Who’s who in Irish fintech? Elaine Burke takes a walk through the start-ups, supports, big players and major funders.
As with many a business buzzword, ‘fintech’ has been defined loosely by a number of brands trying to fit its trendy form. At its strictest, fintech is the domain of start-ups and technology pioneers – the category of the disrupter, not the disrupted.
But no sector lives in isolation and the broader ‘fintech ecosystem’ is one in which the traditional players and the emerging new services collaborate and compete. This ecosystem also pulls in old hands and new thinking from academia, support from Government agencies and grassroots movements, and oversight from regulatory bodies.
IDA Ireland positions Ireland as the European location for fintech and blockchain, highlighting the presence of more than 400 financial services companies employing more than 40,000 people and a technology sector employing more than 105,000 people as core reasons for this. Newer players on the scene are documented in the Fintech Ireland Map, last updated in March 2019, which namechecks the array of indigenous fintech companies in Ireland.
Indeed, the Irish fintech ecosystem is vast and thriving. To map it wholly would be an ongoing task considering the speed at which new companies are emerging. As it stands, here’s a brief overview.
Major financial firms
Ireland has a history with financial services firms. While not quite London city, Dublin’s IFSC has had its fair share of major players put down roots, and Brexit uncertainty has prompted a further flourish in this area.
A stroll through this city docklands area could take in the Irish offices of Citi, AIG, JP Morgan, State Street, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Equifax, SIG and BNP Paribas, among others. Nestled among them is Silicon Docks, home to some of the world’s biggest tech brands (as well as some that are lesser-known but just as ambitious).
Deutsche Bank is a stone’s throw away to the north of the city, while Mastercard and Bank of America Merrill Lynch have their bases to the south in Leopardstown. The IFSC is also home to some of the world’s biggest names in consulting – Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and Accenture – with EY located in the city centre.
Big names in insurance, Allianz and Zurich, also keep a Dublin operation, but not all financial services activity is in the Republic’s capital. Fidelity Investments and MetLife have spread their operations across the island with offices in Dublin and Galway, while Northern Trust maintains sites in Dublin and Limerick. The tech arm of an insurance giant, Liberty IT, is based in both Belfast and Dublin, while Pramerica chose the leafier Letterkenny for its Irish base, which provides technology and business services and solutions to US-headquartered Prudential.
Incubators, accelerators and investors
Just last month it was announced that Dublin will be one of two key locations for the global NadiFin fintech accelerator programme, with support from Enterprise Ireland and the Fintech & Payments Association of Ireland. The NDRC has a history of supporting early-stage fintechs, counting Chasing Returns and Trezeo among its most successful graduates. Originally a Dublin-centric accelerator, NDRC has since spread activities to Galway and Waterford.
Dublin docklands’ Dogpatch Labs has gone down the collaborative route with Ulster Bank-led fintech hackathons. Bank of Ireland also tried the route of reaching out a hand of friendship to entrepreneurs with its Startlab network, while KBC recently opened up an API developer portal to invite innovation. AIB, on the other hand, has gone the way of acquiring the fintech it fancies.
VC investment for fintechs in Ireland feeds in from Atlantic Bridge, Delta Partners and Frontline Ventures, among others.
Innovation labs and research centres
Mastercard’s Dublin office is the global headquarters of Mastercard Labs, the company’s research and development arm, while Aon has located its Centre for Innovation and Analytics (ACIA) here. Dublin is also one of the selected locations for a Citi Innovation Lab and Fidelity Labs.
Again, Dublin has the largest stake in the game but activity is happening elsewhere. US payments firm First Data opened recruitment for its Tipperary R&D centre last year.
Our small island also has a strong academic network of universities and institutes of technology, and further expertise to support fintech innovation stems from its research centres. There’s the Science Foundation Ireland-backed Insight Centre for Data Analytics, which spreads itself across universities in Dublin, Cork and Galway; Adapt, a centre of excellence for digital content; Waterford’s TSSG, the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group; and FMC2, the Financial Mathematics and Computation Research Cluster between Dublin and Maynooth.
Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland have put their support behind CeADAR, Ireland’s centre for applied AI, as well as IC4, the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce. Enterprise Ireland also supports the even more niche venture of GR3C, the Governance Risk and Compliance Competence Centre seeking out innovative solutions in regtech. And we also have the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) under the aegis of NUI Galway, which is spurring Ireland’s efforts in advanced technical computing and data management.
Silicon Republic editor John Kennedy already boasted of many of Ireland’s homegrown fintech successes earlier this week, namely Fexco, Monex, Prepaid Financial Services, Touchtech Payments, CurrencyFair, Fenergo and TransferMate.
The aforementioned Fintech Ireland Map lists heaps more fintechs across Ireland in areas spanning credit and lending, currency and foreign exchange, payments, funds and trading, cryptocurrency and blockchain, saving and investing, insurance, financial operations (FinOps), accounting, regtech, platforms and more.
Irish regtech has shown strength with leaders such as Gecko Governance and AQMetrics. We’ve not been slow to catch on to the hottest fintech trend either. This week sees Blockchain Ireland host a week dedicated to this community and, last week, the Inspirefest 2019 audience heard from Niall Dennehy of Aid:Tech who previously spoke with Siliconrepublic.com about the challenges of shaping an Irish blockchain start-up with major international ambitions.
Alongside the Irish-founded Ding, crypto-unicorn Circle, Northern Ireland’s First Derivatives, recently acquired Rockall and world-ranking Corlytics are the scaling US fintechs moving into Ireland: Yapstone, ConsenSys and not to mention the return of Ireland’s prodigal fintech, Stripe.
The ecosystem of 2019 is different to that which led the Collison brothers to found their multibillion-dollar fintech in Silicon Valley. One would hope that the next Irish fintech success will have what it needs to remain, not return.