What’s all the fuss about regulatory sandboxes? Bob Ferguson Head of Project Innovate, from the FCA UK told us why....

Exactly one month ago, on November 1st, I was gifted the amazing opportunity to hold a round-table event with Bob Ferguson, Head of Project Innovate with the Federal Conduct Authority (FCA). Bob has been on the speaking circuit having just spoken at Money 2020 and several other prominent FinTech events.

Henry Long of the UK Department for International Trade – whom I am surprised I haven’t met before because of how involved he is in the FinTech community – somewhat of a celebrity – Gilda Carbone and I put the event together with about a week’s notice, with Gowlings WLG as our generous host in their Toronto offices. We had no trouble filling the room. Why? Well, our FinTech network in Canada is good and, because a regulatory sandbox is becoming a proven strategy for accelerating innovation and enabling competition in many regions around the world, and Canada is all-a-buzz about it.

I first heard about regulatory sandboxes in the spring of 2016 and have been studying it and the growth of the idea around the world since then. While the FCA’s sandbox is 2 years old, the popularity and almost celebrity around their first-to-market approach is recent. Regulators are launching similar efforts in other regions such as Singapore, Australia, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi, and many more countries have now announced they are doing the same. Canada 2020 and the US House are both making noise about creating sandboxes. And of course, the Ontario Securities Commission here in Ontario, Canada has just announced the LaunchPad for FinTech experimentation.

The need for a regulatory sandbox is in response to the dramatic increase in competition coming from FinTech startups, who are gaining momentum in the market with consumers and businesses. With this new competition, regulators are seeing the need to assist with navigating the regulations by providing advice and guidance through the process, and create controlled environments for startups to test their ideas with real customers with a looser set of rules and oversight.

Carrie Russell, Strategic Advisor to the FinTech Growth Syndicate, agreed to interview Bob Ferguson for the round-table, and what a masterful interviewer she is. Carrie is a veteran of the Fintech industry in Canada, having served in both Financial Services and technology organizations for the last 20 years.  Most recently as CMO and EVP of strategy and innovation at one North Americas largest Fintech organizations and prior as SVP of everyday banking, payments, and investment businesses at TD. Carrie has a way with words, and I know everyone who attended the event would agree her approach to interviewing Bob – or rather facilitating the discussion - was atypical and extremely engaging.

Carrie took Bob back to the beginning 2 years ago, and asked Bob what the market context was prior to the idea for Project Innovate, and what the original plans were from launch as compared to what is in place today, which Bob told us is far bigger in scope. Carrie helped Bob explain the story, by asking questions around what worked and what didn’t, what some of the lessons learned have been, and the results to date.

Collaboration has been a global mandate for the FCA from the beginning, and so many other regions have created co-operation agreements to enable companies from other markets to participate. The group Bob leads has amazingly received 700 requests for assistance and advice, and of those they took on, 25% of those have come from large banks who are experimenting with small start-ups. About 25% of the inquiries the FCA receives are from start-ups outside the UK. Oh, and unlike a typical “testing sandbox” which is a place, the FCA Regulatory Sandbox is not a physical space – it’s a set of tools, resources, oversight and guidelines.

The FinTech Growth Syndicate would be very happy to share Bob’s answers to Carrie’s questions, along with our own research and insights about regulatory sandboxes around the world, and the need for Canada to move faster toward enabling experimentation in this manner. Please give us a call!

Why I Think The UK Is Leading in FinTech

In mid September I was fortunate to attend an invitation-only European Digital Banking conference near London, UK, that was one of if not the best FinTech focused event I have been to. My client was invited as one of 6 hand-picked partner companies to sit side-by-side with 50 top digital banking executives from Europe's biggest banks. Her product was a huge hit. But that is not why I feel it was the best.

The firm that put on the event did so with flawless execution. This was clearly not their first rodeo, and they were highly respected by the industry as seen as equals to the clients they attracted. The conversation throughout the 2 days was inclusive, strategic, frank and the ideas openly flowed among all participants. As a "vendor", there representing my client, I never felt out of place among the senior banking executives. 

But a flawless event is not what I wanted to write about nor why I think it was the best FinTech event.

I had a few ah-ha moments that I have not had in my Canadian and US financial services focused career. 

I think it is fair to say that the UK is a leader in FinTech for all the reasons and advantages people write about - regulatory structure, previous banking issues that have awakened the giants, etc.... But what you cant read in articles or experience until you are physically there is the difference in their awareness of the need to change, progress making a cultural shift within their large organizations, and their collaborative style.

They get it - the established banks and financial services companies understand they need to change, their leadership mindset is there, and they are making the important internal changes to be able to innovate. They don't just have innovation outposts and heads of innovation, not to knock those who do (and I was one) as they are needed. What they have that is different and helping them to make leap-frog progress is leadership at all levels who are embracing change, taking risks (even if it means their job), combining bankers and new tech talent, and working hand in hand with startups to partner as they know its critical. Lloyds for example has multiple project teams with existing employees (they call bankers) and "digital natives" - a "Catalyst Division" - to change the culture. It is training open to all employees. Cool.

No one is perfect - a few EU banks still dominate over many small ones, there are still groups of nay-sayers and there is some innovation theatre going on. But when you sit in a room with 50 banking executives leading digital banking, transformation, and innovation mandates in Europe, and they are mostly humble, open, and transparent - let's call that a "culture" that gets that the big companies need to move faster and collaborate with the new companies - I think that's why the U.K. is in the lead. 

Hopefully Canadian financial institutions can make this cultural shift faster among their executives and management team. They need to for the sake of our economy and future. Canada needs both incumbent FI's and new start-ups to succeed and continue to grow.

Sue Britton, CEO & Founder, The FinTech Growth Syndicate

Leapfrogging the Regulatory Sandbox

Shaun Ledgerwood, CEO of Niu Technology Solutions, today published a blog post (Link here -http://www.bobsguide.com/guide/news/2016/Aug/22/the-regulatory-sandbox-a-catalyst-for-innovation/) about the FCA in Britain and how they are helping to drive innovation in the U.K. financial services sector. Here is an excerpt of his post:

“The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is moving with the digital times by playing a key role in creating a regulatory environment for Fintech to thrive. As part of the FCA’s Project Innovate – an initiative introduced in late 2014 to promote competition through disruptive innovation – the FCA recently introduced the regulatory sandbox to offer new entrants to the market a chance to test their products in a safe environment. 

The three lines of defence: a threat to innovation?

When collaborating, the biggest challenge that banks and Fintech companies face is the regulator’s traditional approach to compliance. At the moment, most banks are using the ‘three lines of defence’ approach to demonstrate and structure roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for decision making in order to achieve effective governance, risk management and assurance. …”

Please refer to the full article for more of Mr. Ledgerwood’s thoughts on the topic.

We like what Mr. Ledgerwood has said and agree that the FCA should be commended for their approach, but we a few thoughts to add…

The FCA approach to driving innovation is to invite a cohort to apply to participate. That is, Fintech companies apply, and are accepted or not accepted based on the FCA’s criteria. Someone, or group, is making that decision, and they are limited as to how many they can invite to participate because of limited personnel to shepherd the Fintech’s through the process. Right now the FCA is limited to a cohort of only eight Fintech’s and we assume that they are a mix of startups, but we don’t know.  Our approach would be a more inclusive, more easily scalable SaaS platform (software as a service) sandbox.

We would also like to add that we see a fourth barrier – corporate structure, culture and the bottom line of incumbents. Companies need to change how senior management are incented to innovate, even to perhaps fail (!) - and for that to be okay with shareholders as long as it is in service of the greater long term goal of innovation.  Short term pain for long term gain. Most large incumbents are innovating through acquisition (buying up technologies that fit with their offerings) and the big banks are siloed where leaders of business groups are unable to affect change (they can’t work to develop innovative technology solutions to enhance UX if it blows their quarterly results). 

Many believe the UK is leading the world with its regulatory sandbox model. And that we should be more cautious and less hopeful in Canada for this type of solution because countries that are embracing these approaches are the ones with simpler regulatory frameworks and more advanced ecosystems. We don’t agree. We think that Canada can make massively accelerated progress – but we need to make it a top priority, stop being so risk adverse and come together with solutions, and get government funding to support an industry-led solution. After all – the sandbox is an innovation in and of itself. Has anyone heard of Canarie? A government funded program that looks a lot like what a sandbox could be – and it was established several years ago. https://www.canarie.ca/

At a Fintech conference in Toronto on Aug 18th, attended by about 300 various companies within the Fintech ecosystem, a member of the audience asked Mike Sigal from 500 Start-ups what he thought Canada should do to “catch up” with other more advanced countries like the US and whether he thinks Canada can be a Fintech leader? Mike paused, seemingly to re-phrase what 1st came to mind, and then said….let me see, you are a smaller country by population, you have a small number of financial institutions comparatively, and while your regulatory system is complex as you say, you don’t have 50+ states and a myriad of other complex regulatory issues like the US….so you guess what I think Canada can do? (I am para-phrasing). Earlier – he said bluntly … “Canada has the opportunity to leap-frog” on the innovation curve.

In the end, everyone is forgetting that the consumer has the final say and they are choosing digital disruption at a faster and faster pace daily. The sooner everyone realizes this and act with absolute urgency throughout their silo’s, regulators and FI’s alike, the better chance our large incumbent financial institutions and tech companies have to survive the next decade.

Tech Toronto

Fintech Growth Syndicate went to the Tech TO meetup and afterparty event, July 11 and we also attended their SalesTO event July 19.  Tech TO and their meetups, for those who don’t know, are a real phenomenon: the events are very well attended with 600-700 people present.  It is a bit of a circus (in a good way) and the ringmaster is Jason Goldlist, GM for Canada of WealthSimple and one of the principals of Tech TO who is constantly in motion, buzzing around on his hoverboard (there is a drinking challenge involved if he takes a step off or runs into someone). He is really engaging and quite funny and gets techies, investors, accelerators and startups all to come out and participate - real community engagement. The events are populated mainly by startups and founders of tech companies – about 75% - and a couple of the heavy-hitters are sponsors, as well.  The venue was at RBC’s property in the south core, John Stackhouse was in attendance, and PWC was there. The meetups are a great place to meet people in the same boat as you.

We met with a young man named from Deloitte, Oren Berkovich who is working on their “Bridge” concept, and we also met Marianne Bulger, also one of the other principals of Tech TO (along with Alex Norman) – they are both those extremely bright, hard-working and plugged-in millennials who just makes you feel like such a loser.  You know, like your parents didn’t push you hard enough? For instance, during the meet-your-neighbour portion of the program where we were encouraged to ask how the people around us came to be at the event, we found out that our seat-mate was a young woman entering her third year at Waterloo in engineering and she was working with WealthSimple, the online, low-cost investment app.  She was loving her program, doing co-op work, and will graduate with an engineering degree AND have a ton of real life work experience under her belt. We asked her, straight-up if she knew that she could have any job she wanted in Fin tech after graduation and she shyly smiled and said, “Yes”!

In addition to feeling like you are an underachiever, you can also get a job at a TechTo event. There is an open mic, 10-second pitch portion where the audience is invited to pitch the people in the room.  Indigo’s Executive Vice-President & Chief Strategy Officer, Krishna Nikhil, asked the room if anyone would be interested in joining the team that was developing their app for Indigo. Very exiting stuff and there was a lot of buzz around the room at this great opportunity.

We look forward to the next Tech TO events, Fintech TO and the Sales TO events. You can find their next event at http://www.meetup.com/TechTorontoOrg/#upcoming – a lot of fun and very worth the modest admission.


Cute Little Bed-and-Brexit

Well here we are, two weeks since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union and it is as if nothing has happened.  


The Tory PM, David Cameron, has stepped down, blond dryer lint Boris Johnson has announced he is no longer interested in becoming the next Prime Minister (or setting things on fire), and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage announced today that his work is done, he is stepping down: Britain has left the E.U. – his work is complete!

Except the markets are in turmoil, the three major parties are leaderless, the Pound is in trouble and big business in London, including the burgeoning FinTech industry, is shaken with uncertainty.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, the same man who helped stick-handle our Canadian economy through the 2008 downturn, said that in light of the Brexit, the B of E will do what it can to shore up the economy, but investors should buckle up for some instability. Going forward, what relationship will the U.K. have with the rest of Europe? The world? Business as usual? The Brexit situation, in a word – sub-optimal.

For those focused on the FinTech opportunities here in Canada, you can imagine nothing will happen and it will be business as usual because the Brexit will actually offer British FinTech companies more opportunities to operate in an environment free from EU regulations. This is the optimistic view of Finextra’s article today - "Brexit Breeds Opportunity for UK FinTech" (here).  

The other side of this coin is that there will be a decent percentage of London FinTechs looking to cut their losses and invest in Canada. Prior Finextra articles, both pre and post the Brexit vote, suggest there is real concern that FinTech jobs will be effected. Of some 66,000 jobs in FinTech in London as many as 1/3 could be effected.

We think it is silly to suggest that there will be no attrition, no effect on the U.K. FinTech’s. This chapter is yet to be written, of course. What we do know is that we in the FinTech ecosystem in Canada will keep on doing what we are doing and will pick up the phone when London calls. 


Source: https://www.finextra.com/newsarticle/29136...

Building a House on Shifting Sands

We were recently mapping out the FinTech Innovation Ecosystem in Canada for clients and we realized that we were building a house on shifting sand: there was no ultimate entry point for all the players – VC’s, startups, accelerators, incumbents, hubs, communities, associations…you get the idea. Not only that, but players were coming and going, and what one group considered a “hub” or a “community”, other groups called an RIC, or “Regional Innovation Center”. Terms were imprecise, or the group labeling the player was not taking into account the player’s complete offering. The ecosystem is in flux, amorphous and resists being slotted into tidy classifications.  

With this as the backdrop, we would like to offer a few observations from a recent workshop with 50 FinTech players in Canada. The workshop participants were asked to make suggestions on how to make the FinTech ecosystem in Canada work better. A wide range of viewpoints are represented (Banks, Startups, VC’s, Accelerators, Regulators) and the resulting feedback is, not surprisingly, diverse. You can link to the full feedback document here. Our favourite recommendation from the workshop that did not make it into the document was that board members of incumbents should be “refreshed” from time-to-time in order to make sure innovation remained a key objective of the organization. Talk about disruption…

We know a level of uncertainty is to be expected in this period of great change and opportunity. Disruption is a certainty with all the FinTech startups out there focusing their significant talents on being the next Uber. We believe the only way forward is through collaborative innovation.  Disruption does not have to hurt incumbents if they bring startups along. What we are focusing on is getting you the tools you need to make the best possible strategic choices for moving forward with your agenda. That is what our consultation services can do for you – put our years of working within, and partnering with incumbents to your best possible use.

Let’s talk! Contact Sue for innovation advice and consulting help. 


The Story of Our Name

Ok - so why did we call our company the Fintech Growth Syndicate?

The founder (and her husband) were binge watching several Netflix series and one was based on the power a "Syndicate" had in solving a problem. 

The definition of a Syndicate:

"A syndicate is a self-organizing group of individuals, companies, corporations or entities formed to transact some specific business, to pursue or promote a shared interest. In most cases formed groups aim to scale up their profits. Although there are many legal syndicates formed around the world, the usage of the term "the syndicate" in colloquial English often refers to one involved in illegal activities." Wikipedia

The essence of our business is collaboration and organization. So we are going to take this Syndicate in a legal non-mafioso direction and leverage that to build something that helps Canada be a leader in innovation, keeps banks in business, and scales start-ups to new heights.

And we plan to have fun while we are at it!

The Beginnings of Our Elevator Pitch

A start-up, an investor and a financial institution walk into a bar. The bartender says,  "What’ll you have?"

At the same time they all say, “I’ll have what they're having”.

This is what it comes down to – financial institutions, investors and innovators all need what the other ones have but don’t know how to get it.

The Fintech Growth Syndicate has created a multi-level platform that provides products and services to facilitate everyone getting what they need.

Techs populate our platform in a dynamic way. We help position them as they want to be seen. We offer counsel and bridge the cultural divide between them and the financial institutions. 

In a space that is swamped by would-be solutions, investors and financial institutions know that the one and ONLY place to find what they need; investment opportunities and innovation, is The Fintech Growth Syndicate. 

Implementing innovative technology can be scary so The FGS also provides a virtual place to collaborate, beta-test ideas with curated customers in a sandbox outside their walls but secure and risk free. The Syndicate equips them with tools, processes and advisors to guide them.

But partnerships between big finance and eccentric geniuses can be tenuous at best. So, The FGS offers mentorship and consultation to ease the growing pains as companies scale up and business cultures collide.

What sets us apart is our mission is to connect everyone in the ecosystem. We’re kind of like Switzerland, neutral ground where we compliment and support the amazing things that are already happening by using our expertise to close the gap. So if you are an accelerator, government innovation centre, VC or community meetup - we want to help you.

With over 20 years of experience bridging innovation with corporate culture, the Syndicate knows that Fintech isn’t just about disrupting banks or competing with them, it’s about advancing and accelerating innovation for businesses and consumers that want to take advantage of new ways to manage their money, make payments, get loans and hundreds of other things being thought up right now by the next wave of Canadian innovators.  

The Fintech Growth Syndicate is effectively the bartender. “What’ll you have?”