I have recently been appointed as a non-executive director for a fintech company in London and thought I should speak this week about some of the findings from the London Fintech week that was held in July.
London is currently hailed as the global centre of fintech. This should come as no surprise, as it is by tradition a financial centre, with most of the leading banks operating in the European and African markets headquartered in the capital. Established banks and financial players are quickening the pace of innovation in the FinTech space, according to Luca Raffellini, director of business and financial services at Frost & Sullivan.
Similarly, leading disrupting actors such as Funding Circle, Transferwise, Nutmeg, and Mondo have chosen London as their home, creating a stimulating ecosystem that other fintech startups can benefit from. The British capital currently hosts 17 of the top 50 fintech companies in the world (Currency Cloud, Revolut, Property Partners, GoCardless, Elliptic, Bankable, Ebury, iZettle to mention a few), and it is the biggest existing cluster of successful fintech companies, ahead of San Francisco, which is the home for 16 of these startups.
According to a recent Accenture study, investment in fintech across the globe, continues to rise. In the first quarter of 2016, investments in fintech reached $5.3 billion, a 67% increase over the same period the year before.
Since the start of the year, sceptics have been asking whether the “fintech” bubble is bursting. A crisis at Lending Club, the biggest online lender in the US, has been pounced on by critics to argue that the potential for digital upstarts to seriously disrupt the financial services industry has been greatly exaggerated.
Yet the Financial Times believes that fintech has substance as well as hype. Here are five reasons why digital innovation is likely to produce the biggest upheaval in financial services since the credit card was invented more than 60 years ago.
1. Finance is ripe for disruption
Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, summed it up soon after the financial crisis when he told a room full of stunned bankers: “The most important financial innovation that I have seen the past 20 years is the automatic teller machine, that really helps people and prevents visits to the bank and is a real convenience.” Banks remain deeply unpopular. Their business models are under threat from tightening regulation and low interest rates. Profitability has for years lagged behind most banks’ cost of capital. If ever an industry was ripe for disruption, this is it.
2. Regulators are pushing for change
From New York and San Francisco to London and Singapore, politicians and regulators are competing to attract the flashiest fintech start-ups to their cities. Digital upstarts are being courted to provide much needed competition for the traditional banks. In the UK, for instance, the Financial Conduct Authority has created a “sandbox” allowing start-ups to experiment in a regulatory-light space. A European Union directive is set to force banks to make customer data more freely available to so-called “digital aggregators” that allow consumers to manage all their financial matters via a single application and to compare products more easily.
3. Money keeps pouring in
Venture capital funding continues to pour into fintech companies in ever-greater volumes. VC-backed companies raised $14.4bn of financing last year — almost double the previous year — according to a report from KPMG International and CB Insights. Funding doubled again to $4.9bn in the first quarter of this year and since then Ant Financial — the fintech arm of Chinese ecommerce group Alibaba — raised $4.5bn, making it one of the world’s most valuable private technology companies. “We are starting to see fintech move into the megadeal space,” said Warren Mead, global co-leader of fintech at KPMG International.
4. Big name bankers believe in it
The list of top tier bankers who have joined the fintech crowd is impressive. Since stepping down as co-head of Deutsche Bank last year, Anshu Jain has become an adviser to SoFi, one of the biggest US online lenders, and now plans to launch a similar venture in India. Equally, Antony Jenkins is launching his own fintech start-up a year after quitting as Barclays CEO. Other big name bankers that have switched into fintech include Vikram Pandit, the former Citi chief, John Mack, the ex-Morgan Stanley boss, and Blythe Masters, who left JPMorgan to lead a blockchain start-up.
5. It is happening already
Marketplace lenders issued $23.7bn of loans globally in 2014, of which half were in the US and almost 40 per cent were in China, with most of the rest in the UK, according to Deloitte. That represents a compound annual growth rate of 120 per cent since 2010. While these loans remain a small fraction of the total loans from banks, they will soon become systemically significant if growth continues at the same pace. In China, the growth of mobile payments by the likes of Alipay and Tencent is already staggering, rising fivefold to Rmb6tn ($960bn) in 2014, according to iResearch.
To provide some conclusion to the facts, as we move towards 2020, fintech and the future of fintech will depend on cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders within the financial industry.
The UK, with London as its financial capital, will remain an attractive place for fintechs to develop their business in future.
KPMG and CB Insights reported earlier this year that fintech companies in the UK raised $962 million in venture capital (VC) funding deals in 2015, up from $409m in 2014. The UK market for VC fintech investments dwarfed Germany’s, where VC deals raised $193m for fintech companies last year. The research represented increasing global confidence in the UK as a fintech hub with opportunities for innovators and investors.
Brexit has created short-term uncertainty but, whilst it may not be the result the fintech community wanted from the referendum, the UK remains well-placed to serve the interests of fintech companies and investors.
London will continue to be a major business hub for global trade and boast expertise in financial services unrivalled elsewhere in Europe and perhaps the world.
The UK also already has a deserved reputation as a financial centre with a regulator that supports innovation and the digitisation of financial services by both incumbents and new entrants to the market.
The FCA is at the forefront of fintech initiatives, including supporting the development of automated advice tools, the use of technologies that help firms meet regulatory obligations, and the testing of innovative products, services and business models in a lighter-touch regulatory ‘sandbox’ environment. The UK government is also backing the development of open APIs in banking in an initiative that goes beyond the ambitions of the EU’s new Payment Services Directive (PSD2) in opening up the payments market to increased competition and innovation.
These are solid foundations for a post-Brexit UK to build on. Together with the opportunities for global passporting and smarter regulation, there should continue to be fertile ground in the UK for fintechs to establish themselves and expand.