The government-commissioned report by Ron Kalifa has focused on improving the competitiveness of the UK’s fintech industry through supportive regulation, removing barriers to investment, promoting skills and access to global talent. These are hard-to- disagree-with proposals for a sector that is said to contribute £11 billion to the UK’s economy. However, if by fintech we mean the application of digital technology to financial services, it is impossible to ringfence the sector from the broader financial services industry, which accounts for nearly eight percent of the UK’s output (down from 9.2% in 2009) and contributed some £75 billion in taxes in the past year alone.
You would be hard-pressed to find a financial institution in the City of London and beyond which is not applying digital technology to their business or investing billions of dollars in making financial services more efficient and accessible for their clients. This technology spend has allowed these firms to transform financial markets – from reducing the cost of trading, efficiently connecting buyers and sellers of securities, and empowering retail investors to access financial markets.
Dafina Grapci-Penney, Joint-Managing Director, Greentarget
My own experience of the fintech started more than 10 years ago when I joined Greentarget and where, I have to admit, I had some initial reservations about a sector that was then called financial technology and which didn’t have the same cachet that it has acquired today. The regulatory response to the financial crisis was a major catalyst for the growth of the sector, becoming the conduit by which global G20-promoted regulations were implemented. This led to further innovation, from the electronification of the over-the-counter derivatives trading industry and the development of a new post-trade industry, to market data and analytics, all enabled by the application of technology. The firms that grew throughout this period are not firms that people would typically associate with fintech, yet they are arguably among the most successful fintechs we have in the UK.
Admittedly, many such firms that have flourished in this space over the past decade are US-headquartered firms. The US has some of the deepest and most liquid financial markets, a supportive regulatory environment, and a culture of innovation. It is no coincidence that some of the recent innovations in capital markets – from direct listings to SPACs – have originated in the US. But the UK also has one of the largest derivatives and FX trading industries, among others, and many UK-founded champions among those. They should be supported.
For those who believe the City is the preserve of institutions and who associate fintech purely with retail financial services, it is worth remembering that the electronification and adoption of technology by City-based financial institutions has hugely benefited retail investors – be in the form of reduced spreads or reduced market impact – all of which has resulted in lower costs and better returns for end investors.
The application of technology and improved connectivity between different financial institutions has also levelled the playing field between institutional and retail access to financial services, as evidenced in the growing investment and trading industry. None of this would have been possible without the infrastructure provided by the very same City-based institutions which some fintechs, perhaps, aspire to replace.
It is this knowledge and understanding of financial systems, together with the deep financial market infrastructure, that is a real asset to the UK financial services industry, and, by extension, fintech.
The UK is one of the world’s most innovative and competitive financial markets and the financial services industry is an asset to the UK’s burgeoning fintech scene. To succeed, fintech will need the strong, global foundations of the UK’s financial services industry.
In the absence of a free trade deal in financial services with the EU, the City needs to think global rather than local. To attract the best companies and talent, the special treatment promoted by the Kalifa Review needs to be extended to the entire financial services industry, not just fintech. This is where industry associations promoting sector-wide initiatives such TheCityUK and CityUnited are important. To thrive, as Katherine Griffiths recently argued in The Times, the UK needs to show a deeper commitment to finance.
Share this article
Want to share this article with others? Share via the links below