‘The greatest challenge facing fintech companies is regulation’

28 Apr 2017

Alex Lee, fintech investor, board adviser and non-executive chair of FSCom. Image: FSCom

We gain some leadership insights from Alex Lee, the non-executive chairman of FSCom Limited.

Fintech Week

Alex Lee has spent the last 25 years working for a range of global financial services institutions as a strategic adviser or within in-house corporate strategy roles.

Most recently, Lee was a partner at EY in London where he ran the financial services strategy practice for the UK and Ireland. He now works with a range of fintech firms as a board adviser and non-executive director.

Describe your role and what you do.

I work with financial services technology (fintech) companies and firms such as FSCom that service this sector, to develop and execute strategies for success.

At FSCom, I am non-executive chairman, which means I am responsible for corporate governance and oversight of the firm’s strategy for growth in the fintech sector in the UK and Ireland.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I split my time between my base in Belfast, and travelling to both London and Dublin. I spend a couple of days per month with members of the board at FSCom to monitor performance and discuss the progress of strategic initiatives. I travel to London and Dublin twice per month, and use this time to meet with clients and business partners, and attend industry events to promote the firm.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The greatest challenge facing many fintech companies is the sometimes overwhelming burden (and cost) of regulation. Many of these early-stage companies simply do not have the in-house expertise, resources or funds to navigate and comply with the regulatory maze that has developed in financial services markets. Whilst the majority of these regulations are well-meaning and aimed at protecting consumers, they can sometimes have the adverse affect of stifling consumer-focused innovation.

For most British and Irish fintech firms with European aspirations, Brexit is clearly the most immediate and pressing challenge. The prospect that UK-based financial institutions may lose the ability to freely passport their services into the EEA post-Brexit remains a likely outcome. Most financial institutions that are affected are developing Brexit contingency plans and starting to apply for authorisation in another EEA member state. This would then act as their EU HQ post-Brexit, and still allow them the passport. This represents a huge opportunity for Ireland.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

The application of modern technology within the domain of regulatory compliance, or regtech, is a significant area for future growth for FSCom. This is certainly an area within fintech that is attracting a sizeable amount of interest from venture capital firms at present.

I am pleased to say that Ireland is also emerging as a centre of excellence for regtech globally. Regtech solutions are helping fintech firms to meet onerous anti-money laundering requirements when onboarding customers. FSCom’s offering (KYC-Pro) is built by compliance experts who understand, in-depth, the regulatory requirements and industry best practice, which means it is much more future-proof.

Additionally, I see FSCom’s niche fintech expertise as a massive opportunity. As I mentioned, the cost of compliance can be restrictive for early-stage companies, meaning appointing a Top Four consultancy is not an option. As a small organisation, the team at FSCom understands the challenges these business face, and takes a commercial approach to help them grow in a compliant way. It’s one of the things that really attracted me to the company.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

During my early years as a strategy consultant, I was lucky enough to work in a very people-oriented culture that embraced learning, empowerment and excellence in delivery. The experience of working with some of the world’s leading banks based in a variety of the major financial centres across the world instilled within me a sense of perspective and a global outlook that I still carry with me today.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Never assume that a solution that works for one company will necessarily be right for another, even if the problem looks the same. Take each client’s situation as unique, and get to know how a solution needs to be tailored to work for them.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Always strive to hire the very best people you can afford and empower them with more responsibility than is sometimes comfortable.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

During my career, the majority of my most influential mentors and managers have been women. I am a strong advocate of greater diversity in the boardroom as I have seen first-hand how this can lead to better decision-making. Whilst I do not necessarily agree with quotas, some form of positive discrimination is clearly necessary.

Who is your role model and why?

I sought out a career as a professional corporate adviser after watching Sir John Harvey-Jones, ex-chairman of ICI, as ‘The Troubleshooter’ on TV in the 1990s. I was in awe of his ability to dissect a balance sheet so ruthlessly – I still am!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The Trusted Advisor by David H Maister, the bible for anyone seeking to build long-term strategic relationships with their clients.

The Economist’s Style Guide, my constant companion in my desire to write clearly, concisely and correctly.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Half an hour at the start of each day to plan what needs to be achieved. Under-promising and seeking to over-deliver on my commitments to the companies that I work with. Pizza and movie night with the kids on a Friday.

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