Turning our backs on a year like no other, we emerge into a world permanently changed by Covid-19. The pandemic has reframed how society behaves and made digital the new norm for how we work, shop and socialise. As the focus shifts to building back the economy, I firmly believe that with the right support our established financial technology (fintech) sector can play an integral part in Northern Ireland’s post-pandemic recovery.
If ever there was a case for supporting fintech innovation and the opportunities that come through jobs, trade and investment, it is clearly spelt out in the Kalifa Review. A Treasury-commissioned independent report, it identifies Northern Ireland as among the top ten UK Fintech clusters and a region with the most potential to grow and develop further.
The Kalifa Review sets a clear trajectory for the future of fintech at a time when forward planning seems otherwise impossible. As the world makes revolutionary advancements in digital adoption, The Review sets out a five-point plan to extend the UK’s edge over other leading global fintech hubs.
I very much welcome the review’s overarching aims of skills and talent, investment and national connectivity. The recommendations provide a firm basis for, and place an onus on, policy makers and industry stakeholders to come together.
We are fast becoming a world leader in financial technology. With a cost-effective infrastructure, strong links with academia and a world-class talent pool, it was no surprise to see Belfast named the world’s number one destination for fintech development investment projects.
More broadly, fDi intelligence places the capital within the top ten European tech cities of the future and MIT Technology Review recently announced the city as the home of its flagship EmTech Europe conference for the next three years.
Delivering the Budget earlier this month, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a series of measures to foster entrepreneurship and deliver the jobs and technology of tomorrow. With further funding for apprenticeships, a scale up visa stream for highly skilled candidates from abroad and support to help firms invest in tech through Help to Grow, the Budget signals a sea change and renewed focus on fintech and innovation within government.
While the political environment in Northern Ireland is equally favourable of the sector, our emergence post-Covid will test that commitment. As policymakers seek solutions to spur new business growth, attract new investment and begin the long road to economic recovery, now is the time to invest in skills and talent. We must also continue to support our existing strengths and areas of excellence across the sector and take an entrepreneur-focused approach to developing our start-up and scale-up community.
And so, it’s with a clear sense of purpose that attention now shifts to developing a three-year strategy. The strategy will be led by the Fintech NI Association, who also commissioned the NI Fintech Ecosystem Report, published in December 2020.
The challenge is how we, with government support, can transform Ron Kalifa’s recommendations into reality in Northern Ireland and capitalise on an industry that has been undergoing its own quiet revolution – making progress in jobs, innovation and competitiveness on the global stage.
To borrow some words from the Kalifa Review, while the UK’s position in fintech is well established, its future is not assured.
We are at an inflection point.
This is a call to action.