Dear London, where’s our Google? Time to move past fintech and take on Silicon Valley

 
Brad Goodall
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London’s techies have become bogged down, narrowing ourselves to “fintech”, “healthtech”, “adtech” and so on – whatever happened to just “tech”? (Source: Getty)

London’s tech scene is much lauded.

More than seven years ago, David Cameron outlined his vision of a Silicon City, one rooted in the east of London and spawning ideas that can take on the world.

Since then, there has been much talk – but what about the results?

Read more: London will remain tech hub of the world

Cameron’s speech aimed for London to compete with San Francisco, “the leading place in the world for hi-tech growth and innovation”. Despite some positive steps and many interesting companies, we could be doing far more. We are yet to produce a single defining, behemothic tech business.

Where is London’s Google? Amazon? Snapchat?

Back in 2011, we started an important process: creating a competitive, intelligent tech scene. This birthed many impressive, innovative companies, but we are yet to have one enter the tech stratosphere. London’s techies have become bogged down, narrowing ourselves to “fintech”, “healthtech”, “adtech” and so on. Whatever happened to just “tech”?

This leaves us stuck creating slightly more efficient payment apps, running trackers, and marketing tools, all in competition with each other. These are wonderful, but I doubt Jeff Bezos, Evan Spiegel et al. are quaking in their trainers.

Today’s London tech scene is full of impressive talent and backed by world-leading infrastructure. This is a world I know well, having spent years helping startups and then kicking off my own. London has the ingredients to create truly defining tech companies, ones that can lead the world. However, something is getting lost in the recipe.

It’s time we reached for higher heights, and this won’t come from payment apps.

To achieve something big, we need to come back together as a community – even a movement. Our horizons and ambitions should be broadened, so that we stop competing with each other and instead work together. By increasing our collaboration, we can begin to challenge San Francisco’s ideas.

Open Banking provides a rare opportunity to do this. The regulation will force large banks to share the anonymised data of their customers. This newly available data can create a level playing field, one where individual developers, designers, entrepreneurs and big brands all have equal access to a bounty of information.

This information goes beyond understanding spending and banking habits.

The “Open” is the important bit, not the “Banking”. This data can tell a person’s life story. Used intelligently, it can allow the creation of far-reaching products and services we can’t even imagine, that will go far beyond the fintech realm.

Achieving this will require a rethink by our tech community. If we stick with today’s approach, Open Banking will not deliver all that it could. Currently, we could create frictionless payments and financial apps, but this will miss the real opportunity to stretch the data beyond finance.

Instead, we need to bring together everything that is wonderful about London’s tech. We must create a movement that is unified in its ambition and committed to working together, to creating truly defining ideas, products and services.

If we do this, we will perhaps realise Cameron’s Silicon Valley-beating vision.

Read more: The Bank of England is setting up its own fintech hub

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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