Autumn statement:the fintech industry reacts

With an eye on the upcoming general election next year, this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, delivered his Autumn Statement for 2023. The statement set out the economic forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the government’s fiscal priorities heading into 2024.

As Britain’s pub sector cheered the Chancellor’s decision to freeze alcohol duty until August next year, the fintech sector has plenty to get its head around with the Chancellor pledging to turbocharge growth with 110 new measures. Here are some of the key takeaways:

More AI funding

The Chancellor announced that there would be a further £500m investment for the development of artificial intelligence in a bid to make the UK a world leader.

The UK has already been making huge strides in this space. Earlier this month, the world’s first summit on AI safety took place at Bletchley Park which included high profile guests such as Elon Musk, Kamala Harris and Ursula von der Leyen alongside government officials from the US, China, and the EU.

The Chancellor said this investment will help create new, “innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse”.

Merging the R&D support schemes

The Chancellor announced that he would combine the existing research and development (R&D) expenditure credit and SME schemes to reduce complexity.

The proposal would see a reduction in the rate at which loss-making tech companies are taxed, down from 25% to 19%. The threshold for additional support for R&D-intensive loss-making SMEs is also being lowered from 40% to 30%.

The Chancellor said this will benefit a further 5,000 SMEs but more information will need to be teased out to see if this rings true.

Laurent Descout, CEO and Co-Founder of Neo said, “It makes sense to simplify and merge the two existing R&D schemes,” if the UK wants to position itself as a strong tech and science hub.

But he suggested that “the Chancellor must consider the challenges which SMEs face in accessing finance and his previous commitment to offer additional support for those spending large amounts on innovation. SMEs must continue to be entitled to the highest rate of relief possible in a merged scheme. This is essential for the growth of start-ups, the economy and the UK’s reputation as a leading fintech and innovation hub.”

Changes to pensions and capital markets

The statement also set out a package to improve pension savers’ returns and boost growth in the UK.

The Chancellor said £320m will be provided to help unlock investment in the UK’s most promising high-growth companies through pension schemes.

Reacting to the announcement, Myles Milston, co-founder and CEO of Globacap said, “The UK is the number one tech hub in Europe by some margin, and number three in the world, boasting a tech sector with a combined market value of $1tn. Encouraging pension funds to invest in fast-growing tech firms will not only give the industry a boost, it also gives UK pensioners the opportunity to profit from UK tech innovation.”

Yoko Spirig, co-founder and CEO of Ledgy said: “We are in the midst of a funding crunch, so early-stage companies will welcome any new sources of capital, and it’s good that the government is addressing the funding gap in the tech industry, where London and the UK is still world-leading.”

“However, it’s worth remembering that for UK companies, managing new pension fund investors may be quite different to traditional venture capital (VC) investor relations. VC investors are used to dealing with scaleups where the business model is higher risk.

“There are well-known examples of pension funds elsewhere in the world that have very strong early track records with early-stage companies, like Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. While it will need a real mindset shift from UK pension funds – which right now are 70% invested in bonds – to give scaling companies and founders the support they need, it’s definitely encouraging for the industry as a whole.”

Looking ahead

While these measures look to boost the UK’s economic growth, some believe there is still more to do to ensure the UK retains its status on the world stage as a global hub for financial innovation.

Alisa DiCaprio, Chief Economist at R3 and former Chair of the FinTech Committee at the US Department of Commerce said, “It is vital that the government doesn’t rest on its laurels and continues to recognise the role that technology will play in maintaining the competitiveness of the City.

“The introduction of smart regulation and standards will be key in creating the right environment for financial services to innovate with technology. We’ve seen first-hand the benefits that tools such as DLT can bring to the financial sector, so we urge Westminster to begin moving the needle on targeted regulatory measures that can give market participants the certainty they need to apply this technology at scale. With competition rising from Europe and elsewhere, this will ensure that the UK stays ahead of the curve.”

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