AmeriCatalyst 2016: FAST FORWARD

Between Halloween, competing events, quarterly reporting, quiet periods, road shows, a general malaise in the mortgage industry and a public exhausted by election season, participation in this year’s event will be much more intimate than in previous years, all of which makes the efforts of every one of you to be here that much more special. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to get to know those who are here that much better. While our numbers are down, the caliber of this year’s content and speakers is exceptional. I hope that you will learn some things that you didn’t already know, get inspired by new ideas, and perhaps change the way that you think about the industry in a way that contributes to your greater success.

This is the 14th year of the original EUROCATALYST and today’s AMERICATALYST event. Our theme this year is, FAST FORWARD: What Happens Next. One of the most difficult things about creating the program for this event each year is the ubiquitous nature of the housing ecosystem. It is literally affected by everything, and everything is affected by it. By looking at it in the context of globalization, which constantly changes everything faster than anyone can keep up with, each year I begin writing the program from a blank slate. Where we are today is much different than where we were yesterday, or last year. Excluding GSE reform, but hopefully you get my point.

In the course of putting together this year’s topics and sessions, I spent months researching “the future”: the future of central banking; the future of banking; the future of government; the future of regulation; the future of capitalism and economic ideologies; the future of employment; the future of technology, future demographics, and the future of climate change among other issues. I hate to spoil the plot, but the future is pretty daunting to say the least. At least two sessions this year have the word “crisis” in their subtitles, and perhaps my snarkiest title ever - which I was dared to do - says it all: “One Trick Pony: A Bucking Fed Throws Off the Housing Market.” 

For me personally, it is particularly sad to feature the session “Pandora’s Box: Brexit, the Future of Europe and the World Economy.” Of my 30 years in this industry, 14 of them were spent living and working across all EU and non-EU countries. It was there that I was able to implement my greatest career ideas and achievements, and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. The session is also quite poignant and hearkens to the prescience of the very first EUROCATALYST event in Madrid in 2002. My theme that year – much to the dismay of the European Commission and European Mortgage Federation – was, “Will European Markets Survive Globalization?” As this year’s session will discuss, we now know the answer to that question. The unraveling is just a matter of time, and will have a phenomenal impact on the U.S. and the rest of the world.

As most of you know, the factor that differentiates this event from all others is the context in which we look at the most important issues facing our industry, and where it is headed next. Up to this year, that context has been globalization. While there are very intense academic, political and social debates about what globalization is, when it began, and the ideology behind it, for the purposes of this event I am not referring to globalization as one dimensional change but a set of changes, or forces, driven primarily by technology and electronic communication. These forces are social, cultural and political – and not just economic. They widen, deepen and intensify the acceleration of global interconnectedness in all aspects of our lives, and have driven us into a universally shared economic and political arena. It is a convergence (hence our theme in 2011: Convergence) and state of interconnectedness that I refer to as “The Entanglement,” which was the theme of this event in 2012. While today’s interdependent world demands cooperation, compromise and collaboration in order to survive the future, the rise of political extremists and movements around the world show anything but. 

The forces of globalization have altered the structure of states, the nature of economies, our basic institutions, our ideals, the way that we live, and the way that we finance how we live. It encompasses such fundamental and radical changes to our existence that it shifts our knowledge of the world to what we don’t know, rather than what we do know. In short, globalization renders the words “unprecedented” and “unintended consequences” redundant.

This year, I see something new replacing globalization, which Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired Magazine, refers to as “The Technium.” The Technium is the convergence of technology, culture and economics. At the center of every significant change in our lives now is some kind of new technology. As the accelerant of humanity, technology dictates that we all will live in a permanent state of beta testing from here on out. On the other hand, looking back at history we see that every idea and every ideology put into action is one grand social experiment in which we don’t really know the outcome. Think about that as you listen to the dialogue of this year’s event. The future is never pre-determined unless apathy triumphs action. There is no algorithm for the future.