Northern Ireland is unique. It is made unique by its geography, history, people and resilience. Yes we are known for ‘Game of Thrones’, the Titanic, Narnia, golf and Van Morrison but did you know we are a centre of excellence for technology, and Fintech more specifically? (Opinion Column written by: Amy Dalton, Regional Director Benelux at Invest Northern Ireland)
Northern Ireland is part of the UK, shares a border with the EU being located on the island of Ireland and has strong trading and historic links to the USA. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland operates within its globally respected and robust regulatory framework. At the same time being located on the island of Ireland has also allowed Northern Ireland easier access to the Irish Financial Services market and enables the region to provide support services to firms in the International Financial Services Centre.
In recent years, the growth of the Fintech sector has been fuelled by an unbeatable combination of world-class talent, highly competitive operating costs and research excellence in a pro-business environment. Northern Ireland’s Fintech ecosystem is thriving, with a number of industry accolades bestowed including being ranked as the world’s top destination for financial technology investment projects and Belfast, the region’s capital city, ranked third in the FT fDi FinTech Locations of the Future after Singapore and London.
Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of Fintech employment in the UK with 1 in 5 people working across financial services and technology in Northern Ireland working in Fintech, with core strengths in areas such as RegTech and compliance, TradingTech, InsurTech, Cybersecurity and AI & Advanced Analytics. Belfast was named the UK’s most technology centric city by Tech Nation, with 26% of all job vacancies in 2019 in tech and digital. In addition to the strong cluster and talent pool, operating costs are 20-30% cheaper than the rest of the UK and property costs are 75% lower than London and 65% lower than Dublin. Fuelling that talent pool are world-class universities, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, with a strong ethos of academic and industry research collaboration. Both universities have globally recognised ICT and data research centres. Queen’s University Belfast is home to CSIT, the UK’s Innovation & Knowledge Centre for cybersecurity and Ulster University has the Cognitive Analytics Research Lab (CARL) as well as being the first university in the UK to launch a degree-level Fintech apprenticeship course. In addition, both universities have trading rooms that offer students a dynamic learning environment and first-hand experience of the high-pressure atmosphere of a trading room.
“Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of Fintech employment in the UK with 1 in 5 people working across financial services and technology in Northern Ireland working in Fintech.”
Of course, like many economies across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Northern Ireland’s communities and many of its businesses. However, thanks to this quality combination of talent, cost and academic excellence, the sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience and continues to thrive. What is key to Northern Ireland’s sustained success in technology is the collaboration between government, education and industry to prepare and sustain the skills that are required now and in the future to include Blockchain, Robotics, AI, Cloud and Cybersecurity. Digital services and solutions underpin innovation and productivity, as well as businesses’ ability to scale which is why this continued investment in skills and people is vital. And, the people are what cement this ‘uniqueness’ of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland start-ups and scale ups are flourishing thanks to a highly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem, vibrant networking scene and the active promotion of sector collaboration. A number of European financial institutions are tapping into this agility and innovation and are working with Northern Ireland solutions providers to overcome their technology challenges and reduce costs. Furthermore, international investors such as Citi, Allstate and First Derivatives have established and expanded their operations in Northern Ireland to benefit from the strength of technology and innovation talent on offer. They have tapped into a wealth of skills available to deliver in a broad range of areas including fund administration, investment operations, analytics, risk management, regulatory compliance and legal services. Additionally, Fintech incubators by Danske and Barclays banks are nurturing entrepreneurs in payments, InsurTech and RegTech.
As the economic development agency for Northern Ireland, Invest NI offers practical and financial support, developed in partnership with clients, to ensure that companies grow and prosper. We work in partnership with organisations in Europe and beyond, to help explore opportunities and tap into this amazing uniqueness of Northern Ireland, boosted by talent, technology and innovation.
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This article is brought to you by Invest Northern Ireland and was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read our full Fintech edition.