Andrew Vorster: Innovation on the Front Lines
We were lucky enough to get to chat to the inspirational Andrew Vorster - futurist, Innovation Catalyst and a keynote speaker so popular you're almost bound to have heard him if you've been attending tech or payments conferences long.
He has tremendous understanding of the payments space, and was VISA's VP Technology Solutions and then the VP Technology Research for all of VISA Europe. We've got to admit, there's no substitute for feeling his energy, enthusiasm and depth of knowledge in person or over the phone - but we've tried to pick out the best bits to share. Try to imagine it in a warm South African accent.
If you're wondering which COVID-19 changes will stay with us, which one trend transcends industries for decisive ubiquitous impact, or how you could improve your relationship with innovation - this is the interview for you.
Let’s clear up any confusion before we start - What does being a futurist mean? Because I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with crystal balls.
Absolutely nothing! Let’s get that clear right at the start. This isn’t about predicting the future - this is about realizing there is no meaningful sense in which there is “the future.”
What we’re really got are multiple possible futures - possible paths we could take. What I encourage people to do, and what I give them the skills to do well, is to examine different possible paths, and what they might mean - and what you can do with them. There’s a formal academic structure for this, one which was an important part of my university training, and you can use it to both understand and reimagine the options out there.
The future isn’t written yet. You have a say in what it looks like. If you start analyzing the trends that exist now, and start thinking about what you can do with them, how you can make things simpler, smarter, faster, better, you can start building the future you want to see.
That sounds like something that would be true personally, as well as professionally?
It should be. When you have a passion for something, whether it’s in your private life or your professional life, it touches everything you do. That’s why I try to always develop passion projects, even though there are never enough hours in the day. You need that in your life - and you’ll be astonished how much of it feeds into your professional life, too.
Silly example - I really love personalizing things. Branding, I guess. I make special t-shirts for conferences like Money 20/20. After about the fiftieth time I was asked where people could buy t-shirts like the one I was wearing, I realized I ought to make them available - so I put them on my site, as merch.
[Editor’s note: The images in this blog post are almost all from the merch section on Andrew’s site, and used here with his permission, so head over there to track down any that particularly catch your fancy.]
If it’s your passion, then everything becomes interconnected.
How did you get into this - creating a job which is all about innovation and the future?
What you have to understand is that I am, fundamentally, a lazy person. You know that quote, which is usually attributed to Bill Gates, about lazy people? I believe it’s actually from Frank Bunker Gilbreth (talk about passion projects - I’ve written a whole book tracking down inspirational quotes and drawing out what we can learn from them) but you’ll know the one I mean - you give a hard job to a lazy person, because they’ll find an easy way to do it. That’s me.
One of the reasons I love technology and innovation so much is that they give us ways to make everything faster, smarter, better. Time is the most precious resource we have. I want more of it back.
This was something that caught my attention about Identiq, when I first saw it: you were focusing on the good customers and removing friction from their online experience. That really caught my attention. You stop fraud, sure, but you do it by identifying good users and making their lives easier.
I really related to that. I use tech to remove friction in my life. If you can do the same to remove friction in your customers’ lives, they’ll love you for it. It’s that simple.
You work in so many different industries - is there any one trend you see running through all of them?
Just one. Collaborative ecosystems.
It was there before COVID-19, it’s here during, and it’ll be there after. It’s subtle, but it’s everywhere.
It’s been gathering momentum - look at financial services. You can see, with open banking, a level of innovation around partnering and joining up to provide services, and customer experiences, that simply wouldn’t be possible if organizations worked alone. Big legacy banks are starting to fully embrace the concept of ‘let’s partner with someone who’s great at this’ rather than build internally.
The results are better, and it makes the pie bigger for everyone - not to mention more digestible for consumers.
It’s a concept you can see cross-industry, now, and it’s a core strength for those who manage to leverage it. You ask: What have we got that’s unique? What can we match that with, to create something amazing?
I heard an astonishing keynote recently from a man high up in the Ministry of Defence in the UK, talking about the way they engage in POCs with non-military companies, and run hackathons and startup days, and partner with companies from multiple industries, from healthcare to transport to communication and more. That was unthinkable even a few years ago - up until two years ago, they did absolutely everything in house. Now, it’s an entire partnership industry.
People take pride in and feel ownership, when they build the ecosystem. And that adds its own value.
I thought of this as soon as I saw Identiq - an identity verification network, that doesn’t share identity information? Now that’s interesting, that’s new, that’s a way to let companies build new partnerships. With each other, as well as with you guys, since they get to work together directly for results, now that they don’t share data. It’s a sustainable, powerful form of collaboration.
Companies are looking for that kind of partnership now, they’re ready for it. I see it everywhere - it cuts across industries.
What else are companies ready for? How are they adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, and will any of those changes stay with us?
Ready or not, change is here, right? You have the choice of whether you adapt to it, and even try to get ahead to guide the changes - or not. And I’m seeing some companies really rise to the occasion to innovate.
Consumer behaviors have changed already. Consumers want contactless, suddenly. It’s not a fad or a question, it’s what they want. So, what? Well, if you’re not adapting, the “so” is that you’re excluding people who don’t have the contactless ability. That’s just how that one works.
So, what? So you need easy KYC to include those people, to build an inclusive financial product. You need transferable trust. Which brings us round to Identiq again, actually.
Any trends you don’t see staying with us?
The shift to full-digital. I know that seems strange coming from me, because I’m all about tech and how it can improve our lives. But these conferences and organizations which are shifting to virtual-only… No.
Humans need other humans. It’s as simple as that. Businesses who can make virtual events as physical as possible, and be ready to go full-on physical when they can do so safely, those are going to shine. There’s a level of immersion and attention you just won’t get otherwise.
Moving away from the weird now, and looking at the 5 year stretch, let’s say, which are the tech trends you think will be most impactful?
1. AI - It’s not just a buzzword. I’m talking about automating mundane tasks, removing human error - especially with voice as an interface. That’s still so untapped, but it’s our most natural interface to connect to the world. You don’t need to teach people what button to press - your grandmother could use it, for goodness sake.
People think of Alexa and Ok Google when I talk about this, but there’s actually already an entire leap beyond it - take a look at Clink.com, if you’re curious. It’s a natural language interface so computers can understand human speech, in a messy human conversational context. It can help you with complex things like “How much did I spend on my last holiday compared to the holiday before that?” and it can do it in seconds. You can just say “Send Granny twenty dollars” and it’ll know who you mean and how to do that, and it’’ll do it. It removes the tech barrier, for any age.
And then there’s AI analytics and infrastructure - in fraud prevention, pattern identification, the things humans are too biased or number blind to see. And in vision - for security, for health and safety in factory environments or hospitals.
2. Drones - for the industries where it’s relevant - disaster relief, medication in remote areas - we’re seeing this at the moment, taking blood samples from remote areas to test. Drones in transportation, in deliveries. Before I die I'll be getting drone delivery instead of a letterbox.
I’ll give you an example from very recently: How can teams approve building plans during COVID-19 lockdown? Because you want builders to be able to get back to work as soon as possible, not have to wait three months for the team to wade through site surveys. But you need 12 people to view this site. So you use a drone. And again, here - this is a change that’ll stick around. It’s easier, faster and cheaper than the old way. Companies who can see that change in motion and cater to it, they’ll help craft that part of the future.
3. Connected everything - It’s underlying all these trends and more. We used to talk about “IoT” but that’s not it, anymore. It’s not just things. It’s everything. Everything is connected - even us, with our multiple devices that we carry around all day. It’s the internet of… us, in a sense.
The point I do want to make, with all of these - especially these, because of the kind of impact they’re going to have - is that we need to think about it. What they are, what they mean, what the consequences will be.
Progress should be a conscious conversation.
It’s not about what we can do - it’s what we should do, and how we should do it. What if it goes wrong? Identiq is helping solve a problem we got into that way, right? What could go wrong if we share data with third parties all over the place? Well, looks like quite a lot, really.
We need more thinking before doing - and a lot of tech companies, sadly, don’t do that.
What is the greatest misconception people have about technology and what it means for our shared future?
People overestimate what will happen in the short term, and underestimate the long term. They think things will happen fast, but life changes slowly - even though tech develops fast. People's attitudes, and cultures - those take time to change.
You’re not “too late” - if you start now. Grasp what’s happening and run with it. I hear people say “IoT is over” - no, it’s become part of everything. It’s actually a great time to innovate, in that area, if you can do it in a real, meaningful way.
Anyone can be innovative. Innovation comes from everywhere: “Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way” to quote Tom Freston.
It’s not invention. Invention is usually innovative, but it’s only one form of innovation.
Think of things as Lego building blocks - and put them together differently. Tap into that time when you were a child.
Innovation is not limited to an Innovation Department!
If you could choose one message for businesses to internalize, what would it be?
Don’t rely on other people - think about the future yourself. Make it yourself. History is not yet written yet - so don’t wait for other people to write it.
About Andrew Vorster
Andrew's work as an Innovation Catalyst is grounded in his experience in technology and payments. He was at Visa for nearly a decade, where he was first the VP Technology Solutions and then the VP Technology Research for all of Visa Europe. In this crucial role he took responsibility for bringing innovation to the card network, identifying the most impactful trends and behaviors through research and analysis. Before that he was CTO of PeopleBank, transitioning to the same role at Workthing after acquisition. He is a strong believer in sharing his experience and expertise, and has mentored many startups and founders, notably through Startupbootcamp.
We felt that Andrew's insights, as well as being fascinating, were relevant to our Front Lines series because it is so important for fraud prevention leaders to keep a watchful eye on the future and developing technological trends, especially when the present poses so many challenges that need innovative solutions.
This blog post is part of our Fighting Fraud on the Front Lines series, bringing the expertise and experience of veteran fraud fighters to a wider audience. Identiq is all about collaboration, and we firmly believe that the more we pool our knowledge (though not our data!) the stronger we become as an industry.
Do you have something burning to share with the community? Or do you know someone who has a lot of fraud prevention wisdom to share? Reach out to us!