By Andrew Jenkins, Fintech Envoy for Northern Ireland
COVID-19 has changed everything, and Fintech is not immune. This week we should have been coming together to celebrate and acknowledge the role that Fintech plays in the economy across the UK with a range of events throughout Northern Ireland. Our focus has rightly shifted, and the global Fintech community is gathering virtually to hear experts cover a myriad of topics through a series of online events.
I am proud that Northern Ireland will feature prominently throughout this in showcasing how the industry is empowering resilience during this current crisis and supporting eventual recovery. Today (30 April) I will host a webinar with senior industry leaders including John Healy OBE, Rose Mary Stalker, Richard Kirk, Alex Lee and William Smyth as we look to the future of Fintech in Northern Ireland. However, there is no doubt the industry is being impacted by today’s crisis – most notably our start-up community.
The analysis from leading economists does not make for pretty reading with many predicting a deep recession. The IMF have predicted the worst global downturn since the Great Depression in 1929. Locally, Ulster Bank’s economist Richard Ramsey has forecast that Northern Ireland’s economy could contract by eight to ten percent in 2020 and described the recovery as “an escalator back up”.
Despite the uncertainty and challenges which many in the industry and wider society will face, there is an opportunity for Fintech to do what it does best and play its part in the economic recovery, speeding the escalator up. Afterall, it’s worth remembering that the rise of Fintech can be traced back to the global financial crisis of 2008.
It is this resiliency, adaptability and innovation that helped to solidify Northern Ireland’s place as a leading global location for Fintech development investment and made it a key driver of the economy. In the times ahead, they will be at the forefront once again.
I have spoken previously of my optimism for the Fintech sector in Northern Ireland. This optimism remains unchanged. Our industry is brimming with talented individuals and companies who are making a difference across the globe. You only have to look at the work which Allstate, Citi, Liberty IT, The CME Group, FSCOM and Datactics are doing to see that we are working and succeeding on the world stage.
By sustaining and even creating jobs, the Fintech sector will remain a crucial tenet of the Northern Ireland economy. It is important that our Minister’s speak confidently about Fintech in Northern Ireland as they seek to attract investment. Indeed, in March, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced the establishment of a new Fintech centre in Belfast by Atlanta-headquartered risk management firm Riskonnect and the creation of 100 jobs. The Northern Ireland Executive has also pledged its commitment to further supporting cyber security and artificial intelligence (AI).
These are welcome and positive announcements, and ultimately a further vote of confidence in our global reputation as a centre of excellence for financial technology.
Right now, the number one priority is the health and wellbeing of our local communities; but we must also be prepared to address the economic health of Northern Ireland which may not be in the best shape, at the appropriate time. As Fintech Envoy, I will continue to work with the UK Government, the NI Executive and industry to embed Fintech in economic development programmes and ensure that Northern Ireland is the best place in the world to start and build a Fintech company.