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I must admit that I have been saving up a bit of enthusiasm for this post! Mostly I wanted to have two similar yet different conference experiences behind me. It was my good fortune to attend both the recent 2011 BAI Retail Delivery Show in Chicago and also the 2011 CIFTEE Exhibition in Beijing.

The BAI event is what one who attends North American and/or European industry specific trade shows would expect. A mediocre to good presentation agenda (Bill Clinton was unifying as an opening keynote speaker) and disparate exhibitors. Each of the latter vying for the attention of information gatherers – those appointed by various individuals/groups with an interest – who visit pre-determined (in most cases) exhibits to collect data, which will or won't be disseminated to another at a later time.

If you are an exhibitor, you have little if any likelihood of being able to follow-up with the correct people after the point-of-contact. BAI organizers worked some out-of-the-box thinking and engineered a very good event with multiple valuable daily presentations and some new ideas on the exhibit floor that seemed to stimulate the flow of visitors. One noticeable trend at this year's event was a large percentage of community bank and credit union attendees.

CIFTEE on the other hand (and half way around the world) is a very different event. In keeping with the Asian preference for "bigger-is-better" and "openness," CIFTEE is truly an exhibition as opposed to a show. Simply put, CIFTEE is massive – upwards of 40,000 square meters (100,000+ square feet), with 60 percent of the booths taking up more than 10 square meters (100 square feet) and many over four to five times that size – many of those with two floors!

Equally represented in density by bank vendors, were the banks themselves. With CIFTEE being based in Beijing, China, you would expect a spectacle following the recent spectacle of the Olympics. The exhibition is not only open exclusively (at specified times) to industry attendees (no attendance fee), but to politicians and industry leaders under high security on the second day, but to the general public as well (also for free).

It seems the industry is vibrant enough to be a symbol of domestic and international achievement and so many locals and tourists want to see what it is all about. This is the reason you see almost all of China's banks represented, selling everything from savings accounts and investment strategies, to marketing cards. The debit and credit card businesses are growing, although debit cards are still a relatively new thing (there are only 300,000+ ATMs in China – projected to be 1,000,000 within a few years).

Of significant note is the claim that credit card issuer China Union Pay now has more cards issued that either Visa or MasterCard combined! What you won't find at CIFTEE (at least not that I noticed in connection to the exhibition) are speeches and industry presentations. Perhaps they were happening concurrently in other locations. From my perception, there was no visual material promoting any session, but then again, 99 percent of the marketing signage and take-away materials were in Mandarin, of which I speak two words and read none.

Having attended one major event this year in each region, there is a natural inclination to compare them. Banking related conferences, shows and seminars, in general, in North America and to a lesser extent in Europe are predictable because of their longevity and large competitive environment.

In the East however, they are as fresh, valuable and as attractive as the new fair in town. That is because they, like the industry they support, are a proud example of success in the drive to build both domestic and international economic growth. In hindsight, my scores are:

  • For vendor showcase effort the award goes to the East
  • For sheer size, East again
  • For thought leadership it would appear to me that the West still dominates (but again, I easily could have missed something)

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Brendan Burge
Brendan Burge is a career marketing and sales professional whose experience spans both currency supply chain management and radio and television broadcasting. For the past 16 years Brendan has focused on cultivating his experience in central bank, cash vault, retail banking and commercial/retail currency management. He has worked for both equipment and software solutions suppliers managing territories in North, Central and South America, Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
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