In the drawn-out aftermath of the Brexit vote, London’s status as the world’s FinTech capital has been the subject of numerous panel debates at industry events.
At the recent FT Banking Summit, the publication’s Financial Editor Patrick Jenkins referenced a conversation that he had with the Eastern European founders of one of London’s hottest FinTech startups. They told him that if they were to found the company again, it would be in Berlin.
On the other side of the bitcoin, at Sibos 2016 Geneva, Kay Swinburne, Conservative MEP for Wales, asserted that the City of London will continue to play a key role.
She said that London is “a global financial centre and will maintain that expertise, investor base and capital base that the rest of Europe will need to tap into.”
The truth is that the full implications of the Brexit vote are unknown. What is clear, though, is that FinTech will continue to be about ‘location, location, location’ – and London has a number of advantages.
For a start, there’s a few hundred years of financial history to consider. The strength and appeal of the City’s financial infrastructure can be traced back to Sir Thomas Gresham in the 1500s, and this advantage won’t simply be eroded overnight.
An unlikely champion
And it’s a core part of this infrastructure that will help London to remain at the forefront of FinTech. The regulator.
Since 2010 the UK government has been looking to encourage new types of finance to offset damage from the financial crisis. The FCA’s regulatory sandbox creates a ‘safe space’ in which businesses can test innovative products, services and business models in a live environment.
While many regulators are known for stepping in to shut down new ventures, entrepreneurs are unequivocal in their praise of the FCA. Along with Singapore’s MAS, it’s seen as one of the most progressive regulators in the world.
A 2016 report by management consultancy Oliver Wyman suggests that if the UK opts for a ‘hard’ Brexit (losing access to the single market), it may actually benefit the London FinTech scene.
This is because UK FinTechs currently have to comply with a raft of EU regulations, not all of which are particularly favourable to UK business. With Brexit, the government could pick and choose which laws benefit its burgeoning companies and implement them on its own terms, easing the regulatory burden.
The report also argues that a hard Brexit could simplify the visa process and make it less expensive for FinTechs to hire the brightest and best from further afield than the EU.
So against a backdrop of uncertainty, one certainty is that both the UK government and the FCA will do their upmost to defend London’s status as a FinTech hub. Because it’s FinTech which may help to balance any wider economic damage.