This conference represented a significant milestone for the city of Łódź, as it was the first major FinTech event it had hosted. Speaking in his introductory comments, Adam Pustelnik, the deputy mayor of Łódź, likened the FinTech sector in Łódź to a yeti, saying that it was often discussed but rarely seen. This event marks the start of a new era for the city’s FinTech sector, and its profile within Poland and beyond. We also heard from Stephen Steele, First Secretary, Head of Prosperity at the British Embassy Warsaw.
The event was delivered by the City of Łódź in partnership with Fintek.pl, an organisation that champions the sector by organising FinTech events in Poland, in addition to publishing news and other media content. In many ways, Fintek.pl is the Polish iteration of organisations such as FinTech North and FinTech West, and the other regional bodies in the UK. Attendees were drawn from a range of sectors including banking, finance, e-commerce, FinTech, technology, universities, and real estate. In parallel to the main conference, this week Łódź also hosted an event featuring seven Ukraine FinTech startups, and. a hackathon across two groups of female Ukrainian FinTech entrepreneurs.
Łódź is the third largest city in Poland, behind only Warsaw and Krakow, and has a population of more than 700k. It is a 90 minute drive from Warsaw. The textiles industry is prominent in Łódź’s history, and its legacy can be seen today in the impressive architecture around the city, where the former mills have either been renovated or lie empty awaiting redevelopment. Today, Łódź is a hub for logistics and advanced technologies, as well as financial and business services. Throughout the course of this visit, we consistently got the impression that Łódź is committed to putting itself on the map, both in terms of FinTech and also more broadly as a modern tech-orientated city.
I had the opportunity to take part in the opening panel discussion, which addressed the topic of the role of local government in developing the regional FinTech ecosystem. The panel was chaired by Magnalea Marciniak of Fintek.pl, and also included Adam Pustelnik of City of Lodz, Marcin Czugan of the Association of Financial Companies in Poland (ZPF) – who we met previously when he attended FinTech North’s Newcastle conference in 2019, Bartosz Berestecki of PayTel, and Piotr Pajda of simpl.rent, who runs a Polish FinTech but lives in London.
The discussion covered a wide range of points around the way that local government could potentially support the development of the FinTech sector. From a UK perspective, the role of the public sector has varied from city to city in the UK, but could be summarised as stimulating the FinTech sector, rather than directing and controlling it. The panel seemed to broadly agree on this point, acknowledging that the private sector is driven by commercial objectives, and when they succeed this can create economic growth in the form of jobs, growth of companies, and attracting new companies into a region.
One of the key roles the public sector has played in the UK has been to invest in the analysis of the FinTech sector, the creation of regional development strategies, and the support of initiatives such as events and inward investment programmes. National developments such as the Kalifa Review and the creation of CFIT have been balanced by an increasing amount of regionally focused activity, which has been primarily led by regional FinTech bodies and inward investment agencies.
Presentations and panel sessions over the two days covered topics such as the credit assessment of businesses, ESG, regulation, cross-border e-commerce and payments, and the future of banking, crypto and digital currencies, central bank digital currencies, transaction analysis / scoring, regulation, the future of banking, blockchain, crypto, and digital currencies. All were covered by an impressive speaker line up of subject matter experts.
On the second day of the conference, we had the opportunity to host an hour long segment of the agenda under the FinTech North banner. As the host of this session, I introduced Whitecap and spoke about our focus on FinTech around the regions of the UK, and how we have helped international FinTech and Tech firms to analyse and enter the UK market. Following this was a short overview of the development of the FinTech sector in the UK, on a national and regional basis, which led neatly into the story of the creation and growth of FinTech North as a regional FinTech community group. The story of the evolution of the FinTech sector from being London-centric into a national sector spanning multiple key city regions seems to be highly relevant to the current situation in the Polish market. Warsaw is the pre-eminent FinTech hub, but regional cities such as Łódź are now seeking to develop their own clusters.
It was good to see some familiar names amongst the speakers and the sponsors, with organisation such as Global Processing Services (who have a UK office in Newcastle), GFT (a partner of FinTech North), and Ebury (global locations include Manchester). Many other UK brands have bases in Poland, which has developed a strong reputation as a global outsourcing hub over recent years.
Based on our experience at Whitecap of working across multiple regional FinTech ecosystems, we could see many parallels between Łódź and other regions. It is clear that established financial services brands, technology firms, FinTechs, universities, investors, collaborative workspaces, and universities are all present in the ecosystem in Łódź. Increasing the amount of meaningful engagement and collaboration across these groups is one of the key challenges for Łódź moving forward, along with developing a complimentary rather than competitive relationship with the FinTech cluster in Warsaw, which is just 90 minutes drive away. Additionally, enhancing the awareness and attractiveness of Łódź as an international FinTech venue is something the city is focusing on, and a marketing campaign around digital economy is already planned.
The visiting delegation from the north of England included Richard Baigent, International Trade Consultant for Financial & Professional Services at Department for International Trade (DIT), Peter Richmond, Sales Director at Welcom Digital, Dan Rajkumar, Founder & MD at White Label Crowdfunding, and Tariq Sadiq, Inward Investment Lead at Leeds City Council.
We were accompanied in Poland by Ewa Veenendaal-Rawicz, Financial Services Lead for Central & Eastern Europe at DIT, and were kindly hosted by Adam Brzostowski and his team. Adam is Director of Business Development and International Relations Bureau at City of Łódź Office and Director of Invest in Łódź.
We were very grateful to Rafal Tomaszewski and Magdalena Marciniak of Fintek.pl for offering us extended involvement in the event agenda, and we look forward to welcoming them to FinTech North events in future as our guests.