By: 23 May 2024

Our reporter shares his thoughts from the eighth annual event

FinTech North’s Leeds conference: a review

Yesterday saw FinTech North host their eighth annual Leeds conference. The event brought together the biggest fintech firms in the north of England, including Whitecap Consulting, Axiologik, Lenvi, and more, to talk about the pressing issues affecting the fintech sector. 

FinTech Intel’s reporter Robert Welbourn attended the event and has rounded up some of the panels and talks he found the most insightful. 

Increasing diversity, accessibility and inclusion in fintech

This panel saw three panelists share some really personal insights into their experiences of being neurodivergent in fintech. Kris Foster, co-founder of Project Nemo, which aims to accelerate disability inclusion in fintech, talked about how he applied for over 200 jobs after being made redundant from his previous position. Because he suffers from Downs Syndrome, he really struggled to find a position. 

Alongside him, Alexandra Greening, the neurodiversity lead at Project Nemo, shared her experiences of being autistic in fintech, and how she had to become an ally to herself in order to succeed; she’s since graduated her Law degree with honours. 

Rachel England, events coordinator at FinTech North, shared her experiences of having a neurodivergent brother, and how that’s impacted her career to date. It was really humbling to hear the panelists share such personal insights, and great to hear how fintech is changing things for the better when it comes to neurodiversity.

The second wave of CX 

Graham Self, principal enterprise architect at Axiologik, delivered a fascinating talk on customer experience. 

He shared some interesting stats around brand loyalty, stating that there’s been a 44% annual increase in people switching banks – showing that brand loyalty in the banking sector is not what it once was. 

He also shared that 16m people use every month, which shows that people are savvy when it comes to their finances, liking to do their own research rather than just blindly trusting institutions. 

Graham said that hyper-personalisation is the way forward; due to the amount of available data there’s no excuse for treating customers as homogenous groups. He also said that it’s no longer possible for banks to simply hook customers in with an anchor product such as a current account, but that they must win over the customer themselves. 

Working at the nexus of academia, financial services and fintech – a fireside chat 

This talk saw Liam Spence, senior vice president of franchise innovation at Mastercard, sit down with John Vardakis, PhD, co-founder of Science Card. 

Science Card is a neo bank that wants to disrupt the banking industry, said Dr Vardakis, in the same way that Tesla disrupted the auto industry: through sustainability. Dr Vardakis is a former researcher at University College London, and it was whilst working there and being forced to apply for funding every few months that he and his fellow researchers decided they wanted to do something to make research funding more viable. 

Science Card are issuers of Mastercard, and through their roundup initiative you can fund lifesaving research using micro donations. Dr Vardakis said that he chose this route because he wanted to democratise philanthropy and access to funding and allow people to make positive change through incremental sacrifice. 

Digital Pound: where are we? And what next? 

Will Lovell, technology advisor for CBDC, data and payments at the Bank of England, spoke about the creation of the digital pound. He said that its existence is vital, not just in order for the government to keep up with the changing financial world, but also as an anchor for confidence in our monetary system. 

He also stated many times, unequivocally, that the digital pound is in no way replacing physical cash but will complement it, and the Bank of England is just as committed to physical cash as it is to digital! 

The digital pound is clearly in the public consciousness at the moment: the government’s consultation on the matter received 50,000 responses – Will said that normally 1,000 would be considered a success! He said that all concerns raised are being factored in, such as making sure the digital pound is private, and that people’s personal financial data is kept secured the same way it is now, and not made readily available. 

Findings and recommendations: scaling UK fintech report summary 

Julian Wells, director at Whitecap Consulting, presented a report that the organisation had produced around how fintechs fare in different areas of the UK.

Whitecap assessed 250 companies with revenues ranging from £624,000 to £25m, stating this band of revenue was chosen because it has the most available data on Companies House. Julian said that, when it comes to scaling, the most successful startups are based in cities, though not necessarily London, and are B2B. Although he did counter this last by saying that, despite B2C companies finding it harder to secure funding, they often grow faster once they have. 

Perhaps the most telling part of the research was that firms that have at least one female founder grow 30% faster than those with only male founders – and only 16% of firms have a female founder. 

The report evidenced that diversity is key, not just when it comes to people, but places as well. The age of startups based in London and founded entirely by men is coming to an end. 

The only negative 

The entire day was a really interesting, insightful look at fintech in the north of England. The only slight shadow on the event is that, due to rail problems just outside Kings Cross station in London, several speakers were unable to make it. Proving that, whilst fintech outside of London, and especially in the north, is growing more and more powerful, we’re not quite there yet!

Robert Welbourn
Robert Welbourn is an experienced financial writer. He has worked for a number of high street banks and trading platforms. He's also a published author and freelance writer and editor.