from Westpac – a director, senior executive and head of Westpac-back venture fund Reinventure – one Commonwealth Bank executive, yet no-one from NAB or ANZ.

Surely ANZ should get a jersey for its far reaching experience in the massive Asian market that much surely be the main target of this strategy.

Still, it’s quite possible that those banks didn’t want to be involved in a strategy aimed at creating companies that would ultimately disrupt their businesses.

Interestingly, too there are no representatives from Australia’s biggest insurers. Financial services is far from being just about banking.

FinTech is all about disruptors. Put simply, it’s about finding the finance sector’s Uber or AirBnB. The question that needs to be asked is: what Australia’s unique point of difference?

The government’s poorly written and lazy press release just babbles about the huge size of Australia’s financial services industry.

Well, yes, it’s true we have $2 trillion dollars in pension funds. Yet it is Singapore that is now rivaling Switzerland as the world’s largest pool of privately managed wealth.

Hong Kong is the funnel for funds going into and out of the world’s second largest economy. Tokyo is home to the world’s No 3 financial markets. And then there is China, where innovations in digital financial services are arguably leading the world, the US included.

So Australia is somewhere in the game, but Asia Pacific leader? No. That’s just not the case. And why always do these plans talk of being the ‘leader’? It smacks of all the woeful plans over the years that have talked of making Sydney the financial centre of Southeast Asia/Pacific.

What’s wrong with creating two or three very good companies that can compete in the highly competitive, vibrant Asian FinTech sector without quite so much dick swinging?

But back to our friend ‘Tony Turnbull’. He is quite the opposite of Tony Abbott, who governed through a small kitchen Cabinet and dug his political grave with “captain’s calls”.

On the other hand, Tony Turnbull seems determined to govern by committee, a worrying signing of a distinct lack of leadership.

So will Mr Turnbull’s strategy of policy by committee be successful? It’s always premature to pre-judge, and life is full of surprises. But let’s leave you with another comment from the expert:

“It is characteristic of all committee discussions and decisions that every member has a vivid recollection of them and that every member’s recollection of them differs violently from every other member’s recollection.

“Consequently, we accept the convention that the official decisions are those and only those which have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, from which it emerges with an elegant inevitability that any decision which has been officially reached will have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials and any decision which is not recorded in the minutes has not been officially reached even if one or more members believe they can recollect it, so in this particular case, if the decision had been officially reached it would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, and it isn’t so it wasn’t.”

Thank you again, Sir Humphrey. (Yes, Prime Minister – Man Overboard) *

*Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were penned by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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