FinTech North is a collaboration between Leeds-based Whitecap Consulting and rebuildingsociety.com. Platform is a flagship development by Bruntwood in the heart of the city, which includes a much-heralded Tech Hub that was recently awarded £2m of funding by Leeds City Council.
Julian Wells, Director of Whitecap Consulting, chaired the event and kicked off the session with a brief introduction before introducing Councillor James Lewis, the Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Resources and Strategy at Leeds City Council. Councillor Lewis provided some broad context around economic development in the Leeds City Region, making it clear that the Council is eager to support the growth of the FinTech industry. The provision of infrastructure and resources upon which a vibrant FinTech community can develop is firmly on the agenda, with the Platform building being a prime example.
Attendees then heard an overview of FinTech North, delivered by Julian Wells and Dan Rajkumar (White Label Crowdfunding), explaining why the brand was established, how it has grown, and also what the future plans may be. In addition to full day conferences in Leeds and Manchester in 2018, FinTech North plans to run a monthly networking seminar (on the first Friday of each month) and a series of other special interest events across the north. More information will be published on the FinTech North website over the coming days and weeks.
‘FinTech For All’
Greg Michel of Tech City was next up. Tech City is a publicly supported organisation that looks to grow the digital economy through supporting tech entrepreneurs at multiple stages in their growth journey. In the north, it operates under the Tech North banner.
“FinTech is fundamentally innovation in financial services delivered by technology that is made available to us now. It’s changing the way we interact with financial services.”
Tech City has become increasingly involved in the FinTech sector over recent times and recently launched the FinTech for all competition. The initiative is targeted at FinTech businesses that can help improve financial services for the everyday consumer.
“This competition is for FinTech start-ups that make financial services work for everybody.”
Greg identified how the competition is looking for FinTechs that provide innovative services in finance that help consumers directly.
“We want to work with FinTechs that help people in areas of saving for example. 16 million people in the UK have £500 or less in their account, 1 in 5 do not save for their pensions at all. Either by design or incentives, we want to help change this.”
Another area identified was credit scoring and debt. FinTechs that help people get access to financial product through innovative credit scoring mechanisms or understand and find the best options for borrowing are welcome for the competition.
“Not every bank account or loan works for every single person. So we are also looking at alternative and new ways to provide personal finance services and products.” – Greg Michel.
The FinTech For All competition will give FinTechs a chance to test their products on consumers and get further consumer insights as well as prestigious awards presented and highlighted by key initiatives in the UK FS community. FinTechs will need to apply for this competition by 20th October. More details can be found here.
Regional FinTech Panel Discussion
On the panel was a range of FinTech, digital and FS experts. Each made brief introductory comments and then participated in a lively Q&A with the audience.
Paul Berwin, Berwins Solicitors – Leeds & Harrogate based law firm that are specialists in technology – Berwins have recently been involved in connecting the Leeds tech scene to wider communities international such as Estonia and Israel.
Stuart Clarke, Media Yorkshire & Organiser of Leeds Digital Festival – In 2016 there were 56 events in first year of the digital festival. In 2017, there were 115 events, showing the growth of the tech scene in Leeds.
“Leeds is a really collaborative city and we should be proud of that, it’s great to see us building momentum”. – Stuart Clarke, Media City & Organiser for Leeds Digital Festival
Jeremy Coupland, DIT – Jeremy’s remit is to promote the region’s financial services capability across the UK and internationally. This includes highlighting the FS opportunities outside of the London, especially in the Northern Powerhouse.
“Two thirds of people working in FS are based outside of London and there are 850,000 people in the Northern Powerhouse working in financial and professional services – Jeremy Coupland, Specialist Financial Services, DIT
Sarah Tulip, COO, aql – aql is a telecommunication and data business that connects society and has a number of data centres in the Leeds region.
“I’m passionate about developing skills and diversity in the digital economy, and particularly within FinTech”. – Sarah Tulip, COO, aql
Richard Carter, MD Equiniti Credit Services – A digital loan management software provider serving a range of FS businesses.
“Although we have fantastic businesses in the north, we’ve not always been great at shouting about it and connecting. Now, we’ve got an ecosystem where the north of England has an increasing concentration of certain skills and businesses, including in our sector which is lending software. It’s a fantastic ecosystem that is growing as we carry on evolving and innovating.” – Richard Carter, MD, Equiniti Credit Services.
Infrastructure and transport was discussed from the perspective of international business opportunities. Future developments could involve more open communication with transport hubs as well as alternative ways of working internationally such as more efficient use of technology.
Dan Rajkumar, Managing Director, White Label Crowdfunding had this to say:
“We have adapted to use freelance developers all over the world. Work gets picked up and worked on through the night by our agent in the Philippines. Tech has allowed this, so I think there are more resources than we think that can support international business.”
The growth and role of AI was also discussed. Firstly from the perspective of its definition then secondly how it is applied and where the value lies. “There’s a huge opportunity for AI in FinTech when it comes to managing personal finance” – Richard Carter.
“AI is just the manipulation and use of data. So the first issue to really unlock its power its mastering data. Banks haven’t yet done this. There’s a gap right now, a bit like blockchain where everybody’s talking about. But really we need to focus on applications that bring value and that you can actually deliver right now.” – Greg Michel, Tech City.
There was also debate around current developments in connectivity in the Leeds City Region with various new projects being mentioned that are looking to add faster and wider connectivity around the north.
“Like many other countries, Israel has free WiFi throughout the country – this demonstrates demonstrate that the UK has room for improvement when it comes to digital connectivity.” – Jeremy Coupland.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency
Digital currency was the next hot topic with the main discussion points being; how can organisation make use of digital currency now? How are consumers adopting to digital currency?
“I think the challenge with the adoption of digital currency into practical everyday use and transactions is the understanding. People struggle to work out how it works and therefore are weary to fully adopt its use. We can definitely see traction growing in this sector, and I think practically, it is something we should continue to talk about at FinTech North – Dan Rajkumar.
In closing of the event Graham Ponton from Leeds City Council highlighted how the Council is eager to talk to FinTechs and the wider FS community about how they can support business ecosystems. He identified that already they have 12 pledges for further change. More information can can be found on Leeds Growth Strategy.
Following the Q&A, Julian Wells closed the event by asking attendees to provide feedback for FinTech North moving forward on what they would like to see from a collaborative network in the Leeds region. Regulation, PSD2, GDPR and Blockchain were mentioned as potential future topics. If you would like to provide any thoughts, please contact us.
FinTech North and Leeds City Council would like to thank the speakers and attendees for their help in making this a successful event.