The FCA sandbox – a question of fair play

Play is about being inquisitive. It is about trial and error. It is how we learn and improve. A world without play is a world without growth.

That is the insight at the heart of the FCA’s sandbox, and it is a fundamental reason the UK is at the heart of global fintech.

Other regulators have not taken such an enlightened approach. Last week French and German regulators threw their toys out of the pram claiming that FCA’s sandbox is anticompetitive.

They claimed that the FCA’s approach – which allows certain companies to test their technologies with real customers before getting full regulatory approval and within an environment which is more forgiving from a regulation perspective – is unfair to large established players.

This is not the first time foreign regulators have criticised the sandbox approach. In August, NYFDS’s Maria T. Vullo, rejected the idea of the NYFDS setting one up saying that only ‘toddlers play in sandboxes. Adults play by the rules.’

It is true that companies which are admitted to the sandbox get an advantage. They are not subject to the same strictures as a large bank would be when developing a new service. That does allow them to be more agile and test their services in real-world environments – an invaluable opportunity for developers of emerging technology.

That said, there is a strong argument to make that, far from being anti-competitive, the sandbox is actually helping to level the field between fintechs and the banks.

Regulatory approval is a long, protracted and extremely costly process. There are no guarantees. There is always the risk that the regulator won’t give the final go ahead, leaving a firm with significant legal costs, wasted time and nothing much to show for it.

Banks are in constant communication with the regulators. They can also hire armies of specialists to give themselves the best chance of getting their services approved. Many fintechs have neither of these advantages. The sandbox gives them a chance to work with the regulator in a more collaborative environment to find solutions to any regulatory challenges within the technology design and allow the fintech to change course if their current design causes the regulator too much concern.

In doing this, the sandbox helps reduce the costs of regulation for the companies which can least afford it, boosting – not stifling – competition.

Not only is the sandbox good for fintechs, but it is also good for the regulator, consumers and even the large banks themselves.

For the regulators, it is a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the latest technologies, such as blockchain and machine learning, by collaborating with their creators. This can help lead to more sophisticated regulation and help the FCA ensure it is keeping pace with technological change.

One of the core stipulations of the sandbox is the protection of consumers. This is something the FCA has emphasised time and again when talking about the sandbox. By taking this approach, it is allowing consumers to access new services years before they would otherwise be available while ensuring they still enjoy a high level of protection from the FCA.

Finally, a little healthy competition is good for banks. Change is not easy and, without dynamic, agile and hungry competition snapping at their heals, there is little real incentive for banks or infrastructure providers to make the much-needed upgrades to their systems and services.

There are many fintech ’specialists’ out there talking about how banks are going to be ‘disrupted’ out of existence by fintech ‘challengers’. The reality of the market is that most successful fintechs are forming partnerships with banks to the benefit of both parties.

Fintechs need the banks, which hold sticky client relationships and huge institutional expertise, while the banks benefit hugely from the innovation and efficiencies which fintechs can bring.

Sandboxes are an excellent way to nurture the next generation of partners, vendors and acquisition targets for banks – not their nemesis.

The UK remains the best place to start and grow a fintech. The FCA’s sandbox is a meaningful part of the reason why, long may it continue.

Is Fintech “adorbs”, or a “bingeable time suck”?

As the first fintech PR agency, Chatsworth is definitely of the view that it is the former.

Why do we ask? Because fintech has come of age and made it into the dictionary as one of 840 new words, in addition to also added this year are “adorbs” and “bingeable time suck”.

It joins the dictionary alongside ‘haptics’, meaning the science of touch. This is tech behind the vibration of a smartphone responding to your finger and a whole host of linguistic upstarts/startups. 

The definition of fintech is officially the “products and companies that employ newly developed digital and online technologies in the banking and financial services industries”. Unfortunately for us Brits, it’s not the Oxford English Dictionary but the US-run Merriam Webster online dictionary – perhaps fitting, considering the shared digital origins.

But more surprising the word, fintech, is far from new. The dictionary pinpoints its first known use to way back in 1971.  That was a good year – certainly for music – with What’s Going On, Sticky Fingers, L.A Woman, Hunky Dory and Led Zep 4 all released.

But despite its entry into the dictionary, fintech is in the bottom 10% of most used words. Oh well, nothing wrong with a little “exclusivity.”

UK Holds the Crown for Worldwide Fintech Investment

The UK has received more investment in its fintech sector than any other country in the world, according to KPMG’s latest Venture Pulse Report.

With over US$16.1bn of inbound investment during the first half of the year, the UK is firmly ahead of China (US$15.1bn) and the United States (US$14.2bn).

Europe currently stands as the leading continent for fintech investment ($26bn), with the UK accounting for over half of this. Moreover, four of the ten largest European fintech deals were conducted in the UK. This includes the US$250m raised by Revolut in April and US$100m by eToro in March of this year.

KPMG also predicts that the UK will retain its crown in the second half of 2018.

The report cites artificial intelligence (AI) as one of the main sectors responsible for attracting fintech investment in the UK. Hot startups such as Previse and Mosaic Smart Data are utilising the technology to revolutionise areas as diverse as late payments and data analytics in wholesale financial markets.

Brexit

With the shadow of Brexit looming large, it is a timely reminder of the importance of the UK to the global fintech community. In a keynote speech at London Fintech Week earlier this month, our CEO Nick Murray-Leslie noted how finance and technology are almost indivisible; nowhere comes close to London in terms of dominance as a financial centre and, by extension, a fintech hub.

The strong data also dismisses the notion that Brexit is affecting the way investors think about the City and the rest of the UK. Our view is that Brexit is not the biggest risk to London; rather, it is the risk that the UK, and London in particular, becomes a victim of its own success and unaffordable or unattractive for people.

This city has been undergoing its own version of what scholars of US cities have termed “the Great Inversion”. This is the return of people, high-end housing and highly-paid jobs to city centres. If it becomes too expensive these people will go elsewhere and there may soon be only two types of people left: the wealthy and those who are in social housing. This will be a problem.

Looking Forward

Beyond the UK, fintech as an industry has sky-rocketed this year. Worldwide global fintech investment this year has already exceeded the whole sum value of 2017, proving why it’s crucial for the UK to remain at the forefront of this vital sector.

Chatsworth has been working with a number of award-winning start-ups and established fintechs such as Previse (late payments), Mosaic Smart Data (data analytics), R3 (blockchain), and can personally avow for how London can support a fintech business of any size, better than any other city in the world.

Looking forward to the third-quarter of the year, tax reforms in the US, a significant amount of dry powder and the continued flow of funding into the VC world are expected to keep the fintech investment market strong over the next quarter.

AI and data analytics are expected to remain high on the radar of VC investors. It is also expected that companies in maturing sectors, such as e-commerce, will continue to broaden their offerings and investments in order to access new or adjacent verticals.

But as KPMG notes, an area that may be one to watch over the next quarter will be valuations – particularly for companies with no tangible assets, where investors are focused on what the company might do in the future. The level of assumption and risk involved in these types of valuations is quite high and it is still to be seen if these valuations will be substantiated.

London’s Fintech Scene Greatest Threat Is Not Brexit

Finance and technology are almost indivisible. Nowhere comes close to London in terms of dominance as a financial centre and, by extension, a fintech hub.

Activity in the sector has really exploded in the last half decade. Inward investment to London has doubled since 2014 and it was the leading sector for investment in 2017. UK fintech attracted a record £1.34 billion VC funding, double the amount of any other European country.

That is why some of the most exciting fintech companies in the world, like R3, a consortium of over 200 banks and funds building a blockchain for finance and business, are building right here, in London.

Why London?

This city has been the beating heart of international finance for centuries. The Bank of England was the second central bank in the world and provided the financial flexibility which would be the foundation of the Empire’s power and which has pertained to this day.

Towards the turn of the millennium, the “Big Bang” reforms of the 1980s complimented the infrastructure and expertise which had evolved from running the Empire and led to London becoming the model for global financial administration. Only in a city with London’s concentration of intellectual capital would this have been possible.

So while our cousins across the pond had to deal with the bureaucracy and the restrictive regulation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, we didn’t. Companies simply decided to avoid the hassle by conducting their business in the US and listed their stocks in London where the people and skills were ready for them.

London also holds a unique position in terms of our legal environment, M&A expertise and even our timezone which, even today, remain important factors.

Financial professionals are redefining fintech

Fast forward and these advantage carry over into the fintech sector. There are now legions of financial market professionals and traders moving into fintechs, working with the designers and coders.

Many of my clients are former desk heads or former heads of market data – they have had successful careers but had spotted opportunities to apply technology to improve what they do. These people are bringing their knowledge of the markets, instruments and the complexities of international regulation to the table.

Brexit

Just because London is the undisputed home of fintech today, doesn’t mean that is always going to be the case. I see a couple of threats on the near horizon that need dealing with to stay on top.

Brexit is an obvious concern. We simply must make sure that we remain open for business and be seen to be open for business. I do not agree with the former Foreign Secretary’s reported view that business should go “reproduce” with itself.

If the final deal jeopardises the status of London in the global markets there’s more at risk than just transactions going elsewhere. This is about a concentration of talent and access to capital. The way the UK makes relationships with other countries and structures its own agenda in the run up to Brexit will be key to its success.

London’s talent pool

So Brexit is clearly a risk, but I don’t actually think it’s the biggest risk to London. I think the biggest risk is that it becomes a victim of its own success and unaffordable or unattractive for people.

This city has been undergoing its own version of what scholars of US cities have termed “the Great Inversion”. This is the return of people, high-end housing and highly-paid jobs to city centres.

Inner London’s growth was in part fostered by the ability of creative people from various fields to cluster together and share ideas.

If inner London becomes too expensive these people will go elsewhere. In inner London there may soon be only two types of people left: the wealthy and those who are in social housing. This will be a problem.

London needs to be good for both business and for people and their families. That means ensuring individual and corporation tax is sensible and that families can afford to live in a capital with effective services.

Word to the risk takers

Some final words of tribute to the fintech risk takers who have put their time, their own and their investor’s money, plus a whole lot of coffee and sleepless nights into their concept, design and build.

If you’re doing it in the wholesale markets space, you’re competing for attention in the face of an established tech infrastructure, highly resistant to change. It’s tough, but ultimately the USP of your platform or offering will do the talking. Never give up. Get it right and you will change a – part of this business world for the better.

Creative Clerkenwell shows its true colours during CDW 2018

Clerkenwell Design Week 2018 kicked off this week, showcasing the area’s creativity and innovation with a programme full of thought-provoking exhibitions and must-see installations.

Thousands of people from around the country have descended on Clerkenwell to attend or take part in the world-class A&D festival.

Chatsworth Communications is pleased to support the 9th edition of the Clerkenwell Design Week 2018. We look forward to this event every year and in 2018, we provided data which was used for one of the installations.

Being based in Clerkenwell Close has meant we have seen the heart of the action. One of our favourite parts was in the picturesque grounds of St James Church which featured ‘Design Fields’, a showcase of leading furniture, lighting and product design from around the world.

There was also a lot of interest in Platform, a show that recognizes some of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming design talent.

New for 2018 was ‘Light’, an installation which took over Fabric nightclub. The former cold-store turned nightclub hosted within its brick vaults an exhibition dedicated to top international lighting brands with spectacular stand alone lighting installations.

The last events take place tonight, so drop into Clerkenwell to avoid missing out on the colourful creativity on display before the remarkable fixings are put away for another year.

London in the grip of normality

For all our friends and colleagues outside of the capital, beyond the square mile of the city and over the seas, London feels absolutely, completely, normal today.

People staring grimly at their phones, no conversation on the tube. That’s actually London on a regular work day.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said: ‘Tomorrow morning, parliament will meet as normal. We will come together as normal. And Londoners and others around the world will get up and go about their day as normal.’

Mrs May was right.

This city has seen countless, tragic and pathetic attempts to derail our way of life. They will never succeed.

Our thanks, love and gratitude to the people who work for and with us, to keep us safe. Our thoughts are with those who were hurt or who lost someone yesterday.

Now we go back to work.