Northern cities, including Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, have vowed to put aside their regional differences in order to drive fintech innovation forward.
During FinTech North‘s seventh-annual Leeds Conference this week, the North’s inward investment agencies – MIDAS (Greater Manchester’s Inward Investment Agency), West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), Growth Platform (Liverpool) and Invest Newcastle – acknowledged the significant influence of presenting a united front in attracting innovators to the region, despite its “tribal” nature.
It follows their recent joint participation at Money 20/20 in Amsterdam earlier this month under the ‘FinTech North banner’ as part of a UK Pavilion showcasing the UK’s achievements as a global fintech hub.
“One voice is way more powerful”
During a panel discussion at The University of Leeds’ Cloth Hall Court, Joseph Beaden, business development manager at MIDAS, posed the question of whether collaboration enhances their collective impact.
The answer was a “categorical yes”.
While keen to boast that Manchester was first to offer a fintech postgraduate course and stressing Greater Manchester’s advanced progress in devolution compared to other English regions, Beaden recognised the amplified strength that comes from presenting as “one voice”, particularly when most cities share common goals.
“In Greater Manchester, we say we ultimately want a greener, fairer and more prosperous place, but so does Liverpool and so does Leeds and Newcastle. We’ve all got the same goals and objectives. Fintech North is a great example of us coming together and having a one voice that is way more powerful.
“Take Money 20/20 – when on a stand next to some of the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it can be difficult to be noticed when you’re a city region. As a northern contingent, we were a much more powerful proposition together.”
“Something special to offer”
Dawn Dunn, senior inward investment manager, Invest Newcastle, agreed, while highlighting the benefits of combining each region’s individual strengths.
“To see the impact that we could make as the ‘northern region’ in Amsterdam was great, you could see the difference that it makes together. Yes, we’ve all got plans and initiatives, and good universities, but if you look at all the ingredients that go into a cake, they’re basically the same however not all cakes taste the same.
“That’s what it feels like with the regions – we’ve all got that difficult to quantify ingredient that makes a difference, we’ve all got something special to offer, but collectively, we’re much stronger when selling ourselves overseas.”
“Opportunities on our doorstep”
According to ecosystem facilitator FinTech North, the North – “everything south of Scotland and north of Sheffield” – has around 400 fintechs and generates over £2.5billion to the economy every year.
It highlights the different strengths in each region as: Liverpool – wealthtech and insurtech; Greater Manchester – payments and e-commerce; and Leeds – banking, regtech and lending. The North East is described as “an innovation corridor between Newcastle and Durham” with an “emerging specialism” in payments.
“We should be proud of that,” said Joe Roche, engagement manager, at Fintech North.
“When an Atom bank goes into Durham or a Starling goes to Manchester, that raises the profile of opportunities that are right here on our doorstep. People do not need to go to London or go to overseas markets to have a great career in fintech which is ultimately what we’re here to profile and celebrate.”
Also at Fintech North’s Leeds conference
The morning session served up a keynote speech from Innovate Finance CEO Janine Hirt on the current state of play of the fintech sector – including the investment landscape and the importance of “effective and fit for purpose regulation.”
She also shared her appreciation for the region.
“There’s so much warmth here in Leeds, paired with a phenomenal entrepreneurialism and mindset. I think that’s one of the real reasons that this is such an incredible hub nationally for financial innovation and payment financial technology.
“We are all going to work together to make sure that you have the framework and you’ve got the environment in place to keep innovating and do what you do, so that financial service is going to be better for everyone.”
Ezechi Britton MBE, CEO, of Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT), also gave a keynote on the success of regional fintech and its role in its coalition-led approach to open finance.
“The desire and need for a more meaningful connection between established financial services firms, fintech startups, scaleups and other sectors is why we are here. We know the multidisciplinary collaborations are key to success in the eyes of the world are upon us in this endeavour.”
Financial inclusion and accessibility was a recurring theme at the conference. As Eve Roodhouse, chief officer, culture and economy for Leeds City Council, acknowledged – “the need to focus on inclusive growth is probably more now than it was five years ago”.
She also highlighted the city of Leeds’ vision to “stimulate innovation which drives and delivers measurable impact towards a healthier and greener and a more inclusive world”.
Jayne Sibley talked about setting up fintech Sibstar to reduce financial vulnerability for people living with dementia, while Neil Harris, chair of the board of directors at the Inclusion Foundation, chaired a panel on financial inclusion and accessibility in fintech and financial services.
On whether central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) can contribute to financial inclusion, Andrew Rabbitt, CEO and co-founder of credit union incuto, drew applause during the conversation for commenting: “It’s all very exciting and new, but I don’t think a digital pound makes much difference to you if you don’t have a pound in your pocket.”
Fintechs from the North East including Atom bank and Kani will be hitting the stage at Fintech North’s Newcastle Conference 2023 on 20 July 2023.