Why would a consumer products trade show host a conference about money? Well, consider the following scenario:

At some point in the relatively near future, your fridge will detect that it’s running low on milk and so will automatically order four more quarts from a robot-run dispensary that delivers groceries in self-driving trucks. The dilemma in designing such a system is not one of hardware or software – most of the necessary technology already exists. It’s how to handle the payment. What currency should a fridge use? Does it have its own bank account or an in-built digital wallet? In granting it power to manage money, what sort of know-your-customer “identity” do we assign the fridge? In its contract with the food service, how does the fridge prevent the robots from ripping it off or vice versa?

A confluence of paradigm-shifting innovations that includes the Internet of Things, wearables, peer-to-peer marketplaces, mobile computing and digital currencies mean that our experience with money and finance is poised to change drastically. That change will shake up a deeply ingrained system for exchanging, storing and accounting for value. And it will generate as many questions about the future as answers.
At the Digital Money forum on January 8 at CES, we’ll peer into this unfamiliar future, ponder its widespread ramifications and seek to answer the most pertinent of those questions.

We’ll explore a wide range of topics – the automation of mobile payments, the rise of the digital wallet, the disintermediating power of digital currencies like bitcoin and the challenges regulators face. We’ll let listeners know what’s at stake, viewing them from the perspective of different core interest groups: electronic goods manufacturers, who now must start integrating financial services into their devices; software engineers, who are trying to disrupt an industry that’s notoriously resistant to change; bankers, who are wondering how much of that outdated system to keep or discard without their businesses folding; government agencies, who worry about how to keep track of it all and regulate our financial system to protect us; and, of course, consumers, for whom much of this is bewildering.

If the future of money is confusing and daunting it’s also exciting. Whether it’s in the smartphone apps that can zap funds from New York to Mexico City at near-zero cost or in currencies that are programmed to pay for a student’s textbooks but not his beer tab, technology is bringing profound new powers to the money we use daily. Finally, decades after the rest of the global economy has undergone the sweeping reformation imposed by the Internet, change is coming to an industry that still functions like the one that Italy’s Medici bankers created 500 years ago.

Those changes are coming because they have a liberating effect: mobile money systems potentially offer the world’s 2.5 billion “unbanked” adults their first access to financial tools; fintech companies are working to slash the cost of doing cross-border transfers; decentralized blockchain ledgers can bring transparency and confidence to the records we keep to account and control information around our exchanges value.

But change can also be unnerving. There’s a reason why banking is perhaps the most heavily regulated of all industries.  People want their money to safe; and overturning the entire system with something they don’t understand does not make consumers feel safe.

Still, that change IS coming. Tens of thousands of “fintech” companies are shining a light on how inefficient, cumbersome and costly the existing system is. Once known, there is no way to unknow that.

What we’re left with is the sense that two worlds, the old and the new, are on course for an inevitable collision.

If you want to avoid becoming collateral damage when that clash occurs, you need to arm yourself with a deeper understanding of what’s at stake. The Digital Money Forum is the best place to start.