#FTW16: “In finance? Not partnered with tech firms? You’re in trouble.”

This post first appeared on the New Statesmen as part of London Fintech Week 2016.

Over the last few months there have been many reports of the great partnerships that are emerging in the fintech space.

Transferwise partnered with Estonia’s biggest bank, BBVA invested in Atom Bank, and tech companies like Apple and Google are also upping their game in the space, most notably via payments.

But when I joined Canary Wharf’s fintech accelerator Level39 back in March 2013, the appetite to partner was different. The finance sector was not really geared to engage with technology startups.

Over the last few years, though, this has changed and there are a number of great opportunities driving this transformation.

Technology is impacting all parts of the business process and finance companies are already some of the biggest spenders on tech globally.

In 2015 alone, financial services companies spent $114 billion on mobility, cloud, and big data and analytics. Over 25 percent of financial institutions’ IT budgets went into these three transformative technologies in 2015 according to IDC Financial Insights.

This is only set to grow and with this growth, partnerships are now key for organisations seeking to drive the greatest value across their business.

Technology-backed partnerships

Large tech companies are now enthusiastically engaging in partnerships with finance companies.

When Tim Cook announced Apple Pay in September 2014, mobile money was catapulted to the forefront. This was driven heavily through partnerships with established companies such as Visa, Mastercard and American express, and startups also started building off of the API, driving engagement across their customer bases too.

The API model is just one example of the partnerships and alliances that are common in the tech world. Google introduced Android Pay at Google IO in 2015 and in 2016 announced a number ways for in-app and web app integrations.

Technology companies will continue to drive new partnerships to create better products in finance.

Bank-backed partnerships

Not to miss out on the action, banks are also directly engaging with fintech companies through their own strategic investments and corporate venture capital.

Recent examples include Santander InnoVentures, a $200 million fund with investments in Ripple, MyCheck, Digital Asset Holdings, iZettle, Cyanogen and Kabbage.

Citi Ventures, founded in 2010, has made investments in companies such as Square and Betterment. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are investors in Square too.

Banks co-investing in fintech is also becoming more common and is another form of partnership that will continue to drive growth over the coming years.


The banking technology network SWIFT launched the Innotribe Startup Challenge in 2011 – allowing startup companies to engage with SWIFT’S global community of almost 10,000 banking organisations, securities institution and corporate customers in 209 countries.

For a startup, the network effects of accessing SWIFT across the banking industry makes them ideal partners.

A number of startup bootcamps have launched over the years, from the Barclays Powered by TechStars programme launched in London in 2013, to Startupbootcamp backed by Lloyds, Rabobank and Mastercard, which launched in 2014.


The most established fintech bootcamp programme was started in 2010 by consultancy firm Accenture with the Partnership Fund of New York City.

The London chapter of the Fintech Innovation Lab launched at Level39 in 2013 and gives startup companies the chance to engage with a mentoring program that brings in financial services CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, venture capitalists and technology luminaries.

This type of partnership offers access to high-level technology executives, which saves startups time and money. The mentors, in turn, are able to understand the latest innovations in financial technology.

Over the last few years EY, PwC and Deloitte have all launched dedicated fintech teams to engage and partner with new and interesting companies.

The growing number of new and interesting partnerships, rather than companies going it alone, will continue as finance companies see many areas of their own business ready for disruption.

But those that provide long-term value to their customers, rather than simply partnering just to knock out competitors or disruptors, will ultimately win the day.

Time to inspire the next generation

Entrepreneurship among under-35s has – somewhat surprisingly – dipped year on year in the UK. Adizah Tejani, head of ecosystem development at Canary Wharf’s Level39 accelerator, and co-lead for the Tech London Advocates under-35s group, says established entrepreneurs can help reverse this.

Working in the entrepreneurship space with over 140 entrepreneurs, as I do at Level39, is amazingly rewarding. They are a great set of talented people who are built with the drive to see their companies grow, making it a unique place to be.

But where will the next generation of entrepreneurs come from? According to last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, both activity and aspiration in the UK is lagging behind the US and others. It is clear that we need to do more.

The GEM reports a year-on-year declinein total early-stage entrepreneurial activity rates overall – especially amongst adults under 35. Neither trend is encouraging for UK enterprise.

So how do we make sure that the UK fosters a stronger culture of entrepreneurship to make it a more accessible option? And how do we make sure that the entrepreneurial wisdom that exists in our business community is passed on and that first-time entrepreneurs learn directly from the founders who have come before them,?

One way we can all help this to happen is to find ways for more experienced people to share individual lessons. Fortunately, this is happening through new networks such as Tech London Advocates (TLA).

The TLA consists of over 800 technology sector professionals, from VCs to serial entrepreneurs. The TLA’s group dedicated to entrepreneurs under-35 hosts breakfast briefings connecting experienced TLA members and first-time entrepreneurs.

As I write this, the week ahead at Level39 sees us host the third under-35 group breakfast with Eric van der Kleij, fintech entrepreneur and head of Level39. Over breakfast, first-time tech entrepreneurs will have access to top-class entrepreneurs who have faced all the obstacles that can be thrown a first-time entrepreneurs way.

If the entrepreneurial culture here in the UK is to grow it is also important that we make the ecosystem as open and as welcoming as possible, and this sometimes means thinking forward via education.

Initiatives such as Founders for Schools, a programme founded by senior investor Sherry Coutu, connects entrepreneurs with school students. Founders for Schools helps teachers to arrange for founders of successful businesses to visit their schools and inspire their students.

Universities are another vital area of our education system where we should make stronger connections with enterprise, to help foster a culture of entrepreneurship. Universities are getting better at encouraging entrepreneurship as an option, but it is just as important for those of us already in the space to make the extra effort to reach out more.

We need to connect in as many ways possible to expose students to the countless opportunities available to them as entrepreneurs. We should reach out to students who get a glimpse inside the tech business ecosystem, encouraging them to become the entrepreneurial talent of tomorrow and become advocates themselves later on.

Being surrounded by so many young entrepreneurs, it has become clear to me that having a great idea is only one part of what’s needed. Drive and tenacity needed are also key to growing a business, as are execution and implementation.

Having access to those who have done it before will not only make you into a better entrepreneur – it will help you build a better company.

One other obvious way to access wisdom is by reading. Although you may not think you have the time to read, try to make the time, as countless entrepreneurs have been telling their story for decades. Remember also that is takes a team to build a company, so read not just about Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin but also the people behind them, like Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt.

As the UK’s record of successful shows, we have a great environment here where entrepreneurs can grow their companies. We need to make sure that first-time entrepreneurs know that there is an ecosystem that encourages that growth. We must continue to foster an entrepreneurial culture that encourages early-stage entrepreneurial activity for years to come.