By Andrew Jenkins, HMT FinTech Envoy for Northern Ireland
An uncertain investment landscape is a legacy of the pandemic not even the most active technology hotspots could avoid. Many industries remain in a temporary stasis, while others have bolstered their position in this post-Covid world.
Just as people’s lifestyles and priorities have undoubtedly been altered, the past eighteen months triggered a shift right across the economy. Progressing from the ‘response’ to ‘recovery’ phase, the local economy has reached an inflection point as new patterns of trade and investment emerge.
The ability of fintech to adapt and overcome when the world’s economies grind to a halt was first displayed during the 2008 recession and again as we navigated the challenges of Covid-19. Despite no longer being in survival mode, cashless payments, mobile remittance apps and digital-only banking are trends that are here to stay.
But just as the digital world of fintech carved out a promising future during one of the most arduous economic climates, Northern Ireland has the potential to shape its own future as a thriving global investment hub home to world-renowned business clusters.
The sense that we have reached an economic tipping point is reflected in the recent ‘Reset for Growth’ report published by the Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission. With a range of propositions to revitalise the future economy, it sets out how Belfast can up its game in supporting trade and investment to capitalise on trade advantages and make the region more globally relevant.
The Commission is clear that our existing attributes must be rapidly scaled, and I was thrilled to see fintech recognised among the unique sectoral specialisms through which we can achieve a more successful, sustainable, and equitable future.
Setting a clear direction for skills and infrastructure development in the tech and digital sectors, the reset plans rightly focus on areas of industry with the proven resilience and capacity to drive city growth.
Employees are the oxygen of the workforce, and as an innovative and growing area of industry, the fintech sector needs a constant supply of highly skilled individuals to feed growing demand. Over recent years we’ve seen how partnership between higher and further education and industry can create new talent pipelines and increase the supply of talent into the sector.
While more needs to be done on the ‘supply side’, there is also work for the sector to do to create greater awareness of the broad range of roles available that make for an attractive and fulfilling career option.
If Northern Ireland is to truly reset for growth, gaps in our skills pipeline, digital infrastructure and levels of R&D investment must be addressed. Though the entrepreneurial spirit to get start-ups off the ground and engaging in active innovation does exist locally, early-stage companies require nourishment, and we must get better at signposting to finance opportunities.
As the world’s number one destination for fintech development investment projects, Northern Ireland is sitting on an industry with the momentum and potential to spur an economic revival. To use the words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his recognition of Northern Ireland’s centenary year, the ‘world-class fintech industry’ is proving itself as integral to our viability as a centre of global excellence in innovation.