The other half, Currency Research, organises the Currency Conference, Banknote and the regional Cash Cycle seminars, among others. With a slew of these events and many others too – such as the Mint Directors Conference, the Future of Cash and the Global Currency Forum – being postponed until the end of this year or even next year, the question we are all being asked in the light of current circumstances: ‘is there a future for conferences?’
Obviously, from a self-interested point of view, we would hope so, because they are part of our business. But also from a more objective, dare we say philosophical, view as well.
As a species, we are inherently social animals, and thrive on social interaction. We are also adaptable, never more so than at the present time.
While many people are having to work remotely, and for some this may become a permanent arrangement, for companies that actually make things, as most in our sector do, remote working is not an option. But they too have adapted – with changes to production, supply chains, service models and delivery to keep the business running and customers supplied. A good case in point is how KBA NotaSys is providing virtual support for maintenance, trials and technical issues (see page 6).
So if we have to adapt, we can. But do we want to, and in the long term are such methods of working and the delivery of what we make and do sustainable?
A comment from an industry colleague whose company fields a large international sales team, sounds an ominous note. ‘The accountants are loving it, he said. ‘The travel budget, which was huge, has gone to zero. They are never going to allow us back out to see customers again’.
To which the simple answer is, don’t let them be the ones making that call. Reduced travel costs and sales orders appear on the P&Ls and balance sheets. The value of personal relationships, even though this value is immense, does not.
Such relationships, which can take years to build up, won’t suddenly go away. But over time, go they will – a slow decline with connections gradually loosening to the extent that, ultimately, he or she with the best internet connection wins.
Not an attractive scenario for our industry, which is truly international in its nature and scope, producing complex and tailored solutions and relying on trust and long-term partnerships for its innovation, entrepreneurship and, ultimately, delivery.
Which gets us back to conferences, and the whole point of them.
One purpose is educational – learning about new processes, technologies and so forth, and up to a point some of this can be delivered online.
But conferences are also about networking, debate, the free exchange of information and views, the face-to-face negotiations and the body language which can be the key to securing a complex order or not. None of this can be ‘digitised’ – and none of it can be delivered by virtual events, which are largely a one-way communication channel. Even the suppliers of virtual conference services admit that.
And, of course, those travel budgets stretch a lot further when you can meet a whole group of customers in one go at conference, rather than through individual (and costly) visits.
So if we accept that the need for conferences where people can meet face to face still have a purpose, what will they look like?
For a start, there will probably be fewer of them – and with social distancing measures and other restrictions likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the costs will be higher (larger venues, more space, extra staff, technology, travel).
Delegates may have to book slots to register or attend sessions, traffic through exhibitions and at social events will have to be managed, and there will undoubtedly be caps – strictly enforced – on numbers. Some of the spontaneity and ‘free-form’ nature of conferences will be lost as a result, but it is unavoidable.
There could also be consolidation, and some companies previously offering similar types of events could co-locate these with one another or offer combined programmes that save on multiple trips. And more regionally focused events, for the short term at least, are likely to be more attractive than global ones.
As for technology, expect more ‘hybrid’ events, a mixture of physical and virtual participation, with some speakers, panellists and even delegates taking part remotely by video link. But the cost of the technology – studios, livestreaming and the like – doesn’t come cheap. Added to which, the technology will always, at some point, fall over, because it always does.
Wherever we are in the world, and wherever our countries are in the current pandemic cycle, we are all waiting and watching to see how the ‘new normal’ pans out.
We are confident however that, just as there is a future for cash, there is also a future for conferences, albeit that this future may be a little different to what we have been accustomed to.
On which note, we are looking forward to seeing you again at one of the next conferences, wherever and whenever these may be.
Below are the new dates for the major industry events that have been postponed.
Central Bank Payments Conference
13-16 October 2020
2-5 November 2020
Washington DC, USA
Europe Cash Cycle Seminar
9-11 November 2020
High Security Printing Asia
18-20 January 2021
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Digital Document Security
2-4 February 2021
The Future of Cash
17-18 February 2021
High Security Printing Latin America
8-10 March 2021
Mexico City, Mexico
20-30 April 2021
High Security Printing EMEA
Global Currency Forum
13-16 September 2021
Mint Directors Conference
31 October-3 November 2021
Cape Town, South Africa