Posts

How to succeed in fintech and influence people

Once upon a time, I was sitting in Barclays head office on Lombard Street, writing a crystal ball briefing on the growth and threat posed by financial technology for the CEO.

The briefing was printed out and faxed to him because I didn’t have an email account from which to send it. They hadn’t sorted them out for the lower tiers yet. Oh, the sweet irony.

Fast forward a *few* years and fintech is now white hot and getting hotter. The sector has sky-rocketed this year, with worldwide global investment in the sector for the first half of 2018 exceeding the whole sum value of 2017.

It has been the breakout success story for London.

Where the Silicon Roundabout has failed to deliver on its hype and deliver us with a home-grown tech giant, the city has busily output dozens of outstanding, world-class, fintech firms.

Not wishing to crow, but London has received more investment in its fintech sector than any other country in the world, with over $16.1 billion of inbound investment during the first half of the year. That puts it firmly ahead of China ($15.1 billion) and the US ($14.2 billion). That is a success story, right there.

But the UK’s position as the leading fintech hub is by no means guaranteed. The history of financial markets teach us that liquidity is hard to shift – but when it moves, it moves fast.

So to Sydney

Australia’s magnificent capital – with a AU$60 billion ($43.3 billion) financial services industry. Think tank, Australian Fintech, estimates the sector has the potential to take up to 30% of revenue from traditional banking in Australia over the next few years, a prize worth a cool AU$25 billion (18 billion).

And so the banks, acutely aware that their lunch is under threat, are converging in Sydney for Sibos, the annual conference, networking event and shopfront for Swift’s services.

With its frequently brilliant Innotribe sessions and a solid line-up of speakers and panelists, the event has become a curious arena. It is hosted by an older, more established technology and payments infrastructure, but offers a safe space for challenger start-ups to engage, network and meet potential bank customers.

With start-ups to the left and shareholders to the right, banks may feel like they are in the squeezed middle. But in truth, finance and technology have become inseparable over the past decade or two. Crucially, the banks still hold the cards, the liquidity and the capital.

Fintechs need the banks. They have the markets, connectivity and ultimately the influence over any change to existing systems. And the banks, for their part, have been excellent investors and partners. They continue to engage and partner with fintechs – investing, encouraging, collaborating and beta testing. It was always going to be this way.

The bulldozer approach of some self-titled “disruptive” start-ups, where you build an alternative system and then trying to slam it into an existing market, simply does not work.

First on fintech

Chatsworth knows a fair bit about fintech. We were the first marketing and communications agency to focus on this sector, working on electronic broking, online banking and market data with systems like EBS, CLS, ICAP and Barclays.

Over time, the story and clients moved onto prime brokerage and API trading, through to today’s blockchain-inspired technology, smart analytics and machine learning. The markets and technology have evolved, but the methods and indicators of success remain the same.

We have launched and supported both larger infrastructure providers as well as some brilliant start-ups such as Previse, which tackles late payments for businesses, and Mosaic Smart Data, which applies smart data and analytics to wholesale financial markets.

Then there is R3, the breakout story in the enterprise blockchain space and the fulcrum for those looking to apply this technology to professional markets. Their model of engaging and working with banks, financial institutions and regulators right from the start has paid dividends, with over 200 organisations contributing to the development of the Corda platform.

This is ground-breaking innovation – delivered by super smart people who know markets and understand technology. They are working with banks and their customers to tackle real-world problems.

Traits of a successful fintech

So, what is the shared DNA of successful fintechs? Firstly, the combination of financial markets experience and technical and engineering excellence within their teams.

Second, an absolute focus on engagement with the existing market infrastructures to work and define the use cases before development.

And last, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, drive, curiosity, and intelligence.

Of course, everyone says they are specialists in fintech, and blockchain in particular, nowadays – witness the sheer volume of self-appointed advisors and PR “specialists” on LinkedIn.

In truth, this gold rush of the inexperienced is partly to blame for an over-cooked news and hype cycle which inevitably sets unrealistic expectations for speed of adoption.

So choose your advisors wisely and trust your reputation to the best hands. They will articulate and tell your story with confidence, creativity, and commitment.

Wishing everyone a fantastic and productive Sibos 2018.

Chatsworth’s fast five for fintechs
  1. Focus your competitive fire on inefficient models – not individual organisations. Build relationships with firms and incumbents dealing with the same market challenge. Remember, a rising tide carries all boats.
  2. Know your AML from your KYC – digitisation to regulators signals potential facilitation of money laundering and terrorist financing. Engage with them.
  3. Don’t tech for tech’s sake – Stick to use cases with transformative potential.
  4. Don’t overuse “innovative” or “solutions” to describe your brand. This language is so clichéd and bland that it suggests the opposite.
  5. Collaborate and keep off the Kool Aid – engage with those who affect your ability to succeed and operate. But listen as well as talk, and don’t be afraid to change tack.

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.

Previse and Cobalt named amongst Top 101 Fintech Disruptors

BusinessCloud has revealed its list of the top 101 fintech disrupters in the UK, and it made for pleasant reading at Chatsworth Towers.

The award recognises companies that are disrupting the industry through technology – whether they are heavyweight incumbents to start-ups. BusinessCloud also canvassed the opinion of industry experts before they settled on the final line-up, and we’re delighted that two of our clients made the list.

One of those is Previse, a startup that applies machine learning technology to solve a global business problem – slow B2B payments. The London-based fintech enables buyers to have all their suppliers paid instantly, as soon as the buyer receives an invoice. It uses machine learning to root out the invoices which may not be paid, allowing a funder to pay the rest immediately.

Previse has made huge strides since its launch in 2016, recently raising £7 million in Series A funding. The startup has also received backing from leading business figures and top venture capital firms and has signed up seven large organisations. With strong plans for growth, the company is undoubtedly one of the hottest fintechs worth keeping an eye on over the next few years.

Another of Chatsworth’s clients named in the list is Cobalt, a foreign exchange (FX) post-trade processing network based on shared infrastructure and high-performance technology. Cobalt’s unique solution leverages highly optimised technology alongside an in-house immutability service based on distributed ledger technology (DLT) to deliver a shared back and middle office infrastructure that is scalable, secure and fast.

By creating a shared view of trade data, Cobalt frees up back and middle office resources from multiple layers of reconciliation; creating a ‘golden’ portfolio of FX transactions from which to provide multiple services.

In May, Cobalt secured a strategic investment from Singapore Exchange (SGX), which operates Asia’s largest, most diverse and fastest growing FX exchange.

It’s great to see startups such as Previse and Cobalt be recognized for shaking up the status quo in their respective industries.

As the original fintech PR company, we can say with confidence that there isn’t a more disruptive sector than fintech. It has finally come of age and made it into the US-run Merriam Webster online dictionary – perhaps fitting, considering the shared digital origins!

READ THE LIST IN FULL

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.”

R3 Wins Best DLT Tech Provider at Central Banking Global Awards

Yesterday, the inaugural Central Banking Fintech & Regtech Awards were held at the stunning Marriot Tang Plaza Hotel. We were very proud to see R3’s Anthony Lewis in attendance to pick up the award for the Best Distributed Ledger Technology Provider.

The new awards were held to recognise innovation in financial and regulatory technologies that were changing the way central banks and supervisors work.

R3 was picked from a strong contingent of blockchain/DLT based companies that are revolutionising the financial sector due to their transformative success in the past year.

The startup is currently engaged with Bank of Canada inside ‘Project Jasper’, an initiative which sets out to develop an interbank domestic payments settlement system, already the proof of concept touted ‘significant benefits.’

In March, HQLAx and R3 completed the first live securities lending transaction on the Corda platform – between Credit Suisse and ING. The transaction showed that using blockchain could help make the securities lending process faster and more capital efficient.

Corda’s success is evident not only by the number of institutions that use the ledger but also by those looking to invest in the technology. The company has raised over $122 million from more than 40 institutions, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC and CLS.

In July, Corda Enterprise was launched to meet the demands of modern day businesses, especially complex institutions. With the launch, companies can now select a version of Corda that fits their unique needs – regardless of their industry, size, and stage of development. This means a wider range of institutions can realise the full potential of blockchain – executing complex logic and exchange of assets directly, simply and in strict privacy, without the need for costly reconciliation or a trusted intermediary.

We are proud to see R3 be continually recognised at the forefront of blockchain development in the financial market as we see the world begin to open their eyes to the potential of this technology.

Previse raises USD $7m in Series A funding round

Previse, the global supplier payments decisions company, has raised USD $7m in a Series A funding round, led by listed European fintech specialist, Augmentum Fintech PLC, and one of the world’s pre-eminent venture capital firms, Bessemer Venture Partners.

Hambro Perks and a number of existing and new angel investors also participated in the funding round.

Applying machine learning to B2B payments

Previse applies machine learning technology to solve a global business problem – slow B2B payments. The London-based fintech enables buyers to have all their suppliers paid instantly, as soon as the buyer receives an invoice. It uses machine learning to root out the invoices which may not be paid, allowing a funder to pay the rest immediately. The small fee paid by the supplier for instant payment is shared between the buyer, the funder and Previse.

How big is the slow B2B payments problem?

Slow business to business (B2B) payments caused by inefficient payment terms cost the world’s businesses US$300 billion every year. They cripple business and economic growth and are one of the leading killers of small suppliers. Paying slowly costs large buyers, because a supplier’s expensive cost of borrowing is priced into the cost of the goods or services supplied. Large buyers are also perceived to be taking advantage of their suppliers and are facing a growing public and political backlash as a result.

Significant demand for InstantPay

Since its founding in 2016, Previse has grown rapidly, signing up seven large organisations as well as receiving significant demand for its InstantPay technology from some of the world’s largest companies. It is also now listed on the G-Cloud – meaning instant invoice payment is now available for the £223 billion market that is public procurement.

The Series A funding will help scale Previse’s business to meet this significant, global demand, onboard clients and further develop its technology with the overall aim of ensuring that every supplier in the world can be paid instantly.

World-leading backers

Bessemer Venture Partners is America’s longest-standing venture capital firm. It has a global portfolio and has invested in companies such as LinkedIn, DocuSign, and Box. Augmentum Fintech is a listed fintech-focused venture capital investor and its portfolio includes leading UK fintech companies such as Zopa, Interactive Investor and Seedrs.

In 2017, Previse also raised £2 million in a seed funding round led by Hambro Perks, Founders Factor and high net-worth angel investors with close ties to high-profile multinationals.

It counts senior business figures such as Chairman of British Land, John Gildersleeve, and Sainsbury’s Chairman, David Tyler as members of its advisory board.

More positive news for high-flying UK fintech scene

This positive development from the London-based fintech comes just weeks after KPMG announced the UK held the crown for worldwide fintech investment in H1 of 2018. It attracted over US$16.1bn of inbound investment during the first half of the year, more than China (US$15.1bn) and the United States (US$14.2bn).

Previse has made huge strides since its launch in 2016, receiving backing from leading business figures, top venture capital firms and signing up seven large organisations. With strong plans for growth and a desire to transform global B2B payments, the company is undoubtedly one of the hottest fintechs worth keeping an eye on over the next few years.

FCA unveils first steps to a ‘global fintech sandbox’

The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced the launch of the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN), a new alliance to encourage the growth of fintech globally.

The GFIN is part of the FCA’s plans to formally create a “global sandbox”, an idea it first discussed in February. A sandbox allows companies to test new, innovative products that are not protected by current regulation or supervised by regulators, reducing the time and cost of getting products to market.

The new ‘global fintech sandbox’ will involve a collaborative effort with watchdogs from around the world including the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. It aims to help regulators stay ahead of the new wave of emerging technologies.

Over the past few years, watchdogs have seen the rapid rise of data analytics, the advancement of technologies such as AI and the creation of new securities such as ICOs. Under GFIN, a fintech will be able to carry out tests in different countries at the same time to solve common cross-border problems such as data protection, KYC and anti-money laundering.

The UK has established a reputation for being at the forefront of the fintech revolution and received more investment in its fintech sector than any other country in the world during the first half of 2018.

Regulators have demonstrated their commitment and willingness to work side-by-side with fintechs; the FCA was the first regulator to create a domestic sandbox in 2016, while the Bank of England has completed proof of concepts with start-ups such as enterprise software firm R3. It also launched its own Fintech Hub in March 2018.

This subsequently led to calls for a global sandbox, which received near-unanimous approval from regulatory bodies all over the world.

It is important to note, however, that not everyone believes in the importance of regulatory sandboxes. The chief of New York’s financial regulatory body said on Tuesday that the agency is “fiercely opposed” to the U.S. Treasury Department’s recent endorsement of regulatory “sandboxes” for fintech firms. Superintendent Maria T. Vullo said, “the idea that innovation will flourish only by allowing companies to evade laws that protect consumers, and which also safeguard markets and mitigate risk for the financial services industry, is preposterous.”

It will be interesting to see whether the initiative will achieve its aims and whether financial services regulators will effectively collaborate to balance the potential benefits of innovation with their traditional policy objectives.

Chatsworth welcomes this positive collaboration between regulators and aspiring fintechs, both domestically and internationally, as this gives companies a safe environment to test new ideas and learn how to effectively scale their business concepts. We would encourage fintechs, investors, governments, and other interested parties to participate in the consultation process to ensure it is transparent and fair to potential firms wishing to apply for cross-border testing.

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.

Chatsworth delivers opening keynote at London FinTech Week

To Westminster, where Chatsworth’s CEO Nick Murray-Leslie was the opening keynote speaker at this years’ London FinTech Week.

 The event brought together the best and brightest FinTech firms, individuals, developers, and entrepreneurs.

 FinTech is a truly global sector, with focussed hubs developing in both developed and emerging markets.

Nick’s speech focused on London as a FinTech hub, how London had gained traction as a global fintech hub and what it must do to retain that critical position, from attracting investment and venture capital, the talent pool, expansion opportunities and the impact of Brexit.

He also introduced Richard Brown, CTO of R3 for a deep dive into how a major banking technology consortium chose London for its technical and operational HQ and how the city’s talent pool and unique position in the intersection of finance, timezones and continents contributed to its success.

UK Remains at the Forefront of the Fintech Revolution

Despite fierce competition, the UK remains at the forefront of the fintech revolution according to the ‘Finance for Fintech’ report, launched recently by London Stock Exchange Group and TheCityUK.

The independent survey, carried out by YouGov, interviewed over 400 fintech companies across eight countries, all of which have had at least Series A funding rounds or above, and provided interesting insights into the global fintech scene.

Bullish UK fintech scene

UK fintechs are bullish about their growth prospects.

The research highlighted that fintech companies operating in the UK expect to grow by 88 per cent over the next three years, 8% higher than the overall average.

Vital to this growth is raising finance and this process is reportedly more straightforward for UK fintechs in public markets than those operating in other countries, making it an attractive location for fast-growth companies. Chancellor Philip Hammond recently supported this view, pointing out that investment in UK fintech more than doubled last year, outpacing the funding of EU rivals such as Germany.

Interestingly, fintechs surveyed placed the UK as the third best  location for businesses seeking to grow their international footprint, only behind the US and China.

Fintech Revolution in Europe?

That said, competition is heating up.

Europe increasingly seeks to strengthen its position as a regional fintech hub. On 8 March, the European Commission announced an action plan on how it will do just that; new rules that will help crowdfunding platforms to grow across the EU’s single market.

The impact of this will be interesting as one of the primary barriers to fintech growth is competition according to 43% of those surveyed.

Regulation

Fintechs require a supportive global regulatory environment to flourish.

You have to applaud the FCA’s exploration of a potential global regulatory sandbox following the success of its UK version. The UK version, launched in 2016, helped fintechs to test innovations with real customers in the live market but under controlled conditions.

The global sandbox could allow firms to conduct tests from London into different jurisdictions at the same time, enabling regulators to collaborate to solve cross-border problems.

This has the potential to strengthen London’s position as a destination for global fintech companies as they can come from all around the world to test their products and find out how they can expand internationally.

Fintech is by definition without borders.

The research shows that fintechs across the world are becoming increasingly cross-border in their growth aspirations with 72% of the 400 companies surveyed planning to expand into new countries. 73% believe they will need to move into new or develop existing market sectors in order to achieve this growth and almost three-quarters believe long-term growth will be driven, at least in part, by new technologies.

It is worth noting that those who have reached Series D rounds or above have the biggest appetite for expansions and anticipate achieving a monumental growth of 320%.

While fintechs seek global expansion, it is important they don’t lose sight of the importance of being located close to the core financial hubs as crossover will, by and large, determine their success.

It is clear that in order for fintechs to thrive and continue to transform the global financial services sector, they need access to finance, a supportive global regulatory environment and proximity to the global financial services sector. The UK currently offers all three.

The report demonstrates that while the UK remains at the forefront of the fintech revolution, it must continue to innovate and work collaboratively in order to maintain its leading position, especially with Europe hot on its heels.

 

For daily updates from Chatsworth Communications follow us on Twitter.

Banks Are Prioritising Digital Transformation

Fintech has barely even got started if a new report from EY is to be believed. Less than 20% of banks believe they are doing enough as a business to invest in technology, according to EY’s Global Banking Outlook study. This, despite some substantial leaps forward in technological capability and significant investment.

To combat this, more than half of banks surveyed in the report expect budgets for technological investment to rise by 10% this year, and more than half of banks aspire to be digitally maturing or digital leaders by 2020. Banks appetite to invest and partner with fintech firms may in part explain why last year was a bumper year for fintech VC funding, with $1.8 billion raised by UK firms.

This new investment opens up major new growth opportunities for the already thriving financial technology market.

The impact of fintech is being felt in every part of finance, from retail banking to back-office compliance. But one of the key focuses for banks over the past few years has been using technology to try to deal with stringent compliance and regulation, which slows down, complicates and adds expense to transactions.

Solving this is one of the key promises of distributed ledger technology (DLT) which is being touted as a new way to create trust between institutions, lower compliance costs and create information sharing efficiencies. This year, we are likely to see the first examples of DLT moving from proof of concept into market operation.

Data analytics and machine learning are likely to be another hotspot of activity this year. Many banks have begun announcing project designs in all kinds of areas of the bank, from back-office automation to the use of machine learning to improve execution quality.

For example, JP Morgan is working with UK based data analytics company Mosaic Smart Data to unlock insights from its internal FICC data to improve client handling and FICC performance.

In trade finance, Previse is looking to end late payments for SME suppliers with its advanced machine learning and innovative finance model which creates opportunities for buyers, sellers and banks alike.

The last few years have seen an explosion in financial technology. However, emerging technologies begin to mature, and banks continue to strive to be more efficient and effective, it looks like the fintech surge is only just beginning.

 

Carillion collapse shines spotlight on late payments issue

The collapse of construction giant Carillion has focused media and government attention on the global issue of payment terms after it was discovered the group paid subcontractors with a 120-day delay. These delayed payments meant many suppliers had to resort to expensive bank finance to stay in business while others are now facing bankruptcy.

Recognising the importance of ending the culture of late payment, two FTSE 100 chairmen have joined the advisory board of Previse, a UK based company which uses artificial intelligence to solve slow payments for the entire supply chain.

Chairman of supermarket chain J Sainsbury, David Tyler and chairman of property group British Land, John Gildersleeve have joined the company as investors and advisers.

Previse’s AI technology is designed to enable large firms to pay suppliers on the day they receive an invoice. The London-based firm’s technology calculates a buyer’s likelihood of paying an invoice, before deciding which invoices will be paid, so small suppliers can be paid instantly.

David Tyler said: “The length of time it can take for suppliers to be paid hurts not only them, but the large companies buying their products and services as well.” He believes that Previse will bring benefits to the entire supply chain and that the company has a bright future ahead of it.

Mr Gildersleeve, who is also deputy chairman of telecoms company TalkTalk, told the Financial Times that Previse could tackle an issue that has, “infected British business forever.”

Lengthy payment terms and the prevalence of slow payments by large buyers, which affects three in five SME suppliers, cause 50,000 UK SMEs to close each year. Previse’s artificial intelligence technology allows even very small suppliers to receive payment the day they issue their invoice by instantly identifying if an invoice is correct and allowing a funder to pay the supplier immediately based on this information.

“I am proud to be able to welcome our new board members who represent incredible senior experience across such a wide range of industries with significant supply chains.” Said Paul Christensen, CEO of Previse. “I think this shows the deep understanding across industry that slow payments are a real problem, and confidence in our approach to tackling the problem.”

 

J.P. Morgan deploys Mosaic Smart Data for fixed income data analytics

As a recent piece in the FT pointed out, traders are searching for ever more inventive data streams to try to make better predictions about their market or get an edge over the competition. Whether that be advanced social media analytics, algorithms to read the news or even using drones and satellite images to look at factories, banks, and hedge funds are investing significant amounts in collecting and analysing data.

But, banks know that there is a vast wealth of data created and stored within the institution created simply through the normal course of the trading day. This is free, and it is completely proprietary.

The problem is, data within the bank is distributed across desks, systems and messaging languages. Bringing that all into one, aggregated and standardised form so that the algorithms can work their magic and deliver valuable insights is a herculean task.

But that is exactly what Mosaic Smart Data has announced it is doing J.P. Morgan.

By using sophisticated historical, real-time and predictive analytics algorithms, the Mosaic’s platform will provide, in the first instance, J.P. Morgan’s rates, sales and trading business with advanced tools to accurately provide tailored client service. This innovative technology enables users to better visualise and anticipate market and client activity and thereby offer better service. It can also reduce the cost and complexity of compliance.

“Having a more holistic view of trading data will improve our service delivery for clients.” Said Troy Rohrbaugh, Global Head of Macro at J.P. Morgan. “The Mosaic platform integrates securely with our existing technology infrastructure, and enables our teams to quickly make better-informed decisions.”

Once these fundamentals of a data analytics platform are in place. Mosaic can roll out advanced machine learning and predictive analytics which will help sales teams to predict their clients’ behaviour, allowing them to better facilitate client needs and improve their performance.

“Data analytics and artificial intelligence are changing the face of investment banking.” Says Matthew Hodgson, CEO, and founder of Mosaic Smart Data. “Banks understand that the insights locked away in their transaction and market data are potentially some of their biggest competitive advantages. They already have the raw materials, but MSX® gives them the tools to aggregate and standardise that data and put it to work intelligently.”

Top Canadian FinTechs to feature at Sibos 2017

 32 FinTech startups have been selected to participate in Sibos.

According to figures highlighted by the Toronto Financial Services Alliance (TFSA), Canadian investment activity in the FinTech sector from angel investors, Venture Capitalists (VCs) and corporate VCs increased from US$87.21 million in 2012 to US$367.51 million in 2016.

This doesn’t come as a surprise – the country has long been a pioneer in the digital arena. This extends back to the creation of the first truly smart smartphone, and the establishment of the world’s first Bitcoin ATM in Canada in 2013.

There are now hundreds of innovative FinTech companies, spread across Canada’s major FinTech hubs – Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver.

These hubs are making a name for themselves on the world stage. For example, Vancouver has moved up 16 spots on the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) from #33 in 2008 to #17 in 2017. And in 2016, The Banker magazine ranked Toronto second amongst North American financial centres and 8th in the world.

Meanwhile, in Montreal, over 2,000 students graduate each year with degrees in Finance, adding to the nearly 100,000-strong talent pool that drives financial services in the city. And there are 1,556 financial services businesses in Calgary, where the Top 10 investment banks all have a presence.

To help some of the best local FinTechs showcase their solutions to a global audience, the Canada Lounge at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) will host 32 Canadian FinTech startups throughout the Sibos week. The Canada Lounge will be located in the Discover Zone (Level 600).

The startups will rotate throughout the week. Each day, there will be eight startups present in the Canadian FinTech Corner section of the Canada Lounge. Delegates will be able to interact with them to learn more about their offering, and how they may be able to help your business.

 

 

 

 

Financial services and the fintech opportunity

A new report from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) claims that fintech can improve both financial stability and access to services, but requires significant changes in regulation in order to flourish.

This sector has exploded in recent years, with banks, regulators and VCs throwing their weight (and money) behind a huge range of start-ups. The BIS has waded into the debate with a well-researched paper assessing the potential impact of fintech on the financial services industry.

Despite financial services readily adopting technological innovations which have transformed other industries (such as the internet and automation technologies), the cost of managing assets has stayed almost unchanged in 130 years.

In a working paper entitled ‘The Fintech Opportunity’, the BIS explores why operating costs in finance remains so surprisingly high, and how regulation creates barriers to further innovation which could bring down costs.

The fintech opportunity

While there is substantial analysis about how regulation has impacted the financial services sector over the past decade, we think the most interesting section of this report relates to how a new breed of fintech companies can be nurtured.

Fintech startups seek to disrupt the status quo with innovative solutions to new and existing problems. The paper argues that regulators could take advantage of the fintech movement to achieve some of the goals that have so far remained elusive.

There are huge opportunities to be gained from this. The key advantage of startups is that they are not held back by existing systems and are willing to make risky choices. In banking, for instance, successive mergers have left many large banks with layers of legacy technologies that are, at best, partly integrated.

The provides the opportunity for fintechs to build the right systems from the start. Moreover, they share a culture of efficient operational design that many incumbents do not have.

There are, however, many challenges to overcome. This includes the ability to correctly forecast the evolution of the industry, encouragement or interest from potential customers that can result in viable, widespread adoption, preventing a new company being swallowed up by incumbents and making sure that the new system does not create new inefficiencies or suffer from the flaws of incumbents.

Four guiding principles

The onus is on regulators to provide the right environment and incentives if they want fintechs to flourish.

The paper suggests four guidelines for regulators to consider:

  • Encourage entry and beware of a narrow approach to level-playing-field
  • Promote low leverage from the beginning
  • Keep incumbents in check with high equity ratios and be mindful of acquisition
  • Perfect is the enemy of good

These guidelines are discussed at length by the author, and we encourage you to read about them here.

But what’s interesting is that the guidelines do not require regulators to forecast which technology will succeed or which services should be unbundled, nor require regulators to force top-down structural changes onto powerful incumbents.

The reality is that no one knows when the ‘Uber’ of wholesale financial services will emerge or what it will look like. What we do know, however, is that a combination of restrictive regulations and powerful incumbents can certainly prevent entry.

While there have been promising fintech companies emerging across a range of sectors, creating and maintaining an environment that fosters creativity and innovation, and balancing this with systemic risk controls, is crucial for both financial stability and access to services.

The rise and rise of artificial intelligence

Recent announcements from some of the largest banks show artificial intelligence (AI) working its way further into financial markets.

Credit Suisse has announced it is to deploy 150 new ‘robots’ over the course of the year, with an overall aim of cutting CHF 4.8 billion (GBP 3.7 billion).

UBS has unveiled a new AI system which uses machine learning to develop strategies for trading volatility on behalf of clients. The bank claims that this is the first ‘adaptive strategy’ product offered by an investment bank.

J.P. Morgan is developing a machine learning technology called LOXM which aims to improve execution quality in the bank’s European equities business. As the buy-side increasingly focuses on execution quality, this is driving ever greater adoption of algorithmic trading across asset classes. LOXM is programmed to learn from historical trading patterns and tweak its algorithmic strategies accordingly, using a technique J.P. Morgan calls ‘deep reinforcement learning’.

The ability to adapt and learn without human intervention allows LOXM to optimising the execution gains of algo trading.

Mosaic Smart Data is looking at how AI can improve trading across asset classes, taking on the challenge of providing machine learning capabilities to the FICC markets, which have far less standardised data and a greater portion of voice trading.

Mosaic provides both real time and predictive analytics insights for sell-side FICC traders, giving them a view of their market in a way that takes in far more data than a human being is able to comprehend. This augments the human trader’s capabilities and could lead to significant performance gains for sell-side FICC departments.

While initial uses of AI focused on process improvements, it is significant that the technology has reached a level where its insights are now helping to influence trading itself.

Although we are still some way from a fully automated robo-trader, this represents a significant increase in confidence in AI technology.

Bank of England to boost fintech by opening up RTGS

The Bank of England (BoE) announced a framework to open up its interbank payment system to fintech firms.

The UK interbank payments landscape is currently dominated by CHAPS, a same-day sterling settlement service used to transfer large amounts between businesses, as well as for property purchases.

CHAPS’s central position in the market, processing 92% of interbank payments, however, represents a degree of risk to financial stability. In 2014, the system was suspended for several hours due to technical problems. This resulted in payments being held up and caused delays for house buyers as payments were not processed on time.

Newer fintech companies and challenger banks are also concerned that they will be at a disadvantage when working with the company, as it is owned by the UK’s four biggest banks.

In response to these concerns, the Bank of England last year announced a plan to widen access to its real time gross settlement (RTGS) payment service, the system which enables large sterling transfers on a real-time basis. This will allow non-banks to bypass systems like CHAPS and access a range of payment services directly from the BoE.

This week, the Bank took the next step with the release of a detailed technical framework for how the new system will operate.

Under the plans, a payment service provider (PSP) will be given access to the RTGS system) if it can demonstrate appropriate anti-money laundering checks and can keep customers money safe.

The Bank hopes this new approach will relieve some of the financial stability pressures from CHAPS, while giving smaller PSPs more confidence in their payment service relationships.

The move is a further boost to the growing retail fintech sector. Combined with the European Union’s second payment services directive (PSD II) next year, it will help to put these companies on a more even footing with their bigger competitors and open up competition in retail banking services.

With greater access to customer data through PSD II, and the ability to transfer large payments in real time, fintechs will now be able to compete far more effectively with their larger rivals.

The effect could be to push greater innovation from both banks and fintech companies. This can only be a good thing for end users.

Chatsworth congratulates Pragma and Cobalt on FX Week e-FX Award wins

Leading industry trade publication FX Week has announced the winners of its prestigious e-FX Awards, which included two of Chatsworth’s foreign exchange clients.

The awards recognise firms from across the foreign exchange industry for their excellence and innovation in the world’s most liquid financial market.

Announcing the award winners, FX Week editor Eva Szalay said technology in the market was “booming”, pointing out that “innovation has been extended to small start-ups, as well as the largest players” and highlighted the market’s “genuine desire to become more transparent, more competent and highly innovative”.

Innovation was certainly in evidence from algorithmic trading technology provider Pragma Securities, which was named Best independent algorithmic trading technology provider, and post-trade distributed ledger technology company Cobalt, which was awarded e-FX initiative of the year award.

Pragma

Reflecting on the increasing sophistication amongst the buy-side and the push for best execution in FX, Pragma has seen rapid growth and expansion over the past 12 months.

The company serves banks, brokers and sophisticated buy-side institutions, and identifies its value proposition around transparency and control as differentiating features.

It added a number of new capabilities to its Pragma360 algorithmic trading platform. This includes algorithmic trading non-deliverable forwards (NDFs), which offers traders better execution when investing in popular emerging market currencies.

It has also expanded its international client base through a new connectivity presence at Equinix’s LD6 data centre in London, providing lower latency connection to London based FX matching engines.

Cobalt

Cobalt has a very eye-catching proposition – it uses distributed ledger technology to cut 80% of the costs of post-trade reporting.

Founded by former Traiana executive Andy Coyne, and Adrian Patten, the company is offering to completely revolutionise the costly and time-consuming way in which post-trade FX services are conducted, cutting out duplication by storing records of all transactions on a single distributed ledger.

“I think if we are successful, the biggest impact will be on trading and Cobalt will increase volumes. Post-trade costs are a tax on trading and the idea that you can charge someone 50 cents to a buck for sending an unencrypted message to the back office is ridiculous.

“So if we can reduce those costs by dollars per transaction, that will feed into increasing volumes,” Patten tells FX Week.

The team at Chatsworth would like to congratulate both Cobalt and Pragma on their well-deserved award wins.

Previse secures backing to end late B2B payments with the help of AI

Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, generating some 50% of private sector turnover and employing three out of five private sector workers.

However, these businesses are held back by late payments from their large corporate clients. With 60% of SMEs paid late by corporates, businesses are left strapped for cash to meet their own payment obligations, such as wages, stock and rent. This cash flow crisis forces 50,000 UK companies a year to go to the wall. 

Banks play a role in easing the problem, offering larger suppliers short-term financing or buying the invoices directly from suppliers for a substantial discount, a practice known as factoring. Both these solutions are expensive for the supplier, however, which pushes up prices for the whole payments chain. In addition, given the fragmented and high-risk nature of the SME credit market, only the largest suppliers are able to secure credit.

This means that, according to the world bank, there is $2.4 trillion in unmet demand for financing from SMEs globally.

Enter Previse. The company, which this week announced the successful completion of a £2 million seed round, is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to allow banks to meet the financing needs of SME suppliers in a scalable and low-risk way.

Previse uses advanced AI and hundreds of millions of data points to score the likelihood that a corporate buyer will be able to pay a supplier’s invoice. This score is then provided to banks and other funders who use that information to instantly pay the SME on behalf of the large corporate. The supplier receives their money the day they issue their invoice, giving them complete cash flow confidence.

The effect is that “instant, frictionless and efficient payments become the new standard for B2B payments,” according to Paul Christensen, co-founder and CEO of Previse.

The rest of the payments chain benefits as well. By offering such a service, buyers can negotiate a discount on their purchasing costs and banks can reach much deeper into the SME credit market without blowing their risk exposure. The net effect could be a several billion-pound boost to the UK economy every year.

To find out more about Previse seed funding please click here

Chatsworth is proud to support London Tech Week and Sadiq Khan’s vision for ‘the world’s leading smart city’

Chatsworth is proud to support London Tech Week and the vision to create the world’s leading smart city.

With Brexit and an uncertain outcome in the UK election this month, a cloud has continued to loom large over the UK economy. Frankly, we’re a little over all the doom and gloom so we’re happy to report that one industry that continues to thrive in the midst of uncertainty is the UK’s financial technology (fintech) sector.

London remains Europe’s leading city for foreign direct investment into the technology sector, attracting significantly more investment projects than any other European city, in each year during the last decade.

The Chatsworth team knows “a bit” about FinTech. We’ve specialised in it for over a decade and it remains our pinpoint focus.

We set up in London before expanding across the pond and we’re delighted that international investors rank London as a leading global tech hub, with London featuring in the three highest ranked cities with the potential to produce the next global tech giant.[1]

This week, the sector received a further boost of confidence from Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, who launched London Tech Week, a week-long celebration promoting London’s role at the epicenter of innovation and technology.

This year’s festival is expected to be bigger than ever before and attract more than 50,000 visitors to hundreds of events across London. Artificial Intelligence (AI), connected vehicles, and regtech are just some of the events on the agenda, alongside a range of networking opportunities. The full program of events for the week is available here.

Speaking at the annual event, the Mayor outlined his vision for London to maintain its influence and expertise, and become “the world’s leading smart city”.

He also reassured the global tech community that London remains open to talent and investment from all over the world, pledging to do everything in his power to safeguard London’s global competitiveness and status as a leader in innovation…

Since its launch in 2014 London Tech Week has included more than 700 events and has welcomed delegations from around the world. Congrats once more to all involved.

Chatsworth client R3 secures record-breaking USD 107 investment in distributed ledger technology

We are delighted to announce that Chatsworth client R3 has secured one of the largest ever Series A investments in the global fintech industry, raising USD 107 million from over 40 institutions across the globe.

R3 is leading a consortium of banks and other financial institutions working together to develop a new operating system for the financial services industry based on distributed ledger technology (DLT), which was borne out of blockchain – the infrastructure that enables the transfer of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin.

Chatsworth has handled global PR for R3 since its launch in September 2015. During the last eighteen months we have worked closely with the financial, business and technology media to raise awareness and understanding of R3’s unique approach and technology as it sought to grow its network of members and investors.

Drawing on R3’s team of expert spokespeople, Chatsworth positioned the company and its members as thought leaders in this revolutionary technological field, securing thousands of pieces of coverage including tier 1 outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, FT, Bloomberg, Reuters and the Economist. R3 is now widely seen as the leading voice on distributed ledger technology, with its spokespeople regularly called upon to provide expert commentary in the press.

The awareness generated by this coverage helped fuel the momentum to drive R3’s growth from a fintech startup with eight finance and technology veterans and nine bank members to a global team of 110 professionals serving over 80 global financial institutions and regulators on six continents.

This massive investment marks the next stage in R3’s evolution. Many of the world’s largest financial firms have come together not just with capital support, but with a robust commitment to work with R3 in developing foundational industry solutions that will be the building blocks of the new financial services infrastructure.

We look forward to continuing our work with R3 as they take distributed ledger technology off the drawing board and onto the trading floor.

Cybersecurity: Is a flaw in human psychology to blame?

A fascinating analysis of cybercrime and cybersecurity this week from Michael Daniel, the president of The Cyber Threat Alliance.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Mr Daniel postulates that we have only just begun to comprehend the scale of the issue and that it is our perception of the online world versus the physical which is to blame.

Cyberspace operates according to different rules than the physical world and is more than just a technical problem, but is as much about economics and human psychology.

“The borders in cyberspace don’t follow the same lines we have imposed on the physical world –  they are marked by routers, firewalls, and other gateways. Proximity is a matter of who’s connected along what paths, not their physical location. The same principles of cyberspace that allow businesses to reach their customers directly also allow bad guys to reach businesses directly”

He poses six key framework questions which he argues need answering before we can effectively tackle the problem:

  • What is the right division of responsibility between governments and the private sector in terms of defence?
  • What standard of care should we expect companies to exercise in handling our data?
  • How should regulators approach cybersecurity in their industries?
  • What actions are acceptable for governments, companies, and individuals to take and which actions are not?
  • Who is responsible for software flaws?
  • How do we hold individuals and organisations accountable across international boundaries?

In our experience, financial firms which are typically hyper-competitive are highly adept at solving industry issues when they recognise the group threat and work together.

Co-operation and co-ordination across borders backed by resolve, human capital and investment is key to solve these issues is critical.

The financial systems, both systemically and at the individual firm level, remain at risk and it is clear that any system is only as strong as its weakness link.

Mark Carney on realising the potential of fintech

Regulatory support for the growth of fintech in London has certainly been evident in recent years.

Democratisation of financial services, greater consumer choice, lower costs and greater resilience of financial infrastructure are just some of the reasons why the Bank of England (BoE) is encouraging financial technology (fintech) development in the UK.

That’s according to Governor Mark Carney, who addressed an audience of fintech entrepreneurs, regulators, politicians and banks at the UK Treasury’s inaugural International Fintech Conference in London.

Regulatory support for the growth of fintech in London has certainly been evident in recent years. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have changed their authorisation processes to support new business models, and the BoE also established a fintech accelerator last year.

To date, it has worked with a number of firms on proofs of concepts relating to cyber security, using artificial intelligence (AI) for regulatory data, and distributed ledger technology.

But what is interesting in this speech is the BoE’s focus on ensuring “the right hard and soft infrastructure are in place” – a central plank of the Governor’s vision of maintaining London’s role as the centre of fintech excellence.

“Over the centuries, we have learned that markets and innovation thrive with the right hard and soft infrastructure”, he said. “Hard infrastructure ranging from transport links to broadband and payments architecture; and soft infrastructure from the rule of law to market practices, codes of conduct, and regulatory frameworks.”

So how does this relate to fintech, one may wonder? Governor Carney continued: “With respect to soft infrastructure, the Bank is assessing how fintech could change risks and opportunities along the financial services value chain. We are then using our existing frameworks to respond where necessary.”

On developing the right “hard infrastructure”, Carney pointed to how the BoE is working to develop the financial system’s hard infrastructure to allow innovation to thrive while keeping the system safe. In particular, he highlighted how it is widening access to some of its systems to include Payment Service Providers (PSPs) in order to boost both competition and system resilience.

“The UK has led the world in innovation in the wider payments ecosystem. And we are committed to keeping pace with customer demands for payments that are seamless, reliable, cheap, and ubiquitous. Our challenge is how to satisfy these expectations while maintaining a resilient payment systems infrastructure.

“That’s important because the Bank operates the UK’s high-value payment system ‘RTGS’ (Real-Time Gross Settlement) which each day processes £1/2 trillion of payments on behalf of everyone from homeowners to global banks. Understandably, we have an extremely low tolerance for any threat to the integrity of the system’s “plumbing”.

“Currently, only 52 institutions have settlement accounts in RTGS. Indirect users of the system typically access settlement via one of four agent banks. These indirect users include 1,000 non-bank PSPs at the front-end of the financial services value chain. As they grow, some PSPs want to reduce their reliance on the systems, service levels, risk appetite and frankly goodwill of the very banks with whom they are competing.”

Interestingly, the BoE has decided to widen access to RTGS to include non-bank PSPs in order to help them compete on a level playing field with banks, and is working with the FCA and HM Treasury to make this a reality.

This ties in with Carney’s final example of the “soft and hard infrastructure” – coordinating advances in hard and soft infrastructure ensure the Bank can help the industry realise the true promise of fintech.

“New technologies could transform wholesale payments, clearing and settlement. In particular, distributed ledger technology could yield significant gains in the accuracy, efficiency and security of such processes, saving tens of billions of pounds of bank capital and significantly improving the resilience of the system.”

A full copy of Mark Carney’s speech is available here.

Regtech is booming, but is the UK missing out?

Regtech (n). Short form for the regulatory technology being created to meet regulatory monitoring, reporting and compliance.

Regtech is booming, with USD 2.99 billion invested globally across over 400 private investment deals in the last five years. 

Yet despite its predominant position in almost all other areas of financial technology, the UK is still lagging behind the US when it comes to regtech investment. 

Just 9% of the almost three billion invested since 2012 went to UK based companies, according to the CB Insights figures. This put it a distant second behind the US, which scooped up 78% of the total investment.
 
Banks are looking to reduce costs to cope with a tougher investment market and find ways to handle the flood of new rules which the January MiFID II deadline will unleash. In this environment, it is little wonder investors see the potential for technologies which promise to make compliance easier, more efficient or more reliable for the financial sector.
 
UK regulators appear to have spotted the opportunity as well, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is looking to do what it can to help the UK’s regtech sector catch up with its transatlantic counterpart.
 
The regtech industry spans a wide variety of technologies and the industry which promises to make compliance easier, more efficient or more reliable. Some companies are using artificial intelligence to help banks comply with regulation, while the R3 group of over 40 banks is looking at how distributed ledger technology (DLT) can make reporting to regulators simpler.
 
Some regtech firms believe that Brexit could be a big boost to the UK’s regtech industry.  With the UK’s financial sector’s relationship with the EU now in flux, both in terms of regulatory equivalence and cross boarder trade, ““Brexit is a brilliant opportunity”, sais Diana Paredes, CEO of regtech start-up Suade.
 
The UK regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has also been working to encourage the UK regtech sector. The FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition, Chris Woolard, is keen to stress the role regtech companies can play. Talking to Financial News, he said, “It’s something quite positive where firms are taking quite seriously how they apply technology to their own compliance question.”
 
The FCA has also been leading the way when it comes to nurturing innovation. “There are other regulators around the world that have more funds and resources, and other regulators with more powers. But it was really only the UK financial regulator that has built into its governance a mandate to promote innovation and competition, as well as the traditional mandates of financial stability and consumer protection,” Imran Gulamhuseinwala, EY’s global leader for fintech, told the Financial Times.
 
Most notably, in 2015, the FCA launched its ‘sandbox’ to help companies developing new technologies. The sandbox allows banks firms which require regulatory approval before being able to operate their technology to test in a live environment. This allows firms which would otherwise need to develop their full technology and achieve FCA approval before fully testing their product, to develop their technology in a way which is responsive to both the FCA’s requirements and the demands of live operation.
 
So far, the sandbox service has proved popular with 69 companies applying for the first cohort in 2015 and a further 77 applying for the second cohort, according to a recent statement from the FCA. Following the success of the first cohort, the FCA has begun helping regulators across the globe to develop their own sandbox programmes, including in Japan, Canada and China.

It is heartening to see the UK regulator supporting this process and creating an environment where the next generation of firms who using technology to enhance the regulatory environment and reporting/confirmation/validation processes. 

Financial markets have been buffeted by scandal and repetitional damage of late. It is time to programme some trust into the source code.

London’s post-Brexit future as a financial hub

UK Prime Minister Theresa May finally triggered the formal process for Britain leaving the European Union (EU) on March 29.

While the EU referendum and a post-Brexit scenario may have been something of a blow to confidence in the City, it still has plenty going for it as a financial hub. This year’s Global Financial Centres Index, an international ranking of the world’s leading financial centres, placed London top of the pile.

“London’s rating has been influenced by not knowing what will happen after the UK’s departure [from the EU],” Mark Yeandle, associate director of Z/Yen and author of the report, told The Financial Times. Despite this, London remains top of the list and, over the period which the report tracks, has even recovered some ranking points.

London also remains the world’s biggest FX market by a huge margin, according to the latest BIS Triennial report. While Brexit may result in some jobs being relocated, the industry still believes London will remain front and centre and a key financial hub.

One of the key factors which will insulate London’s FX market is its concentration of trading infrastructure and activity. “When trading becomes concentrated in a particular region and is supported by a comprehensive legal and regulatory environment it develops natural strengths that enable that particular market to function well.” says Dan Marcus, CEO of ParFX, talking to Finance Magnates. “By leaving that pool of liquidity, a firm could disadvantage themselves and their clients.”

This means that, far from vacating the city, many businesses are investing further in London’s future.

Algorithmic trading technology provider Pragma is one such company, with the New York-based firm expanding its equities and FX business to London. “Our investment in the data center at Equinix’s LD6 site offers Pragma360 clients access to state-of-the art technology and the largest ecosystem for foreign exchange trading globally,” says Pragma’s Chief Business Officer, Curtis Pfeiffer.

“Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, we are moving forward with this large capital expenditure because London, as the largest FX trading centre in the world, hosts the largest datacentre ecosystem for low-latency FX trading applications and we do not see that changing any time soon,” he explains.

While nothing in the negotiations has been determined at this early stage, the City will also weigh up the potential challenges of Brexit.

Continued access to the European single market through financial passporting and the ability to attract skilled technology professionals from across the EU to work in London top the list for many institutions.

“77% of my staff in London were born outside the UK. We need those people. People are very mobile. I just worry that tough negotiations will send the wrong signal.” Michael Kent, CEO of remittance service Azimo, told Financial News.

In addition, J.P. Morgan has reportedly spent the last nine months weighing up various EU cities as a potential new continental home for their operations, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Looking beyond the headlines, however, the picture is more nuanced. Most of the relocation plans announced over the past few months involve relatively small numbers of staff. For many banks and financial institutions this may be a hedging exercise rather than a wholesale exodus.

Going forward, the UK government is determined to ensure London remains a central part of the international financial landscape, and it’s worth remembering London has a number of strategic advantages which mean it is likely to continue to be the city of choice. It uses the global language of business, English; it is situated in the perfect timezone between Asia and America; and has a legal system that is world-renowned for clarity and reliability.

None of this will change; in fact, it will continue to ensure London remains open and attractive to business.

Can we hardwire trust into our financial systems? SxSW Tech Briefing

This year there were no big headline tech launches to speak of which is unusual for an event which in years gone by saw the launch of Twitter and Foursquare, to take but two.

But this year, the tone and content was quite different. The changing political landscape loomed large, chiefly with the ‘tech under Trump’ work stream but also with keynote speeches from Joe Biden and Corey Booker.

For 2017, the recurring theme was on a pervasive lack of trust and transparency between individuals and organisations, as well as between society and its governments.

Various barometers of sentiment reveal that we are at a historical low for trust in institutions such as banks and the media.

Four panels and presentations focused on the technology variously known as Blockchain or Distributed Ledger and how it can be applied to hardwire and build trust into our systems and interactions.

Discussions ranged from how this tech enables individual contribution, makes it easy to collaborate, decentralises power and creates hope for increasing equality.

There were hands-on workshops and introductions to some of the protocols, coding and design challenges in creating distributed data structures.

As a recap on ‘Blockchain’, it is effectively a record of assets, or any other kind of content, that is shared, replicated and encrypted so it becomes a verified and immutable source of truth. The blocks can’t be modified, but can be viewed, meaning a huge benefit lies in the added trust and transparency that provides.

Dr Tomicah Tillemann, of New America’s Bretton Woods II program is working with his team to apply the principles of blockchain to the US land registry system.

Speaking at SxSW he commented: “Institutions right now provide the facts at the foundation of our reality. I know there’s a land registry somewhere that says I own my house. I swipe my card because I know the bank will transfer the right money for me. As soon as people lose confidence, those systems start to break down really quickly.

“The exciting thing about blockchain is that it has the potential to create a layer of authentication and validation that can’t be tampered with. It’s a layer of reality locked in mathematically, and it’s locked in permanently, which is something we’ve never had before.”

IBM was also in attendance, focusing on the wider potential application of blockchain, announcing a blockchain solution with shipping container giant Maersk to track shipping containers across the world

With over 90% of goods in global trade carried by the ocean shipping industry each year, there are clear benefits to enhancing transparency and sharing information.

From the exchange of money between two parties, to documenting how goods move through a supply chain, and the making of contractual agreements, there are significant savings to be had in terms of cost and time as well as the potential to reduce risk and increase trust.

We Explore or We Expire: SxSW Tech Briefing

“We explore, or we expire,” said astronaut Buzz Aldrin, of the Apollo 11 mission and one of the first two humans to land on the moon.

This simple sentence won over SXSW this year, the event in Austin, Texas which brings together some of the brightest minds in technology and innovation to collaborate.

In his keynote speech, Aldrin was talking about the push to Mars, but his speech and sentiment went wider – exploring how people and organisations are thinking and learning new ways to communicate, adapt, survive and flourish.

Virtual reality (VR) was everywhere, but there is still real debate about its real world application. In our view, VR is still looking like fun toys to promote films and event experiences. Smells a little like 3D TVs to us, and we know how that fad ended.

Does anyone really want to wear those headsets?

AI, however, is another matter. This was hot for the second year running and is being positioned as the next big disruptor.

Harley Davidson, for example, is using an AI tool to match audiences to its current database – finding customers who might be interested in purchasing a motorbike through machine learning. It attributes 40% of its sales in New York to this tool.

Disney’s R&D studio is using AI as a tool for storytelling across multiple digital platforms.

One speaker estimated that a 30-year grace period before AI completely takes over the workplace, calling for a push to design AI to augment rather than replace people.

This requires a clear distinction between AI (artificial intelligence) and IA, or intelligent augmentation.

AI is about reproducing human cognition and functioning autonomously, while IA is about supplementing and supporting it, leaving the intentionality of human operators at the heart of the process.

For brands, this is going to continue to be about making sense of complex data through machine learning, enhance and augment, rather than merely removing human roles.

Back to Mr Aldrin’s alma mater, NASA, which is working with Google to explore the application of quantum computing to artificial intelligence.

The space agency’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is using quantum computers to perform calculations that are difficult or impossible using conventional supercomputers, effectively becoming a quasi-AI.

The team aims to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult problems for space missions but also back on earth.

Algo trading and interest in emerging market currencies will grow in 2017 driven by hunt for FX liquidity

Traders at across both buy and sell side are reporting that they plan to make more use of computer algorithms to trade FX in 2017 and are also setting their sights on traditionally less-traded currencies.

This matters. Foreign exchange – or FX – is the world’s largest and most liquid market, with around USD 5 trillion exchanged every day across borders.

FX underpins global trade and commerce, allowing countries, companies and institutions to trade, hedge and transfer risk.

Now a survey of over 200 FX trading institutions reveals that while 12% currently use algorithms, 38% plan to increase their use of algos in 2017.

JPMorgan believes 2017 is going to be “a watershed year for algo usage”.

In terms of currency mix, traders currently spend 70% of their time trading the major G10 currencies – including EUR, USD, GBP and JPY – and 26% in emerging markets.

This looks set to change in 2017 with 15% planning to increase their use of G10 currencies this year, with 32% planning to trade more emerging market* currencies as their liquidity continue to improve and they therefore become increasingly more attractive to trade.

So it’s no longer just about speed and a race to the bottom to be first in and out of the market – so called ‘bad algos’ beating everyone to the punchbowl.

The unifying theme of both the rise of the machines and the renewed interest in traditionally ‘less traded’ currencies is the search for liquidity in an increasingly fragmented and competitive market.

Algos can monitor and act across multiple venues, markets and currency pairs to flag opportunity or alert to risk.

Likewise, an uncertain macro-economic outlook plus improving liquidity makes trading in less-traded pairs much more attractive.

As the first signs of Donald Trump’s victory in U.S. presidential elections emerged the largest increase in currency pair activity was the U.S. dollar traded against the Mexican peso (USD/MXN), 63 times normal levels in the hour following the result.,

By way of comparison, spikes were also registered across the major currency pairs with input volumes ten times normal levels for EUR/USD for that hour, followed by USD/JPY and GBP/USD.

Turning to FX instrument type,40% of FX traders report that they plan to use more options in 2017, with a corresponding increase in cash, swaps and NDFs as hedging tools in an uncertain political and economic environment.

*On the whole at Chatsworth we’re not so keen on the term ‘emerging markets’ which is largely subjective and frequently inaccurate as many ‘emerged’ long ago.

R3 patent application unveils its vision for future of blockchain technology

R3 executives speak publically for the first time about Project Concord and their vision for the future of blockchain technology.

Distributed ledger and blockchain technology represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the economics of data management across the financial industry.

However, R3 believes the blockchain and distributed ledger platforms that led to this breakthrough moment were never designed to solve the problems of financial institutions and do not meet all their needs. These include tight linkage to the legal domain, an obligation to prevent client data being shared inappropriately and interoperability with existing financial infrastructure.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the R3 blockchain consortium filed a patent for its Corda shared ledger platform.

Corda is the outcome of the analysis R3 undertook on how to achieve as many of the benefits of distributed ledger and blockchain technology as possible but in a way that is sympathetic to, and addresses, the needs of regulated financial institutions.

The platform enables firms to record and process financial agreements using smart contracts, as explained in depth in R3 CTO Richard Gendal Brown’s latest whitepaper.

Corda is part of Project Concord, R3’s overall vision and roadmap for transforming financial services infrastructure. Concord will address challenges such as governance, internal record keeping and regulatory reporting across the financial services marketplace.

With a number of successful prototypes having already been completed on the Corda platform and an alpha launch of Concord scheduled for 2017, the next year looks set to be a turning point in the history of financial technology.

R3 trials blockchain fixed income trading with 40 banks

Chatsworth client R3 CEV has successfully trialed five distinct blockchain technologies in parallel in the first test of its kind, as reported this morning by Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Reuters.

The trial represented the trading of fixed income assets between 40 of the world’s largest banks across the blockchains, using multiple cloud technology providers within R3’s Global Collaborative Lab.

This marked an unprecedented scale of institutional collaboration between the financial and technology communities exploring how distributed ledgers can be applied to global financial markets.

The banks connected to R3-managed private distributed ledger technologies built by Chain, Eris Industries, Ethereum, IBM and Intel. They evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of each technology by running smart contracts that were programmed to faciliate issuance, secondary trading and redemption of commercial paper, a short-term fixed income security typically issued by corporations to raise funding.

Each of the distributed ledgers ran a smart contract based on identical business logic to enable the banks to accurately compare the difference in performance between them. Cloud computing resources were provided by Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud and Amazon AWS to host the distributed ledgers.

The R3 member banks involved in this trial included Banco Santander, Bank of America, Barclays, BBVA, BMO Financial Group, BNP Paribas, BNY Mellon, CIBC, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Citi, Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, Danske Bank, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, ING Bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, Macquarie Bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mizuho Financial Group, Morgan Stanley, National Australia Bank, Natixis, Nordea, Northern Trust, OP Financial Group, Scotiabank, State Street, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, SEB, Societe Generale, Toronto-Dominion Bank, UBS, UniCredit, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and Westpac Banking Corporation.

Further exciting developments are set for the months ahead, as R3 continues to work with the banks in its Global Collaborative Lab to test and develop applications based on distributed ledger technology for the financial services industry. The Lab has quickly become a center of gravity for collaborative applied blockchain efforts in the financial services and distributed ledger technology industries.