Paris Fintech Forum Communities

Laurent Nizri is MD of Altéir Consulting, chairman of ACSEL, one of the main bodies representing the French digital economy, and is founder and CEO of Altéir Event, which launched Paris Fintech Forum. We asked him what has happened to the event since COVID. 

Fintech Finance: How would you describe Paris Fintech Forum to someone who never attended? Why was it such a unique event? 

Laurent Nizri: Paris Fintech Forum was the most exclusive European event for digital finance/fintech. At the time, there were no other events gathering as many international CEOs from the whole industry, both on stage and as attendees. I think it still has an unbeaten record for in-person events in that sector. We limited our capacity to 3,000 attendees, to allow for real networking. We built it as a kind of ‘Davos of digital finance’. 

Over the five years that we ran the event, we never had keynotes. Instead, all speakers were asked to participate in value-added panels to debate and exchange opinions on the future of the industry. And, believe me, refusing to host keynote talks for CEOs and other senior leaders was not an easy task! We received numerous ministers, governors of central banks and other regulators, who were all subject to the same rules. Our 1,500-plus speakers over five years included Christine Lagarde, MD of the International Monetary Fund, Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of the Economy and Finances, as well as his colleagues from Belgium, Lithuania and Luxembourg, Carlos Torres Vila, chair of the BBVA group, François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Banque de France, Ann Cairns, vice chair of Mastercard, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas, Frédéric Oudéa, CEO of Société Générale, Thomas Buberl, CEO of Axa, Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, Steven Maijoor, chair of ESMA, and, of course, numerous CEOs and founders of the main global fintechs, including Revolut, N26, Nubank, Atom bank, Wise, Kabbage, Starling, Zopa, Lemonade, Consensys, Ripple, R3, Airwallex, Younited, Ledger and eToro among countless others. 

Another differentiator for Paris Fintech Forum was to gather together all fintech sectors. You could find credit, payment or neobanks as well as insurtech, regtech, blockchain and cryptocurrency tracks at our conferences. Each year, we had between 150 and 200 fintech CEOs on stage from all those verticals. We always paid a lot attention to any kind of diversity (geographic, maturity stage, gender, etc). And we continually refreshed our line-up from one edition to another. 

We never claimed that we selected the biggest or ‘best’ fintechs. We chose the ones who, at the time of each yearly Forum, best represented their industry, were driving a unique innovation and/or were simply experiencing strong commercial traction. 

Over the years, our selection was a mix of international unicorns, and a plethora of startups of various sizes, sometimes lesser known, who applied to be on stage via our online platform. Since PFF’s inception in January 2016 we received almost 5,000 applications from more than 70 countries. It was an important task and a labour of love to choose from among the deserving startups who applied. 

Yet another unique facet of the Forum was to foster business meetings between the different key players. In 2020, with more than 150 exhibitors, eight thematic lounges dedicated to business, and many side events for networking, our attendees had multiple opportunities to initiate new partnerships or imagine future collaborations. But the most impressive figure was the number of one-on-one meetings organised through the app: 6,500 meetings for fewer than 3,000 participants! 

FF: It is not a secret that your fifth edition in January 2020 was your last big in-person event. What happened? COVID, of course, had a big impact on events all over the world, but how did that impact you specifically and what has happened since for the Paris Fintech Forum? 

LN: I have to say that we were very lucky with the dates. I believe that edition was the one and only global international in-person fintech event held that year. Coincidentally, I announced on the main stage that we did not want to come back in January 2021 and that we’d take time to reshuffle the cards and reinvent ourselves.Let’s say that the pandemic pushed us to do that much more quickly than expected. 

To organise an event on such a global scale and with so many leaders and partners, you basically need an entire year. With the pandemic ongoing, we knew quite early in the summer of 2020 that we would not propose a large-scale event in 2021. 

So much was uncertain at that time. But we knew one thing: in this recently closed world, our community was more than ever in need of thought leadership and interactions, but, of course, compatible with the COVID time world order. 

We then launched the first version of the Paris Fintech Forum Communities at the beginning of 2021. The idea was to take a classic PFF programme and to deliver it in shorter segments, in digital or hybrid formats, and spread these smaller events over a full year. We created a series of thematic digital content streams with some in-person networking events when it was possible, all the while maintaining our core PFF spirit: programming top level speakers, international participation, and lots of interactions, online or in person. 

At that time, delivering virtual events was new for just about everybody. On our side, it was an incredible year. We built our own platform (based on a common framework) because nothing on the market truly met our needs. After much trial and error, we ended up for that first year with a hybrid model, delivered live 13 times from March to December, with speakers coming on stage in person and online, mixed digitally with a state-of-the-art video live production to give a smooth and highly professional result. We also developed and tried many new formats and concepts: speakers direct discussion, experts’ roundtables, classical panel, live sessions, recorded interviews series, and podcasts. >>

>> We tested and learned with our community what would meet their needs… or not. We also offered many networking options, allowing our members to interact in a variety of ways, and we even organised between the (numerous) lockdowns, some key in-person events, such as the Paris Fintech Night and the Women In Finance Lunch. 

FF: That’s what you did. And in term of results? 

LN: The results were above our expectations.More than 1,500 people bought a ticket to become a member of those Paris Fintech Forum Communities. We hosted more than 300 CEOs and chairs from all over the word in various sessions, our members had countless networking meetings across the year on our platform, and more than 50 partners supported us. 

It is important to mention that we managed to host our annual Paris Fintech Forum Awards online with more than 600 applications received globally, 40 fintech pitches and a Q&A in front of an international jury. The awards ceremony was broadcast live from Paris in October 2021 with the participation of the French Digital Economy Minister. 

We learned a lot. We tried many formats; some did not meet expectations. 

FF: Could you elaborate on that? 

LN: To be honest, while the events community may be ready for digital content, they are not totally ready for online networking. Online stands don’t work at all, and believe me ours were good – we even implemented live video interaction on each booth, to mention just one innovation. But attendees and exhibitors, have not yet developed the skills and capabilities to make the most of these new tools. 

Another failure was our ‘speakers in your lounge’ proposal. This concept came about from what I witnessed at the in-person editions of the PFF. Participants were always keen – not to say very pushy – to speak to other speakers in the lounge. So, we had the idea for all our speakers to be in Zoom breakout rooms after their live panels, where any participant could join in a video call on the platform for private exchanges. Most of our speakers did try. But it wasn’t a great success in terms of participation. We tried to understand why, and it appears that, for many attendees, they are used to in-person interactions, but still very shy and even intimidated by doing the same online. 

FF: But you mentioned earlier that you did have a lot of networking on the platform, so what was the winning formula? 

LN: We did implement and test many networking functions: attendees list and direct video calls, AI matchmaking, etc. But the one that really made things happen was the speed meeting. In a nutshell, you log in at a specific time that’s been heavily promoted, and every three minutes you meet someone new from our community in a video call. It’s all random. We had tremendous feedback on that functionality last year. 

FF: So, that was 2021 for PFF. But still, that does not tell us why we did not see you in 2022 in Paris for the big comeback that so many of us were expecting. 

LN: Luckily for us, we did not plan such an event for January 2022. You will remember that, at that period in France, we had another kind of lockdown with no events happening at all until March. We’d taken a decision much earlier to continue with the Communities format. That was partly based on what we saw happening with COVID, and also on our members’ feedback. 

Of course, in 2022 we adapted the programme to reflect the experience we had in 2021. Namely, our events were no longer hybrid; they were either digital or in-person. Second, we reduced the number of online formats, and we introduced several exclusive, in-person networking events to cope with post-COVID aspirations. Third, we dropped the digital capabilities that were not working and amped up those that were like speed meetings. 

By the end of this year, we will have organised four exclusive in-person events (two debate dinners, the Paris Fintech Night and the Women In Finance Lunch); three live online panels, followed by speed meeting sessions; broadcast 40 episodes of our fintech leaders video interview series, hosted by me and Elliott Gotkine; and aired a new podcast mini-series featuring six very special interviews with fintech founders. 


FF: I heard that the new podcast season is very special. Can you tell us about it? 

LN: It is more a kind of an un-podcast, to be honest. Take all the advice you learn from the best voices on podcasting, do the opposite and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. 

There is no ‘long run and frequency’ as there are only six episodes broadcast over six weeks for the full season. They are not formatted, I adapt the discussion to each speaker. They are quite long, indeed episodes can run from one-and-a-half to three hours. And they are not suitable for commercials, as we are focussed on the life of entrepreneurs, not businesses. It is more an experience. 

I am particularly grateful to our sponsors – Crédit Mutuel Arkea, BPC and Rise – who have supported my vision to conduct those in-person, very personal conversations, many in their homes, with high-level figures in our common fintech history. I had a lot of emotions doing that mini series.

Huge thanks to our six tremendous featured guests, too: the founders of Lydia, Trov, Lending Club and Upgrade, Monese, Kabbage and Tandem. 

The first episode will be available from November 9. I would love your feedback! 

FF: Who were the other partners for that 2022 version of the PFF Communities? 

LN: In addition to Crédit Mutuel Arkea, BPC and Rise, we had many banks, financial and other institutions that are very active in the fintech space, such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale, BPCE, Caisse des Depots, Banque de France, Mastercard, bpifrance, Orange Bank and Sunrise Banks. We also had the continuous support of tech and fintech players such as Rapyd, Banking Circle, IDNow, Thought Machine, Solaris Bank, Dreams Technology, Openpayd, Viva Wallet, and Sopra Banking Software, to name but a few. 

Given all of the tragedy that COVID-19 has brought to the world, I am grateful to our partner base, which has stayed with us during our test-and-learn phase as we pivoted from an annual, in-person event to the Paris Fintech Forum Communities concept. 

FF: So, this is the definitive version of Paris Fintech Forum – there will be no more annual events? 

LN: Yes… and no! I do believe that we have entered a new era. How could we want to do the same thing as ‘before’ in a world that is facing so many changes all at once. Let’s think about it for a minute: in 2020 the world shut down, like it never had before. And everyone can see that we are still in the aftermath of that, both in terms of business and our personal lives – even as a society. For months now we’ve had a war in Europe. We are also on the edge of what some expect to be the biggest recession in a century. No one really knows, but still, that’s the situation. And of course, the climate emergency and energy transition, even if not really new, is now a clear reality for all of us. 

The world is still changing massively to adapt to this new reality, and it would take too long to outline how all these changes have impacted, or will impact, the international events industry if we do not transform ourselves. Also, our participants and partners were very appreciative of the innovation we applied to our own business and took advantage of less travel time and more opportunities for interaction. 

So yes, this pivot – which was originally a reaction to the COVID crisis – has evolved into something unique and effective…something of which we are very proud! >>

>> We worked a lot with our partners and community members to fine tune our future, and this future is the Paris Fintech Forum Communities – a collection of proprietary digital content and exclusive in-person networking events, held across the year. 

That said, this new model is not static. One of the objectives is to be agile, to be able to adapt to the needs of our participants, speakers and partners, year after year, while being mindful of the global situation at the time we are making our decision. 

I described previously what we are doing this year for the 2022 edition, which is not finished (we still have some major milestones coming up in the next few weeks). Following the traction and success we had so far this year with that programme, we’ll be doing something similar globally next year, with one big addition. We’ll host a two-day, international and very exclusive in-person event at the end of May 2023 in Paris. It’s called the #PFF Leaders Summit. 

FF: So, you have to tell us more about that. Will the #PFF Leaders Summit, part of your #PFF Communities 2023 agenda, be like the #PFF many of us remember? 

LN: Partly. It is a kind of reboot, a back-to-the-basics approach. 

I do think that in this new normal, less is more. We no longer want to organise huge gatherings of thousands of people. So, this new event will, of course, share a lot of the successful fundamentals of the Paris Fintech Forum brought to the public: top level international speakers and attendees, a mix of all business verticals and company sizes (incumbents, fintech unicorns, start-ups, regulators), five-star venues and customer experience. It will be highly content-driven, with an extreme attention to details and, as before, it will have an international fintech selection pitches stage. 

That’s for the common points. The rest will be quite different. 

First, this event will be only and totally focussed on thought leadership and exchanges, with three stages of content and some networking lounges. No more exhibition halls or partner stages: it will be a very lean event. 

Secondly, it will be very limited in attendance with around 100 speakers and 500 participants, plus a specific validation process to buy a ticket. To cut a long story short, aside from a few exceptions and the second half day of the event, which will be a bit more open, the idea is that most of the ticketholders could potentially be one of our speakers, or very close to. In other words, we’ll be very selective! Content sessions will, by the way, take that point into account to make them very interactive with the public. We’ll host a big networking party in the evening so our international participants can mingle with a bigger crowd. 

The third big difference is the date. For years we were the January fintech event. That was great for business (not so much competition at this period for us) but there was a bit less chance for attendees to enjoy Paris and make the most of it. We have a beautiful city where a lot of our attendees and partners are doing business nowadays. May is a much better month to organise side events, business meetings, company trips and to enjoy the city of light. 

 FF: Clearly that’s very different to what we were used to with your previous in-person events. Some more questions then on this #PFF Leaders Summit: will the PFF Communities’ annual ticketholders be able to access that event? Will the sessions be videocast and accessible on your platform? And where will that event be held? 

LN: It will be a closed-door event with no video capture nor broadcast of the sessions. Maybe we’ll do it for the fintech pitches, we’ll see. However, even if we do not broadcast the sessions themselves, we’ll carry out dedicated studio interviews during the event that will be available exclusively on our platform. 

Regarding the first question, as mentioned previously, access to this event will have specific rules. So the #PFF Communities annual tickets will give you access to the #PFF Leaders party we’ll host during the event, but not to the #PFF Leaders’ Summit itself. The #PFF Communities tickets also entitle our participants to a full year’s access to our exclusive content, our live and digital panels and speed meeting sessions, as well as the annual Paris Fintech Night. As to the venue where we’ll host that new event, let me keep some surprises for later. 

FF: That sounds like a very ambitious and appealing programme for 2023. So could you wrap it up for our readers by reminding them of the key dates and information for next year? 

LN: With pleasure. In 2023 we’ll organise five in-person events with different concepts and all of differing sizes: the #PFF Leaders’ Summit and the attached party in May, the Women In Finance Lunch and the Paris Fintech Night in October, and the Debate & Dinner in November. We’ll also host three live digital panels and speed meeting sessions in March, July and November to allow our members to access, in short sessions, the best fintech and digital finance speakers and also to allow them to network internationally from wherever they are. 

Lastly, we’ll broadcast from March to December the third season of our famous weekly video interview series featuring top international leaders of the industry in straight-talking, exclusive interviews. And, depending on the success of our upcoming Fintech Founders podcast mini-series, I might also go back on the plane to record season two. 

As you can see, our community will have a full programme of thought leadership, in-person and online networking, and all that spread over the year. 

FF: To conclude, then, could you tell our readers how they can find out more about, and join, the #PFF Communities? 

LN: Thank you Ali, always a pleasure. To enjoy the rest of the 2022 programme and be part of our 2023 plans as a member, a speaker or a partner, stay tuned for information and announcement on our website and on Twitter @parisfinforum