Fintech North, the one day festival that focuses on digital innovation in the financial services industry, is set to return to Leeds in 2017 following a successful inaugural event this year.
Significant? Yes. Why? For three inter-connected reasons. Firstly, the government is supporting the 2017 showcase, which will be held as part of Leeds Digital Festival. This in turn emphasises the government's commitment to grow the Fintech industry as a key part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda (indeed following the recent Autumn Statement two Fintech envoys to promote the sector in the North of England were appointed). Thirdly, Fintech North is further evidence of why the government's investment in this sector in locations such as Leeds City Region is far from misplaced.
Fintech is undoubtedly one of the major growth sectors for Leeds City Region. Indeed, as an existing centre of excellence for both finance (as the UK's second centre for banking, home to over 30 national and international banks) and technology, we are primed and ready to capitalise on the opportunity.
As a report by Leeds City Council has found, Leeds and the wider Leeds City Region have a number of inherent advantages when it comes to Fintech. These include already being home to a large number of companies playing a pioneering role in innovative Fintech arenas, including Panintelligence, Contis, WorldPay and Nostrum Group, and several leading universities producing a pipeline of high quality graduates in this space.
And with recent news that the North of England has lost 310,000 graduates in the last 10 years in a so-called north to south 'brain drain', I believe that in the Fintech and wider digital sectors, Leeds City Region is bucking this trend and is actually witnessing a trend towards north-shoring. In other words, many companies are leaving London to set up offices here instead where talent is in abundance - we have the largest concentration of STEM graduates in the UK - office space is a lot more affordable and quality of life is first rate.
Let's also not forget we have an exciting list of existing strengths from which to draw on, further evolve, and confirm our position at the top of the Fintech table.
Chief among these is our financial services sector. This is the best in the UK outside London, and it is characterised by both tradition and innovation. The region has been home to leading financial institutions since the 18th century, when the first building society outside of the Midlands was established in the city. It is also the birthplace of the first telephone bank in the UK, First Direct.
Alongside this our strengths within the specific areas of payment processing, data analytics and cyber security; set the City Region apart with firms such as BJSS, TSYS and ECSC.
A natural convergence of traditional financial services providers and new Fintech players is inevitable - indeed is already underway - with Leeds and the City Region ideally positioned to host and nurture the next generation of financial services businesses that will emerge as a result.
By actively leveraging our native advantages, which also include the highest concentration of digital, data and technology innovators in the UK, we are already realising our vision.
Couple this with the work of organisations such as the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, and our City Region becomes a highly attractive place for global Fintech providers to invest and grow.
All this points to 2017 being the year the Leeds City Region cements its position as the true Fintech capital of the north.