George Osborne outlined the Government’s commitment to back Fin-Tech during March’s Budget and as part of this announced Leeds as the location for the first innovative finance hub. This decision makes sense. Leeds is an innovative city, a hub for financial and professional services in the UK and the country’s number one banking centre outside of London.
These facts combined with the region’s outstanding strengths in digital and technology mean we, as a City Region, are well placed to be the northern hub for financial technology. The industry is already well established here, with a number of world leading Fin-Tech companies, for example TD Direct Invest, Tsys and The Test People, calling the region home.
These businesses tell us the reasons to locate here include good value office space, an available talented workforce as a result of the strong banking and financial services sector and the supportive eco-system that exists here.
In addition to being selected to be the first innovative finance hub, Innovate Finance, a Fin-Tech membership organisation based in London has also announced that it will launch its new regional programme in Leeds. These two announcements show the belief the industry and Government have in the City Region’s reputation and in what Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP) is doing to inspire growth in the Fin-Tech sphere.
Also, the DotForge initiative is a testament to the region’s growing reputation and the City’s belief in the enterprise and entrepreneurial nature that can be found here. I recently visited a Digital SME software development company in Dock St, Leeds (one of approx. 8,000 in the region) and was shown three in-house designed software products, two of which are commercial Fin-Tech offerings.
The challenge for companies such as this is ensuring the products come to market, as this results in business growth and job creation in the region. The arrival of DotForge will help facilitate this, accelerating the process and attracting further funding for Fin-Tech innovation.
But it is just one of many initiatives across the Leeds City Region, with Santander and Google among those recently announcing programmes to support digital development.
These announcements ensure innovation in the City Region is a truly exciting proposition, providing fantastic opportunities for new ideas and companies to start up and for existing business to diversify engage and reach out to a global market.
International professional services organisation, KPMG, is also throwing its weight behind Leeds, with a new 28.500sqft National Innovation & Solutions Centre. The new centre will house the firm’s world class team focused on sharing innovation insights and trialling new technologies, to enable Smart City development and technology start-ups to emerge and flourish.
Emergent technologies are disrupting the institutional status quo, providing new choices, and Leeds City Region is doing the same, with businesses and Government working together to provide a real alternative to London for businesses within the sector.
To ensure the vision is realised we need to make businesses aware of the opportunities and strengths of the region and inspire indigenous SMEs to engage with the Fin-Tech sector and realise the potential which it offers.
The sector is still in its infancy but as it grows so will its skills needs. In Leeds City Region there are a number of leading educational institutions and approximately 22,000 STEM graduates with particular strengths in Computer Science, Maths, Software Engineering and Data Analytics. As such there is a ready talent pool to meet the need of a skilled Fin-Tech workforce and by further collaborating businesses and universities can ensure that those graduates remain relevant to an industry that is developing rapidly.
The future of the region is bright and very much tied to growth. Fin-Tech is one of many strands to this growth plan and although it offers an exciting opportunity, these businesses cannot and do not operate in a vacuum and need markets to engage with.
Therefore it is crucial that the City Region continues to have a diversified economy and that all of our sectors push for growth both nationally and internationally. The diversity of the economy includes offerings in retail, healthcare and manufacturing.