Engagement first for UK fintech Market Mission

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What exactly do high-growth international fintech businesses need to know about the UK market before committing to expand here? And what impact have the COVID pandemic and Brexit had on the UK market, investor appetite and the practicalities of setting up a UK presence?

Those questions will be front of mind for any serious fintech considering UK expansion - and were certainly front of ours when we started mapping Newfound’s UK Fintech Market Missions programme in the spring.

As global expansion experts, Newfound knows the pivotal role that trade missions play in helping businesses find new markets. We’ve spent much of the past year planning and running mission-style delegations of our own, particularly between the UK and Australia/New Zealand, where we have our biggest business footprint.

In March this year we were set to support a delegation of fintechs with London & Partners to Dubai and Australia, when the pandemic hit and national lockdowns across the world effectively ground international business travel to a halt. So we asked ourselves how we could continue to support the high-growth tech businesses we work with in realising their international expansion plans?

Taking business virtual

The answer, we knew, lay in technology itself. We understood that the internet and its connected platforms would allow us to continue our work, albeit in a new virtual space. Just as lockdowns had forced families to move from face-to-face to online through platforms like Zoom, so too would businesses needing to maintain international connections have to go virtual.

Virtual also offered us the chance to do something more. We’ve become increasingly frustrated by the lack of commercial focus of some mission offerings.

We decided to create something more targeted and in ways more effective than face to face, creating an environment for business networking that meant business people would no longer need to jump on a plane to make the global connections they need – with all of the unnecessary carbon emissions that once entailed.

We wanted to give businesses more control over who they meet and when. And, by taking a much sharper commercial focus, we could add more value to those businesses by introducing them to people in the markets they wanted to reach. That meant real customers in real businesses offering real opportunities - alongside introductions to leading in-market experts.

After six months of planning, curation and partnership, this month we kicked off our international Market Missions programme. Our new virtual missions platform went live in both the UK and Australia, with the launch of parallel missions programmes in both hemispheres.

For a small business like Newfound, with under 10 staff worldwide, this was without doubt ambitious. To add to our effort, we also unveiled a mission dedicated to companies looking to expand to the UK from Western Australia.

Don’t get us wrong: we love meeting our business contacts face to face, and are hungry to resume the direct contact we crave. It’s hard to replicate the buzz of being in a room full of great business people, even if it is sometimes quite random. The serendipity that events offer is part of their charm, and many thrive on face-to-face connections.

Fintech market focus

Perhaps above all other tech verticals during the pandemic, financial technology has seen some of the most impressive business growth. Investment has not only stood up, but actually grown in many sub-sectors and territories.

Several of Newfound’s own clients in fintech, with many of our senior business contacts and partners embedded in the space. It was our natural choice - and the response of businesses to join our first missions cohort, as well as our confirmed speaker programme, validates our choice.

For the UK fintech programme, we have brought together a cohort of 30 scaling international fintech businesses from nine countries (listed below). Reflecting our business footprint, just over half are from Australia, with others from New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Finland, Germany, France and Russia. All are looking to scale to the UK.

What has appealed so strongly to the international cohort - and what has kept it so engaged during the opening week of our UK mission - has been the seniority of our speakers from across industry, government, trade and professional services.

We have assembled a carefully curated group of no less than 48 speakers to share their knowledge and experience. Tame helped give our cohort direct and unbridled access to that senior group. That kind of access is rare indeed.

In week one alone, they’ve heard from professional services providers like KPMG on the COVID-era UK fintech economy and EY on the impact of Brexit. We’ve had respected institutions like Lloyd’s of London herald the rise of regtech, and leading sector investors like Augmentum Fintech share its perspective.

We’ve been especially pleased to welcome to the Market Mission government bodies, from the central Department for International Trade to London mayoral agency London & Partners, to the programme. That’s been all the more gratifying because both run their own trade missions. That they support ours is recognition of our complementary role as a commercially focused private provider.

We’ve heard from industry bodies too, including new umbrella body Fintech Alliance on clusters beyond London and established trade group techUK on Brexit. Level39, a world-respected fintech hub at London’s Canary Wharf, shared its take on the power of business networks. The City of London Corporation joined us too, reflecting its drive and desire to maintain fintech growth through international cooperation.

Lessons learned

So what has our cohort learned in UK week 1? We’ve covered some ground for sure. The UK fintech economy is changing as a result of COVID, but it’s far from all bad. Consumer and business demand for good fintech is up, and there are new innovation opportunities in sectors like payments, insurance, asset management and digital identity.

They’ve heard stark messages on Brexit, the distinct possibility of a no-deal UK departure from the EU and what that means for fintech business - but they’ve also heard about the new opportunities that will exist as a result of new international trade deals with places from Japan to the US to Australia.

They’ve also heard about regulation and why the UK Financial Conduct Authority matters so much. Businesses were left under no illusions that they must do their homework and impress the FCA, not only with diligent conduct but also the sustainability of their businesses.

The cohort heard about the enduring power of networks and how industry bodies are pivoting their network offers from live to online. Trade bodies have worked hard in different ways to take their networks virtual in the pandemic.


Increase in trust in UK financial services during COVID.

Trust is another issue that matters, especially in fintech, where the arrival of new disruptive players has meant ups and downs, not least with scandals like Wirecard.

Time and again - and perhaps the key takeaway from week 1 - the message from speakers was that businesses must look before they leap, whether on product-market fit, understanding partnerships or the practicalities of visas, legals and banking.

At the heart of Newfound’s offer is a focus on talent, so it was fitting to wrap week 1 with a masterclass focus on tech talent.

CEO Peter Gillingwater - who is guiding the cohort through the fortnight as mission MC - said the pandemic meant preparation on talent was more important than ever. People remain the beating heart of every business and accessing the right talent remains a key priority.

Whatever the practical difficulties of the pandemic, Pete said, burning runway with the wrong people hires is all too common for market entrants. With an uncertain future, mistakes could prove fatal.

Thank you to all our brilliant speakers.

UK Fintech Market Mission - cohort

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