To emerge as a successful player in the global fintech industry, it starts with support at home. As fintech in Canada grows, the question becomes whether Canada is doing enough to grant its talent the opportunity to reach full potential, both for the country and on an international scale.
In Canada, there is a hugely motivated entrepreneurial population, yet we struggle with depth of talent and access to customers. On a global scale, it is our country's lack of a cohesive strategy that has led to us being an afterthought on the map. While the current fragmentation on one hand may lead to unique ideas, on the other it creates inefficiency and slows innovation.
What the missing piece in Canada comes down to is effective collaboration. I believe this can be changed, but only if and when those major financial institutions that stand to gain from access to innovation start taking the opportunity seriously. Canada has already witnessed multiple startups attempt to individually replicate the same models that have been successful in foreign markets, yet the current domestic market cannot support that.
If Canada is to capitalize in a meaningful way on the economically significant fintech sector, we as a country need to replicate the structures that are making the global leaders successful. This involves buy-in at the highest level from the major financial institutions, not at isolated accelerators across the country as is Canada's current tendency, but rather at the core of their business.
To illustrate this, I point to The Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, which in late 2015 cited, "Canadian financial institutions do not act as true partners to fintech startups to the same extent that other leading global centres do – where relationships do exist they tend to be located at the margins of the financial institutions' main operations, in incubators or accelerators."
Canada has some terrific mixed accelerators, such as MaRS in Toronto but, by comparison, global fintech leaders unify through both shared, subsidized workspace and organizations that support the sector through access to resources, conferences and events. Level39, a workspace supported by Canary Wharf Group and utilized by the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab, and Innovate Finance in London are examples, while the Fintech Association of Canada attempts something similar at home.
Within successful environments, key players leverage this united status for both their benefit and that of their clients. Accenture has a substantial number of financial institutions participating in its programs in London, New York, and Hong Kong, which directly place leading fintech companies in front of the financial institution business units and senior executives to inspire collaboration. The number of proof-of-concepts and pilots that result from each cohort is tremendous and the interaction between the startups themselves leads to rapid innovation.
Back here in Canada, a country priding itself as being on the forefront of innovation, collaboration, and progressivism, we need to embrace and support our growing fintech sector by creating a dedicated body to champion its cause with the support of all levels. It is in this way that we can emerge as an active and impressive competitor on the global stage.
Thomas Beattie is the CEO of Voleo, a platform for investment clubs.