Financial industry execs link up to learn from each other

An exclusive online platform similar to Facebook or LinkedIn is changing the way top-level executives communicate and from today the site is inviting another 30,000 executives to apply for membership.
You might think that in the current economic climate with subprime-induced losses, a lack of credit and rock-bottom share prices, executives at the worldÆs top financial institutions would have their hands full running their businesses.

Instead this has become the starting point for a rather interesting initiative û a sort of Facebook for financial industry executives where members can link up to network and chat through e-mail, instant messaging, or video conferencing in a closed and secure environment at no cost. They can also watch lectures and interviews with their peers. The explicit aim is for top-level executives to learn from each otherÆs experiences, and the initial success has prompted people involved to say that the service stands to forever change the way executives communicate.

ôIf we donÆt learn from what has been going on in the financial sector in the past two years, we are never going to learn, and we are providing them with a walled-community environment that allows them genuinely to discuss challenges to systems, environments, financial packages and security issues that they really need to get right,ö says Spencer Green, who is the founder of the new site.

The platform, which is named, was launched by publishing firm and event organiser GDS International about six months ago at the request of a group of 500 top executives who had come up with the idea of an online discussion forum at a dinner organised by GDS. Since then, the initial membership of 500 people has grown to 20,000 û all of whom have been specially invited û and the site has become extremely popular.

The membership list isnÆt public, but GDS says it includes senior executives from ABN AMRO, Barclays, HBOS, Goldman Sachs and Visa among others. Asian members come from the likes of HSBC, Bank of China, Bank of Asia and DBS Bank.

According to Green, who is also chairman of GDS, the average executive uses the platform three hours every week, which is impressive in light of their already busy work schedules. ôThis,ö he argues, ôsays a lot about what can be achieved and what is being discussed.ö

ôThis platform is exactly what the industry has been crying out for. The feedback has been incredible. We must learn from our mistakes and not put our heads in the sand. The key is that we need the financial community to make more right decisions. Right now, economically, I think many industries are hurting from the decision making processes within the financial sector.ö

ôIt is very difficult for the CIOs and the senior executive and management teams to say æwe donÆt have all the answersÆ but over the past 12 months it has been illustrative in markets all around the world that the success rate must improve,ö Green says.

The site is limited to top-level executives such as chief executive officers, chief information officers and chief technology officers, or others with similar level influence. The aim is to keep the site exclusive, but encouraged by the quick take-up of memberships so far, the people behind are inviting another 30,000 financial executives to join the service from today onwards. This next batch of members will have to go through an application and vetting process and when the total membership reaches 50,000, the door will be shut to new entrants.

ôIÆm not interested in turning it into a volume site, IÆm interested in genuinely having the right 50,000 executives driving the communication, driving this learning process,ö says Green.

Part of the attraction is that the platform has a clean, simple interface that is easy to use. Once logged in to oneÆs profile page, it supposedly requires just two clicks to link up with a fellow executive to discuss common challenges. Another selling point is, of course, the exclusive membership, which means there is no risk that the conversations can be tapped into by the likes of journalists or other unwanted listeners.

Each week, members also have access to webcast interviews with top thinkers and industry leaders among the initial group of 500 members, including Wachovia CIO Martin Davis, Saxo Bank co-CEO Kim Fournais, Commerzbank CIO Peter Leukert and former CIO for J.P. Morgan Chase Austin Adams. The site also features live, moderated discussion groups.

ôCIOs used to think they knew everything and did not need help from outside of their organisation, but now, because of the credit crunch, we need a secure medium to share knowledge. Every one of us can be much more effective as individuals and as leaders if we take what I call a progressive/aggressive stance to dialogue with other CIOs,ö says Adams in a written comment.

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