Irish fintech sector finds its Swede spot

The fintech scene in Sweden has continued to grow, with the same true for the other Nordic countries. In 2018, fintech companies in the region raised €347m in 86 deals. Of those deals, Sweden represented around 50pc. The adoption of tech and new solutions in the competitive financial services sector is a challenging but rewarding space for the right companies.

Ireland is a fintech powerhouse with the potential to grow significantly in the years to come. In 2018, fintech was the second fastest-growing export sector in Ireland, rising 17pc year-on-year.

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The Government’s IFS2025 strategy aims to showcase fintech providers and increase market awareness of the Irish financial services sector.

In short, the strategy aims to create the best conditions for a top-of-the-line operating environment, by delivering a technology and innovation focus and processes around developing talent, in order to raise awareness of Ireland’s offering overseas, and attract investment here.

There are several established Irish players already in the Nordics, including Fenergo, Monex, Fexco, Taxback and Sentenial.

A new breed of tech companies is also emerging, which includes Ammeon, CX Index, Cambrist, Supply Finance, Circit, Daon, ID Pal, Transfermate, Priviti, Aid:Tech, Leveris, Oathello, Sedicii and Assure Hedge.

The recently released Stockholm fintech report update contained useful information for companies thinking about engaging with Sweden and the Nordics. The Stockholm region attracts more than 50pc of total foreign direct investment into Sweden. Stockholm has the highest GDP growth in the Nordics, and is the engine and financial centre of both Sweden and the region. Between 2013 and 2018, Stockholm-based companies received 18pc of all private placements in fintech companies across Europe.

This has inevitably led to rapid expansion in new working styles as collaborative hubs and co-working spaces appear all over the area.

The city also plays host to numerous fintech events, such as Stockholm Fintech Week and Stockholm Tech Fest. Findec was established in 2019 and is Sweden’s hub for fintech, regtech, insurtech and blockchain companies. Its purpose is to boost Sweden’s financial technology ecosystem. Many people ask me why Sweden is a world leader in innovation and tech, with billion-dollar evaluations for unicorns like Spotify, Izettle, King, Klarna, Mojang and Evolution Gaming. There are several factors, some of which relate to Swedish culture and society.

While it’s not easy to pinpoint one or two reasons, like Ireland, Sweden is a small country on the outskirts of Europe, and exporting is part of the mindset of many of its business leaders.

Education, adoption of new technologies and social welfare systems that support the freedom to take risks have helped develop a culture of innovation. Most Swedish organisations are flat in structure, which means that every opinion counts. Many good ideas are generated below management level. One association infers a consensus-driven approach that differs from a traditional autocratic leadership style.

As the Nordic countries make considerable progress towards a cashless society, fintech innovation is critical. Four out of five purchases in Sweden are made electronically, and its central bank estimates that, between 2012 and 2020, cash in circulation will have declined by 20pc-50pc.

As interest in cash diminishes, the use of electronic payments has surged over recent years. Today, around 95pc of Swedes have access to a debit or credit card, and the number of card payments made every year is well above the European average. Many shops and supermarkets no longer accept cash payments. Handling less cash suits most retailers as it results in faster transactions and reduced security risks. NFC- enabled ‘touch pay’ is now the norm in many retail outlets, while mobile payment methods such as iZettle make it easier for small business owners to operate cash-free.

These trends are creating promising opportunities for Irish fintech and tech companies to help drive the growing digitalisation of countries near the North Pole.

Tom Holgersson is a senior fintech adviser based in Enterprise Ireland’s Stockholm office

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