Virtual mission unpacks COVID-era fintech opportunities
What does the UK fintech market look like in the COVID era?
Date: 16 Jul 2020
Author: Julian Blake
What does the UK fintech market look like in the COVID era? That was the key question on the table at the launch of our Market Missions programme in London this week as fintech industry experts shared an optimistic outlook picture for overseas fintech businesses of the post-pandemic UK tech economy.
More than 150 people joined from 25 different countries around the world for a morning of informed insight into the UK fintech market with some of the UK’s leading experts. The event marked the beginning of a programme that will support fintechs as they look to explore the UK or Australia as their next market. The programme begins in September and will welcome a cohort of fintechs on a growth trajectory keen to accelerate their international expansion plans.
During the opening interview with fintech journalist Isabel Woodford of Sifted, Lord Mayor of London William Russell shared why he thought UK was Europe's top fintech market with London at its centre - and that Brexit would not change that.
He said COVID19 was a far bigger challenge, but urged more investment to ensure that fintechs started their global growth journey in the UK.
The panel discussion which followed focused on the UK fintech market in the time of pandemic , with consensus emerging on the need to divorce financing from trading performance in extraordinary times - with demand for fintech innovation set to continue apace.
Anton Ruddenklau, head of digital and innovation for financial services at KPMG, said high demand for fintech innovation would continue in spite of the pandemic, not least because 94% of existing bank legacy processes were not digitised.
Despite predicting a downturn for the next three years, he saw grounds for optimism, with specific fintech growth opportunities in sub-sectors like payments and digital identity - and that there should be more focus post-pandemic on capital markets, products for later life and cloud infrastructure - not least because of the dislocation caused by COVID. “It’s a dark world, but there is opportunity,” said Ruddenklau.
Helen Child, co-founder at Open Banking Excellence, urged greater government support for fintech businesses, especially for startups that face a struggle. She said scale-up growth and add-on funding for existing businesses were continuing.
Martyn Holman of Augmentum VC predicted a shift from front-end retail to back-end, as well as a rise in institutional plays in sectors like pensions, insurance and wealth management as people seek to make returns on their capital. He said the UK fintech investment market remained largely upbeat, though the focus had moved towards later-stage and follow-on funding.
Caroline Plumb OBE, chief executive of B2B finance-as-a-service scaleup Fluidly, said revenues in her own business were growing but that a key post-pandemic challenge facing B2B fintechs lay in new investment. But she said that the government with its business support schemes was effectively coming in as a new provider of loans at zero interest for a year.She remained positive: there was huge fintech adoption in the UK and this would help transition us to a cashless society.
Our speakers lineup
In a discussion on support for fintechs scaling to the UK,Karen Sandhu, head of financial, business services and technology at promotional agency London & Partners, pointed to government-backed programmes to stimulate fintech business growth, as well as the support of industry bodies like Innovate Finance and the wider UK fintech community all making sure that London stays competitive.
She pointed to the importance of supporting overseas fintechs on basics like setting up bank accounts, immigration, and also the need to engage with other start-ups and learn from their experiences.
Mike Jackson, entrepreneur success director at Tech Nation, said incoming fintech companies were no longer looking only at London as a place to base themselves. 40% of fintech businesses were now located outside of the UK capital including in places like Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh. He said the UK was a great place for fintechs to leapfrog to Europe or North America.
Amy French, head of Canary Wharf-backed Level39, said fintechs should leverage their networks and learn from fintech entrepreneurs already in the UK, collaborating with others already in the UK market.
In a session on public trust, Edelman’s European head of financial services Andrew Wilde drew on his firm’s 2020 Trust Barometer report to explain the impact of COVID on financial services. He pointed to a 9% rise in trust in UK financial services this year.
Edelman’s latest research concluded that there had been spikes in public trust in financial services, but warned that the whole sector was also vulnerable to trust “shocks” when negative news appeared from individual businesses. Trust highs often appeared to be followed by trust crashes, he said.
In a wrap-up session,Airwallex VP of global banking James Butland explained why the Australia-founded international payments and FX platform expanded to the UK and Europe. Without expansion, he said, the firm would naturally have limited its access to new markets. After moving to APAC, London was the natural next stop.
In April Airwallex closed a $160m series D funding round to boost its global expansion. Butland said London was unique and “still number one” in Europe despite Brexit and the rise of Paris and Frankfurt.
He pointed to a “great” UK regulatory framework from a fintech-friendly FCA, as well as to good support from the UK government. He said London offered access to great talent, great schools and culture.
Butland said incoming fintechs should use their existing networks to help get themselves set up in the UK, and get the message out as they can with help from government trade bodies like DIT and also via Australian fintech events. Start small, think big and be optimistic, he urged.
The UK fintech overview event marks the global launch of Newfound’s Market Missions programme, running over two weeks in September. For more information visit newfound.global/programmes/market-missions