Imaginative Futures for Finance

Photo by Nick Kerigan

Design Informatics researcher Caitlin McDonald was recently invited to speak at the closing session of the Innotribe track at Sibos, a financial services conference with 10,000 global attendees which took place earlier this month in Amsterdam. Respondents from several different disciplines and business sectors were asked to respond to a series of provocations imagining the future of banking. Caitlin’s prompt was, “Imagine if banking were the next frontier in space: what would it feel like and what would it inspire?” Read her answer below.

Banking: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the investment Enterprise. Its every-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new wealth and new ways of transacting. To boldly go where no financier has gone before!

On 13 October last year, William Shatner went to space. The imaginary starship captain became a real space passenger on the Blue Origin space shuttle. When his feet were back on the ground, he didn’t make that speech, but he did say: “What I would love to do is to communicate, as much as possible, the jeopardy, the moment you see the vulnerability of everything.”

In an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir, Shatner reflected on his time up there: “When I looked into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold . . . all I saw was death. I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing….Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong….I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe….I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us.”

The truth is that we’re already on a spaceship: this planet, that we are on right now. We don’t need to imagine the next frontier in space because we’re in it, and we’re confronting its complex realities all the time. Space is colder than last quarter’s stock market. There are bigger black holes out there than the o in LIBOR. It’s full of dazzling points of light like gilt-edged securities. And just like an overwhelmed futures trading pit in the 1980s, no one can hear you scream.

So what should this next frontier in space inspire? Not just fear! There are approximately 200 billion trillion stars out there, and an uncountable -illion planets. And you were lucky enough to be born right here, on the one planet we know of with life stupid enough to potentially destroy everything…but intelligent enough, we hope, to save everything too. So what does it inspire? Hope. Optimism in the face of uncountable odds: that we can do more and be more together. Because, speaking as an anthropologist, I think that’s what banking really is, at its best: one of the ways people tie the fabric of society together, every day, through small and large recognitions of value. So let’s all boldly go.