BELFAST could become the UK’s next fintech hub thanks to the Brexit effect, insiders have predicted.
Low overheads, a steady stream of tech graduates and access to the European Union have been cited as some of the reasons behind Northern Ireland’s recent fintech boom, which has seen a number of peer-to-peer lending platforms and service providers set up in Belfast.
P2P research firm Orca, P2P-facing broker Clearpath Finance, crowdfunding platform CoFunder and SME lender Linked Finance have all chosen to base their headquarters in Belfast, while US-based fintech firm Hanweck has also chosen to have its European headquarters in the city.
Earlier this year, a KPMG report suggested that Ireland’s burgeoning fintech sector could “significantly benefit” from Brexit. Anna Scally, a partner at KPMG Ireland, said that both Ireland and Northern Ireland are “well-positioned to serve as a springboard to the vast European market.”
“We spotted a number of possibilities in Belfast,” said Rob Cooper, co-founder of Automate Tech, an automation company which has its headquarters in Belfast. “It has a land border with Ireland and into the EU, and there is a lot of American business into Dublin.
“Belfast has two airports, easy access, good infrastructure in terms of the investment in the city. Good quality universities, all the things you would want. And the overheads are somewhat significantly less than you’d find in London.”
In the aftermath of the referendum, a number of fintech firms have begun to look beyond London, with Berlin, Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Dublin proving to be the most popular choices. Earlier this year, the PPRO Group announced plans to leave London for Luxembourg, while WB21, BrickVest and Swissbank moved from London to Berlin late last year.
However, Belfast has the advantage of being an English-speaking country with easy access to both the UK and the EU, and a raft of emerging tech talent.
Jordan Stodart, co-founder of Orca, said that a “big consequence” of Brexit is the free flow of talent from EU companies to the UK.
“Considering the part ‘tech’ plays in fintech, Belfast could become a pivotal city for fintech as the quality of tech graduates, and their value for money, is quite considerable,” he said. “If the fintech capital of the world, London, can’t attract EU-wide talent due to Brexit, then Belfast could really become a top hunting ground for fintech workers.”
Stodart relocated from Scotland to Northern Ireland to set up Orca, and he is optimistic about the potential of the province. “I think there are two primary factors attracting fintech companies to Belfast,” he said. “Firstly, it’s a very cost-effective city to run a business, particularly a start-up where keeping it lean is important. And secondly, the tech talent in Belfast is second to none.”
“We were surprised at how much is happening in Belfast,” added Cooper. “It’s unrealistic to think that it could compete with London or the Northern Hub, but if you look at the geopolitical risk and the fact that the DUP have agreed what would be a substantial investment into Belfast, plus the fact that it might be the only member of the UK with a soft border to the EU, this opens up a number of possibilities.”