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Silicon Valley, Fintech start-ups and 'Good Vibrations'...

Digital ambition driving the new Pacific superhighway

Weddings are events where you come into contact with a higher concentration of far younger folk than you normally would as a scheme actuary, let alone a CEO.

So it was in San Francisco, where we were delighted to be invited to the nuptials of a long-standing friend.

Days like these are as much about reflection as they are about celebration and I couldn’t help thinking about the pace of change in this beautiful corner of the West Coast.

And it was the conversations on the day and in those that followed as we drove down Pacific Highway One, surely one of the world’s most spectacular journeys, that led me to realise that we’re just at the beginning.

Attractions of Silicon Valley

Almost every 20 or 30-something I chatted to (and there were plenty - it was a large affair) were well-educated, middle-class and ambitious.

Not so long ago, that ambition would have led to training as an accountant/lawyer/doctor/trader in a large company with a structured and predictable path to progress and more responsibility, status and reward. Over a lifetime.

But in the space of the last ten years, this model has been entirely undermined, at least in the digital Klondike.

Not one of the bright young things I spoke to had taken what used to be this preordained path to professional achievement and fulfilment. Admittedly the cream of the California college crop, they were almost all working on their own or someone else’s start-ups with a view to floating the finished product, taking the reward and moving onto the next project.

Passionate entrepreneurs

Now, as someone who co-founded one of the best-known start-ups in the institutional actuarial and investment market (ahem), 31 years ago, I can claim to identify with this desire to forge your own destiny.

However the passion, self-belief and absolute confidence that this is now the only direction worth taking for the most ambitious was what stuck with me.

Much has been written about the new Gold Rush with Silicon Valley reshaping much more than the San Francisco skyline and society.

The next chapter is well underway as the latest wave of entrepreneurs or simply those with a good idea, attack their goals with the kind of evangelistic zeal which does not countenance failure.

And even if some do - and some of those I’d met already had - it’s on to the next one.

Fintech start-ups

Imagine a marriage between the undaunted Del Boy dream of millionaire status next year spliced with a sliver of the billions of dollars of development capital on offer to the best and brightest and even a plonker can see why this transformation is so far-reaching.

So far, in fact, that the UK is now seeing more start-ups than ever (including Guardian, our new insurance venture, driven forward by the latest financial technology 'Fintech'). Like all revolutions, it will transform every aspect of our lives.

'Good vibrations'

A highlight of our holiday was driving a Mustang down the Pacific Highway. A longer lasting impression is the scale of the new commercial frontier roaring ever louder only a short, open-top ride from the timeless sights of flapping pelicans and booming breakers on the western edge of the continent.

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"Almost every 20 or 30-something I chatted to (and there were plenty - it was a large affair) were well-educated, middle-class and ambitious".

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