Earlier this year, Wealthify’s CEO, Richard Theo, was named by the UK government as the new fintech envoy for Wales. He tells us why he is excited by the appointment and his plans for helping the Welsh fintech sector thrive.
Why did you take the new appointment?
I’ve lived in Wales since I was 18, which is more years than I care to state the number of. The Welsh people are quite passionate people, and I am very passionate about trying to make Cardiff and Wales successful, because for many years the people who run the country have been focused on the wrong thing – bringing jobs into the country, rather than bringing successful entrepreneurs in. Entrepreneurial businesses spin off not just profit and money, which is retained and helps the economy, but they spin off more entrepreneurs, and the ripple grows.
I’m not paid for the role, but I took it because it’s an honor that the government has asked me to and I believe I can make a difference.
What are your objectives?
The treasury of the UK government launched their industrial strategy, and part of that was a fintech sector strategy. One of their strategies was to appoint six regional fintech envoys, because they realised that, today, 80% of all fintech companies are based in London. That shouldn’t be the case, because 80% of all the wealth and people are not in London. The role of the regional fintech envoys is to try and help those regions stimulate fintech success, and I’ve been lucky enough to be offered the change to do that for Wales. What I am focused on is to make sure that the ecosystem is perfect, so that when an entrepreneur is at his desk in one of the companies in Cardiff or Swansea etc, or has an idea for a company or a product, he feels like he can walk out of the door and set-up that business to try and make a success of it in Wales. What that person needs is good incubators, hubs and accelerators, where they can go and set their business up and get started. They also need a really good network of mentors they can approach to get advice and guidance from, and sources of funding that they can turn to to scale up and grow.
Is there enough money in the region for this?
One of the questions I get asked a lot is – ‘do we find it hard to get funding in Wales?’ and the answer is, historically, it has been really hard, but actually fintech itself has provided a solution to that problem, as we now have crowdfunding, which is not really tied to a region. You can crowdfund just as easily in Cardiff as you can in Scotland. So that’s one really good thing. But the availability of business angels is also important. We have a business angels network in Wales, perhaps not as strong as elsewhere, but I’m working on helping the government understand how to make sure that those angel networks are functional. So I think that with crowdfunding, angels and the right networks, and, as long as you come to London to pitch, VCs can also be happy to invest if the idea is right and the team’s good.
The other big element to the ecosystem is talent – if you’re going to run a business, you have to have talented people, you can’t do it on your own. Wales now has a very large cluster of successful financial services and fintech companies from which you can find talent. We also have a really strong academic sector – around 70k students come out of just the Cardiff universities, not counting the rest of Wales. So a good supply of graduate talent, much of which would love to stay in this location, but sadly today a lot of them end up moving elsewhere for opportunities and employment. If we have better companies and better startups, then they’ll be able to do those kind of things without leaving. Because ultimately, we have one massive advantage over London, which is we have a really cool lifestyle – you don’t have to travel by tube to get to work, we have beaches and mountains, low cost housing, and a great city with a lot of great things going on – perhaps not as good as London in terms of the arts, but we still have a lot of cultural destinations right here.
Are you trying to attract people from London to relocate?
That can happen. In fact, I can’t mention any names, but some of the scale-up London challenger banks have realised that it’s going to be too expensive to employ 500 or a thousand people in London. So, although they didn’t found their business outside of London, they are now looking at the provinces and their regions to house their operations – customer services, even software development, because they simply can’t recruit enough people at the right cost in London. So we have a lot of those inward investments, as their called, coming to Wales, and of course that’s really good as well because those teams and those operations can spin out entrepreneurs as well, which is a prospect I’m really excited about.