Thursday, April 16, 2020

Keir Starmer is Right - We Need to Know When Lockdown Ends

The Dangers of Lockdown and Why it Needs to End… Soon!

Keir Starmer may just be scoring political points but he is actually spot on in asking for a plan to end the

For the past few weeks, I have been bending folks ears (those within earshot at least) about the very
real threat that lockdown presents to the economy and the danger that a prolonged lockdown presents to the country in the long term. I hear a lot about science deciding when lockdown will be eased but where is the economics, and where is the ear to the business community below the big players?

It is odd to find myself in agreement with Professor Anton Muscatelli University of Glasgow. He and I
crossed swords at a debate hosted by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce on the merits and opportunities,
in my view, of BREXIT. The Professor disagreed and we debated it for an hour or two before an
audience who I hope were entertained.

But on this occasion, the Professor and I are in violent agreement predicting catastrophic declines in the

Scottish economy as a result of the actions taken in response to Covid-19. The OBR agree for the
wider UK economy, and it is all self inflicted.

The Government has certainly set out some extensive measures aimed at mitigating the short term
impact of the lockdown. But there are many ongoing debates about their suitability for smaller firms. 

The fact that there is the ongoing adjustment to accommodate businesses that have so far not been
thought of in the provisions is good. But it speaks to the knee jerk nature of the response and as to how
poorly understood the richer economic reality is in Government. It is a point reinforced by the lack of
uptake. The provisions are not appropriate for many and the mechanisms of delivering them are

I also hear from my clients and contacts that small firms once ineligible for bank finance suddenly find
the bank offering them a product which they miraculously suddenly qualify for. Of course more
expensive than any Government-backed option but also immediately rendered ineligible for a great deal
of government support

But my real concern is for the smaller businesses, and particularly those in rural or more sparsely
populated areas.

Having spent many years dealing with these small firms in their efforts to raise finance I know that even
in the good times there is an aversion to debt. So why would they take it on now with such uncertainty?

I think that many will simply, quietly close up. Many are lifestyle businesses, small operations, many are
founder owned who have struggled with how they might sell or transfer it. My expectation is that many
will simply cut their losses.

Why does this matter so much? It matters because these form an essential part of the ecosystem that
supports other businesses. Most economies at a local level are highly integrated and a disruption of the
kind we now are wilfully inflicting on ourselves can be catastrophic. I remember vividly years ago when a
local steelworks closed the whole town were it was located closed with it. The shops shut, the people
moved out and a generation was wasted. Whole estates were boarded up. The council resorted to giving
houses away to try to attract folks in.

In Scotland, where I live I fear for the fragile fabric of the economic ecosystem in the more rural areas.
It is quite a fine material and a few good rips will ruin it for a generation. 

As a result, the ecosystem to sustain normal business will be gone. Tourism is often a significant
contributor to sustaining the communities and supplement other undertakings. Without the little cafes,
B&Bs and other parts that oil that sector it will grind to a halt. With it the other rural business subsidized
by it as well. Many of the operators of these small businesses use them to supplement otherwise
marginal occupations, so the failure of the supplementary income will have evermore profound effects,
it won’t be possible to “social distance” these businesses to prevent contagion. The end result will be
that the rural patches will recede into economic malaise for a long long time, young people will leave in
even greater numbers and the downward spiral will accelerate.

As someone said to me the other day “It’s going to be like the Clearances all over again.”

On the demand side, I also know how much our economy is underpinned by us taking on unsecured debt
to buy crap we generally don’t need. But it has kept the wheels on a consumerist model run on insanely
thin margins and dependant on volume to survive. The slightest adjustment is curtains for many in retail
work. We are already seeing many struggles and go to the wall. Of course like the Covid-19 victims many
of these businesses had “underlying health problems”, but this is just three weeks of lockdown.

If we stop taking that debt on because either, we can’t buy anything because the shops are shut, the
interest rate goes up (nowhere else it is able to go really) or, most likely, we are out of a job or seeing a
20% reduction on salary as we are furloughed, the whole roundabout fails. So the prospect of a V-shaped
bounce driven by conspicuous spending is pretty slim.

So, what is the solution? 

Well, quite simply, end the lockdown. A three week holiday might be just about survivable. Similarly,
explain the process of ending it. Trust people, give them the opportunity to plan. I don’t buy the idea that
by sharing such a message we loosen peoples behaviours re social distancing. Quite apart from the fact
that the evidence is far from conclusive that it is working, or that the cost is worth it, I just have much
greater faith in people’s wisdom generally.

If the lockdown continues, here are one or two suggestions, instead of propping up business, get them
into suspended animation, firepower to wake them up again. Target funds directly at the population not
through the business, temporary UBI. For the small companies get on to Companies House and HMRC
to track any micro-businesses winding up and mothball them. Bring in a debt jubilee to free folks up to
spend. Use the capacity of crowdfunding through targeted interventions to give us all the stake in the

The idea that we are knowingly creating an economic catastrophe worse than the Second World War
speaks of monumental miscalculation and horrendous overreaction. It can be stopped, and it should be
stopped, by quickly announcing the mechanism and timetable to end the lockdown.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What Will Really Change as a Result of Covid-19?

Let’s Hope it is a Reassessment of China.

There have been a great many pronouncements that the world “will never be the same again” after the
end of this period of derangement. “Everything will change” I hear.

I doubt it.

In 2008 I heard the same sage predictions as banking collapsed onto life support and the cashpoints
came within an ace of closing. For myself, I would have liked to see some close but that is a debate for
another day. 

The end of capitalism was widely predicted - radical change was afoot. 

But apart from the misery of austerity, the drudge and scourge of joblessness and poverty what did
really change? Structurally practically nothing. Behaviorally practically nothing. Longer-term some
political developments might have traced their routes to the shock of the banking crisis - but that is
how politics work. B

But as to the general manner in which we do business very very little change.

At the time I blamed a failure of vision, leadership and imagination from the Left - I still do. The
opportunity had finally arrived and they flunked it.

So what behaviourally and structurally will change this time round? 

Very little I expect. There are the eco acolytes who think it will, but it won’t. Quite apart from the fact that
their enduring electoral failures demonstrate that they are nowhere near as popular as they might think,
except amongst the chattering classes. More importantly, the period of lockdown, constrained travel
and soviet-style government intervention in the day to day minutia of your life will, I am certain, convince
most folks that the medieval vision of the more radical eco crusties is not something we aspire to. No,
we will return to foreign holidays and a bit of excessive drinking and conspicuous consumption to
celebrate emerging from the lockdown and before you know it we will be back where we were,
behaviourally that is.

But, if there is one change I hope just might come about then it is this one. I hope that more folks
question the role of China in the world.

I have never been under any illusion about the malign and corrosive role of China and have told those
who were prepared to listen. It is a ghastly repressive regime that habitually steals IP, manipulates
it currently and abuses human rights. It should NEVER have been admitted to the WTO. But it has been
the crack cocaine of manufacturing CEOs and University Chancellors for far too long. Eternally happy
to bend the knee, turn a blind eye and with weasel words, half-truths deny their addiction to the lure of
easy supply and assert it is a victimless crime.

It reminds me of the miners’ strike in the UK when arguments were made that we could “buy coal
cheaper from South America” Well sure if you are content it is mined by 14-year-olds with poor or no
safety equipment. Cheaper in monetary terms much more costly in every other way.

So my view hasn't changed. It is why I despise companies like Apple who have happily offshored
manufacture to China. Charge top dollar, rake in huge margins and do it off the back of lying down
with dogs. Steve Jobs always had fleas in my book. Their response in 2008 when they had $Billions
sitting in the bank was risible and I can’t help but smirk at how Apple loving “progressives” reaped
their own whirlwind in 2016.

But now we cannot deny the danger of chasing cheap manufacture to ever more remote countries with
dubious regimes.

For me, I hope this means that we can rejuvenate our manufacturing, return it home but to do so
through the widespread adoption of automation and AI. Of course, it will take investment but now we
know the cost of not doing it now. 

It was always going to be the future but we have tended to take the easier route, the cheaper route.
Now perhaps, finally we might be encouraged to make the change. Maybe this will be the important
intervention from Government to reshape things for the betterment of mankind that should have come

Ultimately competition will not be determined largely by price, as the opportunity to find significant
incremental advantage through mass manufacture will be so widely available that the market will
differentiate itself in other ways

Idealism? Maybe. Perhaps, as I say, nothing structural or behaviourally will change, just more drudgery,
austerity and recession. 

But, if there is one change, let it be that one.

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.