Bond issuers pay the ratings agencies that rate their credit. That relationship is fraught with problems and we all know how that’s played out. This week, a UK-based site called Richtopia published a listicle entitled Top 100 Fintech Insiders: From Marc Andreessen to Vitalik Buterin, These Are the Most Influential People in the Blockchain Industry. Using social media data, the post ranked the 100 top fintech influencers when it comes to blockchain technology. It's a pretty broad list and includes a wide range of people: from entrepreneur/investor Mark Andreesen to futurist Don Tapscott, who just published a book on blockchain, to the usual suspects of consultants, investors, professionals, and analysts in the space. What happened next was the interesting part: influencers, of course, were happy to be included in such a list and took to Twitter to show their appreciation for being named a top insider.
@RichtopiaCom> I must be slipping... — Brett King (@brettking) April 15, 2016
Thanks! A great list of people https://t.co/tkw6csHu6q— Scarlett Sieber (@ScarlettSieber) April 15, 2016
Organic vs. pay-to-playAs they began to share the list, though, one by one, the influencers started reporting that they were being contacted by the list's publisher to pay for their listing: essentially, they were requested to pay-to-play for inclusion in the top 100 list.
I got the email today confirming I rank in top 100, but needed to pay @richtopiacom> 500 GBP to be added to the list. https://t.co/pWWGhyuRng — Bill Sullivan (@WFSULLIVAN3) May 23, 2016
RT: Do Not Support Pay-to-Play@risedotglobal> Starts Charging 500GBP to be on #fintech Listhttps://t.co/x70nBnv2Qhpic.twitter.com/OFOq9sbv6N — Jim Marous (@JimMarous) May 23, 2016
The backlash startsMany of the same people who happily shared the original post moved to distance themselves from the list, vehemently denying having paid for inclusion. Some industry professionals even went so far as to declare that they've never paid for being named to any list. The pushback is understandable. But when you piss off influencers, it’s pretty clear what they’d do next: take to social media to voice their complaints. That’s exactly what they did.
@aantonop @WFSULLIVAN3 @dianacbiggs @devie_mohan bet you they'll be shocked by negative effects as they never grasped what "influence" is — Duena Blomstrom (@DuenaBlomstrom) May 23, 2016
@JimMarous @risedotglobal @RichtopiaCom rather ridiculous if true. Jim, is this really true? — Pascal Bouvier (@pascalbouvier) May 23, 2016
Tweetstorm leads to a mea culpaThis ultimately led to a public apology by the staff that runs Richtopia:
Apologies about the payment request on the Top 100 Fintech list, we are sorry & have decided to stop monetising it. pic.twitter.com/lQMyMUmEN9 — Richtopia (@RichtopiaCom) May 23, 2016The theme of democratization runs deep in fintech and a scheme like this makes people who make their livings in the fintech coal mines very uncomfortable. We asked Devie Mohan, a fintech marketer, why the publisher's practice set off a veritable tweetstorm:
The ethos of fintech is around collaboration, sharing information and working together in a very open way. Some media outlets have put together fintech influencer lists, but using measurable results - true influence comes from having the power to make a sustainable impact - and this cannot be bought or externally made. Trying to monetize this is against the basic ethos of fintech. Yesterday's twitter storm was a great example of how we all work together, have one another's backs, and work towards the same goals within the fintech ecosystem. A few tweets from Duena, Jim Marous, Bill Sullivan, Diana Biggs, Andreas and myself made the firm overturn their decision to monetize lists - and that is an example of true influence (which cannot be bought). Fintech is disruptive because of its culture and mindset along with technological developments - and that is why everyone involved was affected deeply by this.Another fintech influencer, Duena Blomstrom took particular umbrage at this gaming of the system. For her, the issue wasn't just about monetization, but also the fact that a list like this blurs the line between expert and pretender:
When I got into FinTech many years ago it was a space filled with a knowledge vacuum so intense that no one (other than maybe [some] service providers with a successful track record) was a trusted advisor. Not consultancies, not analysts, not researchers. There were a handful of names in fintech -- maybe 20-30 -- and most of them you can see in the FinTechMafia today who were around or listened to. Over the past 2-3 years, that's all changed with everyone and their dog proclaiming themselves a fintech expert. This "inflation of the connoisseur" does nothing to elevate the level of discourse and ultimately, harms consumers, so the few resources to show value -- credible publications, genuine lists of thought leaders based on accomplishments, etc -- are the only platforms to gauge authenticity and worth via impartial content. Yesterday I wasn't going to say much (to anyone other than our FinTechMafia group) about Richtopia's ridiculous and simultaneous claim of impartiality and demand of payment, but a simple Twitter search revealed they had requested money from other influencers, too. This struck me like a stupendously bad business model. What it proved was that [Richtopia] doesn't have a clue what either "fintech" or "influence" are, so that's why I demanded an apology from them.Bill Sullivan, the Head of Global Financial Services Market Intelligence at CapGemini, was one of the first to bubble up this story on his Twitter stream. Sullivan found three challenges with this practice, though he did respect Richtopia's apology and reversal of its pay-to-pay policy.
First, the title and description of the list were misleading. There was no transparency that the list was pay-to-play. Second, I personally don’t know a single influencer who would ever pay to be added to a Top Influencer list. It goes against the entire principle of what a top influencer list represents. Last and more important, I think the big issue was the bad position this put existing members of the list (who didn’t pay to get on it). I know many influencers on the list who would NEVER pay to be on a Top List. However, they were now on a list where some members of the list were paying 500 GBP to get on. This was a disservice to those individuals, as people who did not know them well may have thought they had paid to get on the list.Perhaps Mohan put this whole fiasco best in 140 characters:
The moment fintech lists start charging for money to be put on the list, we know fintech is not fintech anymore https://t.co/hJbOGKGtwO — Devie Mohan (@devie_mohan) May 23, 2016Photo credit: jonesytheteacher via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA