Internet impresario Arifa Khan is a fan of GAAP. No, not the American clothing company. GAAP. She defines it as Google, Amazon, Apple, and PayPal, “The Behemoths that rule the internet.” She says they dominate our online lives and are more trusted than other brands. This was how she introduced the latest FinTech Start-up Storm Meetup event – which brings together financial startups and investors in the informal surroundings of Google Campus near Old Street in the heart of London’s tech city.
London is Ground Zero of the financial explosion that is Fintech. Start-ups gravitate to the city because it is one of the three biggest financial hubs in the world, part of the EU, home to 75% of the world’s top 500 companies, and has a convenient time zone for the rest of the world.
Sue Langley, Chief Executive Officer of the UKTI Financial Services Organisation has said, “The UK is fast becoming the destination of choice for any fintech company. The UK government is committed to supporting fintech companies.” A recent government report estimated the fintech market in payments, platforms, software and data analytics to be worth £20 billion to the UK annually.
Arifa Khan who also runs Genius Incubator, introduced the first of three speakers to an audience of start-up entrepreneurs, tech geeks, and investors. He was Mark Bradbury, serial start-up maven and CEO of Apply Financial.
“Who is left handed in the audience?” was Mark’s unusual opening. Only a few people put up their hands. He light-heartedly explained that he had found a greater than average proportion of left-handed people amongst entrepreneurs – he is left-handed himself, so perhaps he is slightly biased.
Apply Financial, he told the audience, is the oil that runs the engine of financial payments. It is not a visible component, but an essential lubricant for the financial world. He explained that often global payments between banks go wrong, and there are serious costs involved in transaction failure. With over 840,000 banks in the world, equivalent to 100 novels worth of information, it is surprisingly easy for a payment to go missing during transactions. At an estimated cost of £40 per mistake, if 1000 payments go wrong that is a loss of 40K to a financial institution; with Apply Financial’s system in place, over 99% of payments will succeed first time.
Mark stressed that his 15 person company worked in a very inclusive, person-centred way. He said that in the past he had managed large corporations with office politics that would make Machiavelli blush, but Apply Financial’s company ethos was different, with empathy for the customer’s needs, clear focus on what should be done, and what he called “Impute” – the belief in the quality of their own products by all staff.
Apply Financial’s system has been very successful and they have taken on board major clients including HSBC, as the business case for not losing money unnecessarily is a pretty strong one.
The second presenter was from what in Internet terms is an ancient monument, dating from 2001 – Sage Pay, one of the premier web payment systems. Sage Pay itself is a giant in the industry, annually making 258 million payments worth £21 billion.
Donna Dobson, UK Marketing Manager, gave an overview of Sage Pay’s 2014 Payments Landscape Report, which reveals emerging industry trends and shopper attitudes towards the latest payment technologies. It also highlights the five areas that savvy fintech businesses should take note of if they are to prosper in a dynamic and changing environment. This is a valuable free insight into the market, downloadable here: http://www.engage.sagepay.com/paymentslandscapedownload-0
The report is based on research into 1000 of Sage Pay’s best businesses, defined as an increase in revenue of greater that 21% in the past year – which by anybody’s standards is a great performance, especially during economic tough times.
The report also looks at businesses who have basically dropped the ball, and how their behaviour differs from the successful ones. For the first time, the research also included 1000 consumers, to give a complementary view and expand the overall picture.
Consumers increasingly demand multiple payment methods, including contactless cards, smartphones and PayPal, and businesses which do not offer these will end up losing sales. The report defines the future as “Omnichannel” that is, a customer can seamlessly find goods in a shop, online, or by any method, and pay for and acquire the item in any manner, with all the retail, warehousing, fulfilment and back office structures of the retailer seamlessly integrated.
This echoed an anecdote told by Mark Bradbury, about how he bought an Apple device by going into the Apple Store and paying by thumbprint using his smartphone; then walked out with the boxed item, apparently his wife worried that they would be accused of shoplifting as they hadn’t been near a till – there weren’t any – or assistant!
Businesses that do not adapt to new methods are clearly losing money and need to be agile. Consumers won’t complain, they will move to more flexible competitors who offer whatever payment system the customer prefers. This was a clear message to new companies to design their systems as “Omnichannel” from the ground up.
The final presenter of the evening was Abhi Balasubramanian, of Liquity, which launched in November 2013, the newest and perhaps the most centrally fintech company at the Start-up Storm.
Liquity is aiming to be a shares trading platform for unlisted tech companies. They give qualified investors access to potentially high-growth private companies, by putting them in contact with existing shareholders. The idea is to let investors get into ground level at what might be the next initial after GAAP – a new Google or PayPal. Or you might lose your shirt, of course.
Liquity makes money by taking a cut of the transaction. There are similar operations elsewhere, but Liquity is aimed at London, which is where the action is in terms of exciting start-ups. It has already raised £320,000 in capital.
Abhi said they had 16 sellers, 76 investors, with a net value of £4 million, and 30 partners, who include valuers, lawyers and other professionals who offer the security that shares offered on the platform would be bona fide investment opportunities and not pipedreams, or worse still scams. This P2P network project has achieved a coveted place in Start-up Bootcamp, so it looks like it is going places.
After the presentations had finished, there was a lively Q & A between the panel guests and the audience chaired by French financial start-up champion Jean Michel who had come over from Paris for the event. The discussion revolved around the disruptive effects of technology, and whether old institutions such as banks could compete with more agile newcomers with different payment methods.
Airbnb and Uber were quoted as prime examples. Smartphone wallet technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and NFC were discussed, although some people present felt that those two had already missed the boat and would be superseded by newer applications.
The next Fintech Start-up Storm event is planned for September 15th, find out more here: