British flag

Britain’s competitive advantage debated at IFGS 2022

LONDON, UK — One of the most hotly debated topics of the two-day Innovate Finance (IFGS) conference was whether Britain still has a place on the world stage.  

In the talk ‘International Competitiveness: The Race to the Top,’ moderator Gerard Grech, Founding Chief Executive, Tech Nation asked the audience who was leading when it came to fintech across the globe, the UK, Singapore, China or the US; few hands went up for the UK, while Singapore and the US evenly split as winners.  

There is consensus among panelists that this results from Brexit, the talent gap, and analog regulation. 

Talent gap

There were many conversations around the consequence of Brexit creating a talent gap in the UK. 

Sarah Williams-Gardener, CEO of FinTech Wales, spoke about the “huge responsibility to educate young people in schools and universities, especially in deprived areas such as South Wales.”

In agreement was Alex Marsh, Head of UK, Klarna, and Olivia Broderick, General Counsel and Head of Regulatory, Checkout.com, in the talk ‘Kalifa Review Voices: One Year On.’ 

Visa delays

The talent gap also remains a problem due to the delays with new visa regulations announced by the government.

In her closing remarks, CEO of Innovate Finance Janine Hirt explained, “we have heard repeatedly from fintech companies over the two days of IFGS that competition for top talent is fierce. Without easier routes, UK tech companies will miss out on hiring the best and brightest people from across the world.” 

Keynote speaker Philippa Rouse Director, Future Border & Immigration System Directorate, Home Office, explained that the scale-up Visa, a new work visa aimed at fintech, will not be available till August.

She also announced several other immigration schemes coming in the next few months, including the High Potential Individual Route, which will allow graduates from the top 50 universities in the world to gain a short term work visa in the UK, and the Innovator Visa, which seeks to bring top entrepreneurs from overseas to the country.   

Analog regulation

As for regulation, despite Jessica Rusu‘s reference to outcome-based regulation, this does not go far enough for some. In the discussion ‘Here to Stay: a New World of Consumer Expectations and Digital Lending,’ Mark Simpsons, Partner, Baker & McKenzie, said “the FCA needs to go further” and that it’s time to overhaul the analog system.

In ‘Lessons learned and aspirations for the future: Fostering true disruption.’ Anil TS concurs, “we’re still playing catch up with places like Silicon Valley.” 

Landscape image of approximately 100 people sitting in a room
IFGS members during Rajesh Agrawal’s speech

However, panelists at IFGS also praised the UK fintech environment, with many reflecting on the same reasons such as BREXIT, regulation, and its history that make Britain successful. 

In his keynote speech Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business, emphasized this, pointing out “London has fin of New York, tech of the West Coast & policymakers of Washington, all within 15-min journey on public transport!” thus meaning that the appeal of London is still its location, its timezone, and history.

Emerging regulation

Mark Mullen, CEO of Atom bank, also agreed, pointing out the UK’s economic and regulatory position is firm, which provides it with a competitive advantage in ‘Lessons learned and aspirations for the future: Fostering true disruption,’ “The UK sits between the old world and the new – between the US and Europe.”

But beyond that, the appeal of fintech within the UK is the innovative emerging regulatory environment.

As covered in the article UK, Economic Secretary announces innovative approach to crypto technologies; Treasury John Glen announced unprecedented initiatives regarding fintech, “we want this country to be a global hub – the very best place in the world to start and scale crypto-companies. If there is one message I want you to leave here today with, it is that the UK is open for business – open for crypto.”

The government’s openness towards the fintech industry segments Britain’s position as a global player for many panelists and audience members. 

Brexit

Furthermore, although panelists discussed the talent gap, Brexit may still highlight an opportunity when it comes to regulation.

Co-founder and CEO of Klarna Sebastian Siemiatkowski explained in his keynote speech, “what I’ve seen in the UK – which makes me very excited – is this amazing moment and drive and interest to take away some of the bad practices from Brussels in Europe, and actually write out regulation that keeps in mind that the strongest force is the customer. There’s such a tremendous momentum around that, and to some degree, customers know how to find stuff. The UK has a model that is right.”

This sentiment was also shared by Francisco Martins, Senior Executive Financial Services, IDNow, in the ‘New World of Consumers’ talk, highlighting the UK’s ability to be flexible compared to the EU. 

  • Helen Femi Williams is a freelance journalist and podcaster interested in fintech, politics, economics, and their intersections. She is the host of the letsgetlitical podcast, a fortnightly show interviewing guests from all different sides of the political spectrum, in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation. Prior to this role, she worked as an innovation consultant developing insurtech and fintech products and ideas for brands, startups, and major corporations. She studied International Relations at the University of Nottingham (UK and Malaysia).