LONDON — The CEO and cofounder of $1 billion fintech startup TransferWise called for “action not just words” from the British government to protect the fintech industry in the wake of Brexit.
Speaking at the Treasury’s first International FinTech conference in London on Wednesday, Taavet Hinrikus said: “If London wants to cement its position as the fintech capital of the world, it needs to take some action — action in particular.”
Hinrikus spoke alongside Chancellor Philip Hammond and Bank of England governor Mark Carney, telling the audience: “I don’t know any other country in the world where the Chancellor and the governor of the central bank have shared the stage with two startups. That’s a pretty clear commitment.
“But in the tech world, we need action, not just words.”
Worryingly for the government, Hinrikus said: “The world has changed a lot and I can’t stand here and talk about having a business in the UK without talking about Brexit… If I was setting up TransferWise today, I probably would not choose London.”
Hinrikus and his cofounder Kristo Kaarmann are both originally from Estonia and came to London to set up TransferWise in 2011. The company, which lets people quickly and cheaply send money internationally online, has been one of Britain’s most successful start ups, valued at over $1 billion.
Hinrikus said on Wednesday that London was the “obvious choice” to headquarter the business when the set up. But he said London was facing increased competition and at risk of losing its position as the world’s fintech capital.
“Other countries are looking at the UK and what we are doing here and copying this very clearly,” he said. “The competition is healthy and means continued innovation in the sector and better services for consumers. But also it means that every city — Paris, Berlin, Singapore, New York — has to talk about how they can become the fintech capital of the world. Post-Brexit maybe London will give that title away. We will see.”
The public declaration uncertainty is a blow to the government, which established the first International Fintech conference to encourage investment into the sector.
Hinrikus called for the government to do more to help both startups and scale-ups — businesses like TransferWise that are now focusing on expansion rather than just setting up the business. He called for lighter regulation to encourage innovation and for the government to do more to help companies access talent.
Hinrikus said: “Talent is the lifeblood of a growing business. To be a global business, you need access to the best talent anywhere around the world. Fix talent and everything else will fall in place. Homegrown or immigrants — it doesn’t really matter. We just need the best talent.
“When we talk about homegrown period, we need to instill more of an entrepreneurial attitude, as well as development and engineering skills. When it comes to immigrants, we need to make it easy to import these people and we need to make them field happy and welcome.”
Earlier in the event, Hammond said the UK “cannot and will not rest on our laurels.” He called on business, investors, regulators, and government to work together “to build the world’s greatest finch hub, right here in London.”
While Hinrikus said he was not sure he would set up TransferWise in the UK today, he said the business was not looking to relocate. “We’re happily headquartered in the UK, with more than 100 people in Shoreditch,” he told the audience.