Payments Innovation

Are Financial Firms In A “Sprint For Their Lives”? Ex-Apple CEO Thinks So

John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, has some advice to offer the big financial services firms facing the big digital transition.

Speaking at the annual Money 20/20 conference, Sculley’s message was nothing if not dire — he noted that the incumbent financial services firms are in a big race now, and if they can’t keep pace, they’re going to be nonexistent in short order.

Sculley also noted that the world of  finance is presently living in “exponential” times, rather than “linear” ones. Whereas “linear” times are marked by incremental improvement, exponential times are marked by fast tumultuous growth.  Sculley’s theories draw from Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil’s “exponential vs linear” frameworks.

“If you think in the fintech world that you can live in linear times,” Sculley said, characterizing the attitude as having a “sit-back-and-wait” mentality, “it ain’t going to turn out that way.”

Sculley was the successor to Apple founder Steve Jobs, and he noted that Kodak is the poster child for being left in the dust once the era flipped from linear to exponential.

“There will be Kodak examples in the financial services industry,” he warned members of the audience, many of whom represented big banks and startups.”

“This is an amazing time to be an innovator—a disruptive, adaptive, innovator in fintech,” Sculley added. “But it’s a precarious time for anyone living in linear time.”


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