In our continuing series, in association with the Breaking Banks radio show, looking at accomplished and interesting women working and changing the FinTech sector, Liz Lumley sits down with Level 39 co-founder and Innovate Finance CEO Claire Cockerton.
This interview was first broadcast on Brett King's Voice America radio show, Breaking Banks on Thursday, February 26th. You can listen to the full broadcast here.
The interview in its entirety can be heard here.
FINEXTRA: What is Innovate Finance?
CLAIRE: It is a new industry organisation, a ‘movement’ we call it, that is dedicated to accelerating tech-led transformation in financial services. We are focused on supporting new FinTech businesses and entrepreneurs who have come to the UK with new business models and technologies. We are helping them transform the sector making it more diverse, more inclusive, and more competitive.
So our work involves lobbying, it involves policy and regulatory roundtables; it involves driving more investment into our member firms as well as showcasing career development opportunities in FinTech. It is a very new industry and our organisation is dedicated to creating this rich, lively flourishing FinTech ecosystem in the UK and showcasing it to the world.
FINEXTRA: What sets the UK apart as the capital of FinTech?
CLAIRE: Many reasons. If can go backwards, I would say history, we have such a strong financial services sector. We are such an epicentre of financial services to start with. Then geography. We can trade with East and West we are seen as a gateway to Europe.
I would also point to our talent and I don’t just mean financial services talent - I mean technology, entrepreneurial, design talent. We have this wonderful community here in Tech City and beyond … that is really showcasing our multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, multi-generational, talent bed.
We also have a simpler regulatory environment for some of these young companies to navigate and we historically set some forward looking policies in this space. Equity-based crowdfunders, for example, flourish here. The alternative finance space is so important not just to FinTech but for driving economic recovery. If you are a young restaurateur or fashion designer you can now access new alternative forms of financing. I can pitch my business on a crowdfunding site and get seed funding from a bunch of people. That is an incredibly powerful financial tool in a macro economic sense that is potentially driving our recovery in other industries as well.
That is FinTech supporting other tech and other business
FINEXTRA: Is it important that the UK has the same funding culture that we see in more established centres like Silicon Valley?
CLAIRE: It is a good question. It is one of our priorities as an organisation to look at the investment landscape here in the UK and to try and think about new ways we can drive greater investment into the FinTech sector. It is different here in the UK then it is in the US. It is different for a number of reasons.
The US and Silicon Valley has gained a reputation for having a greater appetite to risk; of not wanting to miss out on the next greatest company or deal. That is a great approach to take to developing a tech ecosystem. And here in the UK perhaps, culturally, we are a little bit more concerned about making the right choice or concerned with the losses we could incur…
FINEXTRA: Would you say that Silicon Valley is concerned with short term gains, while the UK takes a more long term view?
CLAIRE: I think there are these subtle cultural differences about how we make our investment decisions. We tend to be a little bit more conservative here, but that is changing. In the last two or three years we are really embracing the entrepreneurial culture the creative culture the ‘build it yourself and go out there’ and I think that entrepreneurial culture is also spurring that investment landscape as well.
I also want to say we don’t have to look like Silicon Valley. They have their own brand or tech cluster. And our cluster has our own unique attributes that we need think about.
FINEXTRA: What is your background?
CLAIRE: I studied architecture at the University of Toronto. I came to the UK five years ago after I sold my first business. I have always had an entrepreneurial drive. I grew my first business in the first year at university in sustainable architecture. I grew it over seven years, then sold it to a competitor. I then came over to Imperial Collage to do an MBA.
FINEXTRA: Entrepreneurship is in your back ground?
CLAIRE: Absolutely, I sometimes attribute it to growing up outside in the countryside in Canada where my Mom kicked me out of the house for six hours and said: “Go have fun in the wilderness!” I think that in part fostered a sense of independence and imagination which I think entrepreneurs really need.
FINEXTRA: What about the FinTech sector surprises you?
CLAIRE: I suppose what has been a surprise and a delight has been this great momentum over the past two or three years that we are seeing here that we are seeing in London and the UK…this movement towards change. We want a different financial services sector. Consumers are fed up. We want better products and services, lower cost, we want accountability. We want to be able to make our own choices about how our own capital gets used when we put it into a bank. This momentum has been a great inspiration to me.
FINEXTRA: What advice would you give a new FinTech startup?
CLAIRE: Go for it. There is nothing as exhilarating and mind boggling as trying to take your idea to the marketplace. We all want to leave a legacy and leave a mark.
My advice is: Just go for it.