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The International SME Business Banking-Fintech Forum took place in London, October 2019. The event was organised by Lafferty Group and sponsored by ClearBank, concluded that the SME sector contributes more than 50 percent of GDP in many countries and is the biggest employer globally by a long stretch, and continues to be hugely underserved by banks.

Yet experienced bankers at the forum said that along with wealth management, SME banking is the most profitable sector for those who can offer high quality service. The development of the fintech sector in recent years in now offering useful bridges between underwriters and small businesses. The UK's progressive Open Banking scheme is also helping to revolutionise the delivery of credit and improving liquidity for small businesses. In particular, the automation of payments is freeing up time for small business owners to concentrate on the business itself.

The digitalisation of the financial process is coming full circle, with solutions presented ranging from decentralised digital identities to the digitalisation of receipts that eliminates the last piece of paper in the chain. In the UK, Open Banking is making possible speedy payments from account to account – and the card schemes are aware that this is an existential threat.

Many if not all small businesses are users of digital services such as Facebook to the extent that the vast FB, Whatsapp and Instagram network remains also an existential threat for banks. During the Forum, Mark Zuckerberg was once again before the US government, defending the launch of the Facebook-initiated Calibra concept, warning that if the US did not move to back Calibra, the Chinese digital renminbi would quickly launch and become a world standard. In a discussion in the Forum about Facebook, Calibra and Libra, a show of hands confirmed that that not one person in the forum did not use WhatsApp.

Among the other major talking points:

  • Mobile phones and superapps have revolutionised small business in China, helping lift the entire country out of poverty. This revolution is continuing with the trend towards mobile to mobile payment from account to account or wallet to wallet, and excellently serves small businesses that want to avoid card fees.
  • QR codes are going to have their moment in the West having thoroughly conquered the East.
  • SME and private banking remain the most profitable segments for those who can deliver high quality service.
  • A number of European bankers present said the SME sector has traditionally been seen as unprofitable for banks, and they have focused instead on corporate banking.
  • However, we heard many contra-indicators: one chief executive of an alternative finance provider spoke of producing return on equity between 50 and 100 percent.
  • National policies and regulation have a tremendous influence on the health of the SME sector. Banks and governments worldwide have a great deal to learn from the success of the Small Business Administration in the US.
  • SMEs need to wake up to environmental risk: future funding of businesses through banks is now certain to come with environmental and sustainability metrics driven by the Financial Stability Forum's new direction on climate change.
  • Some fintech-bank partnerships are succeeding: "We partner with an SME marketplace to help clients that we cannot lend to" – Jack de Mooij at ING.
  • "We are able to save SMEs vast amounts of bank fees, by introducing clients to fintechs and other banks" – Andrea Reynolds, chief executive of Swoop.

In conclusion:

Within the overlooked SME sector is another sector even more overlooked: microbusinesses, sole traders and freelancers, who are accounting for an increasing amount of GDP growth as large business models are challenged and local, sustainable businesses become key in the fight against climate change. It is this vast sector that is likely to receive the bulk of government-initiated funds delivered through banks to microbusinesses with environmentally sustainable and profitable business models.

The speakers and panelists included;

  • Sunil Dixit, Managing Director, Client Solutions, BBVA
  • Paul Randall, Executive Director for Global Solutions, Creditinfo
  • Andrea Reynolds, CEO and Founder, Swoop
  • Ram Sundaram, Chief Operating Officer, TerraPay
  • Michael Heanue, Joint Managing Director, M Worldwide
  • Jakub Zmuda, Chief product officer, Modulr
  • Craig Tillotson, Chief executive, Ordopay
  • David Schick, Vice-chairman, Lafferty Group (formerly of Citi, Raiffeisen Bank International and Maybank)
  • Michael Lafferty, chairman, Lafferty Group
  • Marcus O'Toole, Head of small business payments, Mastercard
  • Andrew Smith, Chief Technology Officer, ClearBank
  • Amir Nooriala, Chief Strategy Officer, OakNorth
  • Richard Peers, Founder, Responsible Risk Ltd
  • Colm Lyon, CEO & Founder,
  • Gary Wilkinson, Chief Executive Officer, Redwood Bank Limited
  • Onyeka Akumah, Founder & Chief Executive, Farm Crowdy
  • Oliver Prill, Chief Executive Officer, Tide Business Banking
  • Roisin Levine, Head of Banks, Flux
  • Ruta Julius, Strategic bank partnership management, Elavon
  • Miguel Da Silva, Managing Director: Funding, Retail Capital
  • Alex Puig, Founder and CTO, Caelum Labs
  • Charles McManus, Group CEO & Executive Director, ClearBank
  • Jack De Mooij, Area Lead Platform Strategy, ING
  • Simon Cureton, Chief Executive Officer, Funding Options
  • Janice Horan, Senior Director, Fair Isaacs Advisory
  • Tao Tao, Entrepreneurial, strategic commercial leader
  • Olly Betts, Chief Executive Officer, OpenWrks
  • Babs Ogundeyi, Founder / CEO, Kuda Bank
  • Darren Upson, VP Small Business Europe, Soldo
  • Ronan Lynch, Editorial director, Lafferty Group


International Retail Banking-Fintech Forum 2018


The 2018 International Retail Banking Fintech Forum gathered executives from banks and leading fintechs to share their real-world experiences of bank-fintech partnerships and collaboration. Driven by a focus on case studies and practical examples, the conference presented opportunities to learn from business leaders who have been driving the digital transformation of retail banking.

The speakers and panelists included;

  • Martina King, Chief executive, Featurespace
  • Paul Taylor, Chief executive, Thought Machine
  • Joao Abiul Menano, Chief executive, James Finance
  • Steve Le Roux, Chief executive, Envel
  • Jay Sidhu, President, Bank Mobile
  • Sunil Dixit, MD, BBVA
  • Charles McManus, Chief executive, ClearBank
  • Samuel O'Connor, Chief executive, Coconut
  • Steve Round, Founder, Saascada
  • Laurent Herbillon, Head of Open Innovation & Startups Cooperation, BNP Paribas

Using the theme of 'Striving for successful business models', this conference aimed to cut through the hype around digitalisation and new models, and looked to find out the difference between the ideas and the realities. The conference focused on those initiatives that are offering a genuine and realistic bottom-line contribution. Specifically, we looked in detail at the technologies, methods of collaboration and the cultural shifts needed to thrive in the new digital banking ecosystem – a result that led to us consider SME business banking as the apex of change during 2018 as new digital ecosystems and digital lenders upend traditional models.


International Cards & Payments Conference


With populism on the rise, Lafferty Group looked to see how the cards and payments business will negotiate the new world disorder. Digitalisation is playing a significant role in cards and payments; there's a sense that banks in particular have digitised, but not digitalised, and are yet to grasp the import of the new world.

Delegates heard from regulators, payments systems operators, fintech challengers, established banks, AI specialists, and big tech firms, and agreed that fintech is now being regarded with less alarm than a couple of years ago, as bank-fintech partnerships become commonplace. Instead it is 'Big Tech' that is the new challenge: from Google to Alibaba, the top ten big tech firms are investing vastly in AI, a game-changing technology in cards and payments. One speaker reminded the audience that Amazon, a giant in AI, lent $3 billion to merchants last year. AI, for instance, is already embedded in everyday programmes such as Outlook. As Nick Ogden explained, the ClearBank proposition would hardly be possible without Microsoft as a partner, due to the billions it invests in AI, anti-fraud measures, and the biometric security behind instant transfers.

Now, the big challenge is this: how much can the cards and payments industry learn from Big Tech without losing its DNA?

Our speakers and panelists included:

  • Nick Ogden, Executive chairman, ClearBank
  • Kartik Teneja, Global head of credit cards, Standard Chartered
  • Richard Peers, Banking Industry Lead EMEA, Microsoft
  • Vladimir Komlev, Chief executive, NSPK
  • Agada Apochi, Chief executive, Unified Payments
  • Marcia Clay, SVP Market Development, Mastercard
  • Paul Smith, Head of Policy, Payments Systems Regulator
  • Paul Stoddart, Chief executive, Vocalink
  • Nick Kerrigan, MD Future Payments, Barclaycard

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