George Osborne hopes to make London a fintech leader, but the Brexit threatens the industry’s survival. Why would Britain champion this booming industry only to destroy it?
Modern politics is all about simple opposites and simple solutions: left vs right, save vs spend, and now, in vs out. The black and white nature of politics, at its worst, is stultifying. The Brexit discussion is just the same: ‘In vs out’ simply does not
reflect the complexity of the situation. Britain, whether in or out of the EU, will be part of Europe. The only real difference is that within the EU, its industries and bargaining powers are much stronger than they would be from the outside.
Even out of the EU, European laws will still impact Britain, and the UK will have to use Europe as a springboard to enter into global markets, taking advantage of wider talent pools and trade capabilities – areas that the UK and London currently have advantages
As a native German who has spent more than 16 years living in the UK working in finance, I can say that British people tend to consider themselves as ‘outside Europe’. I won’t go into how surprising the ‘island nation’ mentality can be, I will just talk
about how this mentality will kill off Britain’s fastest growing industry: fintech.
Fintech: What even is it?
You already know what it is, even if you don’t know you know. It’s a not so pretty portmanteau of finance and technology. When you buy a sandwich with contactless payment, that’s fintech in action. But there’s much more. Take TransferWise, it’s a peer-to-peer
money transfer service that cuts out international transfer costs by matching senders in transferring countries and sending that money locally – the company enables money to actually reach the destination, rather than being sucked up in fees. Or how about
Nutmeg? It’s an investment service for normal people. You might want to invest in something but are put off by the image of super-wealthy paying for Modigliani’s on their Amex. And why shouldn’t you invest in something? Nutmeg lets you do this for as little
Fintech is Chancellor George Osborne’s pet industry. He aims to make London the global leader in the industry. While the UK and London could certainly reach that goal, a Brexit will kill off the industry very quickly.
London is Europe’s fintech home. In 2015, it attracted upwards of £500 million worth of venture capital investment – this for a bunch of startups. In 2014, London fintech startups attracted £343 million in investment, and in 2013 roughly a third of that.
That’s incredible growth for a young industry.
The UK government also helped form Innovate Finance, a not-for-profit platform for fintechs that acts as an all-purpose lobby for the industry. Prime Minister David Cameron has championed the lobby’s manifesto entitled UK Fintech 2020, and has appointed
a special fintech envoy — American VC Eileen Burbidge — to ensure that the phenomenal growth in the country continues. Nowhere else in Europe can compete with London – not Berlin, not Paris – nowhere. So with so much support and investment, with such a great
lead – why would the UK kill this industry?
Fintech and the Brexit
Financial leaders and experts are overwhelmingly against a Brexit – but have been advised not to speak about the issue publicly, for fear of damaging the Prime Minister’s ability to negotiate the deal with European leaders. But the financial industry is
particularly at risk.
Combined, the UK’s financial services industry makes up a gigantic 9.6% of UK’s GDP. An Open Society report in 2015 highlighted how the financial services industry is more at risk than others. A Brexit would not instantly wipe 9.6% of Britain’s GDP off the
books, but it is at risk. A likelier outcome is that the big players of the financial industry will up sticks for Paris or Frankfurt, and new, creative, fast-growing industries like fintech will be killed.
Let’s take a closer look:
1. Governmental support: The UK leads the world in support for its fintech industry. The US, despite having substantial investment power, suffers from a chronic lack of trust between the government and the tech industries – and my own native Germany is
only beginning to look at the potential of fintech as an industry that could transform society. The UK government has been looking into this for at least five years: why abandon that lead?
2. Good regulation: Within the EU, the UK’s environment is well-regulated. Regulatory bodies provide clear rules that enable both financial incumbents and fintechs to flourish. These regulations are seamlessly enmeshed with Europe’s. Leaving the EU would
mean undoing regulatory frameworks, which would itself take years to re-create. Former MEP Sharon Bowles commented that leaving the EU wouldn’t reduce the volume of financial regulation affecting the UK – so the argument that the industry would be less hindered
doesn’t actually hold water.
3. Passport licensing: Perhaps the single most important reason to stay within the EU. Passporting allows homegrown and major foreign companies to set-up in the UK, and transfer their businesses to the EU seamlessly. It’s a gateway for business, and it
isn’t just used for establishing bases. American investors use London as a base to expand into Europe and use those markets as a test-bed for the less friendly American environment. True, the UK might still be able to negotiate a similar deal under the terms
of a Brexit, but such a deal is far from certain – and why would you risk losing such a lucrative and powerful tool?
4. Talent: I’ve often heard the complaint that the UK is losing the battle to other nations when it comes to educating children about tech: Estonian children are taught to code, why aren’t ours? From these very same people, I’ve heard the argument that
British talent would be better off without the EU. But the opposite is true – Britain’s membership of the EU gives homegrown talent unparalleled opportunities to learn. The positive tech ecosystem allows British kids to learn, start their businesses and expand
into Europe easily. Leaving the EU will mean UK talent simply goes elsewhere!
A Brexit will harm the UK’s financial scene generally, and kill off the UK’s fintech scene indefinitely. Paris, Berlin and Madrid are all waiting to capitalize on the UK sacrificing its London advantages in the financial and fintech industries – those jobs
will go elsewhere. And think about the knock-on effects of harming the UK’s tech scene – if financial technology firms are hurt, so are satellite firms like cyber-security and data management. As is the legal industry, and the media, which benefits from digital
There’s a lot to be said for the UK’s London-centric approach to jobs, but I assure you, a Brexit will hit London and the rest of the UK will feel the blow.