If Irish fintech wants to compete globally, it must look globally – LIBS

23 Oct 2015

The London Irish Business Society (LIBS) was set up to help connect Irish professionals in London and maintain a link between Ireland and its nearby diaspora. We speak with board member Shane Kelly about a new programme for the organisation hoping to open doors for Irish fintech start-ups in the English capital.


Now well into its sixth year, LIBS has been hard at work of late. A few weeks ago it partnered with Enterprise Ireland to create a programme to complement the Irish government’s IFS2020 strategy.

Bringing together six “high-potential” start-ups from Enterprise Ireland’s ‘fintech cluster’ and setting them up with meetings with UK-based senior executives, it was the culmination of a lot of planning and perhaps best reflects LIBS’ activities.

But, is it having an impact? The answer to that is quite evident, according to Kelly.

Is this the first LIBS fintech mentoring programme for Irish start-ups? How did the idea come about and how did the programme go?

This was our first such initiative, and its origins stem from a remark made at one of our events back in late 2013 by our speaker John Moran, who was then secretary-general of the Department of Finance.

Moran commented that with over half of our members involved in either finance, law or other professional services, we should be making a more active contribution to help Ireland remain competitive in the international financial services marketplace.

So, inspired by that challenge, we took it upon ourselves to submit a letter to the Department of Finance and An Taoiseach with some suggestions on areas of international best practice and emerging market interests.

Can you name the six start-ups that took part in your recent ‘City of Insights’ programme?

There are some commercial confidentialities around the full list of participants but several well-known companies [on the] scene were involved, including RiskSystem, Viclarity, Fundcalcs and FundRecs.

 What kind of outcomes have these companies had from the programme? Have any deals been done or partnerships agreed?

We titled this project ‘City Insights’, and that was exactly our ambition starting out – a short and sharp two-way view both on the companies’ proposition, focus areas, operational structure and routes to market as well as feedback on current trends and business drivers from London.

Although the UK is Ireland’s nearest neighbour, it is a very different and dynamic market and this programme aimed to accelerate the ‘market readiness’ of the companies involved.

In doing so, we brokered over 100 introductions between these start-ups and UK-based Irish execs, and a couple of pilot agreements with top-tier institutions are now under development as a result.

By connecting Irish fintech start-ups with what the City of London has to offer, how big is the risk that they may move operations over there?

Five years ago this might have posed more of an issue but if anything this recent Budget has confirmed what we already knew – Ireland is on the up once again and is committed to making the market more attractive to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

There will always be a risk of start-ups relocating but we don’t believe that risk outweighs the benefits of what is to be gained from the experiences of working internationally, and particularly in leveraging the relationship with such a close global financial services centre as London.

This programme has offered Irish start-ups a chance to broaden their horizons; see what London has to offer, learn from the market and take those lessons back home to improve the sector there and their competitiveness internationally.

Expanding into new markets is a cornerstone of success in any industry, not least fintech, which is perhaps the most borderless sector of them all.

Running a business from here comes with greater expense and while capital gains tax in Ireland isn’t as competitive as in the UK, this Budget saw it moving in the right direction. On top of that, the extension of the tax relief for start-ups still makes Ireland an attractive market.

With this in mind, we shouldn’t be afraid of London, we should welcome Irish start-ups experiencing different ways of thinking and conducting business. If Irish fintech wants to compete globally, it must look globally.

Mentoring from these senior officials in London is, of course, very valuable, but are we sustaining Ireland’s fintech future by nurturing expertise of that calibre in our own IFSC?

International collaboration is critical if Ireland is to achieve the ambition of 10,000 new jobs stated in the IFS2020 strategy. With the continued emergence of new competitors to Dublin such as Luxembourg and elsewhere, tapping into the expertise of Irish execs overseas is crucial to ensure an external, global view to help Ireland maintain a competitive edge.

All the advisers that participated in this programme were Irish – many of whom may return to the IFSC or elsewhere in Ireland in future years and bring that expertise with them.

By facilitating programmes such as this, we don’t just want to help support Irish companies active in the UK, but also maintain that link between Ireland and its overseas network.

What are the plans for the mentoring programme in 2016? Will the LIBS programme be launching in other international hubs?

We are already in discussions with Enterprise Ireland’s London office about repeating the programme for 2016, possibly looking at other sectors of the financial services industry.

Minister Harris and his department have also been strong supporters of this project, and we would like to ensure we are aligned to the objectives of the IFS2020 strategy.

There’s no reason why this format wouldn’t work with the diaspora in other countries and I’d certainly be happy to discuss with other international networks on how to structure such a project.

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Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic