5 min read

11:YEARS part three: talent

Sarah Kocianski

In the third part of our series, we discuss how talent in the UK migrated to fintech after the financial crisis, helping to create a vibrant new ecosystem in the process.

So far, this series has outlined the ways in which entrepreneurs capitalised on a new regulatory regime and post-crisis disillusionment with incumbents to set off a fintech revolution in the UK broadly and in London particularly.

But the city had already been a financial centre for centuries. Close in proximity to some of the world’s best universities and home to service industries, the government and regulators, the city attracted diverse and experienced talent not only from across the UK, but also the world at large.

So what changed? Why did so many skilled people suddenly decide to start their own companies or work for nascent businesses with uncertain chances of success? How did talent, already planted in London, blossom to form UK’s fintech ecosystem?

The impact of widespread job losses

The financial crisis triggered a number of factors that encouraged people to take a chance on a burgeoning industry.

At the most basic level, more talent was available: about 45,000 people working in financial services lost their jobs throughout 2008-9. A significant proportion of those losses came from the investment banking industry, which may explain why many of the UK’s earliest fintechs were started by entrepreneurs with investment banking backgrounds.

Instead of going into banking, many graduates felt compelled to work for firms that hadn’t been caught up in the causes of the crash

Additionally, those seeking careers in investment banking found far fewer opportunities and began to look elsewhere. Graduates, who may have stayed in investment banking for their entire careers, ended up taking different routes. Many took the insights they’d learned at consultancies and applied them by working for fintechs or starting their own, further stimulating the development of the industry.

Disillusionment

If you listen to founders talk about why they started fintechs, many will say the financial crisis made them realise how badly the financial services industry treated many of its customers. For some firms, it was the last straw. Others felt compelled to act, believing the big banks’ reaction to the crisis compounded the problem.

This applies to some of the first fintechs to make their marks in the UK in the wake of the crisis – particularly lenders like Zopa and Funding Circle. Both firms spotted opportunities to serve customers on either side of the balance sheet (borrowing and lending), who were being left behind as the banks sought to stabilise their own businesses.

All these years on, the question is: will that talent dry up, bringing drought to the fintech ecosystem?

The disillusionment that drove fintech founders also motivated the people who worked for them in the early days. Instead of going into banking, many graduates felt compelled to work for firms that hadn’t been caught up in the causes of the crash. The same can be said for those who retained their jobs within the legacy financial services industry and still moved on to smaller firms, likely for less money and certainly with less job security.

Current problems

All these years on, the question is: will that talent dry up, bringing drought to the fintech ecosystem?

The answer is unclear. Like many fintech hubs, the UK has more demand for talent than supply can meet, and that’s particularly true for roles that require technical specialism or didn’t exist 10 years ago. In 2017, almost 60% of UK fintechs said attracting suitable talent was their biggest challenge, higher than driving adoption or raising capital.

The UK’s departure from the EU won’t help matters here. A large number of the country’s fintech employees are citizens of other countries; up to a fifth of them hail from the EU. Some of the top talent won’t be able to stay on after Brexit; some of them won’t want to.

Future solutions

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many initiatives underway to ensure UK fintech industry can continue to access the talent it needs to thrive and grow.

Some fintechs have taken the lead themselves, awarding fellowships to students in fintech-related fields. Educational establishments are offering fintech-specific courses, which should also stimulate home-grown talent. Government tax incentives are also encouraging entrepreneurship, strengthening the current of new companies entering the industry.

It can’t be forgotten that UK’s fintech ecosystem remains among the best established and most vibrant in the world. That alone will be enough of a pull for some. In the short run, things look uncertain, but ultimately it seems likely that the UK firms will find a way to secure the talent they need.

Want to know more? You can hear directly from the founders of some of the country’s most innovative companies in 11:YEARS, our new documentary that charts the rise of UK fintech.

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 Sarah Kocianski
About the author

Sarah Kocianski

Sarah is Head of Research at 11:FS, unearthing fascinating insights on diverse subjects throughout the finance and tech industries.

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