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. >>