A Tale of Two Cities… Fintech — Past, Present and Future
New York City and London: two cities that play a critical role in Fintech innovation. It may seem like a given that these two major players are making key moves and advances in the world of financial technology, but this hasn’t always been the case.
Cast your mind back to ten years ago, and New York was barely on the map for CTOs of big institutions looking for new tech; and London wasn’t the hub of origination that it is today, either. Well, that has definitely changed now — and Monday night’s London Enterprise Tech Meetup (LNETM) hosted a panel made up of some of the very people who instigated and facilitated that change: the founders, mentors, management, and alumni of the Fintech Innovation Labs in both London and New York City.
As a very grateful alumni of both the London and New York Fintech Innovation Labs with Cutover, I was honoured to moderate this month’s LNETM panel, which discussed these valuable spaces. The brilliant panel included: Maria Gotsch (President & CEO of Partnership for NYC and Co-Founder of FTIL), Andy Brown (CEO of Sandhill East and CTO in Residence at FTIL), Scott Condron (Former CTO of Blackrock and adjunct mentor at FTIL), Cris Conde (Former CEO of Sungard and mentor at FTIL), and Tom Graham (MD of Accenture’s Banking Practice and Program Director of FTIL London).
The event kicked off with a quick intro from Celin Phoen (Program Manager at FTIL London) and some of the program’s 2020 alumni — a big thank you to Rafael Garcia-Navarro from Ducit.ai and Eva Berg-Winters from Bewica for their flash talks. In addition to providing an overview of their companies, the alumni also discussed the high calibre of mentors and importance of the network facilitated by FTIL — two specifically important aspects of the Lab, which I can personally attest to also.
Moving on, I addressed the panel with questions concerning the differences between the London and New York Labs, why they are involved with the community, past successes, and speculations into the future.
Present: London versus New York City
Unwavering in loyalty to his own city and Lab, Tom Graham joked about the London Lab’s superiority. Jokes aside, though, there are and have been some striking differences between the two cities and their branches of the Fintech Innovation Lab.
Cris Conde identified scale as the big factor in the difference between the London and New York ecosystems. ‘Ecosystems’ is an apt word (used lots by all of the panel throughout the event) as it suggests a living, breathing community. Whether in the US or UK, both branches of FTIL focus on relationships within the industry. As Maria Gotsch put it, the money, the talent, and the customer are all brought together around the same table (…or Zoom call), working together to improve and grow their shared sector.
Whilst a good-humoured quip was made by Maria as to the greater amount of fintech investment in New York than London, and Tom referenced the very specific and vibrant culture of the London scene (with lots of interchange of people coming out of banking and into start-ups, and vice versa), the global nature of FTIL, with both cities working together, is part of its appeal. Cris pointed out the opportunities open to the NYC branch, due to the greater scale of everything in the US, and compared it to the ability of the London Lab to work with smaller companies, and those at earlier stages.
Generally, companies come to the Labs when they reach a ‘fork in the road’, as Cris put it — they have a choice to make, and look to the community of mentors, etc. to aid them in this decision. This is what the Labs are about — people in the industry helping one another and getting innovative new businesses off the ground. The Labs help enterprises refine their message, and sometimes even their project, but any participant only really gets out of the Labs what they put in. Tom happily cited an increasing level of camaraderie between different years’ cohorts, which hits the nail on the head — neither the NYC nor London Labs are superior (which, of course, we already knew) but they complement each other, just as do the multitudes of businesses and professionals involved in these oh-so important ‘ecosystems’.
Past: 10 Years of Innovation
As I have already mentioned, New York has not always been a big player in fintech. Over on the West Coast, California was taking the fintech and start-up scene by storm. When FTIL founders got together with a group of CTOs and asked them where they look for new tech, the answer couldn’t have been clearer: California, Boston, or London. Now (admittedly ten years on), New York has become the second largest tech centre in the world in terms of dollars invested. In New York, the Fintech Innovation Lab identified the area that they could really make a difference: B2B enterprises because, as we know, the Labs are all about relationships.
Furthermore, as this year marks the 10th anniversary of Fintech Innovation Lab, I asked the panel about their past experiences with FTIL. Fond smiles were abundant, as were the success stories shared of alumni companies — Andy went as far as to state that he has made ‘friends for life’. Cris Conde recounted gleefully the experience of giving advice which is not followed, but hearing of the company’s success regardless; just as Scott proudly congratulated those he worked with at Nova Credit, who refused to change direction when advised at the Labs.
Future: What’s around the corner?
Explaining a focus of the FTIL London over the past few years, Tom made it abundantly clear that there is still much work to be done in terms of diversity and inclusion. The Lab has been doing their best to address the gender imbalance in the industry, for example, and Tom has expressed their intention to do more to ensure the funding of Black founders this year.
What is clear here is that in the current situation, with the general crisis (as well as the health crisis) caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, no one can be sure what is to come. Andy Brown insightfully pointed out the growing importance of identity and privacy in tech in the Coronavirus era. With all of the worries and uncertainty related to the pandemic, it was good to hear about the great engagement on the New York Lab this year that was largely conducted virtually; Maria put this down to senior execs not being on planes.
No one has any doubt as to the importance of the digital sector in terms of interacting with customers, and change that must happen, Gotsch mentioned the importance of helping CDFIs upgrade their technology to be able to compete more effectively in the digital world. In a similar vein, Cris discussed a shift in culture, whereby business is starting to realise what truly matters to the customer. Society changes will be echoed in the Labs and Tech for Good will be rising. Let’s hope Cris is right as he predicts much more work in fintech around concerns of environment, financial inclusion, and social justice to come!
I’ll end this article with the mic-drop comment given at the end of the event; a lot has changed recently, and there is clearly still much more change to come — it may be both fascinating and terrifying, so, in the words of Scott: “Strap in!”
Applications for the New York Fintech Innovation Lab will open at the end of October — more information here: https://www.fintechinnovationlab.com/new-york/
About the FinTech Innovation Lab
The FinTech Innovation Lab is a highly competitive 12-week program that helps early-to growth-stage startup companies refine and test their value proposition with the support of the world’s leading financial service firms.
Originally developed and launched in New York City by The Partnership Fund for New York and Accenture, the FinTech Innovation Lab now operates in Hong Kong, London and New York.
Applications for the London Fintech Innovation Lab are open until 30th September — more information here: https://www.fintechinnovationlab.com/london/
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About the London Enterprise Tech Meetup
The LNETM fosters innovation in the London enterprise technology ecosystem through promoting early stage technology companies, supporting entrepreneurs, educating companies on how to work with enterprises, and creating an environment where entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses can all network and learn from one another.