By: 5 June 2024

The former French president spoke to Scarlett Sieber on a range of topics

François Hollande at Money20/20

Day two of Money20/20 is in full swing; the day is host to another fantastic array of talks by a wide variety of speakers. Our reporter Robert Welbourn sat in on one of the most highly anticipated: former French president François Hollande. He was interviewed by Scarlett Sieber, chief strategy and growth officer at Money20/20. 

The conversation opened with Sieber giving a brief introduction of Hollande, who was president of France from 2012 to 2017. She asked Hollande about his effort to make France the centre of tech in Europe. 

Hollande said many people were surprised at first; he’s a socialist, and wasn’t always the most business-friendly president, so a lot of quarters were surprised when he started offering tax breaks to companies. But, he explained, it was vital. When he ascended to the presidency France was in turmoil: unemployment was high, the economy was floundering, and people were very unhappy. Hollande saw tech as the answer. 

His idea was to attract not just tech entrepreneurs to France, but to encourage other companies to relocate to the country. Hollande saw tech as a way to bring confidence back to the country, to create jobs, and give France a reason to be optimistic. 

He wanted to make the French people not only a tech people, but a proud tech people. 

Sieber then asked Hollande what he was most proud of from this period, and he answered quickly, without hesitation: the creation of the French public bank. He’s right to be proud – the bank is now one of the ten biggest investors in tech across the globe. 

What was it like in France during their tech boom? 

Sieber asked Hollande what it was like in France during this booming period for the tech ecosystem. Hollande answered that the ecosystem was initially highly questioned. He said lots of people in France were dubious about tech’s ability to create jobs, and he said that many people didn’t think tech was the answer to France’s woes. 

Without a hint of smugness – although perhaps he’s due some – Hollande reported that his doubters have long since gone quiet. There’s no debate, in France or anywhere else, he said, about the ability of tech to create jobs. Indeed, Hollande says, France is now ripe with young entrepreneurs, in schools and universities, desperate to be the next big thing in French tech. 

France now boasts 100 startups per year, and since Hollande launched France’s tech initiatives, there have been 33 unicorns. 

The current president, Emmanuel Macron, has set the country a target of producing 100 tech unicorns by 2023. When asked about that particular pledge, Hollande joked that the problem with politics is that good things only happen after a president leaves office, and so they never get any credit. 

Hollande quickly stated that, while he thinks 100 unicorns may be possible, 2030 is perhaps an ambitious goal. Ultimately, unicorns take time to emerge, and with only six years remaining on this goal, perhaps it won’t be met. 

France’s position in the global tech landscape 

Hollande was proud to say that he believes France is at least the equal of Germany and the UK when it comes to tech on the world stage. 

However, when Sieber asked what was needed to take France to the next level, Hollande said that it probably won’t happen, at least not in the near future. 

According to the former president, Europe is too fragmented; whilst there is a common market in the EU, and a common currency in the euro, the individual countries are too separate. Each country has different settlement requirements when it comes to financial trades, and different financial regulations. Hollande expressed that as long as this remains in place, France and Europe will never be able to truly compete with gigantic countries like the USA and China. 

Sieber then pivoted to tech in general, moving away from fintech, and asked Hollande what he thought was the next most important tech space.  

For those familiar with his politics, it should come as no surprise that Hollande thinks everyone – France’s public sector, other countries, and private investors – should invest in greentechs. He believes these companies are crucial if the world is to meet global emissions targets as set out by COP26. 

Fear and hope in tech 

Hollande said that we live in fear, particularly of climate change. His solution? A pivot towards optimism and a belief that tech can change, improve, and save lives. 

Sieber’s penultimate question was around Hollande’s hope for the next generation. Hollande was quick to say he is very excited for the next generation, but that in order for them to flourish, the education system in France needs overhauling. 

The former president is calling for tech to be embedded into the French curriculum to avoid inequalities in the future between those that can afford it, and those that cannot. Children who are cut off from using tech due to its unaffordability will be left behind, and as adults will struggle to maintain jobs in a tech-centric world. 

Hollande said the average person’s fear of tech is a lack of understanding. It’s the same lack of understanding he attributes to the rise in the far right across the globe, and particularly in France. Whereas a better education, and a better understanding of technology across the board, will benefit every single one of us. 

Hollande on artificial intelligence 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper tech interview without a mention of AI! Sieber closed by asking Hollande to rate the current state of global AI out of ten. Hollande gave it a five; he said that there’s a lot of good being done by AI, but we still have a long way to go. 

I’d have to agree. 

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.