A new breed of fintech businesses has taken the local and international business scene by storm
It has been a major centre in world finance for centuries and a thriving technology hub so it’s no surprise that London is home to a number of world-class fintechs that have become household names globally.
London will always play a central role in the global fintech revolution, but in recent times we have seen investment in creating technology hubs in other cities around the UK and this is translating into the creation of thriving, engaged communities and exciting companies.
Belfast, which is increasingly being seen as a city bursting with entrepreneurship and innovation, has been one of the main beneficiaries of this trend. Over the past couple of years, a new breed of fintech businesses has taken the local and international business scene by storm, putting the city on the map.
A growing reputation as a fintech hub
Until recently, I rarely saw anything about fintechs from Northern Ireland in the news outside of local papers. Much of the fintech hype has focused on huge investments, mergers and acquisitions for fintechs in London, New York and Asia and the odd one in Dublin, but seldom Belfast.
But Laura Noonan, while acting Ireland editor at the FT, bucked this trend with an article entitled ‘Belfast’s booming financial services rise above political unrest.’ It highlighted the investment that is pouring into the city – Citi plans to hire 400 people, bringing its headcount to 3,600+ and FinTru a RegTech firm based in Belfast, aims to double its headcount to 1,600. Citi and FinTrU’s plans follow recent announcements by Big Four accounting firms PwC, Deloitte and KPMG, who together will create 2,200 jobs in Belfast.
And it’s no wonder – with rents as low as a quarter of London’s west end and half of Dublin’s office space, and salary expectations much lower due to low living costs, firms can save thousands every month and still only be an hour flight from clients in London or just over 90 minutes from those in Dublin.
As a region, NI also has a deep pool of talent. Not only do we consistently outperform all other regions in the UK in academic qualifications at GCSE and A-Level, we also have 4,000 people that graduate with business qualifications every year and boast the highest percentage of qualified IT professionals in the UK.
Through Invest NI, we also offer generous support schemes: PwC received £9.8m from the agency to support 108 of the almost 800 jobs it will create by 2026. It has also supported numerous local fintechs which are leading the way in Belfast. These include Datactics, specialists in user-friendly data quality and matching software which now has a 50+ strong team, fscom, a firm of compliance experts which currently works with over 18% of the UK payments sector and RegTick, which helps simplify compliance with regulation through an intuitive platform.
Furthermore, a potential benefit of Brexit, the arrangements set out in the Northern Ireland protocol could ultimately create “the best of both worlds” by making Belfast a unique jurisdiction with a toe in both the UK and the EU, as said by Michael Hall, managing partner at EY’s 600-strong Northern Ireland business.
There are a number of trade bodies and influencers who have been driving the sector forward.
Industry body, FintechNI, chaired by local fintech evangelist, Alex Lee, released a report which found NI to have the highest concentration of fintech employment in the UK. There are an estimated 7,000 fintech related roles here and one in five people working across the financial and tech sectors in Northern Ireland work in fintech.
Furthermore, the Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland, Andrew Jenkins, has regularly written in the media about fintech’s potential, imploring both the private and public sectors to grab the lucrative opportunity it presents with both hands.
Capitalise on this momentum with impactful communications
Having moved back to Belfast from London earlier this year, it feels there is real momentum growing behind the fintech scene here. It’s clear that we have a really strong story, different from that of other fintech hubs, that is starting to resonate with international media.
By creating compelling narratives and using the right channels to get them in front of the right audience, we can create huge opportunities for the city and its fintechs which can together attract customers, investment and talent into Belfast.
Chatsworth was the first communications agency to focus on fintech. We’ve been building fintech reputations for 20 years, steering start-ups through launch, growth and onto corporate action, and protecting and enhancing established infrastructures.
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