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UK fintech feels the force

Sam Shead | July 23, 2015
The UK financial technology scene appears to be taking off far quicker than sectors like mediatech, adtech, traveltech and foodtech.

But why are angel investors, venture capitalists and Westminster so keen to get behind these digital businesses looking to change the way we pay for things, exchange currency and send money to one another?

Osborne's fintech friend
Venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge is arguably the most qualified person to answer this question, having been appointed the UK's "special envoy for fintech" earlier this month by chancellor George Osborne.

I asked Burbidge an 11-word question: "Why is fintech such a good place to invest right now?" She replied the same day with 1,234 words of her own, painting a very clear picture on the UK fintech scene and, at the same time, illustrating why Osborne is entrusting her with making the UK the fintech capital of the world.

First and foremost, the fintech sector has a huge market opportunity which ties in directly with the amount of money that flows into financial services from consumers, enterprises and financial institutions themselves.

Add to that the fact that banks spend more than £10 billion per year on their technology (with Barclays having disclosed that it spends £3 billion per year alone) and you quickly see why it's big business. "Supplying these existing incumbent institutions is a massive market opportunity in itself," said Burbidge. "Trying then to also displace their services grows the market by multiple orders of magnitude.

"Unlike e-commerce, music or publishing sectors, the financial services sector has yet to really feel the impact of digital and technology innovation of the last 10 years so the opportunity and massive value-creation lies ahead of us."

The simplicity of fintech business models also helps investors to get on board, as does the fact that most fintech firms generate revenue from the off. "Fintech business models tend to be straightforward and cash generative from day one, whether they are commission-based or otherwise," said Burbidge, who worked in Silicon Valley for several years and was head of product at Skype at the time it was sold to eBay for $2.6 billion (£1.67 billion).

Advances in other areas of technology are also helping fintech companies to thrive. Big data, machine learning, cloud-based computing, algorithmic-based decision making, real-time data ingest and analyses, mobile systems, security, blockchain. These are all technologies that have matured significantly in the last few years, and fintech entrepreneurs are harnessing many of them in their products and platforms today.

Why so many fintech companies?
Advances in the aforementioned fields of technology have set things up nicely for entrepreneurs but there's more to it than that.

Many of the bankers that lost their jobs during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 decided to become entrepreneurs.


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