Business

Monday 25 September 2017

Ireland's fintech heroes seek to disrupt the old financial order

Leo McAdams
Leo McAdams

Leo McAdams

The characterisation of the financial world being populated by evil geniuses owes more to popular fiction than actual fact, but according to Richard Branson, the world needs to be saved from them.

Fortunately, there are superheroes in our midst whose feet are firmly on the ground.

Writing on LinkedIn, the Virgin founder said: "The market is ripe for disruption, with incumbent banks, insurance, payments and investment management companies no longer able to bamboozle consumers with jargon, hidden costs and arcane language. The time is right for entrepreneurs and new technology to shake up these industries."

A little overwrought, perhaps, but he is right in saying the suits are under pressure from trendy digital pioneers developing products that cut out intermediaries, simplify and speed-up processes and reduce customer costs.

The generic term for this is fintech, which also includes innovations in trading, big data, risk, compliance and business intelligence.

Ireland is already very successful in this rapidly growing sector, and Enterprise Ireland has a dedicated fintech team managing more than 220 clients. Their technology is facilitating crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending and mobile payments and giving the general public access to services previously the exclusive domain of financial institutions.

There is a long way to go before the market reaches saturation. KPMG and CB Insights say global investment in fintech start-ups doubled between 2014 and 2015 to €12.5bn.

It is the hipster philosophy of the tech world, with its commitment to personalised, intuitive, mobile and low-cost services that is driving the interest.

This past week, Minister of State for Financial Services, eGovernment and Public Procurement Eoghan Murphy was accompanied by 12 Irish fintech companies on a week-long visit to China, Japan and Singapore.

Firms including CR2, Corvil, Doran Finan- cial Services, Fenergo, Fexco, Fineos Corporation, Intuition, Monex and Taxback International met key industry influencers and experts in these markets to generate sales.

They met heavy hitters such as local banks DBS, UOB, OCBC; the Singapore Stock Exchange; and big international players including Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank, AXA and Visa International.

Mr Murphy also promoted the second Euro- pean Financial Forum which takes place in Dublin next January. The event brings together hundreds of high-level international industry leaders, policy makers, regulators and experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities within the banking and financial services industry.

There are currently more than 20 Irish fintech companies active in Asia Pacific, many with multiple presences. They generated sales of more than €115m in the region last year, and with the support of Enterprise Ireland offices in Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo are forecasting significant growth over the next five years.

Mr Murphy also showcased the capability of Ireland's broader financial services sector through the launch of the IFS Ireland brand - a Government-led initiative that is part of its IFS 2020 strategy for promoting Ireland as a leading location for international financial services.

The strategy aims to create 10,000 net new jobs in a sector that already employs close to 40,000. A third of those employed by the 400-plus companies in the sector (more than half of which are Irish-owned) are outside the greater Dublin area in locations including Kerry, Cork, Donegal, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford.

If our experience at Enterprise Ireland is anything to go by, fintech is proving attractive to emerging entrepreneurs. Some 10pc of our high-performance start-ups are in fintech, and given the banks' appetite for partners that can help develop innovative products and services, these companies will be our next generation of business heroes.

This week another 10 start-ups were given space and mentorship at Dogpatch Labs in Dublin's Digital Docklands in addition to their €50,000 award under the Enterprise Ireland Fintech Competitive Start Fund.

Number crunchers beware: the next wave of customer super- heroes are coming, but they won't be wearing spandex and capes. As Japanese deputy prime minster Taro Aso told the FT last week, they will be "people in T-shirts and jeans".

Leo McAdams is Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager for ICT and International Services

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