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An Interview with Richard Turin

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Interviews, ,

Richard Turin

Richard Turin

Independent Author, Advisor and Consultant

Key Topics:Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), China, Digital Euro, Fintech, Financial Innovation, Innovation Labs, China Technology

Rich Turrin is the international best-selling author of “Cashless - China’s Digital Currency Revolution” and “Innovation Lab Excellence.” He is Onalytica’s number 4 rated global fintech Influencer and an award-winning executive previously heading fintech teams at IBM following a twenty year career in investment banking. Living in Shanghai for the last decade, Rich experienced China going cashless first-hand.

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

I became an expert the hard way, with no shortcuts! I spent 18 years as an investment banker, five years at IBM, and lived in Shanghai for over a decade. I was innovating with math and computers for most of my career and was inspired to write my latest book, “Cashless,” after I experienced China going “cashless” firsthand. Superapps and central bank digital currency payment aren’t theoretical for me; I live them daily. So as I like to say, “I write and speak about what I know.”

What sub-topics are you most passionate about?

Why everything about going “Cashless!” Central bank digital currency (CBDC) and superapps aren’t just about leaving your credit card home and paying with your phone. Payment apps WeChat and Alipay already show the profound changes CBDC will bring and how they force banks to adapt through open banking and embedded finance. Free and immediate payments transform how people relate to money, and China is a blueprint or road map for this future in the West.

Topics that I regularly talk about when discussing CBDC include crypto, smart contracts, DeFi, IoT, and 5G. All of these are critical components of the CBDC revolution. Crypto, in particular, will be impacted and both helped and harmed by the global launch of CBDCs. Macro issues are also part of the complex story of how digital currency changes our relationship with money. The best example is how China’s CBDC is already profoundly impacting geopolitics, sanctions, de-dollarization, and the US-China tech war.

Who influences you on these topics?

I gravitate to other authors and influencers who understand that by studying China’s fintech, they essentially have a “crystal ball” showing them our shared future. The person who best understands this is my friend, the author, and futurist, Brett King. Brett’s insights cover not just fintech but how some elements of China’s push for societal digitization will be mirrored in the West. I am in daily contact with three other Onalytica fintech influencers who helped to shape my views of the fintech world. First, Efi Pylarinou’s views on digital currency have strongly impacted my work, and she helped me become far more accepting of crypto innovation. The other is Theodora Lau, the author of “Beyond Good,” who helped me see the tremendous financial inclusion gains that digital payments can bring. Finally, Paolo Sironi’s books have not just influenced me on platformification and open banking, but he inspired me to start writing books!

What challenges are brands facing in this space?

Central bank digital currencies will bring both opportunities and challenges. For most ordinary citizens, the ability to make free and immediate payments without paying a bank or card company will be revolutionary and seen as an opportunity. Saving money on payments is good, right? Still, there are vocal groups, particularly among crypto advocates, who fearmonger over CBDC privacy, even though the digital euro is being built with privacy that matches or betters your current credit cards.

Of course, banks and credit card companies are not thrilled about losing revenue from their payment operations! They see CBDC as not just a challenge but a threat. While credit cards aren’t going to go away, the margin they can take for payment will likely collapse. Why would a coffee shop owner pay banks and card companies around 2-3% for a card transaction when CBDC is free?

What do you think the future holds in this space?

With around 95% of the world’s central banks investigating CBDCs, it’s clear that we all have a shared CBDC future. While only about 4 CBDCs have launched now, we can expect many more in the next 3-5 years. China’s CBDC is the most ambitious, and when it launches in 2023, it will likely be the first launched from a large nation. The European Central Bank is not that far behind, and we may see a digital euro by 2027. We are facing a future where CBDCs will eventually be used for both domestic and international payments.

The international use of CBDCs is causing global geopolitical concern as CBDCs do not use the traditional SWIFT transfer network, which supports US and EU sanctions. The BRICS nations will all have CBDCs within the next two years, and it is reasonable to assume that they will start “de-dollarizing” some of their trade using CBDC. The big question, of course is what does this mean for the US dollar’s role as the leading global currency? I like to say that the digital RMB or other CBDCs don’t have to topple the dollar to be effective; all they need to do is provide an alternative.

What brands are leading the way in this space?

The CBDC ecosystem is changing fast and splintered between large and small companies. Of course, the irony is that the world’s first four CBDCs were built by tiny blockchain and digital currency-focused fintechs. They dealt a disruptive blow to global tech companies based on a killer combination of price and the right skills. The skills required to design CBDCs are primarily found in smaller start-up companies with crypto backgrounds.

Of course, the world’s major tech companies, like IBM and Amazon, have not ignored CBDCs and have active programs but haven’t launched an actual product so far. However, a surprise leader in the sector is Giesecke and Deviant, a German company well known for issuing credit cards and paper money. It has made a name for itself by building Ghana’s CBDC prototype. While not a tech company per se, G&D is doing a great job of reinventing itself and shows how no single company owns this market.

If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?

I love speaking at events, but given that China still has a ten-day quarantine upon return, I do most of my keynotes and presentations virtually from my home studio. However, the situation may have changed when you read this, so do reach out! My typical client for speaking or keynotes wants an impactful hour on China’s digital yuan that helps their attendees understand that disruption is coming. My goal in these sessions is to take people out of their comfort zone to see that CBDCs are coming faster than they think.
I also do a fair amount of internal corporate work with financial institutions that want bespoke workshops with specific learning objectives. As an author, I have to promote myself and my book and do a lot of podcasts and video interviews for both individuals and companies. I enjoy podcasting, and I almost always say yes if there is a good-sized audience! I also do a lot of media work, write articles for placement in financial newspapers, and do TV interviews.

What are your passions outside of work?

Outside of work? Is there any time when I’m not working? I take Mandarin classes every week, which is expected when you live in Shanghai. You can find me scuba diving or on the water when I have free time. I’m a boat captain, sailing instructor, and avid mariner, all things that are hard to do in Shanghai.

As of late, with covid travel constraints, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to hiking in the mountains in Yunnan, which are on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?

Email or Linkedin

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