Fintech Week London – Day One Review

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After months of solely digital events, Fintech Week London marks the change and the start to the return of normality, as the first in-person fintech event in London is held since the pandemic began.  This week-long event will have senior decision-makers representing the most innovative companies in financial services gathering in the UK capital to discuss the position of London as a Fintech hub post-Brexit.

Over the course of five days in a hybrid format, holding both in-person and virtual panels and discussions, Fintech Week London will welcome executives from high-street banks, digital challengers, technology giants, and new disruptors, who will come together to shine a light on ground-breaking developments in Financial Technology.

The event kicked off today with a keynote from Raf De Kimpe, Fintech Week London’s CEO, and Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business.

Welcoming everyone to the event, Agrawal began by reviewing London as a fintech hub, saying “Over the last 10 years our tech ecosystem has grown rapidly. London and the UK tech companies continue to attract investment despite the covid-19 pandemic. So far this year, London’s fintech companies have benefited from $5.3million of VC investments. From 2015 – 2021, the number of fintech startups headquarters in London has increased by 64%. There are now 3018 fintech headquarters in London, which is the highest amount globally.”

Following a short summary of the benefits of establishing a business in London, Agrawal concluded saying, “I hope this week inspires you to grow your business in London, fills you with confidence that the support is here for the sector, and gives you a sense of pride knowing that you are contributing to what makes this city so great.”

This was followed by a keynote from Chris Skinner, Chairperson at Fintech Week London, who discussed how digital immigrants have adopted digitalisation compared to digital natives during the pandemic.

Skinner began by discussing the adoption of cloud technology by those who were cloud-native and those who weren’t, and how those who weren’t have not updated their business model to accommodate the change. He then went on to discuss how big banks saw their developers and designers as cogs in a machine, rather than artists that could inspire other companies to innovate. He made it clear, “Code is art. This is the nature and the heart of fintech. This is what a lot of banks don’t get.”

He concluded his keynote by discussing the transformation in investing, “I think shareholder capitalism, the Milton Friedman model, is now dead. The next century and its starting now is stakeholder capitalism. Do whatever you have to do to make a profit whilst doing good for society, good for the planet. That is the fundamental difference: purpose-driven businesses focused upon stakeholders, not shareholders.”

Enabling the Future: Green Finance

The first-panel session revolved around green finance, climate fintechs and how technology can be used to shape a more sustainable world through financial products and services. The panel included Thanos Bismpigiannis, Head of Product at Plum, Simon Cureton, CEO at Funding Options and Julianne Sloane, co-founder at Nossa Data. The session was moderated by Charlotte Kanagasabapathy, Director of Innovation at Barclays.

The panellists were asked what they believed the role of fintechs was in regards to dealing with climate change. Sloane answered first explaining that “fundamentally [fintechs are] a reporting platform. It takes a ton of time for organisations to report on different topics like carbon emissions and water usage; it takes a huge amount of their resources, and when they’re spending resources on reporting, they’re not spending resources on actually improving on these topics.” Cureton added to this saying, “We’re focused on funding green and lending green… If we can make it easier for businesses to focus on the things that are really important to them, then to me, that’s a great thing.”

When discussing investment plans, Bismpigiannis explained that many consumers don’t fully understand how to consume the data provided. “It is our mission to make this data more accessible to users to help them make the right investment decisions… We have seen research that suggests two-thirds of users want to invest in ESG, but they either don’t know how to go about it, how to understand this data, or they may not trust the provider that they used real data. In my mind, that’s what’s next – that these services are available at a consumer level.

“We have seen an interesting trend of users investing in more sustainable opportunities. We saw almost all investment allocations with an ESG strategy attached to almost double between the start of the pandemic and the second lockdown.”

Following the panel, a fireside chat was held which further discussed green finance and its future. Romina Savova, CEO at pensionbee, explained different strategies to encourage green finance: excluding fossil fuel producers from investments, engage with fossil fuel producers and how to encourage them to change, impact investing and actually putting your money into companies that are actively doing things to make the world better.

True Financial Inclusion Is Not Just an Aspiration; It Is Our Collective Future

Another panel that took place was on the impact of financial inclusion. The moderator, Jonny Paul, a Director at Fintech Week Tel Aviv, opened the discussion by giving the World Bank‘s definition of financial inclusion: “individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs. Transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.” The panellists included Guy Kashtan, CEO at Rewire, Maria Gospodinova, general manager at crypto.com, and Zeiad Idris, CEO and co-founder at Algbra.

Guy Kashtan said this when asked what financial inclusion meant to him, “I think one thing it is missing [from the World Bank’s definition] is about education on helping populations who are either underbanked or underserved. Building a service and making it accessible isn’t always enough. So payments today are broadly used – making this accessible is fine but when you go into more complicated services like credit, insurance, and savings, in my opinion, the educational cloud and helping customers use it, incentivising them to use it to build a better future for themselves and their families, is a critical part of financial inclusion.”

Gospodinova discussed the World Bank’s findings which said, “50% of the unbanked said they did not have enough money to open an account, and even if they did, would not know what to do with it. It is the role of the government, not only the companies, to facilitate education, to facilitate price stability so people can actually plan their longer futures. It is important companies participate and cooperate with the central banks and offer different programmes that able to attract migrants and people who are under represented, and people who live far flung parts of countries that typically would be under represented when it comes to financial services.”

What Is Next for Blockchain in Financial Services?

This session revolved around the evolution of blockchain, and looked into the innovation in real life use cases of underlying blockchain technology outside of cryptocurrencies. The session was moderated by Mimi Nguyen, R&D Lead at Mana Search, Chris Skinner, Chairperson at Fintech Week London, Simon Taylor, co-founder and Head of Ventures at 11:FS, Marcus Treacher, CEO CB Investment Growth Holdings and Board Member at Clear Bank, and Haydn Jones, Director and Senior Blockchain Market Specialist at PwC.

Considering the UK has dealt with Brexit and the pandemic, Jones argued “the UK is ahead of the curve. Here we’ve got the stablecoin consultation which came out earlier this year which is a useful step forward. Carving out stablecoins is pretty progressive, but it takes so long. Its a 12 – 18 month process of consultation, and then another 12 – 18 month process to potentially lay the legislation to parliament, and then another 12 – 18 months for the regulators to actually change it.” The panellists then went on to discuss what the priority should be, as instead of focusing on stablecoins, there should be a focus on building for the future.

Simon Taylor went on to discuss the adoption of blockchain and crypto, “When the smart phone came out there were a lot of executives in the boardroom saying, ‘oh well, that’s just for games, the Blackberry is the serious thing.’ Thats happening with crypto now. If you look at the technology underneath,if you talk about the various blockchain flavours that are out there, there are some that get lumped in that are actually useable technologies that are perfectly powerful, that would allow your customers to move money internationally… Rather than starting at ‘what do I do today and how do I make it cheaper?’ Its ‘what does the customer of tomorrow really want?’”

Jones, continuing on the vein of what does the customer of tomorrow want, went on to discuss how selling blockchain has evolved. “We work hard to stop selling blockchain as a concept but rather sell the clever things that we can do with blockchain.”

  • Francis is a junior journalist with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.

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