Could Dublin become a living lab for fintech?

26 Sep 2018

Grand Canal Dock at night. Image: Julia Diemmer/Shutterstock

Disruption in areas such as blockchain that is researched, tested and proven in Dublin could be a game-changer, muses John Kennedy.

Last week, Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Adapt Centre revealed a new €5m fintech research programme called FinTech Fusion, which aims to encourage breakthroughs in the three areas of paytech, regtech and insurtech technologies.

Through this, FinTech Fusion proposes to accelerate scientific progress and enable data-driven research into key areas such as big data and blockchain.

‘Fintech is the marriage between finance and technology, and offers huge growth opportunities for Ireland both in research reputation and economic impact’

Focusing on the aforementioned three areas, FinTech Fusion’s research programme will address how financial technology is disrupting and transforming businesses from financial institutions to technology companies, along with the retail and wholesale financial sector.

Crucially, this will enable its researchers to lead on innovations that are capable of creating significant change in financial services, on a global scale. But my instinct tells me that with a lot of fintech things happening in Dublin, the city could or should become a living lab for innovation.

Building breakthroughs

Three men in suits, one holding a computer while another tosses coins in the air.

From left: Prof Vincent Wade, director and CEO of the Adapt Centre; Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe, TD; and Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI. Image: Paul Sharp/Sharpix

The proof of the pudding for FinTech Fusion will no doubt be in the form of technological breakthroughs. Another barometer of success will be start-ups and spin-outs that could emerge, or FDI investments that roll into Dublin on account of said talent.

And, at a time when the right start-up in an area such as banking or blockchain could become a household name of the future, the endeavour funded by SFI and headquartered at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) could have legs.

This could be especially true of you think of TCD’s ambitions for a €1bn campus that would be located in what will be known as the Grand Canal Innovation District, which will be modelled on innovation districts such as Cambridge Square in Boston. The planners behind the new campus told me recently that they envisage between 400 and 500 start-ups existing alongside multinationals in the same district.

FinTech Fusion, which will be led by the Adapt SFI research centre, could play a vital role if you think of how it could build on the success of the nearby IFSC district in attracting hundreds of financial services firms to these shores since the late 1980s.

As part of the plan, SFI will provide €2m of the funding, with the balance coming from research agreements with industry partners bringing the total project in excess of €5m.

FinTech Fusion’s academic researchers will work together with more than a dozen companies including Deutsche Börse, Fidelity Investments, Microsoft, Gecko Governance, Fineos and Zurich to develop innovations that will have the potential to impact economies, markets, companies and individuals.

It will include researchers from three existing SFI research centres – Adapt, Insight and Lero – as well as from across TCD, University College Dublin, Dublin City University, Dublin IT, University of Limerick and NUI Galway.

“Fintech is the marriage between finance and technology, and offers huge growth opportunities for Ireland both in research reputation and economic impact,” said John Cotter, director of FinTech Fusion.

“This funding allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. In FinTech Fusion, we have brought together leading financial and technology researchers with dynamic industry partners to answer valuable research questions. This will create new opportunities for Ireland, our researchers and our industry partners.”

Being and living digital

The FinTech Fusion plan has inspired an idea in my head. No doubt if Dublin establishes its forte for financial and technological research and breakthroughs due to the work of the existing tech and data community, the results could go beyond jobs and investment. The results could be about solving problems of everyday people and businesses, too. Just a thought.

Dublin has its own share of problems. The promise of prosperity and job creation that initiatives such as the Grand Canal Innovation District could herald – not to mention the massive growth of Google, Facebook and others in the so-called Silicon Docks – risk being tarnished by Dublin and indeed Ireland’s own growing pains in terms of the unresolved accommodation crisis. But the property problems besetting the city are not unique and are all part of a global problem.

Perhaps FinTech Fusion or the various blockchain and financial services organisations arriving in Dublin could also find ways to take the frictions out of growing economies across Europe that are also struggling in the face of spiralling rents and a shortage of accommodation.

Potential ideas could include using blockchain as a way to manage rent for tenants and landlords, or enabling new models for affordable property ownership; or the use of big-data analytics and predictive modelling to ward off future rent spikes or falls in the supply of homes or offices; or indeed, new ways of paying for transport, from public services to vehicle ownership.

In this way, Dublin could become a living lab for testing future finance and tech products and services all designed to take the frictions out of smart city life.

With the creation of FinTech Fusion, TCD’s ambitious plans for an innovation quarter with hundreds of start-ups, and a city with a whole slew of problems to solve, it sounds like the perfect storm to me.

Updated, 8.33am, 26 September 2018: This article was updated to clarify that the FinTech Fusion programme is worth €5m, not €7m; and that TCD plans to build a campus worth €1bn, not $1bn.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years