FinTech Interview Series: Nick Searle of C4DR
Nick Searle began his career as a Design Engineer for a specialised systems integration company, building custom hardware and software solutions for clients across multiple industries in Canada. As an avid sailor, he competed internationally and ran a multi-million dollar sailing school. Nick is a Certified Financial Advisor and Planner who built and sold a wealth and portfolio management practice, and then started to work with - and invest in - high-tech growth companies focused in the FinTech and CleanTech sectors. Nick actively mentors and advises several teams, and is building global tech hubs and accelerator programmes to help bridge international markets.
Tell us about yourself?
I like a good challenge, I think of them as adventures. I'm an engineer, sailor and environmental capitalist.
Tell us about C4DR
The Centre for Digital Revolution (C4DR) is about building tech communities globally, connecting buyers/sellers/talent/capital etc. We focus on the next wave of 4.0 technology, and we are busy building new technology and ventures ourselves. Happy to connect with any readers creating or investing in the space.
You’ve been in FinTech for a while – how has the environment changed in the last decade?
Good time frame choice. I think FinTech has slightly lagged, and been driven by general consumer tech adoption. Since the GFC, I think that the entrepreneurs of the world have become disenfranchised with the financial institutions and said "why is this so difficult and inaccessible?". Communication and data capture has become so easy and inexpensive, that lots of smart people have been able to create more appropriate solutions for the way people live today. I think fintech started off as mostly a corporate and retail domain, but has shifted to a direct to consumer approach.
Will FinTechs stay loyal to London now that Brexit is moving forwards?
I'm not sure, because I don't know exactly how Brexit will play out. London will remain a financial centre, and therefore FinTech will always have a strong base here, but other key requirements for business will be affected - access to talent, funding, regulatory support.
Which cities are the most attractive alternatives to London?
Depends on business goals. If you want to access end consumers, cities in Asia have the upper hand for population access, but the Valley still sits as top dog for access to funding. Aiming for corporate access? London, Zurich and EU may be a better bet.
Are the wheels coming off the fintech bandwagon? Do you see digital/challenger banks taking significant market share?
I don't think the wheels are coming off at all. By most measures we're only just getting started. I think there will be significant market share capture, though traditional M&A activity will mitigate.
Is FinTech actually different? We've always been consumers and developers of technology in financial services.
I think so. Disintermediation is the key (though one may argue we're in a period of transitioning from trusting banks to trusting technology companies).
How do you see AI and Machine Learning impacting processes?
AI and ML are only as good as the data they use. Datasets that are built for robust analysis are already impacting processes (because they are designed to do that), but until the existing troves of data become readable or are reformatted, process change will be slow for the incumbents.
Can regulation keep up?
It will lag because of its very nature. It's role is to protect from bad actors and fraudulent activity, but cannot prevent those that recognise loop holes as opportunities. We are fortunate to have a progressive regulator here in the UK.
What are your favourite FinTech innovations?
Those that take the complexity and friction out of trade, but still ensure trust and fairness. PayPal and eBay were the pioneers for me, but the recent advent of the sharing economy for earning income off your physical assets (Airbnb, Uber etc) has been a game changer.
What are the biggest trends to watch for over the next 12 months?
Mainstream and institutional blockchain and crypto adoption. Mainstream media has already picked up on it (albeit in a negative tone), but that will change.
What are the biggest regulatory issues you face?
I wouldn't say we are facing issues, but we are being very cautious with crowd funding in the cryoto space. This is an area that regulators are trying to figure out quickly, and we've been carefully planning our strategy to ensure that we do what's right by the regulator, our investors and customers.