Can Berlin Trump London in Fintech?

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28th Jul 2016




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Will Berlin take over London as the FinTech capital of the world? The world of fintech is buzzing about Brexit and Berlin's attempt to lure startups and financial services companies to the continent. 

Now in it’s third year, this was one of the hot topics at London FinTech Week, which has become a key date in the calendar for anyone working in the ever-expanding fintech industry. The focus is on bringing the fintech community together to discuss trends, new initiatives, regulation and disruptive technology. As the organisers say, they “enhance the dialog between between established multi-nationals, innovation firms, disruptive start-ups, governments, media and investors”.

Throughout the week talks focused around payments, banking, insurance, capital markets, data security and blockchain. London's position as a strong base for innovation was evident as new start-ups had the chance to pitch during the ‘meet the innovator’ slots. Numerous established and aspiring fintech companies showcased blockchain solutions and crowdfunded projects, but there was definitely an elephant in the room.

That elephant was Brexit. Conversations on the implications Brexit poses and whether it means fintech startups will start migrating elsewhere were the real topic of conern among panelists and startups alike. Eileen Burbidge from Passion Capital stressed how London will remain the Fintech capital of the world despite the recent changes.

But Cornelia Yzer, the hard charging Senator for Economics, Technology and Research in the government of the state of Berlin, made an interesting and insightful speech about Berlin’s growing fintech community and how theincreasing amount of funding opportunities are attracting many new startups. Will fintech companies start migrating to Berlin? What about Amsterdam?

Alongside Brexit, RegTech was a topic high on the agenda and was repeatedly bought up on various panel discussions. Christopher Woolard, The FCA’s Director of Strategy and Competition, stressed that despite Brexit, commitment to innovation and competition was still high on the regulatory agenda. He confirmed that European legislation still applies to financial firms in the UK and people shouldn’t expect this to change in the near future. He also addressed the FCA’s relatively new initiative ‘Project Innovate’ and stressed how the FCA will continue supporting start-ups through these platforms - an encouraging speech for startups from one of the leading regulatory authorities

Whether London, Berlin or Silicon Valley, blockchain inititiaves take centre stage as a leading disruptive technology. The possibility of smart contracts and distributed ledgers to help make major savings in both efficiency and cost resonate globally. However, the issue was raised around governance models and how this needs to be addressed and changed to become more adaptable to new technologies.

Sean Murphy, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, discussed how long-term contracts are quite often inefficient and pretty impossible to predict - with long-term outcomes posing difficulties when implementing blockchain technology. There was a general sense of both excitement and uncertainty surrounding blockchain, we know it’s a potentially game-changing technology for the financial world, but regulatory and implementation risks continues to be at the forefront of discussions.

For London and Berlin, the conversation comes down to competition - will Berlin's attempts to woo the financial community to the heartland of Europe bear fruit? Much of this depends on what Brexit looks like after Article 50, so for the moment the industry watches, waits, and continues to build.