Lord Chris Holmes: fintech should be ‘golden thread’ in UK election manifestos

Lord Chris Holmes
Lord Chris Holmes - Credit: UK Parliament

As the General Election approaches and campaigns intensify, politics spills into Vauxhall Park Plaza, the location of this year’s Fintech Week London conference.

Tory peer Lord Chris Holmes reminded the room just how close the election is and told those in attendance that they must remember that “we live in a post truth era at a time of so much fake news”.

Lord Chris Holmes – Credit: UK Parliament

Holmes, a life peer in the House of Lords, has been at the forefront of finance and technology for several years and was described as a “banking hero” by The Times for his work promoting financial inclusion.

During his career in politics, he specialised in legislation that deals with technology and inclusion, introducing private members bills on the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) and he also played an integral part in the passing of the Electronic Trade Documents Bill.

More recently, Holmes tried to push for AI regulation, supporting the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill’s passage. Holmes believes that this legislation was key to enabling the next phase of growth for the UK however, the bill fell at the end of this parliamentary session.

“I got it through all the stages in the House of Lords,” Holmes told the crowd. “it was all set to start its legislative journey through the commons and then as already mentioned, somebody decided to call a general election. 

“No matter how good AI is, it seems that it is quite hopeless, in terms of predicting when somebody is going to call a general election.”

Holmes hasn’t always been involved in politics. In fact he has worked as a journalist and as a corporate lawyer, but perhaps most notably has won nine gold medals, including the record six gold medals at a single Paralympics and was awarded an MBE for services to British sport at the age of 20.

The former Paralympian didn’t stand on stage alone, he was joined by Nancy “the government’s new fintech lab”, his guide dog.

After a series of standup jokes, which may be Holmes’ next career move, he began to talk about fintech, and its importance in the General Election which he joked even AI could not predict the date of.

Holmes said: “Whichever government comes into power on the 5 of July, it will be critical to grip this technology, this fintech, this AI, this blockchain, this cyber, this digital finance opportunity.

“Yes, there were some mentions in the Conservative manifesto. I imagine there’ll be some mentions in the Labour manifesto, but there needs to be so much more because these are the golden threads, which can deliver on all of the themes that politicians rightly talk so much about.”

So what does Holmes think needs to be done by whichever party is elected to form a government?

Firstly, Holmes mentioned digital assets, and said that the government needs to do more work on defining what a digital asset actually is.

He said: “Do we go with the possessory concepts as we did with the electronic trade documents Act last year? Or do we go more for the legal concept of things in action?

“There’s a role for the legislators in enabling the environment for digital finance, and potentially the tokenization of anything that you so choose.”

Additionally, Holmes highlighted digital IDs, pointing out that there has been “a bit of an issue around ID in this country for historical and cultural reasons”.

He added: “The fundamental truth is if we are to empower, to include, to realise, all of the opportunities that we have through fintech, I think if we do get change in government, I sense that we may get some positive action when it comes to digital ID.”

Unsurprisingly, a topic which featured prominently in Holmes’ speech was AI – a subject that the legislator himself recognised as one that people can’t escape at this moment in time, although for good reason.

“Every speaker, every presentation, every roundtable that you’re involved in today should rightly mention AI and rightly mention it in the right way. There’s certainly a hype cycle that we’re within at the moment with AI, but just because there’s a hype cycle that doesn’t mean there’s not much extraordinary possibility in AI.”

Holmes went on to liken the technology to blockchain, explaining that in 2016 every company would tell you how they are using it. The possibilities of both blockchain and AI can exceed expectations, he believes, but only with the right regulation.

On the hot topic of AI, Holmes doesn’t believe that the current government is reacting to the technology in the correct way.

“We need the right legislative, the right regulatory framework, to be in place for AI. The government’s current position, wait and see, I don’t think that is the way that we optimise AI opportunities in this country. I don’t think it’s the way to optimise anything really,” he explained.

This mindset is what drove Holmes to create the aforementioned bill, before it went, in his words, “poof”.

However, the bill has not been lost in regulatory purgatory forever, as on 17 July he will have another chance to bring it back. The method he is alluding to is through a private members bill, which entails a ballot –  on the day of the King’s speech.

Concluding his speech, Holmes said: “So for the UK, for individuals, for citizens, for communities, for cities, for our country, connected creatively, right around the world, we can keep driving this fabulous fintech story connected into a tremendous AI and blockchain story. 

“Because ultimately, what are all of these fintechs? What are all of these technologies? What are all these businesses? What are all of us in this room about? Enablement, empowerment, unleashing all that talent, born into each and every one of us through the great good fortune of being human.”