Focused on guiding and helping the UK fintech industry through these challenging times, Charlotte Crosswell (CEO) and Iana Vidal (Head of Policy and Government Affairs) at Innovate Finance explain what their members across the UK are most concerned about right now, and the challenges that lie ahead. We explore policy and regulation at risk of being overlooked and discuss how the industry – and Innovate Finance themselves – have been pivoting. Together we look ahead to consider how fintech firms can plan and respond to the opportunities on offer… and if that’s not enough, recognising that mental resilience matters, how have they been staying healthy?
Charlotte Crosswell is CEO of Innovate Finance. She has spent most of her financial services career in market infrastructure roles. Most recently she was CEO at Nasdaq NLX (“NLX”), a London-based startup derivatives market, and sat on the board of LCH Ltd. She has held a number of management positions at Nasdaq and London Stock Exchange across international capital markets, equities, fixed income, OTC derivatives trading and clearing. In addition to her work with Innovate Finance, Charlotte advises and sits on the boards of technology and FinTech startups. Charlotte holds a BA (Hons.) in French from the Southampton University. She has been included in the list of top 100 Women in Finance over many years.
Iana is the Head of Policy and Government Affairs at Innovate Finance. She leads the organisation’s engagement with government, regulators and other key stakeholders in the UK, to influence policy and regulation that supports and promotes FinTechs and innovation in financial services. Iana has extensive experience across a range of policy areas, and has previously worked for professional bodies and in the charity sector.
Julia: Hello, and welcome to the first episode of StreetsTalksTo, a brand new podcast for the financial services industry. My name is Julia Streets and I’m the founder and CEO of Streets Consulting. In each episode I’ll be interviewing CEOs from some of the most influential firms, industry bodies and initiatives.
As every leader will testify, one of the critical factors of success lies in the strength of the team. So on each episode, we invite them to bring along one of their colleagues and together we’ll be looking at what’s at the very forefront of innovation and change. We’ll be thinking about the challenges the industry is facing and uncovering the opportunities that exist both today and as we look ahead, particularly as we all navigate these extraordinary times.
In planning this series, we thought it important that we set the tone by hearing from the UK’s most influential FinTech industry association, Innovate Finance. I’m delighted to welcome the CEO, Charlotte Crosswell and Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Iana Vidal. Charlotte and Iana, welcome to the show.
Charlotte: Thank you, Julia.
Iana: Thank you.
Julia: For the benefit of listeners, let me tell you a bit about Innovate Finance and each of our guests. Innovate Finance is the independent industry body that represents and advances the global FinTech community in the UK. Its mission is to accelerate the UK’s leading role in the financial services sector by directly supporting the next generation of technology led innovators. Its members range from startups to global financial institutions, from investors to professional services firms, as well as global FinTech hubs and Innovate Finance acts as a single point of access to promote enabling policy and regulation, talents and skills, business opportunity and growth, and of course, investment capital.
Its CEO, Charlotte Crosswell, has spent a large tranche of her financial services career in market infrastructure roles, holding senior management positions at Nasdaq and the London Stock Exchange. She sits on the board of UK finance, government FinTech advisory groups, technology firms, and FinTech startups. Not surprisingly, Charlotte has been included in the list of Top 100 Women in Finance over many years.
Charlotte is joined today by her colleague, Iana Vidal, Head of Policy and Government Affairs who leads the organisation’s engagements with government regulators and other key stakeholders in the UK. Her focus is on influencing policy and regulation that supports and promotes FinTechs and innovation in the
sector. She offers an extensive experience across a wide range of policy areas and has previously worked for professional bodies and in the charity sector.
Welcome both. It’s wonderful to have you on the show. Let’s start our discussion today at really the very highest level. We’re recording this in the middle of lockdown and I’m keen to hear what is keeping your members awake at night? What are they really thinking about at the moment? Charlotte, let me come to you first.
Charlotte: At the moment, it’s a range like any small company, it’s a range of things that they’re concerned about and keeping them awake. For many of them, like many SMEs across the country, it’s about funding. It’s about paying your staff, it’s about are you going to furlough your teams, and also the mental wellbeing of your staff, as well as working and just adjusting to this new normal. It goes without saying every single person is affected from the membership in different ways. For a founder that may be looking to get some other funding to keep them going over the next few months. For the most junior worker who may have recently joined – it’s about team building and understanding where they fit in on this.
I think people are starting to adapt. We’re seeing some amazing stories of even the pivoting of products, ideas, and really adjusting to where we go next and whether they need to change their business model as a result. Tough times for everyone, but now we’re slightly getting used to it I hate to say. I think it will become slightly easier going over the next few weeks.
Julia: Iana, of course, Number 10 have put out their roadmap for the coming months ahead. I’m keen to hear what patterns you see continuing to emerge as people are planning ahead across the next two or three month time frame.
Iana: It’s interesting to think about how much transformational change has happened over the last couple of months and interestingly enough, among a lot of FinTechs. I think a lot of financial services firms more generally, and not only across London, but across the country, have started to think about what the next piece looks like and what people are saying what the new normal looks like and how we’ll be working, how people come back to work in offices if they do come back. But also I think from a FinTech perspective, looking at that digital transformation piece, there’s been lots said about how digital transformation projects that would usually have taken two months are now taking two weeks. I think there’s a real opportunity there from the FinTech sector to really think about what the next phase of life looks like from the working world perspective and where the opportunities lie to take advantage of that.
Julia: It is immensely encouraging that the industry is really thinking about where the opportunities lie. But I can’t help but wonder and reflect on last year, Charlotte, because I know you were doing an enormous amount of work and engaging with the Brexit discussion. There are still critical programs that have to be delivered underpinning the remainder of 2020 and beyond. I wonder, what are we at risk of forgetting? What risks of going on the back burner that shouldn’t be?
Charlotte: I think that’s a really excellent point because we keep forgetting to talk about Brexit and other things that might change in the next 24 months as well. Obviously there’s going to see huge tax changes, changes for founders, etc. I think Brexit continues. There are still deadlines, meetings happening, and for many perhaps that you lose a harder Brexit than we had hoped the transition period comes to an end. What does that mean for FinTechs and regulated companies? You potentially won’t have access to current regulations that they were expected to. Brexit has also been going on for a long time now into year four. I think those who are operating in Europe had already made that decision to open secondary offices, seek additional licenses and we’re still seeing those new stories coming through.
Certainly it’s not the most urgent thing they’ve had to worry about probably in the last couple of months. I think those firms who are regulated and need to be operating in Europe are still definitely preparing for that, and obviously that might be quite a dramatic change compared to what we were expecting. It’s like any founder, the good thing is you have to pivot quickly, you sit there, you prepare, you have to be nimble and agile.The FinTech sector is no different to that of course, if not more so. And you and I have faith in them to sit there and work out where their businesses are going and whether Europe’s going to be the next port of call or whether this crisis might give them additional opportunities, maybe further afield.
Julia: Iana, day by day, this is the job. You’re in touch with policy makers and regulators. I’d love your thoughts also about what are we at risk of overlooking?
Iana: Well, I think it’s probably worth taking a step back and thinking just before the crisis really escalated and the lockdown happened in the UK, that there were a number of policy initiatives that were being driven by government to look at regulatory reform around financial services, but also by the FCA and the Bank of England, just as the key regulators. Whether it was sort of the open finance agenda or looking at use cases for central banks, digital currencies, operational resilience, and also a wider look at how we can streamline regulation across the FS space. Those things are either in a bit of a holding pen and interestingly enough, or helpfully enough, the regulators announced or released to publish last week a regulatory grid or roadmap of what’s coming over the next 12 months.
Some things have been delayed. There have been consultations that have been pushed back to the end of the year, but the grid is a really good way for financial services companies, whether that’s small FinTechs or whether that’s large institutions, to understand which policy initiatives are coming down the track and where they need to be thinking about where they put their resources or how they pivot depending on what’s happening. I think it’s a strong piece of work, especially during this time when so much other stuff that’s happening that is drawing focus away, it’s a really good, quick, easy way of understanding what you need to think about from a policy perspective.
Julia: Of course, Charlotte, every time we speak there’s an amazing initiative happening at Innovate Finance. I think particularly off top of my head around FinTech for schools, or I think about the national campaign and would love to get an update from you about what you’ve been particularly focused on for the membership and what we can expect.
Charlotte: As you know, Julia, the team is always busy and amazingly effective during this. It’s just incredible really perhaps a small team’s easier, but you do tend to rely on that communication in an office. So it has been a big thing to adapt to, from our perspective. The 20th of April would have been IFDS and UK FinTech week, and we’re expecting two and a half thousand people probably to come into The Guildhall and in 50 or so events across the country. We had to make that decision obviously to cancel that event, which back in March seemed quite a tough decision of would we or wouldn’t we cancel it. By the time we got to April, it seems irrelevant to have been asking that question. But instead we moved everything to digital, a digital UK FinTech week with the only change being that we didn’t want to cram everything into one week. So it became even bigger, and we went over three weeks, which was fantastic.
Over 12,000 people dialed in for those webinars, which just shows you the effectiveness of bringing people together virtually compared to flying on a plane to London. So we’ll have to see what we can do to adapt. So this year, more of the same. You recognize that we can be very effective with very good social media presence. It’s very easy for us to move things to digital activities and that will become slightly more curated. We certainly anticipate doing more in the investor space. We’ve had investor speed dating, so we’ll work out how we’re going to speed date online.
The FinTech for Schools program continues. We launched the prototype app during UK FinTech week, and many of the FinTechs are very much trying to profile their own products into sixth formers and also trying to inspire them to come and work for them after school, so that work continues at pace as well.
But really it’s about giving that full support to our members. The beauty of being part of an industry body is that we end up being able to create that one single voice and being that voice between policy makers, between regulators, between our members and at times of crisis, that’s particularly important.
It’s very difficult for any one single firm, however large you are across the country, to be able to get that voice. Certainly when we’re talking to government, it’s important that we are able to get that from a very broad spectrum of members across the country, talking to the other FinTech hubs around the country, and also talking to international hubs who are looking to expedite their digital transformation and are looking to the UK for some of those solutions.
We’ll do a combination of virtual. Well certainly have lots going on I think across the world, maybe virtual trade missions, a bit later down the track, but it’s amazing how you can show that you can move things to virtual and all from the comfort of your own lounge.
Julia: Extraordinary how quickly you pivoted and went from conference content to then making it completely digital. For me, it was great because actually, first of all, I walk into many of your events and then go, “I don’t know which sessions to go to,” but of course now it’s all captured content. You can’t underestimate the number of people who dialed in not only from London, but right the way across the UK. So of course this makes content available for everybody, not to mention across the world as well. I imagine that must have been a really fascinating time for the team to bend their brain around doing that quite quickly. And I am keen to stay on that actually. Iana, I’m coming to you with this, which is to hear what have the team learned and what have you focused on as you’ve been navigating these COVID-19 times?
Iana: Well, I think we’ve been learning a lot personally about our resilience and I guess our ability to sort of adapt to change incredibly quickly. As Charlotte said, I think the team has been absolutely incredible and how we’ve managed to move a big conference online in a matter of weeks. As we talked about, first of all, a lot of stuff is happening and it can be sort of emotionally and mentally draining. From a work perspective, it’s never been busier, but also people are going through things personally, whether they’ve got family who might be at risk or family who work in the NHS. My mum works in the NHS and so does my auntie.
Everyone’s got other stuff that’s going on as well. I think one thing that we’ve learned to do with each other is to check in, is to just check that everyone’s still feeling positive and buoyant and excited about what’s happening at work and what’s happening for our members. Even though we can’t be in the office to sort of comment on each other’s lunches or have a chat about what we did at the weekend, we can still try and do that virtually. We have a CFO, a Chief Fun Officer who arranges our Friday cocktail hours, our weekly quizzes, our weekly learn a skill from another colleague. We’ve been really trying to keep that excitement and that level of positivity up during this time, which has been really lovely to see.
Julia: Of course it is incredibly important that during this time that it’s, as you say about the outreach to each other and just checking in with people, but also self-preservation, and going back to your opening comment, Charlotte, you were mentioning about the things that are very front of mind for your members and mental wellbeing was in that list.
It’s just a kind of little fun segment of the show. Just come to you for quick thoughts on what you do as individuals to keep yourself sane? Is there a TV show or a comedian or some music that you particularly turn to in these times?
Charlotte: Well, I have an 11 year old and we’re about to be 12. So I’m trying to work out a virtual birthday party. Unfortunately I don’t really get to choose the music in my house, which is a shame. I’m getting quite good on my TikTok dances. When she eventually goes to bed, it’s Killing Eve at the moment, I was always faithful to that one. But normally I have the laptop on my lap, unfortunately. We are getting very good at going out and it’s amazing. I’ve said to her, when we go out, we normally don’t go out until half past eight. So I’m really working quite late. And we were playing football around the park or frisbee, and I said, “Well, when did we last have quality time where we would go out for a walk together half past eight?” Normally we’d come back from work, eat some food, do homework, music practice, all the rest and then just fall into bed.
It is amazing how you do get that moment to exercise, and you really focus on that to have quality family time. And that is important. I’m not sure I want to play football every night for the rest of my life at nine o’clock at night in the park, but for now it’s keeping me sane.
Julia: I have this great mental image of you playing frisbee in the park, how fantastic. Iana, how about you?
Iana: It’s hard to to talk about, Isn’t it? I think I’d like to be as active as Charlotte is with her daughter, but probably less so. I should probably get out a lot more. I’ve been watching Normal People, which I think probably half of the country has been watching at the moment, which is an excellent adaptation, I love a good enough BBC adaptation. Music wise, I love this band called HAIM. They’re sort of a Californian pop rock band of sisters a bit like Fleetwood Mac. And they’ve just released a new song that was written before lockdown and coronavirus ever came into our lives called “I Know Alone”, which I think is very timely for what’s happening at the moment.
Julia: It feels incredibly timely. And of course, these things really matter in terms of navigating the extraordinary reality we’re in right now, and also the pathway ahead. I’m going to ask another question, which is a slightly strange one, but it is one I’m asking everybody at the moment, which is, what’s your favourite piece of regulation? What is particularly catching your eye at the moment? What are you particularly supportive of? Iana, let me come to you first of all.
Iana: This question is right up my street, Julia. It’s bringing the geek out in me. It’s actually a piece of legislation that’s coming down the track. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m incredibly excited about
the potential of open banking and open finance. It’s the Pension Schemes Bill that will bring into force a sort of framework for delivering a pensions dashboard for people in the near future. I just think considering the fact that after home ownership, pensions are the biggest financial stuff, I guess, that people have. It’s really important that people understand how much money they’ve got in their pension, how much money they’ll need and to live safely and comfortably into retirement. I think especially people my age at the moment don’t understand that we probably need to do a little bit more, be a little bit more vigilant about how much money is going in and what we need to do. I’m really excited about how FinTech especially can drive that change and so that we can have more oversight of what’s happening from a pensions perspective.
Julia: it is incredibly important. It’s interesting because I imagine that chimes very keenly with one area that Innovate Finance just thinks about a lot, which is the subject of financial inclusion and financial engagements. Of course, technology is a great enabler and there’s potential for huge innovation in that area. Charlotte, keen to hear your thoughts as well. Of all the regulation that crosses your desk, is there anything that particularly stands out? Anything you particularly favour?
Charlotte: I guess both Iana and I have been very involved in the government schemes that have been launched, those civils and the bounce backs or bibbles as they can be called, and the role of FinTech in distributing those and the role that that will have going forward. I’m probably still more on the tactical side rather than going beyond that at the moment, but when we look at how much debt people are going to be around the country, that’s small businesses, whether it’s the end consumer, as people potentially face redundancies and loss of revenue. As you said, the financial inclusion aspect of this is absolutely huge. Some of those can be solved by FinTech solutions. I am very keen that we particularly support our FinTech companies who are in the non-bank lending space, who are offering affordable credit, who are looking at ways of managing your debt. Some of the challenger banks have amazing apps that help people do that.
That’s really important because as we go through this process, it’s going to be a focus for everybody. We have many of the FinTechs doing extremely well at the moment, especially ones in rank tech who are AML, KYC. You can imagine it’s never been busier than before, but really important that we also help the companies that are going to help others as we emerge from this crisis and evolve from this crisis.
When we look into next year, hopefully there will be for every company that doesn’t make it through this year, there will be hopefully ones that will start and spring up and we want them to get access to financing and them to employ people and to be able to show how to manage your money. As you said, it’s incredibly important that the inclusion aspect of this, anything we can do to show how people can manage their money better online, or get a small loan to start a new business. That’s particularly what I’m excited by and I do believe FinTech has a significant role to play over the next couple of years.
Julia: Really, really interesting times. And of course, ripe with opportunity and potential for FinTech. I’m just going to take a moment here just to remind listeners how you can find the podcast series. Available on all good podcast channels, as you’d imagine. We’d love a rating because it all helps to promote these episodes. Also, search over social media using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo, and we’ll also be listing all the episodes on the website, which is at Streetsconsulting.com.
As we go into the last section of the show, I’m really keen to look ahead and think about what does that road look like? Thoughts from you about what the membership should be really focused on. We’ve talked about Brexit, we’ve talked about various pieces of regulation. Iana, I’m going to come to you first of all, and then a Charlotte over to you for closing comments as well. Iana, your thoughts on this.
Iana: Thank you, Julia. I think Charlotte’s touched on it as well. The role of FinTech in supporting people, businesses, consumers through this crisis, and also coming out it will stay on our agenda I think for the months to come. Also understanding how FinTech can drive that sort of innovation piece that has been accelerated through what’s been happening. I think there’s also just a real key piece about the decade end of innovation that we’ve had and how out of every crisis comes some Phoenix almost rising from the fire. There’s something incredibly creative and innovative that comes out of it.
So just trying to see where the next frontier is from the FinTech perspective and understanding what we can do from a policy and regulation side of things to help push that along and to help that growth. And we’re reaching a position now in the UK where we’re not just a nation of startups. We’re startups, we’re scale-ups, we’re high growth and we’re unicorns as well. So try and think about how we support each sort of segment of the ecosystem. And if there are, ultimately we want to have FinTechs, UK FinTechs as local businesses, household names across the world, delivering and pushing innovative financial services products. So I think about how we can build a framework to support that will be a key focus going forward.
Julia: Charlotte, what advice are you giving your members right now?
Charlotte: Certainly, having that single voice and adding many people to that voice is incredibly important, especially as we look at some of the packages that are due to come out over the next few weeks and months. Everyone obviously has an opinion on what we should be focusing on next certainly from a government perspective. And funding has to be way up. To Iana’s point, this decade of innovation that we’ve had, we want to sustain. We certainly don’t want to go back to 2008/2009 and have to start again. Like many investors, I think a lot of founders are conserving cash. We don’t know when the investment market will come back in. There are still rounds being closed, but there’s still a lot that are being postponed, and it may be some time before that comes back.
For others, my advice would always be to any founder is to also look at the opportunities. Some of those opportunities that you might’ve thought maybe Europe was your next step before and actually what we’re seeing is how many emerging markets are looking at their own transformation and maybe looking for solutions that we’ve developed here, and maybe those markets here present quite unique opportunities. It is about being careful, it is about conserving cash and making sure that people recognize this could be really quite a long, slow recovery. But also don’t be afraid to pivot, to change and to see some of those opportunities there, and obviously we’ll do everything we can to support them over the coming weeks and months.
Julia: I think that’s a great note to finish on. What an enormous amount we’ve covered today in a really relatively short period of time, thinking about some of the policy engagement that’s happened in the last year, thinking about some areas that we mustn’t put on the back burner. It is, let us remind ourselves, a Brexit year, but also how the world has shifted and not only Innovate Finance has had to pivot, but also its membership. Your membership is really having to change in order to take advantage of the opportunities out there and to engage with the financial opportunities around short term funding, and then also longer term growth. As Iana said, from startups, right the way through to unicorns, anybody who’s interested in what Innovate Finance is doing, go to innovatefinance.com. They’d be delighted to hear from you. Charlotte and Iana, we’re all recording in self-isolation and thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show and for joining us today.
Charlotte: Thank you, Julia.
Iana: Thank you.
Kieron: This episode of StreetsTalksTo was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Streets Consulting Limited. Streets Consulting is a business development, marketing communications consultancy that’s focused on helping FinTechs from the smallest startup companies to some of the world’s largest global organizations. Everybody’s trying to innovate and everybody’s trying to grow. You can find this episode on Streetsconsulting.com and using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. We can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @StreetsConsult. Thanks for listening.