Friday, January 31, 2020

Bye Bye EU

In the early months of 2016 I was attending a couple of crowdfunding events in Europe. One in Amsterdam I remember particularly well for the conversations outside of the sessions and at the networking events. Lots of people asked me, being one of the few Brits there, what I thought would happen on the BREXIT referendum.

There was general surprise and disbelief when I told them that I fully expected the UK would vote to leave. At first they mocked and played along with what they thought was a joke on my part. The idea that the UK would vote to leave was completely unbelievable to this predominately young crowd who, when engaged with the UK, tended to do so via London and the metropolitan views so commonly expressed there which would have simply echoed theirs.

As it dawned on them that I was serious they at first thought I was crazy. But as I spoke to them about why I thought it would be the case the reaction moved to one of apprehension and, in some cases, fear.

As it turned out my prediction was correct.

Later in the year I was in Europe again at another fintech event and was told in no uncertain terms by some German EU reps that inspite of the vote that it, BREXIT, would never happen. The UK would never leave they told me and that I simply did not understand how these things worked. It seems I did know my country better after all.

I make this point today for two reasons.

Firstly there is an important lesson for anyone involved in the crowd economy, beware of confirmation bias and be sure you are listening widely when you try to engage with the crowd.

The second reason for mentioning it is because today we do begin that journey away from the strictures of the EU and for this I am wholly thankful as the regulatorily interventionist, bureaucratic and civic code model of the EU stands four square against the opportunity and promise of crowd economics.

For me the two points are in a way related. As it happens I not only managed to call that referendum, but the US presidential, two general elections and a Scottish independence vote pretty much spot on, much against the prevailing wisdom of pollsters and predictors everywhere. I am also not a fan of the EU.

How so?

As someone with numerous degrees, having lived and worked over seas for many years, being married to an immigrant I am by most estimations a “citizen of nowhere” by Goodharts rules and should in all probability share the prevailing pro EU views of such demographics and been wholly undone by finding pout that my iphone chatter was so out of step with the electorate.

But, I also failed my 11+, have trade tickets as a welder and bricklayer and have done more than my share of terrible soul destroying jobs to understand that real pressure is working back shifts in a foundry as casual labour worrying about making the rent. It is not sitting in a swanky office working hard as a well paid management consultant deciding who might get fired at a clients business.

As a result I have always managed to retain connections from people through out my life. I have good ties to both ends of societies spectrum White collar, gilded collar and blue collar and so I seem to have a reasonable feel for a broader swell of feeling than perhaps those that have a a lens dominated by social media and a group of like minded followees at that.

No, I have seen what has happened to my once proud little home town and not in the slightest surprised they said “enough” to politicians who seemed to despise them and hid behind the excuse of Brussels to not act in their interests.

This is, I think, an important lesson for anyone in the crowd economy. Social media is not the real world and it is, in large part, a low touch relationship. Use it as a barometer at your peril.

But my antipathy to the EU (not Europe I hasten to add – two very different things) runs deeper than simply the decline of my home town. No I think their instincts are all wrong for the crowd economy so freeing ourselves from that approach is a cause for celebration in my opinion.
When I was invited to debate the merits, or otherwise, of Brexit with an eminent Economics Professor and vice principle of Glasgow University last year, you will not be entirely surprised that we didn't see much eye to eye. Apart, that is, from the fact that we both agreed that to that point the negotiations had been very poorly handled.

The Professor was unwilling to engage with the dreadfully inaccurate predictions made by other eminent economic advisors to the Bank of England or the then Chancellor ( apparently he hadn't read them). Similarly he had no answer to why it was that Europe was not leading in the fintech arena or indeed how it had singularly failed to great a Microsoft, Facebook or Google. One wag suggested in the audience that a large American market to build from might have something to do with this, to which my counter was “so much for the much trumpeted single market eh?”

No the answer is, in large part, interventionist regulation. English common law has allowed the regulated aspects of crowd finance to flourish here in a way it hast under a civil law model. Similarly it is the EU's instinctive Luddite fear of allowing technologies liberating aspects to flourish which gives us bureaucratic failures like GDPR and “the right to be forgotten” and the disastrous copyright directives which we will thankfully be ignoring here in the UK.

No I wont lament our departure from the EU and I shall continue to use it as a real example of both the risk of narrow consultations, and the dangers of poor ill considered regulation in a world where innovation runs ahead of old protectionist regulatory models designed to favour incumbents and not to embrace the opportunities we could, and should, be looking forward to.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Vince Cable is Wrong About the Impact of Excessive Pay

Vince Cable warns firms on the dangers of “excessive executive pay”  by highlighting the dangers to their firms of a “loss of public trust” but it seems they and, more importantly, we don’t actually care enough for that threat to hold water. Until we do nothing will change, but what if anything will spark that revolution?

I like Vince Cable. I find myself more in agreement with him than disagreement but his recent pronouncement about the dangers presented by “lost public trust” through excessive pay settlements at large corporates - notably Banks - will fall on deaf ears. The truth of that is entirely apparent. If Banks, for example,  really did believe a loss of trust was in any way a threat to them they would have acted long ago to actually enact meaningful change to address it. Trust was destroyed in Banks and financial institutions a number of years ago when their giant ponzi scheme and unfettered hubris caused the meltdown in a financial farce that we have all suffered the consequences of. I see no evidence that trust has recovered in any shape or form since.

But we didn't act back then. The opportunity to truly make a change was then and despite the activities of the Occupy movement, some street protest and and much vitriolic comment our actual appetite to suffer the inconvenience of bank failure, loss of savings, and a more radical form of unrest coupled with a monumental lack of vision, courage and leadership from the left meant that the chance to bring about radical change was missed. The threat of a loss of trust to banks passed. There is, and never has been, such a thing as “too big to fail”, its just a matter of your stomach for the consequences and challenges of surviving that failure. Of course politicians have little appetite for it and, so it seems, neither do we anymore.

Since then we have seen a prolonged attritional period in which the more lowly bank staff, along with many others, have lost their jobs in order to reinstate the system that produced the problem in the first place. This year bonuses on Wall Street are reaching pre crash proportions, Barclays are awarding themselves huge bonuses despite a massively under par performance despite being called (accurately) “Greedy Bastards” by one investor at their last AGM and the tokenistic vote by Standard Life to not support the bonus award this year. The parting on the left has indeed become a parting on the right

And why do we not act? Why do we not desert banks? Why do we continue to buy the products and services from firms with ghastly levels of inequality in their pay structures between the self serving and mutually self justifying stratospheric pay club of these serialy failing top executives hoping from one corporation to another, and the shop floor?

Well in part we are lazy and unwilling to be as courageous as Samson and push the pillars aside and brave the falling masonry.

Another reason is a our willingness to embrace debt. Debt makes us slaves which is why the institutions, banks - and particularly the Governments love us to take it on. Debt encumbered wages slaves are much more passive and far less troublesome. Marx described religion as the opium of the poor. Well debt is the cudgel.

I am also of the view that many of us are disengaged from the reality of this inequality, thinking that these excesses exist a long way from us whereas in fact they are in organisation that we encounter and transact with every day. To that end I believe in total wage transparency at every employer so that everyone knows how the money gets spread around. At a stroke it would enable us to identify and address gender inequalities in pay, but also it would expose the monstrous them and us distribution in even mid sized firms and make us clamour for a fairer share.

There is also in many cases a lack of alternatives - but that may be changing.

I think Vince knows that his threat of “loss of public confidence” rings hollow as the rumbles of potential other legislation to tackle the situation.  It may be more of a threat to him than the business he aims it at,  

No the answer lies with us to act and until we do nothing will change

Being of a certain age I am perhaps more wedded to the notion of revolution than a modern western generation. And having grown up under the shadow of nuclear conflagration I have always embraced the possibility and prepared for the process of starting again in the ashes of a post apocalyptic world.

But maybe I am un reconstructed and perhaps the brighter future is less born in fire and more in triangulation. The empowerment of social and collaborative publishing and sharing technologies provide us with mechanisms to by-pass institutions by constructing alternatives, and it brings the possibility of greater transparency. And so it is that we see new digital currencies emerge, crowdfunding democratising investment and releasing new capital, and wikis transforming how we create and share information and I am proud to play my small part in using these tools for change and helping these ideas to develop.

If we can perhaps couple this change with the growing interest in circular economics and collaborative consumption models we can perhaps look to a less debt ridden, consumption dependant  future where the corporate monolith and bank dependency is reduced. Here we may not have to desert them we simply never engage with them.Then perhaps a loss of public trust might truly have an impact and focus minds. But, till then, I think Vince is wrong. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Question of Trust

I am not surprised by the “revelations” of the Ellison Report and the activities of the “secret” police unit the SDS. I am not surprised by the revelations of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Nor am I surprised by the information that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden released. I grew up in the 60’s on the left. But if scales do begin to drop from others eyes the question of “Who do you trust?” becomes very real.

I have never believed that the state operates in my own personal interests. I believe it operates in its own interests and will happily justify and defend inequality and vested interests, habitually distort subvert and undermine its own rules and laws and to do that all on the basis of a “necessary evil.”

Its probably part of  being a child of the 60s and growing up with a left leaning mindset. I remember so well attending left wing meetings back in the 1970’s and Special Branch, or similar, standing outside taking down the numbers of cars in the car park. When challenged why they were doing this the excuse was usually parking issues, roadworthiness checks or something similar but strangely enough the local Conservative Club car park remained unpatrolled.

So the revelations about GCHQ stealing webcam pictures, bugging hacking and surveiling our online world is not a surprise to me. Frankly I always assumed that this was the case. I also assumed that any competent terrorist or foreign intelligence service also knows about it or assumed it was happening and so would take the necessary measures to avoid it. If not they were not really much of a threat really. No, I always assumed that the excuses trotted out by the state to justify its habitual intrusion on legitimate activates was simply a cover for suppression and anti democratic, and as soon as a politician trots out that they are undertaking some inherently illiberal act on the grounds that it will help prevent “paedophiles” eating our children or something similar, you know they are simply dog whistling away like crazy. As Pit the Younger would have it “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

I am sure that there are some foot soldiers in the various agencies that still do drink the koolaid and believe this is all good and well intentioned but, to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn, - who knew a thing or two about state intolerance – “in order for men to do great evil they must first believe they are doing great good.”

But, the state does what it does purportedly by the notion of consent and the fabric of our society is bound by trust.

Of course whilst it was probably a minority of folks like me that worried about this kind of stuff back then and the habitual bogey man then was the threat of the “red under the bed”, such a small number of “concerned citizens” wasn’t really an issue for “the authorities”

But as the light progressively shines on the workings of those seeking to defend their privilege and power perhaps more will join my view and, in so doing trust will gradually erode. The moral high ground of our institutions is increasingly seen to be built on sand, and their hypocrisy rings ever more hollow.

Trust is one the key currencies in the socially collaborative world we increasingly live in and it is why so many organisations driven by irretrievably deceitful marketing campaigns are finding it difficult to adjust.

But it is exactly why the fearful state being so intrusive in this realm is so dangerous.

A progressive decline in “respect” for institutions” or even the rule of law and the trust that binds is for some a scary prospect, for others it heralds revolution.

But the question asked ever more frequently is “who do you trust?” and if you don’t trust how can you, I, we and they work to rebuild it?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Value of Crowds

A little while back I was asked by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce to provide the closing keynote to the inaugural CROWD conference. The purpose of the event was to reinforce the value of a community like the Chamber and how that crowd of entrepreneurs can assist one another. To draw the threads of a really practical event together I thought I would engage in a bit of an examination of three key assets in a crowd and some one or two main ideas on how one can begin to generate value from a CROWD. Firstly we looked at the role of a crowd as a source of distributed cognition, or collective wisdom. This is where the group can offer a considered view which when aggregated can be very insightful both for the collective insights available from the clusters and grouping of views but additionally through the existence of outliers and their novel perspectives. This can be translated into value through the activities like brand perception exercises, validation and diligence work, to horizon scanning and weak signal detection. Secondly we considered the role of the notion of a crowd as a talent pool, and the reach that it provides to individual point of deep insight. This is distinct from collective approaches where you are concerned with groups and deviations from it. Here we are looking for individual occurrences of specialized knowledge and insight so its value typically comes in crowdsourcing exercises, innovation, crisis management and problem solving. Finally we looked at a crowd as a third asset - a mechanism for collective action, where we work as a group to create a groundswell that is irresistible and brings about change. Here we can see value through activities like crowdfunding, campaign and major project delivery. What is common to all, but is often overlooked, is that to work effectively crowds of individual autonomous agents need to be managed, and simple rule sets are needed to establish a framework within which we can create value. Without them we have chaos. To demonstrate this point we spoke of mexican waves and the wonderful examples of murmurations. This type of flocking has a simple rule set that can deliver extraordinary emergent happenings, and if you haven't experienced one try this one out courtesy of the film makers Islands and Rivers. What is particularly pleasing to learn is that Don Tapscott, Global curator of Social Media Week used a similar example in his TED talk in Edinburgh this week. Nice to know that we see eye to eye on this! How has a crowd been valuable to you?

This article was first published on the twintangibles blog

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The end of year and maybe the end of banks?

Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays, thinks that banks lost their way by becoming too focused on short term profit and now need to reconnect with long termism. Perhaps banks did focus on short term profits but the fundamental problem  is their misunderstanding of their purpose and the environment the operate in. Consequently, in an individually empowered world, they are in danger of being bypassed.

I am a great fan of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. It both infuriates and entertains me, but the now annual Yuletide happening of inviting in guest editors can be doubly interesting ( I cant wait for PJ Harvey on Thursday!). Today's Today editor was Anthony Jenkins CEO of Barclays and a man who, it seemed to me, was on a mission to try to present a human, reconstructed and penitent face of banking. Getting into the detail of how well that was achieved and how much it was heartfelt or so much  flummery would take too long so I won't begin to try here. However, in the course of the programme he introduced the idea that the primary issue with banks and, by extension, the root of the collapse of 2008 was an obsession with short term profit. This, he appeared to argue, blinded the banks to risk and incentivised immoral behavior - I paraphrase of course.

It’s a convenient and not unreasonable assertion, and one that is commonly advanced post crash. I am a constant critic of shortermism but on this occasion I think he has missed his mark.

Its not that I don't believe short termism was/is present and that it is very corrosive its just that, for me, the key underlying issue with banks is the decline in there understanding of what they are there to do. Banks are a service and they asses risk and this is a complex undertaking with a mutual power relationship between the banks and those they serve.

On a personal and business level I deposit my money with them and instruct them to disperse it as I see fit, when I see fit. For that they can, and should, charge me a fee. I use their service because, in theory, it frees me from having to guard my money personally, and it is convenient. I may also borrow and I pay for that too. These are mutually beneficial and supportive relationships but it is also a complex relationship.

Banks thought this was purely transactional and a simple or complicated relationship. They commoditised the transaction to drive down cost, used money to make money to no particular end (still do), and we each became a number - not a person. In commoditising the transactions they introduced unnecessary and new risk and the lack of autonomy for local decisions meant they had no ability to make sensible logical service driven exceptions. The relationship was broken and unequal.

I have little doubt that this approach was aggressively promoted by consultants who did binary sums showing how by systematising things they could strip out cost. The banks drank freely of the koolaid and bought all the hardware that the consultants could sell.

But as Peter Drucker and others have pointed out there is a world of difference between complex and complicated and ability to truly judge risk was gone, as was the visibility of the risk. We all know the outcome.

But the problem for the banks is that changing back takes a lot of time. The reintroduction of "relationship managers" does not change it. They have neither the necessary experience nor heuristics and they are lacking in autonomy being bound by the same system let strictures that have cost billions to put in place and cannot be undone by bankrupt banks.

No doubt the banks hope our appetite debt will hold us and buy them some time. I wont get into the issue with our relationship with debt at any length here but suffice to say whilst I accept that some debt is some circumstances may be necessary debt does make us slaves and both governments and banks encourage us to have it in order to pacify and chain us.

However, times are changing. The digital revolution is founded in the notion of empowerment for the individual and alternatives are emerging and some are already well established. Alternative payment schemes like Paypal, stripe, Google wallet and Bitcoin are operational and increasingly accepted. Alternative finance options exist with the emergence of crowdfunding in its various forms and particularly P2P lending.
Of course the institutions and vested interests will close ranks to defend their pals and endeavour to reign these innovations in, no doubt on the nefarious excuse that "criminals might use them". It’s a line harder to hold when not only have criminals both robbed and used banks, but all the more hollow when we know that some banks have been/still are operated by crooks!

But the global and virtual nature of the digital and crowd empowered economy, and the trust bonds that pervade it, means that a new generation is developing a taste for a world without retail or merchant banks, so hold onto your hat Antony - you might need that shipping forecast job after all.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sad Mad and Bad - or why the FCA is wrong in its crowdfunding proposals

I have said for a long time now that one of the greatest problems bedeviling crowdfunding is a lack of understanding, beyond the superficial, of the fundamental principles that underpin it, and that its greatest threat is in the fact that vested interests and institutions are some of the least informed around. The FCA proposals for the regulation of crowdfunding have unquestionably proved me entirely correct and whilst in some cases it can be nice to say “I told you so” I take no pleasure in that on this occasion.

There are many pieces I would take issue with in the consultation paper and I shall be participating in the response process - although I have limited hope that it will make a whole lot of difference. But, in the interests of brevity let me just point out a couple of the really truly idiotic aspects of their proposals, those being the notion of  gating equity crowdfunding to only “sophisticated investors” and promoting the mediation of “financial advisors.”

Why is the constraint of participation wrong? Well it’s wrong on a range of counts but for a starter it kills the supply of capital. One of the guiding principles of crowdfunding, in fact its greatest offer, is the democratisation of capital and that is delivered by allowing people to participate who have previously been excluded. By constraining participation you constrain capital flow. This flow must be maintained  otherwise crowdfunding does not bring additional capital into the marketplace and without that crowdfunding is not expanding the offer to businesses and addressing a need. A need, we should remind ourselves, that was greatly increased by the failure of the traditional “sophisticated” investment market to run itself very well.  In fact it did it so badly that it needed to be saved by significant contributions from the "unsophisticated".

At the same time lowering barriers to participation is a fundamental principle that underpins the transformational nature of the online world. It by passes gatekeepers, it embraces innvoation, it is a force for equality of opportunity, and it allows people to re imagine themselves into roles that have previously been denied to them. By applying constraints you curtail that transformation and reign in freedoms.

Secondly, what constitutes a sophisticated investor?  I had an interesting chat with a financier the other day who proudly described himself as a sophisticated. However he was one that clearly had no real understanding of crowdfunding and seemed unconcerned when I pointed out that Lehman Brothers were considered pretty sophisticated in the time before they took a multi billion dollar fall from their sophisticated heights.

One of the fundamental criteria used  to define oneself as a “sophisticated investor” is individual wealth and income. It makes no distinction as to how this wealth is acquired and, I have to say, based on my experience the holding of wealth has never been a good indicator of  either sophistication, intelligence or judgment. One outcome from the proposal would, of course, be to help ensure those with wealth have the best chance of retaining and increasing it.

A key idea behind crowdfunding is that, by opening up participation, it brings in a much more broadly based set of evaluation criteria and, importantly, a breadth of different motivations to invest. This means that the traditional investors with their existing lense, often aggressive expectation of return, short termism and limited motivations can continue to turn their gaze away from investments they do not consider suitable, and this is fine. But by stopping new participant from engaging it threatens to prevent those same opportunities from being considered by investors with a different set of criteria who may find something of value in the proposition and invest in an idea that would otherwise have stalled.

The availability of this alternative assessment model  is absolutely imperative at a time when banks - the major source of business investment in the UK - have systematically deskilled themselves in this area. I would, and have, argue this is to the extent that they are largely incapable of making suitable decisions at a local level now and frankly lack the level of local autonomy to change that arrangement in the short term anyway.

Of course making retail investments of the type offered through crowdfunding brings with it risks for the investor, but so do all investments. And it’s not as if the track record of our sophisticated investors is infallible.

To suggest that people are so dumb that they don't recognise the risk to their investment is patronising in the extreme. Amazing though it may seem to the FCA but to the best of my knowledge pretty much everyone in the local branch of betfred (other betting shops are available) seem to understand that their little flutter on the 3 o’clock at Aintree is not a sure thing and they don't ask for their bet back when their chosen nag comes in last. Of course drawing such an analogy to the attention of the FCA - as I have - tends to get the lame response of “we are not responsible for regulating the horseracing industry”. My response would be THANK GOD FOR THAT! They are not responsible for house purchasing either and it seems entirely possible to make the largest investment in most people's lives without the intervention of a regulated body - estate agents famously aren't of course - and to even own that asset without insurance.

My point is that I have greater faith in people to make the sensible choices than the regulators it seems but, more importantly, the introduction of alternative evaluation criteria is key to the crowdfunding model and by gating participation to only “the usual suspects” you are removing one of its most important characteristics. I also believe this is because the FCA don't recognise the value of, or understand, this concept.

Lets consider the second point of issue - easier participation for those who take financial advice. The lunatics really have taken over the asylum on this one. These would be the financial wizards that advised so many people take out the hopeless endowment mortgages, or advise on those those ISA or pension investments that have performed so catastrophically recently.To take our horse racing analogy a little further it  seems the message is better not invest more than 10% of ones net investible protfolio down the bookie mate - unless of course you happen to have a quick chat with Arthur Dayley first of course. I have no issue with people taking advice that wish to but to actively encourage it, no lets re phrase that, to actively favour those that do is barking.

The arrogance of their stance is that what they are tacitly saying is that you should not be allowed to lose your own money, you have to give it to a “sophisticated” fool to lose it on your behalf! If the financial crisis taught us anything it was that the financial emperor really did have no clothes.

The conspiracists amongst you might think they, the FCA, have been got at by lobby groups on the part of a financial industry bruised and threatened by a new upstart. For what is worth I love a good conspiracy but this one I don't buy. I hear lots of voices from traditional finance huffing and puffing but I don't believe they feel threatened, and nor should they. No, this is a case of a body given a task to which they are either unsuited, unwilling  or unable to apply themselves effectively.

For all the ideas around secondary markets (which I heartily endorse) and other froth to squarely challenge the most fundamental principle of crowdfunding - lowering the barrier to participate - is a case of the most monstrous vandalism of a growing asset and an appalling misjudgement.

It is deeply ironic that the uniqueness of the light touch approach that has allowed crowdfunding to thrive in the UK to now and establish this country as the leading exponent of the form is now being reigned in by group of dullards on little evidence of anything being wrong whilst at the same time other countries are clamoring to liberalise their rules in order to access a resource we already have. Sadly this would have us destined to coalesce in the middle and the parting on the left will simply become a parting on the right.

As a historian  by training I look at this as reminiscent of the journey of the great emancipation and reform acts of the 19th Century. The rigid resistance and arrogance of anti reformists then read, from todays relative freedoms, like the ravings of lunacy , and the FCA might one day go down with with unrepentant pomposity of a Viscount Sherbrooke declaring that  “we must educate our masters”. But be sure of this - we will mount the barricades, we shall overcome, and financial emancipation will come - one day!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Italy - A vote for change?

Being part of an Anglo Italian company means I get to speak to a lot of Italians. No surprise there. But what I have found surprising and saddening is the sense of resigned despair that has affected so many in recent months. Last nights results in the Italian elections however give me some cause for optimism.

Over the years I have visited Italy and been subject to its frustrations, its  bureaucracy, its crime and corruption and indulged in all the cliched and prejudicial chat which pretty much goes along the lines - “well what do you expect, its an Italian tradition!” I remember distinctly sitting in a restaurant in the far south listening to a learned friend describe a significant aspect of the local economy being what he referred to as “factory farming”. This was not chickens in large numbers but the proliferation of empty factories and buildings springing up across the dusty countryside, empty and redundant and with no more purpose than to access funding and grants that supported their construction, and of course many groups would take their cut. Whilst a lot of the banter we had was good humoured and my Italian friends in the main would josh along but defend their corner well. But later last year I noticed a change. It seemed that many of the educated, intelligent and eloquent Italians I met in Rome were articulating views about Italian institutions being broken, corrupt and hopeless, only this time they really meant it. Worst of all no one could see an answer. There was a hopelessness I had never encountered before and it made me sad. But maybe, just maybe they have begun to find a way to resolve it.

The results from yesterday's election and the success of Beppe Grillo and the Movimento 5 Stelle, or Five Star Movement, is simply not a surprise to me at all. Nor is the lack of support for Mario Monti. The continued, albeit reduced, support for Berlusconi should not surprise us either - even if it may depress me profoundly.

Whilst we hear expressions of surprise at the success of Grillo and his fellow candidates,  described in the UK in hushed tones as “political novices”, this is entirely what one should expect when the established parties have demonstrated to the populace that they are incapable, untrustworthy and inept - surely much more damning than being novices. One can forgive novices their errors. I would be particularly interested to see the demographic of his supporters of Five Star. I would bet they are younger, significantly so, and this is for me cause for hope because it represents a vote for change unencumbered by consideration with convention.

As for Monti - apart from being the architect of Italian austerity and thereby almost inevitably unpopular - he represents a profoundly undemocratic imposition by European and global institutions and vested interests seeking not to change a system that is patently flawed, but to prop it up.

Those inside and perhaps importantly outside of Italy that are fearful  of the inevitable instability that will follow this muddled election outcome are in many cases those that typically do not want change, espouse the idea that there is no alternative because they do not wish to see one, and hope for a return to a “stability” that will see them as winners.

Manuel Castells suggests that as traditional institutions, be they banks, legislatures, retailers, are increasingly seen as failing the people they purport to serve that those same people will now more readily embrace and supply alternatives. And importantly now in our networked world people are increasingly empowered to bring about those changes and create those alternatives and take ownership of the issues because technical tools allow us to collaborate and act with so much greater ease than previous generations. Increasingly they are disinterested in the fate of established institutions and do not seek to reform them, they simply bypass them. So why bother trying to change a bank from the outside by buying a share and attending the AGM? Simply ignore it and build an alternative one. Why stand for a political party or  legislature in hock to vested interests and lobbyists? Ignore or it or start a new one.

I carry no torch for Five Star or any of the Italian parties, I am not closely enough engaged to cast a vote. Nor do I know what the outcome of this particular period of confusion might be. But what I find hopeful is that whilst some are scornful of the idea that a vote for a comedian as an anti vote I can see it as a very positive act. That is a vote for change even if you don't know what that change might be. So oddly and perhaps counter to what many might feel, I consider the outcome a positive one.

Today's result is a wake up call to the Italian political institutions, and the wider European and Global ones so unnerved by this outcome and so concerned what this impasse might mean to “markets”. Reform yourselves now, from the inside or you may well just be by passed by those that care nothing for your traditions. We the people are now empowered to ignore you.