Kalifa review: UK 'needs a wake-up call' over fintech investment

Simon Jack
Business editor
@BBCSimonJackon Twitter

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The UK risks losing its dominance in financial services - unless the government backs one of its most important export industries.

That's according to a major new report on arguably the UK's most globally influential sector: Fintech - the combination of finance and technology.

Ron Kalifa, the chairman of upstart-turned-giant Worldpay was tasked with drafting a report on how the UK could (and should) reinforce its leading position in financial innovation by accelerating investment in fintech.

While the UK continues to beat European competition in attracting new investment, he reported an uncomfortable truth.

Of new financial companies selling shares to fund expansion and innovation in fintech, the US-based Nasdaq index attracted 40% of new listings compared to just 5% for the UK.

His recommendations include:

  • Launching a fintech growth fund, which UK pension funds would be free to invest in to stop early stage companies selling to rich foreign competitors too soon
  • Setting up a new retraining programme, which would see further education colleges offering short courses to help workers get to grips with new, essential tech skills
  • Developing 10 new fintech "clusters" located across the UK
  • Enabling high-growth companies to keep special shares, which would leave founders in control even if they sell majority stakes on. This is common in the US but against UK rules

This reboot of UK finance is essential according to Martin Mignot, a major investor in some of the UK's most celebrated and valuable start-ups.

He is a senior partner at investment firm Index Ventures, which has invested in companies like Deliveroo and Transferwise from inception to imminent multi-billion pound public share sales (IPO listings).

He warns that the UK and London should not be complacent about their place in the financial world: "The UK needs a wake-up call.

"There was a time that setting up new fintech businesses in the UK was a no-brainer, but the UK is falling down the pecking order - in part thanks to Brexit.

"There will be major IPOs of shares coming up, which will be seen as huge UK successes but the reality is these companies are 10 to 15 years old and were set up by non-UK founders," he says.

London was recently overtaken by Amsterdam as Europe's biggest centre for trading European company shares. That business is a small fraction of the total trading done in London, but European hubs and regulators are keen to prise more financial business away from the UK post-Brexit.

UK regulators are pessimistic that the European Union (EU) will agree to recognising UK rules as "equivalent" to rules within the trading bloc, which is likely to see more business leak out of London to subsidiaries of global banks, which have moved to the EU.

Influential bosses, including Barclays's chief executive Jes Staley, have told the BBC that the real competition is from the US and Asia.

Ron Kalifa would say, wherever it's coming from, the UK needs to be vigilant and proactive in defending a sector which makes up 10% of the UK's gross domestic product and pays 12% of all of its taxes.

The report comes ahead of the chancellor's Budget speech next Wednesday, which is expected to highlight the government's determination to be at the forefront of innovation.

As one Treasury official said: "The timing of the Kalifa report is not an accident."

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