In mid September I was fortunate to attend an invitation-only European Digital Banking conference near London, UK, that was one of if not the best FinTech focused event I have been to. My client was invited as one of 6 hand-picked partner companies to sit side-by-side with 50 top digital banking executives from Europe's biggest banks. Her product was a huge hit. But that is not why I feel it was the best.
The firm that put on the event did so with flawless execution. This was clearly not their first rodeo, and they were highly respected by the industry as seen as equals to the clients they attracted. The conversation throughout the 2 days was inclusive, strategic, frank and the ideas openly flowed among all participants. As a "vendor", there representing my client, I never felt out of place among the senior banking executives.
But a flawless event is not what I wanted to write about nor why I think it was the best FinTech event.
I had a few ah-ha moments that I have not had in my Canadian and US financial services focused career.
I think it is fair to say that the UK is a leader in FinTech for all the reasons and advantages people write about - regulatory structure, previous banking issues that have awakened the giants, etc.... But what you cant read in articles or experience until you are physically there is the difference in their awareness of the need to change, progress making a cultural shift within their large organizations, and their collaborative style.
They get it - the established banks and financial services companies understand they need to change, their leadership mindset is there, and they are making the important internal changes to be able to innovate. They don't just have innovation outposts and heads of innovation, not to knock those who do (and I was one) as they are needed. What they have that is different and helping them to make leap-frog progress is leadership at all levels who are embracing change, taking risks (even if it means their job), combining bankers and new tech talent, and working hand in hand with startups to partner as they know its critical. Lloyds for example has multiple project teams with existing employees (they call bankers) and "digital natives" - a "Catalyst Division" - to change the culture. It is training open to all employees. Cool.
No one is perfect - a few EU banks still dominate over many small ones, there are still groups of nay-sayers and there is some innovation theatre going on. But when you sit in a room with 50 banking executives leading digital banking, transformation, and innovation mandates in Europe, and they are mostly humble, open, and transparent - let's call that a "culture" that gets that the big companies need to move faster and collaborate with the new companies - I think that's why the U.K. is in the lead.
Hopefully Canadian financial institutions can make this cultural shift faster among their executives and management team. They need to for the sake of our economy and future. Canada needs both incumbent FI's and new start-ups to succeed and continue to grow.
Sue Britton, CEO & Founder, The FinTech Growth Syndicate