Britain's fintech sector seeks light at end of Brexit tunnel
Six weeks after Britain's vote to leave the EU threw London's future as a leading global fintech hub into doubt, there are tentative signs the country's reputation for innovation in financial services will survive.
From high in a skyscraper in Canary Wharf to Victorian warehouses around "Silicon Roundabout", some of the start-ups Britain has fostered to make its vital finance sector more efficient are less anxious than they were about the decision.
"The first week was sad, people were confused and did not understand the reality of it all," said 28-year-old Daumantas Dvilinskas, who heads one of dozens of fintech firms crammed into three floors of the Wharf's One Canada Square tower.
The start-ups in the "Level 39" Canary Wharf hub worried the surprise June 23 vote to leave the EU would cost Britain access to Europe's single market, shrinking their talent pool, putting off foreign investors and damaging the country's fintech status. Access to the single market remains key, and uncertain, since the government has yet to clarify what sort of agreement it will seek with the EU in talks that could take years.
That has put many businesses into a holding pattern and made some, including in fintech, consider leaving Britain. But a series of start-ups in fintech, which owes much of its success to the global financial crisis of 2008-09, when people lost faith in banks and other financial institutions and sought alternatives, are already showing their adaptive mettle.
Fintech, or financial technology, aims to "disrupt" mainstream banking and payments by offering cheaper and easier-to-use internet or smartphone-based services like payment apps and peer-to-peer lending platforms or digital currencies like bitcoin.
Several firms have closed funding rounds since the referendum, including online peer-to-peer lending platform MarketInvoice, based just off a traffic circle in London's Shoreditch district dubbed "Silicon Roundabout" in a downbeat British nod to California's "Silicon Valley".
The company allows small firms to sell their invoices to investors and avoid a cash flow crunch from delayed payments.
"Following the result of the UK referendum, many might perceive investing in fintech as a risk," said Sylwester Janik, a senior partner at MCI Capital, a Polish venture capital firm that has invested £7.2m in MarketInvoice.
"We see an economic slowdown and a distracted banking sector as a potential opportunity to fuel growth of the platform."
Santander InnoVentures, the Spanish bank's London-based fintech venture capital fund, said last month it was doubling in size, to $200 million. Mariano Belinky, a managing partner, said the idea of fintech firms leaving London in the aftermath of Brexit was "not reality".
Britain's fintech sector generated £6.6bn in revenue last year, global accountancy firm EY said in a report commissioned by the British government.
It ranks the UK, effectively London, as the number 1 global fintech hub, based on market size, investment, workforce, light-touch regulation and supportive government policy. Others put London at the top of a European ranking. (Reuters)