AMID the solemn swell of bankers in dark suits at Sibos 2015 are bright blips of colour and casual chic from the new class of finance elites: the fintechs. Young, smart, and slightly unshaven, those from start-ups in the finance industry have shaken down the banking world by offering banking services that are faster, and more convenient for consumers.
And the banks choking with executives from Generation X want to work with them, with many executives this week talking about fintechs as collaborators rather than competitors - a different shade from the wariness when fintechs first emerged.
"Fintech is not about disruption. it's about collaboration," said Oliver Bussmann, group chief information officer of UBS, on Tuesday. "They don't want our money. What they want to do is to use our platform . . . and test out their ideas."
But there is also a sense of weariness as banks, with their chains to legacy systems and regulations, must welcome a breed of partners that are different in size, and style. Can those who espouse the virtues of kale juice fit into a banking culture that is not so partial to lumberjack shirts?
The punishing hire-and-fire practices at banks will sit at odds with the fintech culture, noted Michael Gorriz, group chief information officer at Standard Chartered.
"They've got not very much money - they are funded just enough to make payroll at the end of the month, but they are so eager to change the world. They don't know whether this has a good outcome," said Mr Gorriz.
"This is something which in banking is just not acceptable. The hierarchy tries to control everything, puts KPIs around it. And if you're not successful, you're punished. If you fail, gone. Fired."
But bank executives have been humbled enough, at least in public, to acknowledge that fintechs - and technology - have raised the bar. "The smartest people in the world don't work for your company," said Steve Ellis, head of innovation at Wells Fargo, at a separate panel, urging banks to seek out partnerships.
Banks now openly praise technology firms for creating enviable opportunities from data - a goldmine banks left idle due to broad regulations over privacy. Indeed, there are fintechs now that build a credit score by analysing the time that mobile calls and messages are sent, by customers. Another watches how long a borrower stays on the terms and conditions website, to assess if he is likely to default on the loan.
"In the past 10 years, there were so many companies out there that were able to provide a superb digital experience. I was so used to it, that I was astonished that my own bank cannot give me some good advice for some very decisive moments in life," said Mr Gorriz. "What we have to do is to look at the customers individually and tie this imaginary ribbon made by technology, and tie the customer in, during his whole lifespan."
Many bank participants have also pulled out the same security blanket, arguing that consumers and corporations still want to bank with trusted - or at least, regulated - institutions.
Still, some lenders such as DBS are trying to turn its culture inside out, creating a start-up environment to flesh out new ideas for digital banking. Neal Cross, chief innovation officer of the bank, said that he wants a nimbleness at Singapore's largest bank, and has experimented with hackathons, while re-inventing hiring processes. Banks cannot rely on buying a piece of technology alone to be competitive, he noted. "If that's your digital strategy, good luck with that."
But the greater openness today also speaks, paradoxically, to a greater confidence from banks that no fintech can replace them, yet. Fintechs attract generous funds from venture capitalists, but the size of banks' balance sheets remain many times larger than that of start-ups.
"We cannot compete with that," said Julian Kyula, CEO of MODE, which allows subscribers from emerging markets to request a salary advance from their phones. "That collaboration (with banks), which I truly agree with, is the next integration."