Tech Nation: ‘the UK is a fintech centre of excellence’
Over the last year, the performance of t...
Greg Michel, Head of Sector Programmes at Tech Nation, tells FinTech why the UK is the best hub for fintech.
Over the last year, the performance of the UK’s digital tech sector has been world-leading, with British firms attracting more capital than any other European country. Our great strength in technology and innovation, built on the UK’s excellence in R&D and creative thinking, is demonstrated by the breadth of tech activity right across the country, and the powerful networks being forged by the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Fintech is a blossoming sector, and the UK is number one in the world for scaleup investment into fintech firms - generating GB£4.5bn in funding between 2015 and 2018. Ambitious fintech scaleups such as OakNorth, Monzo, Starling and Revolut are already becoming household names and growing globally. This impressive growth is generated by the 788 high-growth fintech companies right across the UK at all stages of growth. In Europe, the UK fintech sector has a significant lead, and even dwarfs the combined total of 441 French and German fintech outfits.
For a long time London has been the European capital of finance. In the East of the city, hundreds of financial institutions dominate the skyline and the economy. The majority of fintech firms, 71% are based in London. However, many are choosing to set up shop outside the traditional financial heartlands of the City of London and Canary Wharf. Fintech businesses in Hackney and Westminster are thriving, with 150 companies between them.
This geographic bias is unsurprising. London has always been home to the UK’s and Europe’s most dominant financial services. It is also the centre of governance and financial regulation nationally. In an industry so dependent on legal rules, being close to regulators is invaluable. For instance, initiatives such as the FCA’s fintech sandbox allow new firms to innovate in a closed and safe environment, but the authority’s head office is in East London. Equally, almost all of the UK’s premier fintech accelerators are based in the East End. 85% of the accelerators for UK fintech firms are also in London. These pull factors add up, and go some way to explain London’s dominance in the field.
But fintech is not the exclusive preserve of the capital, with fintech firms found in all UK regions, including the North East, Yorkshire & Humberside and Northern Ireland. For instance, Durham-based Atom Bank is revolutionising commercial lending. Its customer-centric approach to banking makes getting a personal mortgage or loan as easy as possible. Penarth based Wealthify is also a great example of a household name in fintech outside of London. It’s investment platform makes investment accessible to everyone and last year the company exited having raised £2.14 mn. Initiatives like Fintech North and similar ones in Scotland, Wales and the West have also sprung up to showcase the best fintech companies their region and country has to offer.
Last year was an exceptionally strong year for investment in the UK fintech sector as it attracted a record £2 billion in VC funding, including many weighty deals, indicating a maturing ecosystem. What’s more, this is twice the amount raised in each of the three years before. But nearly half of the UK’s high-growth fintech firms are still at seed stage, and we need to feed the pipeline for continued success in this thriving sector. This is why Tech Nation, the scaleup network for UK entrepreneurs, decided to create a sector-specific fintech programme which identifies the rising stars in the industry and helps them scale to even greater horizons.
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Run for the first time in 2018, the bespoke growth programme is specifically designed to pass on the unique knowledge of accomplished fintech entrepreneurs to those hoping to follow in their footsteps. Connections are also made and opportunities created for the founders of the UK’s most promising fintech scaleups. Insight sessions are delivered by renowned entrepreneurs such as Rishi Khosla, Lesley Eccles and Justin Basini, covering topics such as scaling teams, getting regulated, partnering with financial service firms and expanding internationally.
The 2.0 Fintech Cohort will be announced in September and will be looking to replicate the first programme’s success. Key to the fintech programme and to Tech Nation’s ambition for the UK tech sector is to build on the UK’s natural strengths and world renown for investment and talent, and to create opportunities for the most promising companies wherever they are based, so that they can compete on the global stage.
Stripe backs Step - the digital bank for teens
The Series C round raised US$100m in capital from a number of backers, including Coatue, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, actor Jared Leto, and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, for the enterprise.
Step provides a free FDIC-insured bank account and Visa card to teenagers. The accounts are backed by Evolve Bank and there is no subscription charge for its usage. Users don’t pay for their accounts and there are also no overdraft fees.
The mobile banking app enables parents to set controls and limits on spending and encourage responsible finances. According to data released by the company, 88% of the platform’s users say this is their first bank account.
To date, Step has seen great success in the marketplace. The company has raised more than $175m from investors and now has 1.5m users.
Stripe, which was founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison, previously led Step’s $22.5m Series A round in 2019.
Step's Series B funding round also brought in $50m, and has a distinctly celeb-tinged reputation with investors including Justin Timberlake and the pop duo The Chainsmokers.
Users get access to a free, FDIC-backed bank account, a spending card and P2P payments platform to send and receive money instantly.
CJ MacDonald, chief executive of Step, said the company is aiming to improve the financial futures of the next generation. “Step is the only banking platform that enables teens to start building a positive credit history before they turn 18 and does not charge fees of any kind.
He has previously spoken about the importance of financial literacy for young people. “Money is just one of those things where I think the more educated and equipped you are early, the better decisions you can make down the road,” he told . “And you can also prevent yourself from making costly mistakes. I mean, the average American doesn't have $400 in emergency savings and pays $350 a year in banking fees. If we can help this next generation just ultimately be smarter and more educated as it pertains to money, I think we'll all be better off.”
Kyle Doherty, managing director at General Catalyst and Step board member, explained, “Gen Z is flocking to modern financial solutions that can be easily embedded within their digital lives and Step has a unique model for how to do this right.”
The news follows on from Stripe’s recent announcement that it plans to acquire TaxJar. The fintech, which builds software for online businesses that automates the reporting and filing of sales taxes, will most likely be integrated with Stripe’s billing services.
Currently, No terms have been disclosed but the Boston start-up had raised more than $60m from investors including Insight Partners.
Stripe chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara said of the move, “With TaxJar, we will help millions of internet businesses running on Stripe with their sales tax and make it easier for them to sell internationally.”