OVER half a billion dollars were poured into British financial technology (fintech) companies in the first half of 2017, over a third more than the same period last year, trade body Innovate Finance said on Wednesday, in the latest sign the fast-growing sector is so far weathering Brexit.
UK-based fintech startups pulled in US$564mil of venture capital investment in the first six months of the year, more than half of which came from outside Britain.
That was up 37% from the first half of 2016, and put Britain in third place globally for fintech investment, behind the United States and China.
Some had worried that Britain’s vote last June to leave the European Union would see Britain lose its status as the main European hub for fintech – a sector that ranges from mobile payment apps to digital currencies like bitcoin, and one that the government regards as a key source of economic growth.
The latest figures paint a promising picture, with investment up almost 50% on the second half of last year in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
That still lags 2015, when a record US$676mil was invested in the first half of the year and over US$1.3bil for the entire year. But from July 1 to July 23, the sector has already raised another US$155mil.
“We saw a period of uncertainty over the summer last year but I would say that by around the third quarter, things were starting to recover,” Innovate Finance’s chief financial officer, Abdul Haseeb Basit, tells Reuters.
“Things have slowed but we’ve seen an improving recovery since the referendum last year.”
The government has identified fintech as a priority area, saying it provides 60,000 jobs and contributes around US$9bil to the economy.
Basit says some deals have term sheets that include “Brexit clauses” – contractual provisions that mean investment is contingent on Britain voting to stay in the European Union – that has been triggered after the Brexit vote and mean funding has been pulled, causing concern.
But investors say Britain’s prowess in both conventional finance and technology, as well as light-touch regulation, its pro-business culture and even the fact that it is Anglophone make it difficult for other centres to compete, though many – such as Berlin and Paris – are trying.
Basit says while passporting rights – which give firms licenced in one EU country the right to trade freely in any other – have been a big concern for investors after Brexit, those worries have eased. Even if Britain loses passporting rights, that would affect only 20% of the almost 300 startups that are members of Innovate Finance.
More of a worry, he says, is that access to highly skilled workers will dry up when Britain leaves the EU. Innovate Finance has estimated 30% of the sector’s workers are from overseas, mostly from the European Union. — Reuters
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