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How to take your FinTech startup global

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Dean Young, head of product management and delivery at eWise, explains how UK FinTech businesses can overcome the challenges of international expansion and remain successful overseas.

Firstly, you need to think locally to expand globally. Define what abroad is. Is it anywhere you don’t have a head office? Or is it where regulatory and technical specifications are alien?

If it’s the latter, you’re in trouble. It’s fine having a good product and local connections, but a UK FinTech must be in simpatico with the host country; its regulation and culture. Your product must fit seamlessly with host technologies and local regulations, and there must be a receptive market. If you’re having to overly explain your product and the need for it, if you require the host culture to fit into your solution, you don’t have the solution.

UK FinTech firms ‘raised $328m in Q1 2017’

Put end-users first

Cultural sensitivity will impact on your chances, regardless of your offer. In an age of automation know that banks have greater loyalty to long serving staff in Asia, and different business justifications can be required for the implementation of new systems from country to country. Even if your solution is configured for a niche B2B market, and it will make your client rich, it must be marketed in a way which is locally palatable.

For example, Singaporean FinTech is driven in part by the country’s regulatory sand-box which encourages companies to experiment with financial technology. This experimentation can only take place without impacting end-user data security, and consequently any data aggregation offer in the territory must emphasise the end-users’ control over their own data. This underscores the need to create FinTech solutions that are locally sensitive.

Top tips

  • Focus on one geography where you have an advantage, both from a service offer and a pricepoint standpoint. If it works in one country try elsewhere – don’t to try to go global straight away.
  • The local buying culture relates to your proposition. The USA for example has a returns culture that permeates every sphere of business – a use once and take back expectation, and this may effect many FinTech firms striving to do business there.
  • Don’t try to replace the banks. Work with them, by offering affiliate services where there is traditionally more friction, for example at user interface level.
  • Don’t get obsessed with winning business from banks. They move slowly and come with regulatory and bureaucratic red tape that can be draining to negotiate in a foreign language.  It’s often more rewarding to market to the wider ecosystem.
  • Know the local regulator. If you don’t know which agency relates to the regulatory body and the people working at both parties, stay at home. Some countries can be more transparent than others. For example, in India and China it can be harder to find out who the decision maker is. The remedy is to expand your local network and employ locals with broad expertise.
  • Understand the global currency is data. By concentrating on the exchange of digital value you can invent new business models and augment existing ones. Ask yourself, is your data offer different or better?
  • Change. There’s a difference between remote research and experience. If your solution isn’t chiming with the locals, go home and change it.

If it doesn’t work in Barking, it won’t work in Brazil

Before exporting your solution utilise the best home environment possible. An EY report recently noted China’s success in creating a FinTech ecosystem was driven by e-commerce growth, massive online and mobile phone penetration, favorable regulation, a tech-savvy millennial population and a propensity towards digital adoption.

UK FinTech startups also need to offer the total package: the best solution marketed at a technologically savvy user base, operating within favorable regulation. It’s encouraging that the UK government wants to invest in FinTech and regulation in the country is favourable,  but firms must know the access they will have to Europe in the longer term. Granted, these factors are outside of your control, but as a UK startup you must be realistic about your chances. You’re not a Chinese super FinTech or the next Uber, so your solution must be tightly configured to the local market, data-centric, affordable and communicated appropriately. Good luck!

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