Want to change the world? Go glamping! #tentsmoments

IMG_7489How many times have you been glamping? I have only been once so far. It was over the August bank holiday weekend. I was eager to escape my comfort zone and joked with my glamper buddy Nadia that this outdoor adventure could be the start of even greater feats. Today, Pippingford Park. Tomorrow, the Himalayas. But we were not only there for the glamping.

The escape happily coincided with the Byline Festival of independent journalism, which brought together hundreds of campers to dance, discuss, laugh and change the world. As well as switching off, the festival was a wake-up call to the pervasiveness of technology in everyday life. But it was also a call-to-arms of the power of language over technology and of our fundamental role as human beings to question events and machines.

Before changing the world, however, we had to align our expectations more closely with reality. On arrival at the festival camping ground, our hopes of fully-equipped luxury tents overlooking fields of barley were soon quashed by soggy festival ground and clogged ablution facilities. It was not quite what we had in mind when we bought the tickets.

But once we finally accepted our new circumstances and settled in, we treated ourselves to a night outside with some live music. We arrived at the Media Circus tent just in time for Brighton-based indie choir the Jam Tarts, a quirky theatrical ensemble of about 50 singers. Their renditions of Tom Waits’ Telephone call from Istanbul and the Kaizer Chiefs’ Every Day I love you less and less were nothing short of genius. After a night of fun, wine and giggles we headed back to our tent and to sleeping bags that were woefully ill-suited to the cold weather.

The interrupted sleep made for a slow start to the next day. Thankfully coffee and a bacon sandwich managed to revive me just in time for a day of healthy debate about the peculiar state of the world. Against the backdrop of frenzied political and socio-economic affairs, views were shared and opinions expressed. But what struck me most was probably the simple realization that being uncomfortable with or reacting to other viewpoints, no matter how different they might seem to our own, can only divide us and stop us from moving forward as a society. Independent journalism has an important role here to be mindful of diverse opinions and reflecting all of them, instead of only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ camps of thought.

This mindfulness was illustrated in Kris de Meyer’s Truth for Elephants – or how to disagree workshop, which explored the emotional mind, or the elephant mind. Sometimes irrational and easily led, the elephant mind can be exploited by external forces, including the mass media. Take Brexit for example, where certain media brought various emotions to the surface and caused heated arguments and divisions among people. The monkey mind is an even more impulsive force that brings various fears and anxieties to the surface. The monkey leading the elephant can be chaotic.

However, when presented with all information and points of view in a mindful or balanced manner, our minds are better equipped to have healthier disagreements. Put simply it’s important we have control of both monkey and elephant mind. Mindful journalism has a role in expressing all views fairly and in doing so helps to sooth any conflict so that we can disagree and move on.

From monkey minds to monkey madness. After day of debate we let our minds go wild and enjoyed another night of live music, which fittingly included a set from The Blow Monkeys. The Eighties band stirred up childhood memories with their hit song You don’t own me from classic chick flick Dirty Dancing. We also danced to The Vapours, who played their hit Eighties Song Turning Japanese. Headlining the show were the famous balaclava-wearing Pussy Riot. The Russian feminist protest punk group amazed us with their high octane anti-capitalist musical rant.

The next day, everything hurt and it was raining. Luckily Nadia had managed to ignite the gas stove outside the tent to heat boiling water for coffee. We decided to give in and make this our last day of glamping. But before that, there was one workshop that caught my eye given my occupational interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning in financial services. In a world where we seem keen to take humans out of processes, this was a reminder that computers often make mistakes. In the Democratizing artificial intelligence with data journalism’ workshop, Meredith Broussard, an assistant professor of journalism at New York University, showed how it’s our job to crack the code and reflect reality.

There are many examples of how computers can get often things wrong. Take the model used to predict who survived the Titanic disaster, which is commonly used in several industries today. It’s a simple excel spreadsheet with columns for passenger class, survivors, name, size and the life boat that the first class passengers of the Titanic got into (second and third class passengers had to wait in the hold). In the Titanic model, passenger data is fed into the computer and the model predicts who survived based on the level of their wealth.

This model’s use in the travel insurance industry today only serves an unfair system. On the mechanical assumption from the data that the poorest travelers are less likely to survive a disaster they are charged higher premiums. Journalists can use their skills to understand what’s going on and challenge that the algorithm created, which is not based on the real world principles of fairness.

In addition to these inequalities there are other things computers can’t understand when it comes to the nuances of the real world. AI alone won’t address the fake news problem because computers cannot determine what is right and what is wrong. In needs human interaction or in this case human fact checkers to determine whether or not something is true.

Another example of why humans should be a key part of the computational system is when cloud-based voice assistants don’t understand the nuances of languages. Some of them even get completely stumped by the Scottish pronunciation of “ELEVEN”!

But let’s not forget that computers are a merely a function of mathematics. Language is a little bit better at taking us further than mathematics which is why journalism as a discipline is good at looking at the outer limits of what we can and cannot do with computers. Whilst we get excited about AI leading to the Terminator Judgement Day scenario, we are a long way off the reality.

Feeling inspired by these messages of human endeavor and purpose, we decided that it was time to head back to London. But first we looked for one final adventure to push ourselves a little bit further out of our comfort zones. Slightly away from the festival was a walking trail leading away from the Woodland Spa. We walked along the trail and deeper into the woods until we reach a thicket. Everything was quiet and peaceful. No technology, no news alerts and no music, just the sound of rain drops falling through the trees. We paused to catch our breath and feel the serenity of the moment. It was in these woods at Pippingford Park that we stood for a few minutes, keeping it real…not fake.

Planning your next holiday? Here’s why you should try something human before looking online

Have you ever had a week off work with nothing planned? I found myself in this position last Sunday and I was eager to do something. Normally I would consult the artificial intelligence of several websites to build up a dream holiday abroad. This time, however, I closed the laptop and decided on an English road trip instead.

The decision meant that it was not the destination, but rather the journey that mattered and the experiences, particularly one unexpected encounter in a church, along the way. It was this particular journey that reminded me of the richness of human experience that you cannot always get online.

Admittedly, a two-night luxury spa break at the Elizabethan-style Dunstan Hall hotel in Norwich, Norfolk, provided the backdrop for my getaway from South East London. After booking it over the phone, I loaded the Qashqai, my beloved new ride that borrows its name from the nomadic Iranian tribe[1], and we began our off-beat migration to the East of England via the coast.

The journey started with an escape from suburbia towards Dartford in Kent. After a few miles on the A2, the Dartford Tunnel swallowed us for about a mile before bringing us onto the M11 towards the Essex countryside. With the smoking factories of Dartford fading into the background, a busy motorway took us past Chelmsford county.

After leaving Essex we headed through Ipswich in Suffolk. The dual carriageways turned into single, winding lanes, displaying the openness and freedom of the countryside. Overhanging trees on either side of the country lanes met each other in the middle of the road, their intertwining branches embracing for a stunning stretch that lasted for miles. The Coral’s Eyes like Pearls played over the radio. The song’s healing lyrics “can’t you see I was falling, now my trouble seems far away from me”, together with the peaceful serenity of my surroundings, brought various pent up emotions to the surface. In that moment I felt a sense of letting go of wanting things to be different than they are in the mind. A temporary relief from feelings of sadness from the illness of a family member, of regret from chances not taken and from things left unsaid and feelings unexpressed. With this cathartic part of the journey I felt the pressure valve beginning to softly loosen. I recalled the same feelings of hope and serenity when travelling on a similar stretch of road in Cornwall with a dear friend exactly a year ago. This reminded me of the difference a year can make – things change – and it was this Suffolk road that brought with it the peace and tranquility needed to reflect on personal growth and to be thankful for present moments. 

The road continued to meander into the busy sea side town of Aldeburgh, where the only available parking was at a yacht club outside of the centre of the action. After parking The Nomad near the river estuary, I skipped towards the pebble beach.

While walking steadily on the pebbles, I met Amy and Nick, who enlightened me about Aldeburgh and its charms. The fish and chip shop is a popular gem, they said, explaining the long line of people queuing outside. They described the Ship Inn at Blaxhall as lively and fun. Amy plays harmonica and the squeezebox there on Thursdays and gave me her number in case I fancied a night of live music. Shopping is also an authentic experience and a carnival was about to kick off. There warmth was welcoming and made me feel at home. 

I left Amy and Nick and decided to explore the high street first. A mile of shops selling everything from locally produced clothing, to jewellery, trinkets and antiques ran parallel to the sea front. I wandered into a shop selling birthday gifts and ornaments and bought a build-from-scratch model toy plane with decorative paints for my nephew. Next door, a local drinks store lured visitors in with a free gin tasting.

With the after taste of dry gin in my mouth, whose notes of juniper, sweet orange and hibiscus awoke an appetite, I ventured towards the comforting aroma of a local bakery. While enjoying a sausage roll outside I noticed that the Baptist church of Aldeburgh was showcasing the paintings of Ipswich-based Theronda Hoffman. The bright colours on the samples of her work outside caught my eye and enticed me into the church.

After a few minutes of gazing at the emerald jewellery for sale at the entrance, I was distracted by an accent that stood out from the local dialect. “Ag shame, you are so welcome here!” beamed the South African-born Hoffman in response to some visitors who had travelled all the way from Newcastle for the day to see her work. The brightly dressed Hoffman described how zesty seaside towns such as Aldeburgh provide as an endless source of inspiration for her paintings, which are a quirky combination of local landscapes and diverse colours from her native city of George, on the Garden route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

I walked through the church, taking in her work. Sitting on the pews and hanging on the walls were paintings of Aldeburgh street-life, houses and sea-fronts, some of them enriched with pastels and a mixture of bright and soft tones. More paintings of coastal towns adorned the walls.

I was halfway down the aisle and near the sanctuary, when Hoffman asked me what brought me to Suffolk. I told her that I am a financial writer by day and in my spare time I like to blog about my experiences, including this one. She reminded me of the creativity and quirkiness of South Africans and our affinity for taking the experiences of our surroundings and blending this with the diversity of where we are from, the Rainbow Nation.

To illustrate her point, she showed me her painting of the beach with a distant Aldeburgh town in the background. In the foreground, a Zebra with colourful stripes stood on the shore, completing a fun combination of Anglo-African art.  Given my interest in writing beckoned me to take a closer look at the Zebra. Printed on its stomach in small letters were the words: “The art to recognizing yourself, just be yourself.” With these words I felt the importance and value of being unique and remembered how Hoffman herself stood out from the locals but also complimented them. 

After buying two “Zebra on the Beach” print cushion cases for my living room, I left the church and headed back to The Nomad, which by this stage was covered in midges from the river estuary. We left Aldeburgh and headed on another country road, which traversed a patch work quilt of green and grain fields on either side of the road and through more forest towards Norwich.

After gliding in fifth gear for most of the way, with Muse’s ‘Something human’ playing fittingly in the background, I arrived at Dunstan Hall. I sat outside with a complimentary glass of champagne and reflected on the journey. It reminded me that while advances in technology and AI make it easier for us to pick where to go on holiday, it’s always the experiences along the way and roads less travelled that unmark our humanism, creativity and capacity for innovation that machines cannot copy.

My road trip playlist on Spotify:

Norfolk-ing way! East by South East Road trip songs

[1] The Qashqa’i people, composed of Turks, Lurs, Kurds, Arabs, Persians, and Gypsies, traditionally practiced a mixed economy of nomadic pastoralism, cultivation, and weaving. Their long seasonal migrations of 350 miles between lowland winter and highland summer pastures in the southern Zagros Mountains took them by Shiraz, southern Iran’s major city and a market for Qashqa’i produce.

You may not like my New Year’s resolution…

Welcome to 2018. It’s that time of year when we get asked about our New Year’s resolutions. These range from realistic goals to those that are low on enjoyment and high in self-loathing. I have one resolution for 2018, but it’s not really about me.

I thought of it after reading an article in Moneywise magazine, which asked a group of people, including yours truly, how much they would need to save in order to retire at 60. After a quick head calculation, I figured I would need about £40,000 per year to quit work early (before 68) and travel the world. I felt that my target was reasonable when compared with others in the same article (one interviewee said they needed over a £1 million in order to retire comfortably). And according to a friend, who is far more savvy on savings matters than I am, I was doing ok. So my resolution was not to embark on a diet of beans on toast for the next 20 years in order to save and retire comfortably at 60.

Ironically, though, the interview inspired me to towards a resolution that is not about money or saving for early retirement. In the same conversation with my friend, we segued into wellbeing. Families everywhere had their share of struggle in 2017 and some of those struggles have crept into 2018. The important thing to remember, said my friend, is to have at least one positive thought when you wake up in the morning and to be helpful towards others. Whether that’s in your professional or personal life, positive helpfulness towards others pays it forward, gets you noticed and comes around, he added, and the rest (future goals) will just fall into place. With that I decided that my New Year’s resolution is to be more positively helpful.

This may not appeal to everyone when getting fit, rich or more sleep rank among the popular ones that I’ve heard. That is because positive helpfulness relies more on helping others rather than being directly related to oneself, but indirectly it could lead to more happiness and a path towards realising one’s goals. It sounds worth a try rather than letting worrying about the future sap today of its joy. Here’s to a happy and positively helpful New Year.


How many Christmas presents did you buy online this year? Here’s why you should visit a shop for that one last thing…

How many Christmas presents did you buy online this year? How did that compare with the number you bought in the shops? Well, I bought all of my presents online except for one. I bought it in a shop – an experience that reminded me of richness of human interaction that gets lost when you’re transacting with a computer.

I stumbled on the said item last weekend while in Gozo, a small island belonging to the Maltese archipelago, whose megalithic temples and rural terrain provided a nice winter break. My friends and I had been sightseeing on the island and were headed towards our Malta-bound ferry when we decided that we wanted ice cream. Our taxi driver, who we had hired to take us around the island, drove us to a shop displaying the reassuring Cornetto posters on the outside.

On entering the shop, we were greeted by a woman, who looked in her late 70s. Although she was bowed-over with a gait which presumably alleviated some prolonged back pain, she welcomed us in, cheering, “Hello and Merry Christmas!” She then hugged and kissed each one of us on the cheek and brought us into the warm surroundings of wool, fabric and other souvenirs. She picked up one of the woolen jerseys and beamed, “Look, I made this myself!” She proudly displayed the intricately-kitted jersey, placing it against one of my friends so that we could observe in the full extent of its beauty and the warmth it could provide. Not only were we taken by the quality and design but also the authenticity and ability of this woman, who in a matter of seconds, had diverted our attention from ice cream to knitwear.

I briefly scanned the shop for a something suitable for myself and within no time I saw an azure blue knitted jersey, which the woman had also knitted. I had to have it. While my friends were in mid-decision about what to buy, a man and a woman entered the store. They were the woman’s daughter and grandson and they had just come back from hospital, they explained, where a family member was being treated for kidney problems. They hugged and kissed us, asked us where we were from and apologized for not being in the store when we arrived. Such a personal connection could not be replicated when buying online or on Oxford Circus, I thought. My friends and I were so impressed with these people and their shop that each of us walked out of the store with something other than an ice cream! They were naturally gifted sales people: down to earth, passionate about what they do and genuinely interested in their customers. The experience was a reminder of what gets lost  – that human connection – when we buy online. Although it’s easier to do so, buying from a shop reminds us that we are buying an experience rather than something we need. Happy shopping!


Why walk when you can run? A half marathon tale

Top five to-do’s before we get nuked: run a half-marathon in October, sign up for a six-mile team run beforehand, buy new trainers, eat cake and write a blog


It’s Wednesday, 9 August. Everything within the M25, the greater London orbital motorway, is awash with torrential downpours. Umbrellas are bent out of shape and the tube smells like wet sheepdog. To take my mind off things on my way to work I read about how, on the 28 July, North Korea successfully test-launched a long range ballistic missile. This followed a test of a similar Hwasong-14 two-stage missile on July 14. The second of those, which flew for about 47 minutes and reached an altitude of 3,700km, would have had a range of up to 10,000km. The nuclear warhead carried by such a vessel could easily have a yield of 300 kilometres, enough to devastate an area of over 70 square kilometres – about a third of the length of the M25!

Donald Trump’s watch asserts that this would never happen. But America’s Defence Intelligence Agency reckons we are at least two years away from North Korea having a workable intercontinental ballistic missile. Meanwhile, when faced with such uncertainty and gloom, I do what I always do: keep on running. My entry into a half marathon was the type of distraction that my mind needed.

The beginning

The email came in on Monday, 7 August. Austica, Deutsche Bank’s charity of the year was looking for 15 people to sign up to The Royal Parks Half Marathon in London on 8 October. It was a sign. I had wanted to do something good for Autistica since my employer made them their charity of the year for 2016 and 2017. I had heard a lot about what they were doing to raise autism awareness, to fund research and to help people with autism lead normal lives. Most of all I was inspired to support them by a young family member, who despite being unwell, has the type of bravery that grips my core. I didn’t hesitate. I signed up to the half marathon and had two short bread cakes to mark the triumph. That night I went to the gym and did a half-an-hour on the cross fit machine to commence my training.

Go team!

The next opportunity to prepare for the half marathon came on Tuesday, 8 August, when a work colleague was looking for someone to run six miles for the DeutscheRun team marathon. The 26.2 miles can be split as a relay or teams can run together. Every mile completed counts towards the team total. Experienced runners can even complete the whole distance themselves. The hardest part would be coming up with a team name.

These trainers were made for running

In committing to the two runs, I decided that it was time for a new pair of trainers. I found a pair of Asics which had enough support and comfort that would last me at least two years. Trying them on felt good – they were bouncy and bright pink to bring some colour to a rainy day.

Financial crisis remembered, with cake

On leaving the office after work I was reminded that is was the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis. Kristina suggested we mark with the occasion with cake. So off we went to Patisserie Valerie for a double chocolate cake slice and chin wag over the remains of the day. This carb loading for the half-marathon is going well, I thought.

Blog party

While on the train home I decided that instead of going for a run in the pouring rain that I would wait until Thursday to do so. I instead set up my sponsorship page and it is with this blog that I formally commit to running 12 miles on 8 October. Please help me raise funds for Autistica by visiting my sponsorship page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=JanetDuChenne&pageUrl=4



Collaboration and blisters

Lessons from a 50 kilometre night walk through London

“Shall I order an Uber to take us somewhere for dinner and we’ll forget about this?”, I jokingly asked Hosnieh when we were just 10 kilometres into a 50 kilometre night walk for charity. It was a Friday night in June and my question had some seriousness to it. Having not trained for the walk, I had my doubts about whether I would finish it. But Hosnieh, a walker who I had previously oversold the experience to as “a scenic walk through London at night”, spurred me on. She recalled how an acquaintance completed two marathons in two days. With both feet over the finish line, his body collapsed like an unsupported marionette puppet. What got him through it even when his body wanted to give in? Mind over matter. Never underestimate the mind’s ability to doggedly take over and get us through life’s challenges.

I somehow knew this but I would only fully appreciate it the next morning once I had finished the walk. There were other driving factors at play too. I was walking with industry colleagues from Comms for Good, an initiative set up earlier this year to connect people in banks and fintechs to collaborate over good causes and then talk about them through the written word. Supporting the charity Dimbleby Cancer Care (DCC) through sponsored activities such as the walk was one of them. I was also inspired by some of the walkers who were in remission and for whom 50 kilometres were a minor part of a bigger challenge they had faced. Their strength, as well as collaborating with people I know and admire for a good cause got me through the six stage walk, which I now have the pleasure in recounting.

Friday, 8:40pm The Start: St. Thomas Hospital, Waterloo
Mood: Feeling excited

A group of about 50 walkers met in the hospital canteen on the riverside wing and were split into smaller groups. With back packs fully loaded with water, sandwiches and snacks, we were seen off with a raucous cheer from the charity’s supporters. We began our journey along an effervescent Thames embankment southbound past the Tate Modern and towards Battersea. As a photographer documented our then fresh faces to film I met other walkers in our group, which included two financial services technology professionals, two doctors, a teacher and our paramilitary guide. We walked through Battersea Park and further down the Thames riverside towards Wandsworth. Two girls, who saw our branded DCC t-shirts, quizzically asked what our walk was about. On hearing our explanation, one of them guiltily extinguished the cigarette she was smoking.

Friday, 10:45pm #Pit stop 1: a yacht club near Wandsworth
Mood: Feeling contemplative

We carried on along the river past many pubs, where people were enjoying themselves outside, and reached the first pit stop at 11 kilometres. The yacht club, with its trophies and blazers in cabinets, was a sanctuary where we could briefly rest our legs, change our socks and replenish our sandwich and water supplies. We were then beckoned by our guide Rob to continue further along dense uninhabited riverside, in complete darkness saved only by a few torches. We passed the charming former Harrods Depository, now a residential building, and looped back over the Hammersmith bridge towards Chelsea.

Saturday, 1 am #Pit stop 2: A primary school somewhere in Chelsea
Mood: Feeling a bit tired

At 21 kilometres we reached a school where I had a cup of coffee and lay down for 10 minutes. Despite the tense back and shoulders I was somewhat amazed at how far I had come. But as we set off again through Chelsea and marched towards Sloan Square, I started to feel a burning sensation on the underside of my foot. I stopped briefly to investigate. I could not see anything unusual so I continued. We walked down Victoria Embankment past Blackfriars and St. Pauls and through the city towards Tower Hill. The burn was getting worse but I continued chatting to my fellow walkers to ignore it.

Saturday, 3:30 am #Pit stop 3: The Grange Tower Hill
Mood: Feeling tired and sore

We weaved through the city streets at dawn past the Old Bank of England. After meandering through the city of London we reached the Grange Hotel in Tower Hill. Amazingly I had somehow managed to walk 32 kilometres and I felt that having made it this far, I might as well continue. I sat on a lounger in the hotel lobby, took off my shoe and was greeted by five big blisters. During our half hour break, a first aider helped me with the necessary bandaging to continue with the walk. After that we set out into a beautiful sunrise at 4am to complete the next leg of the journey. We continued along the Thames River towards Greenwich passing through the tranquility of St Katherine’s Docks, Shadwell and Wapping. The walk was turning into a limp but stopping was never an option. We hobbled through it, supporting each other and were amazed that Comms for Good founder Kate was even able to jog by that stage. We zig-zagged our way through Limehouse and Canary Wharf, and on to Greenwich.

Saturday, 7:15am #Pit stop 4: Greenwich
Mood: Feeling amazed

We stopped at a church hall in Greenwhich town centre, having reached 42 kilometres. My feet were a mess but I was amazed by the distance I had walked. I asked the first aiders to add some padding to two newly acquired blisters and we were on our way for the last eight kilometres.

Saturday, 9am #Finish: Guys Hospital, London Bridge
Mood: Feeling elated

With a second wind and a spring in our steps we set off from Greenwich towards the City via Rotherhithe, enjoying the growing business of the streets and the warmth of the morning sun on our backs. We walked through Tower Hill and then past Shad Thames where cafes were readying themselves for the day. With sore legs I moved forward at a snail’s pace but I was relieved to be almost finished. We finally reached Guys Hospital where the charity’s supporters cheered us home. With tears of joy we entered the hospital’s cancer centre and were welcomed with an enormous breakfast spread. After a few group hugs, a foot massage and some reiki healing from the hospital’s specialists, I gathered myself and finally called that Uber to take me home.

Act now

Despite the aches and pains the Dimbleby Cancer Care Walk50 night walk challenge across London was an enriching experience and one that I would do again, with proper training and foot ware next time. The charity is already organising next year’s challenge on 15th June 2018. It is looking for participants in order to raise the vital funds needed to provide care and support for people living with cancer. Click here to sign up for the walk and join Comms for Good to get involved in causes such as this one. Let’s walk together and tell more good stories.

The true value of connection, collaboration and community

A new initiative has been launched to connect people in banks and fintechs without a commercial agenda but to collaborate over good causes

One Wednesday evening after work I attended a networking event for marketing and communications experts from banks and fintechs at Guy’s Cancer Centre in London Bridge.

The location provided a fitting backdrop for the launch of Comms for Good, an initiative designed to bring banks and fintechs together over good causes and demonstrate the true meaning of the words connection, collaboration and community. The idea is simple, in banking communications it’s easy to speak but not listen and talking about connecting and collaborating is not the same as actually doing it. “If a brand truly wants an impact the organisation must build lasting positive connections with its audience,” said Kate Bolton, head of PR and communications at Temenos and founder of Comms for Good. “Those lasting positive connections should be authentic and founded on something more sustainable than commercial agenda. We shouldn’t be in the business of talking ourselves but not listening – I wanted to connect with people in other businesses without an agenda,” added Bolton. That connection was instantly made between the 40+ people who gathered at the hospital, hosted by Dimbleby Cancer Care, the charity that helps people deal with the life changing effects of cancer.

Good causes make good stories

Comms for Good is about bringing marketing and communications experts together for good causes and to tell those stories with a collective voice. This is perfect timing for an industry that needs more good stories. It’s been 10 years since the financial crisis and yet the industry’s debt to society looms large, noted Chris Gledhill, FinTech influencer, blogger & co-founder of Bank Secco. “But instead of committing huge CSR budgets to repaying that debt, which seems like a competitive advantage, the impact is actually more community based,” he said. “And if we can collectively raise the reputation of the financial services industry it’s like a rising tide raising all of the boats.”

 Gledhill shared a few good stories in financial services:

  • Change Please is a charity in London that trains homeless people as baristas. Thanks to a recent partnership with Mastercard, those baristas can now have a wheelie stand and take digital payments
  • Lend with Care is an impact investing charity which gives people vouchers to do some impact investing. Instead of this money going to charity, people in the third world bid for that money to start businesses and pay the money back when their business is up and running
  • Barclaycard is partnering with UK children’s charity NSPCC, the Royal British Legion and Oxfam to enable people to make contactless payments as donations in the streets
  • Donorcoin is a crypto currency that enables people to donate to a charity by buying a coin for a vaccine, for example. That coin translates into a good at the point the good received so that the money is not lost along the way
  • The UK government’s newly launched a digital strategy is about digital learning in the UK. So far Lloyds has committed to training people with digital skills, while Barclays commits to teaching children how to code

Sadly, these stories often get lost amidst all of the other noise. To make them heard requires a collaborative effort and who better to spearhead that than the marketing and comms experts at these banks and fintechs. Comms for Good will look to collectively cut through that noise to get to the good things people do and align that message. “For every single fintech and bank there is a real opportunity to help financial services and to articulate the good in banking,” said Gledhill.

‘Like’ and ‘share’, but please also ‘do’

The industry can articulate that good through various forms of communication, including through social media. But, said Harriet Allner, communications manager at Starling Bank, instead of ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ things those ‘slactivists’ should be converted into ‘do-ers’. “It’s about speaking up about causes that matter, to take a positive, curious approach to impossible problems,” she said. “That’s how we make people want to do things because they want to be part of that tribe for a purpose and in this room that purpose is Comms for Good, putting generosity back in the heart of communications.” To tell the stories of what companies do to contribute to causes requires a community and shared vision, said Allner. Telling those good stories means everything. “Stories help make sense of the world and they can change it. Comms for Good is built on sharing and valuing each other’s stories and that’s essential,” she said.

Act now

Here is where that collaboration and the collective telling of those good stories begins. Comms for Good means banks and fintechs coming together for a good cause and telling the good stories about financial services that need to be told. To do this, Dimbleby Cancer Care, under the banner of Comms for Good, is organising a Walk50 night walk challenge across London on 9th June. It is looking for participants in order to raise the vital funds needed to provide care and support for people living with cancer. Click here to sign up for the walk and join Comms for Good to get involved in causes such as this one. Let’s walk together on 9th June and tell more good stories.

How to make a change

These days few journals get published without touching on the importance of talent, hiring and diversity in business. But why are these themes so difficult to get right?


On the first dreary Saturday of no-fun February, I went online in search of ideas to write about talent and diversity. I stumbled upon an email with a link to an interesting read about software company AppDynamics, which accepted a whopping $3.7 billion intent to acquire from Cisco. Founder and chairman Jyoti Bansal, took a moment to reflect on his company’s journey in a blog. Nine years ago the just-out-of-college software engineer spent his Saturday nights in his Silicon Valley apartment writing code and working on his vision for a company that would leverage the power of software to make a difference in the world. His biggest challenge, once he had secured funding and found a market for his product, was building an initial team: “It wasn’t easy, but by being patient and selective in our hiring, we were able to assemble a winning team,” writes Bansal.

These days few journals get published without touching on the importance of talent, hiring and diversity in business. So I looked into these themes and it’s easy to see why, given the relentless pace of change and innovation, they are the mantra of any fintech or bank trying to survive and prosper in today’s world. But why do they keep us awake at night? The answer is simple: they’re still so difficult to get right.

Research by First Round, titled the State of Startups 2016, captured what it means to be an entrepreneur. Of the 700 founders surveyed, talent and customer acquisition were the top concerns. However, the research also shone a light of the lack of diversity. Founders were asked to pinpoint the main driver behind women and ethnic minorities being underrepresented in tech. Men are more likely to blame the pipeline into tech; women place greater emphasis on unconscious bias and lack of role models. 61% of founders say their boards are all-male.

 In banks, over 70% of board members are all male. As my erstwhile employer Global Custodian magazine points out in its latest issue, some believe the financial crisis was the turning point away from the male-dominated culture among the top financial institutions. It notes that keeping up with the pace of technological and regulatory change have required major top-down cultural shifts, requiring a mindset shift away from the ill-fitting “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, to getting more diverse ways of thinking on board to help solve today’s problems.

The financial crisis brought about new rules and focus. An article published by strategy+business titled ‘Banks biggest hurdle: Its own strategy’, found that, in all four groups surveyed, banks had at least begun to recover from the financial crisis by 2014.

A top priority for many banks now, says the article, is regaining their relevance and reputation by rebuilding customer trust, demonstrating a positive role as facilitators of economic activity and prosperity, it adds. “They have to demonstrate not just the will but the coherence needed to deliver. They will have to reinvest in new capabilities, including digital and financial technology (fintech) prowess. They also need to revitalise their recruiting and retention practices. In the 2000s, much of the best talent coming out of business schools went into investment banking. Now, the best people go elsewhere, often to technology companies. Banks need to win those employees back.”

Many say that the key to turning the oil tanker in banks starts with nurturing talent and diversity. Diversity and inclusion means getting differing voices and doing things differently than they have been done before. As Global Custodian points out, embracing diversity and inclusion are not only good from a societal stand point but they can also have a positive impact on business. McKinsey research says ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform.

For this a cultural shift is required. But change is scary. Unconscious biases and survival instincts edge us towards hiring those who are like us. Many banks are still recruiting as they have done for the last 20 years, notes Corjanne van Drimmelen, coaching lead at Structure Talent, an organisational change advisory firm. “They tend to recruit people that produce and execute and people tend to hire similar to themselves. Of course, it would be possible to adopt new ways of recruiting with the right guidance and support,” she adds. I can’t help but wonder whether AppDynamics’ Bansal might have done things differently today when building his initial team. Would he have hired his “good friend” and engineer as his first founding team member, along with several other like-minded engineers, or would he have gone a different route?

Driving organisational change needs engagement of men and women and an openness to listening and understanding, says the Global Custodian article, which points to a three stage process to igniting transformation. The first part is informing: what does culture mean/values of the organisation. The second is to engage people and get their input on ways forward so that they feel they truly have a say in this and the third is to embed the change. It’s about doing something radical and getting them on-board with the strategy.

For start-ups and banks, a pool of talent to scrutinise whether you’re doing the right thing, open communication and involvement of diverse groups of people at all levels in the strategy would be helpful steps. We’re seeing the first steps of change, with companies hiring diversity officers and heads of culture and talent to drive it. While we still have a long way to run, this year and the next should be an interesting one for talent and diversity in these organisations.

Pitch me quick

From fintech to fashion, London’s biggest start up event sets the scene for 2017


When it comes to New Year aspirations of setting up a new business, some 2000 entrepreneurs might see a rainy Saturday in London’s Docklands as the start of something wonderful. Hence their lengthy que outside of KPMG’s offices for StartUp 2017 at 9am.

On the other hand, a Saturday morning lie in followed by Mexican breakfast overwhelmed my appetite for a full day’s networking, and I arrived at the event around midday. Justifiably, my timing could not have been better given the host firm’s lunch display of bulgur wheat salads, coffee and bottled water in rustically decorated canteen on the ‘Winter Garden’ on the 13th floor.

But that’s not all £10 entrance fee covered. The event included panels on ‘raising angel investment’, ‘getting the right support from the start’, ‘bank and trade finance’, ‘how to grow your business on facebook and Instagram’ and ‘how crowdfunding works’ and provided an opportunity to hobnob with representatives from the world’s most entrepreneurial organisations.

On entering StartUp 2017, I was greeted by Enterprise Nation’s event guides who were enthusiastically google-esque in approach, and furnished me with an afternoon program at reception before steering me to the seminars and the exhibition area.

I wondered into an abyss of meeting rooms where start up hopefuls were engaged in one-to-ones with business consultants ranging from the fashion to the fintech industries, while in the adjoining rooms, industry-focussed seminars had people spilling out of the doors. I met a tax consultant and member of the ICEAW who mused over the number of meetings he had had since 9am. “There’s a great energy here,” he noted. “Either that or it’s the bottomless coffee.”

We exchanged caffeine infused hand-shakes and I made my way up to the exhibition area, where Microsoft, Facebook, Enterprise Nation, KPMG and Reg123 were holding fort. I spoke to the Enterprise Nation helpers, whose organisation offers a range of platforms to aspiring entrepreneurs, including a dedicated phone line, access to buyers and journalists discounts on services and accountancy software.

The last keynote address of the day – titled ‘getting the right support from the start’ – drew a strong crowd. During the keynote, the audience heard about the range of financial support available to today’s entrepreneurs, including crowd funding. But the blend of funding is important. Traditional lending can be a good compliment to newer forms as its equity free, pointed out a panelist from HSBC. Another panelist added that insurance can also help to cover some of the risks taken in business.

The panel also explored accounting, with consultant and ICAEW member Raj Shah advising start-ups to meet more than one accountant who can help with the structure of their business.

Turning to digital, the panel also heard how Reg123 can support entrepreneurs throughout the online journey. A panelist offered some domain name advice: “rather than buying all of the domain names, the domain name should reflect your brand or your name. There’s no hard and fast rule but .com is most trusted. It’s not easy to find a short one but taking Enterprise Nation as an example, here there is no ambiguity. In an ideal world you should also check which social media platforms are available – search on google for hyphenated words or words which have a different spelling. The money you spend on this is worthwhile.”

So what makes a good blend of financing? A HSBC panelist said it’s about how much startups are willing to give away. “There are big angel forums but they’ll want a big part of your business… traditional banks will fund early if the business is structured and the repayments makes sense. The other key question is when are you going to earn an income that brings traditional funders into play?”

An audience member asked whether traditional lenders felt challenged by Fintechs, many of whom are seen to be taking market share away by offering consumers something different. He replied: “It’s both exciting and challenging for the industry. It’s forcing us to think in different ways… it’s changing the industry. But it will only be successful if it changes the customer experience. So we think it’s good. We partner with local connections and networks.”

And so, in those few hours at StartUp 2017, I might just have become convinced that this could be the year for more innovation and support for new businesses thanks to smarter partnering between smaller firms and the bigger stalwarts of financial services in order to make consumers’ lives easier.