The secret’s finally out: Financial technology (fintech) is a London thing. The British capital is fast becoming the global capital for the fintech industry and we believe London is uniquely placed to dominate this market, with significant advantages over other major tech hubs -- including Silicon Valley. Recent news of the record-breaking amount of venture capital in 2014, and the projection of an additional £12bn of economic activity and 46,000 new jobs in the next decade, has only strengthened the momentum.
Just eighteen months ago, this was a nascent sector and a term most associated with IT systems for banks. Now, we’re talking about truly disruptive, homegrown companies such as peer-to-peer foreign exchange service Transferwise becoming £1 billion ventures. Canary Wharf Group’s Level 39 is now a three-level coworking establishment housing 166 fintech businesses: a hub of innovation seeded from within London’s corporate towers. Promising companies such as Digital Shadows have sprung out of consulting giant Accenture’s London Fintech Innovation Lab. Half of the dozen startups on Tech City UK’s government-backed programme Future Fifty are finance-oriented, including Transferwise, GoCardless and Ratesetter.
With Europe at our doorstep, a pool of diverse talent and an well-established financial infrastructure, London bypasses other world-class finance and tech hubs as an incubation spot. Where once promising talent would have endeavored to enter the world of investment banking, more and more are aiming to disrupt the traditional banking world. It’s within this space that corporate and startup worlds are colliding at a much earlier stage, as big institutions and early-stage businesses begin to work together to create incredible opportunity.
The prospects for London’s financial innovation are looking peachy - but who are the individuals spearheading this future and what do they have to say on the subject? Many of these came together in last month’s Fintech 2015, an inspiration-filled event organized by Seven Hills, Level39 and Tech London Advocates. As attendees, we were exhilarated by the calibre and content shared by the speakers. Here, we round up some of the highlights as shared by top talent writing London’s fintech success story.
RESHMA, PARTNER & CO-FOUNDER OF SEEDCAMP
In the words of Seedcamp’s Reshma Sohoni, London’s fintech potential is not about building $1bn businesses: rather, it’s about the potential to create $10bn businesses. As partner of Pan-European accelerator Seedcamp, she helps early stage companies (such as Elliptic and Transferwise) with business development and fundraising. “At Seedcamp, we take companies from zero to IPO. We have investors from California to China involved in London fintech,” she shared with the crowd at Fintech 2015. “(This sector) is making its own paradigm.”
ANIL STOCKER, CEO & CO-FOUNDER OF MARKETINVOICE
Anil Stocker says London’s fintech is at the beginning of a very optimistic journey: graduates making more entrepreneurial choices, consumers are crying out for more competition and diversity, and companies are beginning to change financial services for the better on an international scale. Stocker is doing his part as well: In 2011 he co-founded MarketInvoice, the UK’s first “eBay for invoices” that lets you trade invoices for your finance needs, and has been CEO since. According to Stocker, the obstacles for further international expansion of the sector lie in the complex legal and regulatory frameworks.
HIROKI TAKEUCHI, CEO & FOUNDER OF GOCARDLESS
Want to see what high growth looks like? Take a look at GoCardless’ blog, where they recently posted an animation that visualises the companies’ national growth over the last 3 years. Initially aiming to make group payments between groups of friends and small organisations easier, the company has since become the UK’s leading direct debit provider.
“Don’t think of it as fintech, think of it as good ideas”, Hiroki Takeuchi said during his talk at Fintech 2015. Takeuchi’s venture is part of Tech City UK’s Future Fifty Programme and backed by some of the world’s leading investors, including Passion Capital and Y Combinator.
ALEX LETTS, CEO & FOUNDER OF FFREES
“Bill Gates said banking is essential, banks are not”, said Alex Letts, who founded his own fintech company Ffrees in 2012. As the UK’s first truly digital alternative to traditional retail banking, Ffrees offers its customers a current account that lets them earn as they spend though competitive rewards and bonuses. “65% of banking customers are unprofitable,” Letts explained of state of the current accounts market. “In this day and age, banks make most of their money applying penalties". Letts’ venture tackles this by providing families with a sustainable and profitable alternative by giving them control of their savings in a digital realm.
VLAURENCE ADEREMI, CEO & FOUNDER OF MONI
Laurence Aderemi’s own experience of being a Western Union customer was what initially led him to believe there was a better way of doing it. Moni, the Western Union for the digital economy, is a peer-to-peer money transfer app that innovates how people send money to their friends and family abroad. Aderemi joined London’s fintech superstars from an impressive background in mobile innovation. Previously, he led business development for EMEA under AdMob. When it was acquired by Google, he joined as Head of Mobile Strategic Partnerships.
ALICK VARMA, CEO & FOUNDER OF OSPER
"One in seven children uses their parents’ bank card without permission,” Alick Varma shared with the crowd at Fintech 2015. To him, building the future of fintech is about much more than number crunching: it’s about education.Osper aims to empower young people to manage their money responsibly and build great habits for finances at an early age. Investors (including Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Horizon Venture, tech investment firm Index Ventures, Lastminute.com’s co-founder and several notable venture capital backers) rushed to get a piece of Varma’s “digital pocket money” startup after being seeded through London’s TechStars programme.
GERARD GRECH, CEO OF TECH CITY UK
London’s unique positioning as a tech hub is largely a result of its government-backed institutions such as Tech City UK. As CEO of the entity, Gerard Grech is leading initiatives such as the FutureFifty programme, which assists growth-stage digital businesses with governmental access and fosters an environment for growth by stimulating the institutional investor base and capital markets. “In 2013, UK and Ireland represented more than half of Europe’s fintech deals and 69% of Europe’s fintech funding”, Grech shared at the conference. FutureFifty welcomed a dozen new fintech companies in late 2014, half of which were dedicated to financial technology-- which in itself is a signal for the sector’s ongoing growth.
CLAIRE COCKERTON, CEO OF PIVOTAL INNOVATIONS, HEAD OF INNOVATION PROGRAMMES AT LEVEL39
"Businesses now have the opportunity and right to compete in a sector that has been traditionally very difficult to enter,” said Claire Cockerton, who has co-led Level39 as Head of Innovation to become Europe’s largest technology accelerator for fintech and smart cities. As a serial entrepreneur, she has founded and chaired accelerator Pivotal Innovations and is currently CEO of Innovative Finance.
RHYDIAN LEWIS, CEO & FOUNDER OF RATESETTER
According to Rhydian Lewis, the emergence of the fintech industry should be equated to the big picture: “Finance never had its industrial revolution,” he shared with the crowd. “Finance is 90% technology anyway”. Launching peer-to-peer lending site RateSetter.com in 2010, he is fueling the revolution of lending and borrowing in the share economy with one of the UK’s fastest growing P2P platforms.
EILEEN BURBIDGE, PARTNER AT PASSION CAPITAL
The Telegraph has described Eileen Burbidge as “Silicon Roundabout’s real reigning queen” for good reason. As partner of early stage venture capital fund Passion Capital she holds investments in GoCardless and DueDil (20% of their portfolio is in fintech), and has invested in the likes of Yahoo!, Skype and Apple. As a speaker at Fintech 2015, Burbidge emphasised that London’s fintech sector is unique in that corporate and startup businesses are coming together here in a big way. She claims London’s fintech sector is “recession proof”, as the more depression in the macro market, the more talent will move toward small business innovation. The biggest challenges for these companies to reach the public market, she says, lie in regulation and talent.
London is often praised for being at the forefront of diverse global industries, and now it seems it can rightfully add “technology” to the list. We’ve introduced just a handful of the individuals that have sowed the seeds for success. They are highly optimistic about the future of the financial landscape being built here, and it is clear that it is just the beginning of the story.