Can Britain Lead the World in Financial Technology?

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According to Ashok Vaswani, the Barclays UK chief executive, the United Kingdom needs to work vigorously to preserve its place at the heart of the growing fintech sector of the world.

He states that Britain “has a lot going for it: a supportive regulatory environment, VC [venture capital] funding, and a supportive legal system. All these things allow fintech to flourish. But we are not alone.

“We’ve all got to put our shoulders to the wheel. We need to work hard to maintain our position, investing in digital infrastructure, digital identities and rules and regulations around digital etiquette. These are the building blocks we need to put in place because we need to bring the nation with us.”

It is this understanding of the significance of digital innovation that has prompted Barclays to sponsor, for the second year running, The Telegraph Future of Fintech conference.

The conference that was held last September 28 was a chance for C-suite stakeholders to talk about the real economic impact of fintech alongside what it will take to make sure that London claims its dominance as a flagship global capital for investment, growth, and talent in this industry.

Vaswani states: “We have traditional competitors like the US, but there is also a lot of fintech activity happening in India, Estonia, Singapore and South Korea. They are all realising that they can’t afford to lag behind.

“Whatever happens after Brexit, the UK has to be sure it can still attract the best talent. Fintech experts need to be able to call the UK home and to feel welcome here.”

The age of opportunity

For the 327-year-old bank, Barclays, the pace of change that is driven by a disruptive fintech industry is a challenge and, at the same time, an opportunity.

“Everything is moving so, so fast that it is impossible for anyone to know everything that is going on,” Mr Vaswani says. “But we are well positioned to see new ideas emerging from around the world, and we both partner with and compete with other fintech companies to give our customers the best possible experience.”

In the United Kingdom, the Eagle Labs programme of Barclay grants the bank access to new businesses in the initial stage, while its new Rise HQ that is located in London is the biggest fintech co-working space of Europe.

“While we help smaller businesses, we can leverage this technology with our customer base on our platforms,” says Vaswani.

It is partnerships such as this that paved the way for Barclays to execute the first blockchain trade finance transaction on the fresh platform from Wave which is part of the Barclays accelerator programme.

The fintech conference came as the finance industry is experiencing two huge challenges, brought about by the introduction of the European Union Second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) open-banking regulations and new regulators of the Europe-wide data protection that will affect the relationships that the banks hold with their consumers.

“This is all new. There is no proven path we can go down. We must work together to ensure we get this right,” said Vaswani.

“For our fintech strategy to work we have to be entirely committed to making our customers’ lives easier and identifying opportunities to help the customer to manage their finances in the easiest way,” Vaswani adds.

“When it comes to fintech, it’s important to remember it is all about the customers. They do not care about something called PSD2 – they just want us to make their experience better.”