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Brexit: What now for London fintechs?

It is not yet clear exactly how the decision to leave the EU will affect London’s financial services industry, but what we do know is there will be a significant impact. Uncertainty over remaining in the single market abounds, and is putting pressure on fintech businesses of all sizes – from early stage startups to the City’s biggest players. One thing is clear: London is a major hub for fintech businesses big and small, and all will be affected.

Amidst all of this change and uncertainty, what can these companies do to protect themselves? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make a plan: In fact, make lots of them. The fallout from Brexit has shown that not everyone in the industry had thought through how to react in the event of a Leave vote – with no real certainty over the big questions, it’s important that businesses aren’t caught out again.

By preparing your plans now, you’ll be ready to pull the trigger as soon as Article 50 is put into effect. You have the following options – I would recommend pursuing both A and B:

Plan A: Because the current situation is so uncertain, it’s important that you have a plan for the worst-case scenario. In this case, that would be the loss of all passporting privileges for London’s financial services companies. If this happens, your company will need to open and license an office in another of Europe’s financial centres in order to retain access to the EU.

It’s a major undertaking, so it makes sense to start planning for this now. European regulators have been courting London’s fintechs since June, but it’s important you research your options as there will be differences between countries. Germany’s regulator, BaFin, is very similar to the FCA in outlook, which should make it fairly easy to work with. Other European regulators have more limited experience of working with fintechs, and this could affect your experience when dealing with them.

If you need it, recruit a compliance consultancy firm to help you assess your options. Look for a smaller firm for the service they can offer you – the big four may not understand the nuances of your business, nor give you the personal service your business requires.

Plan B: It is also possible that the UK will retain some of its permissions to trade within the EU. However, some rights may need renewing, and others may need to be awarded on a country-by-country basis.

To prepare for this eventuality, it’s critical to ensure your processes and procedures are ready for review by European regulators. Bring in an external auditor and have someone review these – preferably with expertise from the continent.

Plan C: The other option, of course, would be to do nothing and hope for the best. However, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations – particularly now that the High Court has ruled that Article 50 can’t be triggered without a Parliament vote. As the situation continues to evolve, it’s wise to prepare now for all eventualities – even if they don’t ultimately arise.

2. Get processes in place to deal with volatility: Brexit developments will undoubtedly create more currency fluctuations as the fallout from the decision continues.

In the days after Brexit, many liquidity providers were absent from the market, leaving those without multiple banking partnerships vulnerable. Others were unable to trade altogether, and had to shut up shop. With further uncertainty on the horizon, consider establishing new banking relationships as well as speaking to your current providers to ensure they are able to cover you during periods of high volatility.

Alternatively, if you don’t hold banking relationships directly, make sure you are partnering with sophisticated money service businesses that can sustain high levels of volatility and can provide you and your customers with strong, ongoing service through major market turbulence.

3. Review your risk framework and client base

It’s also critical that you review your client’s positions and stress test them ahead of any expected currency shocks. Test, for instance, what will happen to your book if the market moves between 10 and 20%, and use this exercise to identify any clients that could be left exposed. Once you’ve done this, speak to them to ensure they are able to respond to a margin call if it arises.

If you don’t have systems and processes in place to do this, you will have to do it manually, which means committing a significant part of your team to the process. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile investment.

4. Ensure good communication channels with customers, using social media as well as more traditional means.

Make sure that your clients are aware that your phone lines could become busy during periods of volatility related to Brexit, but that you will still be there for them – it’s important they are aware of this early, and understand what major market-moving developments will mean for your service.

Communication is key, so use a mixture of channels, from direct emails and phone calls to social media, to get the message across.

5. Go for stability: In times of uncertainty, focus on providing excellent service to the segment you can credibly serve better than anyone else, rather than spreading yourself thin. With potential currency fluctuations and regulatory uncertainty ahead, biting off more than you can safely chew is a high-risk strategy.

Getting a strong plan in place will protect your business from any further uncertainty around Brexit. If you focus on preparing strong foundations, you should be able to survive the turbulence and continue delivering a high quality of service to your customers.


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