THE BLOG

Where Was Fintech In The Chancellor's Budget?

13/03/2017 16:25 GMT | Updated 13/03/2017 16:25 GMT

As someone who runs an online education business I was very pleased to see the level of commitment from the Chancellor last week to the education sector. More money for schools, more money for technical training, and the creation of a new T Level (an A Level equivalent for technical skills). There is no doubt that Britain has a skills gap, and it's good to see the government commit to more specialist skills.

But we shouldn't underestimate or sell short the talent that is here. In fact the reason we chose Britain to found LEO, and start LEOcoin, was because of the technical expertise and entrepreneurship that runs through the veins of this country. But more could be done to take the lid off of the simmering talent that exists across the nation.

As an entrepreneur with businesses that rely on decent connectivity, and the founder of a currency that is used via the internet, I obviously welcome the government's plans for 5G. Getting Britain 'up to speed' is vital for its growth, and I know the businesses that use LEOcoin will eagerly anticipate faster connection speeds (that means more mining!). That said, many of the smaller enterprises who make up the LEO community and trade in digital currencies are self-employed; they are now going to be expected to pay more under new National Insurance arrangements, they might be less happy about that. But I suppose that reflects the evolving world of work. In this internet age entrepreneurs and new businesses can set up and flourish without the need of an office full of staff. It is therefore no surprise that the government has gone after their profits. So the least the government could do is give them every opportunity to access different types of finance.

Yet there was no obvious commitment to the world of financial technology in this spring Budget. Whilst robots and artificial intelligence seem to be the flavour of the day (the sector received a £270m investment in R&D) more financially focussed tech didn't seem to get a look in. Perhaps it was more in vogue under the previous administration? As it happens former Prime Minister David Cameron recently opened the offices of a new entrant conveniently called 'Blockchain'.

We seem to be in a hiatus. In 2015 the government held a consultation on the future of digital currencies and their potential regulation - 2 years later and we've still heard nothing more. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not calling on the government to get closely involved in the proliferation of digital currencies or any heavy handed regulation - in fact I think that would be hugely detrimental. However, what we would like to see is a little clarity. It's always worrying when the government put out a consultation on a policy area and then don't propose any policy, it rather leaves me to fear it's lurking around the corner. Add to this the prospect that much of the big banking sector is getting involved in blockchain and digital currency, and I can't help but wonder whether they're starting to set the agenda?

What we don't want to happen is for regulation of digital currencies to 'all of a sudden' come into force and for the banking sector to be the only people prepared or equipped for it. The power of this new financial technology is its ability to disrupt the way we do business, not perpetuate doing things the same. The government should be backing initiatives that explore blockchain and the full potential of digital currencies; keeping the door as open as possible to innovation. But to move forward we need to start getting some clarity of their intentions.