Although ‘Financial Technology’ was first coined as a term during the establishment of the Financial Services Technology Consortium in 1993, it really has only become a well-known term in the years following the financial crises of 2008.
Financial technology has in fact been around since before the start of the 20th century when the invention of the telegraph and the laying of the first transatlantic cable heralded the beginning of financial globalisation.
Financial tech really started to pick up steam in the 1950s with the introduction of credit cards, the 1960s gave us the first ATMs and mainframe computers were first utilised by banks in the 1980s as the new way to digitise the data and record keeping processes.
This current wave of FinTech innovation emerged about the same time as Web 2.0 but has greatly accelerated since the financial crash. This is largely due to the new business models and easy access to new markets that was spawned from technology shifts like mobile, cloud and social.
It was then further fuelled by regulators around the world who wished to encourage new FinTech startups and challenger banks with the goal of lessening the systemic risk that is inherent in existing too-big-to-fail structures. As a result, investment in FinTech has exploded from $1.79 billion in 2010 to $22.3 billion in 2015. And while there will be some levelling off in 2017 due to certain political uncertainties, FinTech is here to stay.
This explosion in FinTech offers a huge opportunity for Ireland in terms of turning itself into a major FinTech hub with all the economic and employment benefit which that would bring.
Depending on how you define them, Ireland currently has approximately 110 indigenous FinTech companies and a huge amount on top of that who are about to launch. While this represents a very healthy industry for Ireland, it still pales in comparison to the major FinTech hubs like London and Singapore.
In 2015, London alone had over 61,000 people directly employed in FinTech. In the same year, it received almost $1 billion in VC FinTech investment and the sector generated over £20 billion in revenue.
The opportunity for establishing Ireland as a powerful regional FinTech hub was only heightened by Britain’s decision to leave the EU and especially if UK based financial services companies lose their ability to sell their services throughout the common market.
The European financial media is flooded with reports that UK-based FinServ and FinTech companies have already started making enquiries about moving to other single market countries.
This obvious opportunity is not lost on the rest of Europe, and Ireland will have lots of competition in this regard. Within weeks of the Brexit vote, efforts were already underway from the likes of Frankfurt and Berlin to lure FinTech businesses away from the UK and to wrestle the FinTech crown from London.
It may not always be visible from outside the FinTech ecosystem but there is already a huge amount of great work going on here. The government has a financial services strategy called IFS2020 which speaks directly to FinTech in close collaboration with the major government bodies like EI and the IDA.
An overarching FinTech association was set up in 2015 called the FPAI that contains several working groups which among other things organise regular events, make policy recommendations and aids collaboration among its members and the wider Fintech community. On the startup side, several incubators and accelerators have run FinTech specific initiatives like the competitive start fund for FinTech at DogPatch Labs or the FinTech Pre-Accelerator Programme at the NDRC.
FinTech innovation labs are also popping up across the capital like Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab and the Deloitte Blockchain Lab. Grassroots organisations are also appearing such as FinTech Ireland which organises free events including FinTechBridge events that bring Dublin together with other international FinTech hubs and they also collaborated with Irish Tech News on the FinTech 20 Ireland project.
Of course, despite all that positive activity, there is still a great deal that needs to be improved upon. Much has already been written about the sub-optimal entrepreneurial tax regime here in terms of CGT and share-based remuneration which most industry experts believe have not been properly addressed by our legislators.
Progress can also be made on the regulatory side and Ireland still faces many challenges in terms of infrastructure and the cost of living. All that being accepted, it seems like the majority of our challenges are ones which can be overcome by some progressive governance coupled with a highly collaborative industry.
Turning a small country like Ireland into a powerful Fintech hub may seem overly ambitious to many observers and perhaps it is, but what Ireland has already achieved in pharma and technology must have seemed overly ambitious at various points also.
To fully achieve this outcome we most likely need to start spawning indigenous technology giants which would in turn help create numerous other spin-out enterprises in the wake of its success and FinTech offers that chance.
This is not a small niche industry we are talking about here; FinTech is the industry of PayPal (worth more than Barclays), Stripe (valued at $6 billion less than 6 years from its founding) and Ant Financial (expected to have a market cap on IPO twice that of Deutsche Bank).
The storage, movement and lending of capital touch almost every person and organisation in the world and so too will FinTech. The opportunity is huge and while we already have many of the basic building blocks in place to achieve almost anything, industry collaboration and advocacy will remain key to all future success.
So in that spirit, Leveris will be running a series of interviews with key FinTech industry players over the course of next week, starting with Eoghan Murphy the Minister of State for Financial Services on Monday morning.
The overall rationale of the series is to fuel further debate on this strategically critical sector for Ireland by getting the opinions of a representative from each chain in the ecosystem – government, government bodies, industry associations, grassroots groups and industry leaders.
To achieve the full potential for FinTech in Ireland, we need to keep the debate going at all times both in terms of promoting what is great and fixing what is still wrong.
We hope this can help achieve that in some small way.
A huge thank you to everyone who agreed to take part by giving of their time freely. During the course of 2017 we hope to continue on this theme so if anyone has any great ideas of other initiatives we can take part in or help promote, please do not hesitate to get in touch.