Pursuing the Second Bounce of the Ball: Reflections of a Senior Analyst

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1 October 2017
James O'Neill

As the old saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, and that has certainly been the case for me at Celent.

When I joined the banking team in 2014, I had recently completed a mid-career educational sabbatical at the University of Illinois’ School of Engineering. The seeds that drove my sabbatical were planted more than 20 years ago, when during the mid-1990s the private equity firm I ran invested in Czech Online, a Prague-based Internet Service Provider that represented the leading “on-ramp” to the emerging world of the Internet. For a time, I served as Chairman of COL and got a ringside seat to emerging technology.

In 2000, my newly discovered passion for all things IT led me to Milwaukee’s Metavante Corporation, a financial technology services firm that moved out from the shadow of a conservative Midwestern bank and onto the NYSE in 2007 before merging with today’s global leader FIS in 2009. The success of that merger allowed me to launch my "second life" as a full-time Computer Science student in the University of Illinois’s Masters program.

For me, Celent has served as an IT finishing school: a virtual textile factory where I could weave together a career of banking and finance in Europe and the US along with the emergence of new technologies that continue to drive the banking industry in new and often unexpected directions. Celent’s oft-quoted unofficial motto is, “We go to conferences so you don’t have to,” but based on my experience since 2014, it could equally be, “We spend time pondering the future so you don’t have to.”

It’s one thing to report on what happened in fintech yesterday — or even today — but as I learned, that’s what the newspapers (and Bob’s Guide!) are for. My Celent experience has solidified the truism that progress is not made by looking in the rear-view mirror. To paraphrase Sir Ron Cohen, the legendary founder of Europe’s Apax Partners, “Everyone can see the first bounce of the ball. It is the second bounce that is uncertain [and therefore most rewarding]”. Sir Ron’s wisdom seems to be proven over and over again — as mySpace makes way for Facebook, Yahoo! yields to Google, and ISPs like Czech Online and AOL pave the way for the ubiquitous availability of broadband.

At Celent, I’ve come to appreciate the talents and hard work of my colleagues in looking past the buzzwords and "news of the day” and focusing on where the second bounce will occur for our clients. Celent’s coverage of cloud services in banking debuted in 2014, a time when the strongly-held view within the banking community was that public cloud was not safe and would never pass the muster of the banking regulators. A year later, Rob Alexander, CIO of Capital One, stole the show at the 2015 AWS re:Invent developer’s conference, and 18 months after that Oak North Bank won a Celent Model Bank Award 2016 as Europe's first bank hosted entirely in the public cloud. It took time, but the pivot of many banks to cloud services as an enabler of innovation, agility, and greater operating efficiency is now clear.

Today is my last blog in this space because I am departing Oliver Wyman and Celent in pursuit of the next chapter of my two decade-long fling with IT. I invite my banking colleagues and friends to catch up with me via LinkedIn as I travel “Back to the Future” in my next professional adventure. I’ll also plan on seeing many of you at Celent’s next Innovation & Insight Day event, coming to a city near you in early 2018.

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