Alastair Lukies CBE was in conversation with Charlotte Crosswell, CEO Innovate Finance. They look at how UK fintechs have been impacted by Covid-19, the government response to date and longer term opportunities for UK fintechs through international expansion and collaboration.
2008 was just a warm up act compared to 2020
One of the constant comparisons when analysing Covid-19 has been to reference the challenges during and after the financial crash of 2008, but as Charlotte highlights in this fireside chat, that felt like more of a warm up act. This is something that is impacting all of the world’s major economies at once, with little warning and in a very short period of time.
No one is exempt and everyone will be affected in some way. whilst there is an incredible amount of work going on around the globe to expedite the development and production of a vaccine, the reality is that until there is one, or we reach herd immunity, this is something we are going to have to live with and adapt around. So it is not as simple as restoring consumer confidence, this is going to involve consumers and businesses adapting to the new normal. We are only just at the start of this.
“In 2008 the world did not stop as it has during Covid-19 – so what we do to kickstart all businesses again is completely unprecedented.”ALASTAIR LUKIES
Alastair highlighted the increased focus on the critical role of Financial Services – but acknowledges the need for collaborative working to see it through and to resist the temptation to play the blame game, which, thankfully, people have done during this difficult time.
A crisis teaches all entrepreneurs a lesson in flexibility
During a time of crisis, it’s always fascinating to see how many companies, especially in the Fintech space, can pivot their business model in order to play their role. Fintechs are inherently agile and flexible, cloud native and not encumbered by legacy systems. So they are naturally well positioned to move quickly to respond to changing trends, and in particular the rapid growth in e-commerce. The banks also understand that there is an initial flight to safety made by individuals and have moved incredibly quickly to support customers, with payment holidays and massive increases into frontline resources and customer information.
For the very largest businesses especially those in travel and non-essential retail, revenues have just stopped entirely and that may require financial support beyond what the banks and institutions are able to provide.
“Interesting to see how a company, movement or tribe reacts during the tough times as it purges industries much more quickly than in more prosperous times.”ALASTAIR LUKIES
If you’re running a business that you know can do something better, then you must prove it time and time again, especially during a crisis. Alastair concludes by saying a crisis “really does shine a spotlight on how hand to mouth so many companies are”.
A cooperative nature is needed in the Fintech industry
Alastair acknowledges the brilliant job that the Chancellor has done to date in helping to keep businesses going, welcoming in particular the £1.25bn support package for innovative companies in the UK, which understand and recognise they need to protect in particular ‘Fusion Industries’ such as Fintech, MedTech, GovTech and EDTech in which the UK has made such strides.
“We realise in crises like this that Financial Services are the lifeblood of communities around the world”ALASTAIR LUKIES
As an industry, Fintech as a distinct sector didn’t exist during the last financial crisis, and the Future Fund scheme recognises there are a large number of high quality, fast growth businesses that are not eligible for support through the CBILS as they do not have a long term track record, but have conceived and developed great IP that needs to be scaled and sold around the world.
What will be important is how the scheme is delivered, ensuring the funds are going to growth businesses with genuine long term prospects not just the balance sheets of passive investors.
Alastair argues that all types of investors need to be involved in the process and that this is the time to get creative, by encouraging investment banks and communities to think with open minds about collaboration, mergers and bolt-ons, which in turn will help Fintechs preserve their technology and make sure they do not go bust. Many Fintechs have seen investment from serial entrepreneurs and family offices in recent years, so it will be important that all private investors are able to access the matching scheme, not just venture capital firms.
The UK has the standards for building bridges and the globalisation of Fintech
The crisis is likely to have a seismic impact on globalisation and international collaboration,
as asset managers and insurers look for innovation, the UK has the opportunity to expand globally. One issue is that the markets have tightened, and investors are going to be much more cautious, creating an immediate issue for those who need to raise sooner rather than later. On a more positive note, deals are still being done, so you can still raise in this environment, as Stripe and Robin Hood have shown.
Britain has already built great bridges to help reach new markets and build globally connected Fintech ecosystems and this international cooperation needs to be pursued more so than ever to help maintain these links during economic uncertainty. This is very much a call to arms for the UK to use this time to create something that can be exported to the rest of the world and Fintech should be a significant part of this.
Alastair sees particular opportunity in markets such as Canada and further investment in Africa, but highlights that there’s not a “one size fits all approach”. Over the past 12 years or so, Fintech has really influenced financial services, but the years ahead, Alastair believes, will be the most exciting.
One thing that really excites Alastair is how ‘the British approach’ to the fourth industrial revolution is setting global benchmarks:
“It’s about collaboration, the rule of law and the high standards that the city of London has set and how the rest of the world look to the UK more than ever during a time of crisis.”ALASTAIR LUKIES
Never waste a crisis
The biggest struggle for any new business at the moment is going to be liquidity, but it is important to ensure that the excellent government support packages are used to identify the best support for each business, whilst looking at the businesses’ cash situation and speaking to current investors. It is also key for any new business or entrepreneur to be thinking about both the immediate changes to the landscape and the mid to long term as well.
Many businesses pivot quickly to serve the changing needs of customers right now, and in the mid-term, many societal changes such as working from home and low touch businesses will remain. So to succeed, businesses will need a combination of resilience and agility, whilst making sure important aspects such as mental health do not take a back seat when stress levels can be at their highest.
The UK Fintech ecosystem remains revered around the world and will continue to be a global leader in innovation, emerging to fight the good fight. Fintech was born out of the last financial crisis and is by its very nature adaptive and fast moving.
“Whilst the spotlight on Financial Services becomes even more intense in crises and financial crashes, it also reinforces how important the sector is to society and the economy”ALASTAIR LUKIES
For any Fintech founders out there, the key piece of advice Alastair could give is to “never waste a crisis”. At this point in time, the world is taking a breath, but it should not be forgotten that failure is not the end, that attempting to build a business is the bravest thing you can do. This important period should be used by all founders to reach out across the sector for mutually beneficial collaboration, and to help the economy get back on its feet as fast as possible.
Alastair Lukies CBE
Prime Minister’s business council, chair of Africa Fintech board, inaugural chair of Innovate Finance, Chair of Fintech Alliance, founder and CEO Pollinate
Founder of Monitise in 2003 and recognised as a ‘Technology Pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum, Alastair was appointed as a Business Ambassador to the Prime Minister for the financial services industry in 2014.
Alastair was awarded a CBE for services to mobile banking and charity in June 2014, and was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2011 Growing Business Awards. Alastair was also a co-founder of epolitix.com, the portal for Westminster, Whitehall and the devolved institutions.
CEO at Innovate Finance
Charlotte is CEO of Innovate Finance, the independent industry body for the UK Fintech sector. Charlotte has over 20 years financial services experience including CEO, Advisor and Non-Executive Director of trading platforms, government advisory boards, clearing houses, Fintech companies and financial services lobbying groups.