Friday 12 March 2021 9:54 am

We need to strap a rocket to the government's FinTech thinking

Crypto AM Parliamentary Special with Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE

Financial Services Bill: Time to Act

Part Five of Five

Friday, and I have great pleasure in penning the last in this series of thoughts on the Financial Services Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords.

Today, I want to set out my hopes for a centre – at the centre – that would be the driver ensuring all the hopes outlined in the previous four days (hopes around financial inclusion, AI, DLT, Digital ID and open finance) are transformed into a reality.

Since at least 2015 I have been arguing for a centre, a task-force, a rocket at the centre of government to blast forward everything 4IR and fintech.  

It needs to be at the centre and it needs to reach right across government. There are, to date, only two really effective examples of cross Whitehall working.

The first (and I admit a certain amount of bias here) was the planning and delivery of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. For seven years we were able to get eighteen government departments to work together for the benefit of the Games, sharing ideas, people and budget. Bye-bye silos, hello horizontal working and a golden summer of sport, followed by an enduring economic, social and sporting legacy. The second example is right now in so much of the Covid-19 response, not least the marvellous vaccine programme, a complete credit to all concerned at every point. But, these examples aside, it’s generally silos, budget battles and, “not on my patch” pal.  This is not apportioning blame but an observation of how the system – built in a different time for a different purpose – continues to function.

A centre at the centre

So, a centre that can operate across Whitehall, a UK Centre for Applied Innovation in Financial Services; a centre at the centre to make all this whole. There is plenty for such a centre to do. The start point must be philosophical, a place where public policy problems can meet respectfully and thoughtfully with private sector potential solutions.

My amendment to the Financial Services Bill which I put forward on Wednesday (March 10 2021) evening, requires “the Secretary of State to, within 3 months of the Act being passed, prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a detailed plan for the establishment, funding, governance and accountabilities of the UK Centre for Applied Innovation in Financial Services (“the Centre”).

I have mentioned previously the recently published Fintech Strategic Review – and I have other amendments that reference the review, both in pushing for a formal government response to the review and in proposals intended to address the scale up challenge.  

Ron Kalifa has produced a fine report, aided by excellent chapter heads and hundreds of talented and generous individuals from across the sector who contributed their time, expertise and support. 

There is much in the report which needs no further primary or secondary legislation and I hope the government will implement these recommendations with a sense of urgency. 

Alongside this though, there is much which does. The Kalifa Review powerfully argues that “we need to combine the best of government and policymaking with the innovative flair of the people who have built and lead UK fintech” and use that position to therefore recommend a government-backed “Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology” (CFIT), mandated and supported by the Government, but led by the private sector to coordinate targeted fintech policies that aim to scale the sector.

Future jobs

The review envisions the CFIT as building “execution capability” against all three of the opportunities identified by the review: future jobs nationwide, trade and global leadership and inclusion and recovery.

Whether CFIT or “the Centre” – the exciting thing here is the mission. A dedicated fintech centre could take on all these threads and drive the action required across Whitehall and beyond. Another of the Kalifa recommendations acknowledges the cross Whitehall challenge in proposing a Digital Economy Taskforce (DET). Currently multiple departments and regulators have important fintech competencies and functions, a task force would be responsible for collating this into a policy roadmap for tech and digital, in particular, a digital finance package. It would provide a ‘single customer view’ of the government’s regulatory strategy on tech and a single touchpoint for the private sector to engage.

The Centre should consider the complete range of government activity, where and how fintech may be able to help. At the outset of the Covid crisis numerous fintechs, in their own time, in short order, came up with innovative, effective, efficient, safe and secure means of distributing and monitoring the CBILs, BBILs and self-employed payments. HMRC were unable to ‘port’ them in.  We now face billions in fraud – a dire and disappointing waste of public funds. 

Again, there are fintech solutions which have the capability to address fraud and it’s fantastic to see £100m for an HMRC fraud task force in last week’s Budget. I’m hopeful that many of these fintech solutions will benefit from the fund but there is scope for more to be done.

The Centre could run practical pilots, across the financial services policy area.  Pick any you like, the centre would be able to assist.  Financial exclusion has dogged our nation for decades, harming individuals and holding back UK business. 

Solutions

Potential solutions and sets of solutions exist, the centre could pilot them.

And what of distributed digital identity?  We need it, as individuals, SMEs, as all corporate entities, we need it and we need it fast. Similarly, standards across fintech, including crypto are hotly debated globally right now.  The UK could lead in this area, innovating, creating, collaborating new standards, ensuring safety and certainty and drawing in investment, start up and scale ups into the UK.

The centre could also become the crucible for a transformed approach to policy development, real time dynamic consultation and the acceleration of political will into practical reality. 

Timetables can be accelerated without necessarily increasing risk. The Covid-19 vaccine development and roll out have both demonstrated this.

I’m not flag waving for another think tank, talking shop or indeed, good though they are, an accelerator alone. This centre/taskforce/CFIT must have the power and authority to make the most of the opportunities in front of us.

Over the past five days, I have written at length on the opportunities I believe the Financial Services Bill presents us with. Opportunities we must take, these potential gains are not inevitable. We need to take them – and we need to adopt a new way – data leading to insights leading to decision. 

We need agility, experimentation and the championing and unleashing of curious minds. I’m left with the question I started out with, if not this Financial Services Bill then what bill? If not now, then when? We have the talent, we have the technology.  The future is now, it’s time to act.

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Lord Chris Holmes is Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Groups on: FinTech, AI, Block Chain and 4IR.  He has co-authored Lords Select Committee reports on: Digital Skills, Social Mobility, Financial Inclusion, AI, Intergenerational Fairness and, last year, Democracy and Digital Technologies.  He also authored a report on ‘Distributed Ledger Technology for public good: leadership, collaboration, innovation.’

Further detail about amendments to the Financial Services Bill can be found on Chris’s Blog: https://lordchrisholmes.com/

Website:https://Chrisholmes.co.uk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lord-chris-holmes/

Twitter: @lordchrisholmes

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