NORTHERN Ireland maybe the smallest province in the United Kingdom, but it is punching above its weight in terms of fintech – and peer-to-peer experts are leading the charge.
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.
In addition, P2P property lenders Assetz Capital and Blend Network have made Northern Ireland the focus of their growth plans.
Belfast is already a centre for fintech and some have predicted it will become the UK’s major hub following Brexit. Last year, a report from big four accountant KPMG highlighted the benefits that Brexit could bring to Northern Ireland’s burgeoning fintech sector.
It cited low overheads, a steady stream of tech graduates and access to the European Union as reasons for continued growth.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s property market is also booming despite suffering from the neglect of mainstream lenders.
“Most property lenders are focused on the London market because it’s convenient,” Yann Murciano, chief executive of Blend Network, said.
“They pulled out in places such as Northern Ireland after the 2008 financial crisis and haven’t gone back yet, but paradoxically Northern Ireland is one of the fastest growing UK property markets.”
It is for this reason that Blend Network looks beyond London to places like Northern Ireland for development opportunities, said Murciano.
Assetz has provided more than £26m in peer-to-peer funding in Northern Ireland since opening its office in the province this January.
This includes a mixture of secured business loans, commercial mortgages, bridging loans, property investment loans and development transactions.
The P2P platform expects this to continue and is projecting a further £18.8m worth of deals across Northern Ireland in the second half of this year.
However, the province’s appetite for P2P funding also expects to small- and medium- sized enterprise (SME) finance.
Commercial finance Clearpath Finance works with P2P lenders, private lending consortiums, equity and mezzanine funders from its Belfast office.
Clearpath says aims to bring alternative financing solutions to the Northern Ireland’s small business community.
Whether it is access to fintech firms or prospects for lending in under-served property and SME markets, P2P platforms are gradually grasping the opportunities that Northern Ireland presents.
Read more: P2P industry must look outside of London