Brexit vote has ‘chilling’ effect on start-up investment

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Brexit has had a “chilling” effect on investment in UK financial technology start-ups

Investment in UK financial technology (fintech) start-ups has dropped by a third since June’s Brexit decision, a trade body says.

Innovate Finance, which represents 300 UK fintech companies, says venture capital investment fell from $1.2bn (£970m) in 2015, to $783m last year.

“Our members tell us Brexit has had a chilling effect on investment,” Innovate Finance chief executive Lawrence Wintermeyer told the BBC.

But globally, investment rose 10.9%.

There were 1,436 fintech deals globally, attracting $17.4bn in investment, Innovate Finance says, with China outpacing the US for the first time.

China invested $7.7bn while the US invested $6.2bn.

‘Uncertainty’

Venture capitalists typically invest in higher-risk, early-stage companies, but in the UK uncertainty around the Brexit decision seems to have blunted their appetite for risk.

Around 35 Innovate Finance members have reported a withdrawal or reduction in capital funding since the referendum, says Mr Wintermeyer.

“Investors don’t like uncertainty,” he said.

While London could boast “one of the best fintech investment scenes in the world”, thanks to government support and “enlightened regulators”, the capital could be “challenged as a global financial centre” if tech talent was forced to move abroad, he said.

Over 30% of Innovate Finance’s fintech bosses are non-British, with many firms employing European staff, says Mr Wintermeyer.

Tim Levene, managing partner at Augmentum Capital, a £40m fund investing in fintech start-ups such as Nutmeg, Zopa and Seedrs, said: “We tried to raise £100m for a new European fintech fund last year, but two major institutions pulled out two weeks after the Brexit vote – they don’t like the uncertainty.

“Most fund managers want to know what the future holds.”

Mr Levene warns that worse is yet to come, given than “much of the capital currently being invested was raised before Brexit”.

“There’s no question that the US funds who’ve traditionally invested in European start-ups are pulling in their horns,” he told the BBC. “The next two or three years will be challenging.”

The biggest fintech deal of 2016 involving a UK company was the $5.5bn merger of financial information provider Markit with US-based IHS.

Flight to safety?

But if venture capitalists are keeping their power dry, private equity firms, who prefer well-established, less risky businesses, seem to be benefiting from a “flight to safety”.

Phil Adams, chief executive of investment bank GCA Altium, said: “When the Brexit vote struck in June many people predicted an immediate collapse in UK mergers and acquisitions.

“What they missed was the huge amount of money private equity funds had raised, and indeed have continued to raise, and which they need to deploy.

“While the availability of early-stage funding for fintech companies may have been impacted, we have seen demand for profitable, growing assets rise at a rate that has arguably never been greater.”

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