London: leading from the centre?

My recent (13 Sept ’15) article for the Sunday Telegraph for the start of FinTech Week:

This is London, the greatest city in the world. And this is Fintech Week, so you’ll be expecting me to tell you that London is the fintech capital of the world too.


It isn’t, not yet. But it’s working on it. In my view – formed at 30,000 feet as I shuttle over the Atlantic between the two – London’s fintech ecosystem is within one round of IPOs and exits – perhaps within three to five years – from having the sort of self-renewing ecosystem that New York enjoys.

London, of course, sits in the middle of everyone’s day. The City has always thrived from working in New York’s morning and Tokyo’s afternoon. That’s why so many of the main players in retail banking globally locate strategic functions the Square Mile and Canary Wharf. London’s fintech community has a strong market on its doorstep.

So London is particularly strong in enterprise, b2b software, such as trading platforms as well as the more commonly understood facets of fintech, such as alternative finance (crowdfunding with debt and equity) and payment systems. And the entrepreneurial community that sustains the community is large and growing too. A lot more venture-capital is flowing into fintech, not only from Europe but increasingly from the US. Much of my day job is helping connect US money with British enterprise, and vice-versa.

London’s culture is changing, too. Something of the American can-do spirit is wafting in with the red-eye. Launching a start-up is seen as the way to go for the bright graduates who might, even only 10 years ago, have looked at investment banking, law or the accountancy firms as being the only respectable outlets for their talents. Increasingly, the brightest and the best are to be found in Shoreditch lofts, not City towers. There are a huge number of early-stage companies bursting with ideas and innovation. In ambition and energy, London and New York are neck and neck.

Where New York pulls away, though, is at the next stage of a company’s life. Put simply, New York has many more people who’ve been there, done that, made their money and are ready to invest in and guide the next generation. It has more angels, more non-execs, a much deeper and broader pool of expertise and capital on which infant companies can draw.

That’s why London needs to get some more deals away, to float (or sell at a hefty premium) a phalanx of fintech ventures. That’s when the system will replicate itself and grow to maturity.

Even then, both cities may never catch Silicon Valley, the third point of my personal transatlantic triangle. Take bitcoin: the Valley has (from what I’ve seen) at least 10 times more money invested in the technology, and thus a proportionate amount of the global blockchain talent. It’s building the best consumer-facing fintech companies in the world.

London, though, has its own strong, collaborative community. It’s stronger in fintech than any other sector. As Singapore and other locations start to ramp up, it remains a world leader, and the most exciting place to work.




One of the key learnings that I have had from spending time in the US tech ecosystems is that community is key. You can’t fake it – those people who are passionate about the community, connectivity and fostering network growth tend to be exponentially more successful than those who are not.

Take Eddie George and the NewFinance organisation, for example. From the early days of the FinTech movement in London, Eddie’s grassroots organisation has done a tremendous job at pulling the community together. Unsurprisingly, that model has easily transcended our borders and moved successfully around the world.  Well done Eddie for having that vision!

I have long held the view (based in large part on what I have seen in the US) that lawyers can not only sit at the heart of an ecosystem but they can do a lot to pull it together. That happens a lot in the US but not so much over here. We see the funds that are set up (and act for them as they deploy capital), we work with companies throughout their life cycles and then we also have an active overview of the M&A/IPO landscape.

Over the last few years, we have been determined to bring a bit of that US mentality to London. I host a monthly Tech CEO dinner (and have recently launched a series of Tech poker nights, which are fun) and most months we get >100 people together for a big event around a current hot topic. The crowds are usually a good mix of companies at different stages and investors.

For our Tech AGM recently, I pulled the list of our London large Tech events from the last 12 months or so:

  • 21 May 2014 – 3D Printing
  • 4 June 2014 – Cyber Security
  • 1 July 2014 – Two sided Innovation
  • 8 September 2014 – Connected Health
  • 9 October 2014 – Optimising Exits and Funding Growth
  • 18 November 2014 – The Internet of Things
  • 7 January 2015 – Connected Health
  • 4 February 2015 – Bitcoin
  • 1 April 2015 – Wearable Tech
  • 6 May 2015 – Robotics
  • 16 June 2015 –Sensory Overload (AdTech meets IoT)
  • 7 July 2015 – Big Data

Next in the calendar:

  • 23 September 2015 – B Rounds, C Rounds and Beyond
  • 10 November 2015 – Meet the FinTech VC

As an aside (and as a comment on the market), our upcoming B Rounds, C Rounds and Beyond event has been our most popular to-date. Within 3 days of the invite going out (mostly to funded execs), we had over 120 acceptances. We’re currently at 170 attendees.

If you are not in the network but would like more connections to interesting execs, companies and investors please do connect, I’d love to help!