3 min read
Scaling a fintech company in Wales
For Delio cofounder and chief executive Gareth Lewis, Cardiff was the ideal location to start his fintech company, which provides white label private market technology platforms for financial institutions. Having worked in corporate finance in Manchester and London, he returned to his roots to do something “exciting and tangible” in South Wales, a region he says has lacked success stories compared to other parts of the UK and further afield.
“We have had support here that I don’t think we would have got in another country,” he says, praising the openness of Wales’ startup community. “It is easy to meet people and with local firms, and a lot of people here say nice things about us. Being able to tap into all of that has probably helped us grow much faster.”
Developing its platform has been a key goal for the B2B fintech. The company’s tech team (around 70% of its total headcount) develops new features using an iterative client-centred process, says Gareth. “We have built functionality hand-in-hand with our clients to get as much feedback as we can,” he says. “The space is fairly new, so we have to continuously do more for our customers – I don’t envision a time we will ever stop building products.”
Delio’s business development has increasingly involved customising its software platform for individual enterprise customers. While this sounds time-consuming and counterintuitive to a fast-moving scaling strategy, the approach works best for Delio’s market. This bespoke approach contrasts with software development in the B2C space, where there is a clear roadmap of features that are added to serve the needs of the entire customer base.
“We’re not forking code or building multiple versions of the platform, so it’s truly scalable,” Gareth says. “A big challenge is balancing the cosmetic and functionality needs that enhance the use of the platform with the hoops that you need to be an enterprise B2B player, which is the market we’re moving towards.”
Cardiff and the South East of Wales is growing its reputation as a world-class fintech cluster. The fintech region is one of the UK’s most valuable, contributing up to £2bn of GVA (Gross Value Added) to the Cardiff Capital Region’s economy, according to data from consultancy Whitecap and LEP partnership Cardiff City Region.
Its promise was recognised last week in the Fintech Strategic Review, a report commissioned by the Treasury that identified Cardiff and South Wales as an emerging fintech cluster – one of 10 in the UK that are producing high-growth fintechs with huge potential. As noted by Tech Nation CEO Gerard Grech, the success of the UK’s fintech sector will require better “coordination and connectivity” between regional fintech hubs to optimise the potential of cross-regional partnerships, collaborations and knowledge exchange.
In practice, coworking spaces could be crucial in facilitating these interactions between an eclectic mix of stakeholders in fintech ecosystems and beyond. A case in point, Cardiff’s Tramshed Tech digital workspace counts fintech companies such as MyPinPad among its members, connecting everyone from Welsh micro-businesses to SME fintechs and large financial sector primes. It has hosted events and broadcast webinars during the pandemic, including an online fintech series in partnership with financial institutions.
“Coworking and collision spaces are key to the success of a developing fintech cluster as they act as a catalyst for bringing talent, innovation and investment together while also acting as a first-step staging post for start-ups looking to scale,” says Tramshed cofounder and director Louise Harris. “We’ve shown that the right support at the right stage is a real differentiator and vital for sustainability, resilience and growth.”
Recruiting for growth
Confused.com knows exactly what it takes to scale its headcount and recruitment practices. Starting out as a team of eight in 2006, the insurance product comparison platform has scaled to 300 employees, with half sitting in its tech and data teams. For CEO Louise O’Shea – who chairs HM Treasury’s and Tech Nation’s Insurtech 2.0 Board – there is a requirement for every employee in the company to understand technology and how to use it to benefit themselves and their customers.
“In terms of recruitment, we focus on bringing in great people – those who are often at the start of their career, who demonstrate natural aptitude and a positive mindset – and who are ambitious, resilient and collaborative,” Louise says. “We also need to bring in skills and experience to diversify and add to our homegrown talent. It’s important to be incredibly discerning, which is why we have a rigorous selection process.”
“The focus is then on aligning the individuals and teams to Confused.com’s purpose and strategy, as well as developing and supporting them,” she continues. “Having small, autonomous, multi-functional teams who focus on outcomes works well for us. If you are clear on the outcomes you want and empower the team to deliver them, then I believe you can scale successfully.”
But recruiting for fast growth has posed unique challenges for much younger fintechs in Wales during Covid-19. Yoello, based in Cardiff, saw demand “skyrocket overnight” for its order-and-pay solution for the hospitality industry that lets customers access digital menus, make orders and pay without having to download an app and without having to physically interact with restaurant staff. The company’s founder and CEO Sina Yamani explains that this posed several challenges while the company quickly shifted to working remotely – including maintaining communication and delivery between teams, in addition to hiring.
“I think the most difficult thing for us was scaling the business and growing the team at a pace while working remotely – we had to scale the team fast to keep up with demand and keep ahead with our product,” Sina says. “Many of our hires have been done virtually and we’ve benefitted from getting recommendations from existing team members and our fantastic network. The communication tools we use are important to keep everyone connected from a social point of view, which is important for us as a young company and with so many new starters yet to meet us face-to-face.”
Many Welsh fintechs will require investment to make new hires, and investors can bring important expertise and smart money in the form of board members, in addition to cold hard cash (or equity). Cardiff-based fintech Coincover raised investment from the Development Bank of Wales last year alongside a venture capital firm, and it is preparing to raise again in 2021.
Reflecting on the experience, CEO and cofounder David Janczewski advises Welsh fintech founders looking to raise investment to be patient (“however long you think it takes, double it and add more time”). He also recommends befriending at least one VC firm before starting the process, and taking the time to listen to their requirements before formulating a value proposition.
“Even if you think you have an amazing product, if you can’t explain it in a way that is actually meaningful to the person you want to invest in your business, then you will not get very far,” he says, before adding, “product is important, but it’s not everything.”
“However long you think it takes to raise investment, double it and add more time.”
Finboot, which has developed an enterprise-grade blockchain solution for supply chains, is one example of how getting value proposition right can lead to investment. The SaaS company recently announced that it is setting up operations in Cardiff having secured a £2.4m equity investment from Development Bank (alongside other investors).
Simon Thelwall-Jones, Director of Technology Ventures at Development Bank, says that Finboot was an instant hit with the lender due to its strong value proposition, which is straightforward to demonstrate to customers – a quality that translates into sales. “Finboot’s agnostic middleware is very easy to integrate with a customer’s IT infrastructure, which means that you can demonstrate its power out of the box,” Simon says. “The company has a 95% demo-to-order ratio at the moment due to its value proposition, which really attracted us to them.”
Finboot’s chairman and cofounder, Nish Kotecha, echoes this view, saying: “There is money out there for the best businesses, but attracting money requires you to have a strong proposition, which includes the right product and team, as well as access to talent.”
Home to insurance provider Admiral, in addition to price comparison websites Moneysupermarket, Confused.com, and GoCompare, Wales has three decades of fintech experience to draw upon. But despite this, the sector has lacked an associate body to champion and support its fintech companies until recently.
FinTech Wales was formed in April 2019 to provide support and advice to fintechs while amplifying their collective voice. It was launched by chairman Richard Theo, the UK Government’s FinTech envoy for Wales and founder (and former CEO) of Wealthify.com, the online investment company he exited last year. In November, Starling Bank founding member Sarah Williams-Gardener was appointed as FinTech Wales’ first CEO. Richard is confident that the level of expertise available from the associate’s team will help its members navigate tricky scaling challenges.
“Above all, helping fintechs to scale is about finding the right mentors, as somebody who has done it all before can help you make those big decisions,” he says. Reflecting on his own entrepreneurial journey, Richard highlights the shift in company mentality required when Wealthify.com entered an investment partnership with Aviva back in 2017, a deal that was struck to provide Wealthify.com with access to funding, in addition to the insurer’s expertise, resources and customers.
“The experience was a steep learning curve, as we had to quickly change behaviour from being a startup to having a corporate reporting chain and dealing with corporate politics,” he says. “Before you contemplate a corporate investment or strategic investment in your business, speak to someone who has done it before. It can be hugely advantageous, but it is not something to go into lightly.”
In addition to joining FinTech Wales, Welsh fintechs can benefit from bringing specialist sector experience onto their board, advises Sarah. Specific guidance and expertise can make it much more straightforward for fintechs applying for regulatory authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).
“Whether you’re a startup or an established player, I would recommend approaching somebody for your board who has successfully disrupted or created a fintech,” Sarah says. “As many fintechs will come under financial regulations, board members need to be qualified.”
Finding a voice
When it comes to promoting Welsh fintech activity, Richard says that FinTech Wales is focused on amplifying its members’ voices, rather than directly getting involved in their marketing activities. For marketing inspiration, fintechs could look towards ANNA Money (an acronym for Absolutely No Nonsense Admin), which was founded in Cardiff in 2017 and has team members based across the globe.
ANNA Money, which offers a business current account for startups and small businesses, focuses on brand rather than product marketing, says cofounder and CEO Eduard Pantaleev. This strategy has helped the company secure coverage in publications including Wired, Sifted, Forbes and The Times.
“We try to promote the aspects of ANNA that are most useful to our customers such as super-fast onboarding and create content that gives useful advice or simplifies existing advice from elsewhere,” says Eduard. “Our marketing, especially on social media, tends to behave like a conversation with our customers. It’s informal and fun because this fits with our overall brand – comms and marketing work well if you can use them as a way of listening to your audiences’ concerns.”
It is an exciting time for fintech in Wales. As an emerging world-class cluster, there’s no shortage of founders and other key ecosystem players who are keen to share insights and best practices, putting Wales in a perfect position to build on its fintech success.