NorthInvest Summit in Leeds

FinTech in the north of England is a particularly hot topic of late. In the last three weeks, there have been at least four FinTech events in the region, including the FinTech North Seminar on Friday 8th November. The sector is gaining the attention and support of big supporters and companies. The latest event, the NorthInvest Summit, held on the 14th November, was hosted and sponsored by KPMG at their new Leeds offices, in collaboration with NorthInvest.

Image 2The breakfast event kicked off with three short presentations from Daniel Rajkumar of White Label Crowdfunding and, Alex Letts, Founder of U and Henri Murison, CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Daniel set out his views on the future growth and direction of the FinTech sector, highlighting that the north and the UK as a whole need to do more to keep up with FinTech developments happening further afield, in China and the USA for example. He went on to emphasise how organisations such as FinTech North and NorthInvest would be key in bridging that gap, not only within the UK, but also on the international scene.

Alex Letts followed Daniel, and addressed the question: “Can the traditional banking sector keep up with the pace of change and development of the challenger banks?”

“Every change that the traditional banks need to make to keep up is harder than the last; they have to overcome a 300-year-old business model and a 300-year-old attitude to business.”

However, he went on to assert that he doesn’t believe that the new neo banks have what it takes to live up to their rhetoric of taking over the world. He acknowledged that whilst these new institutions have an advantage when it comes to incremental change within their business models, he believes that they do not yet – and may never have – the ability to cause major disruption in the sector. This, Alex ascertains, is due to the fact that they will have difficulty overcoming the chasm associated with shifting from enthusiastic early adopters to the mass market take up.

Why do they not have the ability to overcome the chasm? Alex believes that these institutions have not done anything truly disruptive – likening their strategy to new clothes on the emperor – and that they would further struggle to raise the significant capital required to take their services mass market. If these new banks do struggle to make real changes, he feels that the incumbent banks will likely have the fire power and robustness to see off the competition by simply dressing themselves up to look as good as, but more established than, the challengers.

U-logoAlex’s business, U, is trying to be more disruptive than these challengers, by addressing the problem that a significant portion of the UK population does not have access to many of the products and accounts offered by mainstream banks. U serves a part of the population that both the incumbents and even the challenger banks won’t touch.

Following Alex, Henri Murison took to the floor, who agreed with Alex that it would take something more from the challenger banks to compete and be successful in the long run, highlighting the fact that challenging the PLC model is not a new concept and has been done time and time again in the financial services sector. He did warn however, that challengers, and particularly those in the northern region, must recognise the importance of the role the incumbent banks play in the north, including the employment of tens of thousands of people. More must be done, said Alex, to plan and support these organisations so that technological development does not become problematic in the future.

Northern-PowerhouseSpeaking then as the representative for the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), Henri went on to stress the opportunities that the north has, particularly within the FinTech space. He stated that for the region to benefit from these opportunities, there must be better collaboration between all the organisations pushing for the growth. He cited greater rail and transport connectivity between the region’s cities as a key factor in building greater collaboration within the region.

Following this, Mark Casci, Business Editor for The Yorkshire Post and panel chair, opened the floor to questions. The question that saw the most discussion between panel and audience was whether there are short-term wins and actions that can drive the growth of business, particularly FinTech business, in the north. This question arose from the observation that much of the stated NPP and government policy is long-term, focusing on discussions of significant improvements by 2030 and 2050. Participants asked:

“What can be done within the next five years?”

Answering first, Henri said that the more short-term goals and ambitions of cities in the region include improving the infrastructure crucial to attracting good business, the prime example being 5G internet connectivity and the connection of fibre to premises. Henri highlighted that the UK is lagging behind other European countries in this field and would need to narrow this gap in order to be both competitive and attractive.

Alex plainly believes that money is the key driver for quick change, believing that a proper investment fund led by the government would be key to growing the industry in the north. He emphasised this point by stating that if it were not for the funding provided by the Yorkshire Enterprise Fund, he would likely not have set up in Sheffield.

Chris SierChris Sier, FinTech Envoy for the North, agreed with Alex, saying that Leeds, and the north in general, needs to receive the same treatment as London, where the tech scene was supported and bolstered by funding from the City of London and Innovate Finance. Chris went on to say that in his opinion, councils and the LEP are working hard to push for this investment and foster better collaboration. He disagreed with Henri, saying that in his opinion, the NPP would have had better results, had they picked a winner from the cities, rather than spreading resources too thinly across various cities that naturally compete against each other. From his own experience, Chris believes that Leeds offers what international investors and companies are looking for when looking further afield: new clients and high-quality research.

Graham Pearce, of KPMG and NorthInvest, followed the discussion by offering a recap of the main sentiments and action points discussed in the course of the morning; aspects that need more attention in order for Leeds to become a key international FinTech hub:

1. Need for greater and closer collaboration between various stakeholders

Graham stated that it is clear that there are a number of very keen and motivated stakeholders, such as Leeds City Council, the local universities, and organisations like FinTech North and NorthInvest, but that as yet, these stakeholders haven’t come together well enough to knit together the final product.

2. Need for more investment in the sector in the north

Whilst statistics show that there has been quarter on quarter growth in investment into the FinTech sector, there is still more to be done. The UK invests less than half that of the USA in the tech sector, something that is, on an international level, a significant issue to address.

3.  Need for more gravitas

Graham believes that FinTech businesses in the north need to be more confident about what they have to offer, and avoid relying on government or councils to be their mouthpieces. Chris Sier echoed these sentiments, leaving the audience with the statement that for there to be success:

“there needs to be less serendipity and more collaboration.”

The FinTech gatherings in the north continue with a FinTech North event on 8th December. Sign up today to avoid missing out.

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