The United Kingdom has advanced infrastructure and both social and financial capital, making it one of the leading locations in the world for tech companies. This is underpinned by effective support measures for research and development and generous schemes for investors. With world-class talent in the financial services and tech space, as well as a record-breaking games industry, fintech and games are industries with plenty of opportunities to tap into.
In 2020, the UK attracted more venture capital than any other European country. Dealroom data shows that UK start-ups and scale-ups attracted USD 15bn in venture capital. Second and third in the list were Germany and France with USD 6.9bn and USD 6.1bn respectively. The rest of Europe amassed a total of USD 14.8bn. Despite the pandemic, the market showed resilience and the total amount of VC funding exceeded that of 2019. In the UK, London, Oxford and Cambridge attracted the most venture capital in 2020. Outside of England, the cities of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast were the most attractive locations.
To support innovation, the UK has incentives like the R&D tax relief, which allows companies to pay less tax or get a tax refund if they undertake activities that can be classified as research and development. SMEs can claim up to £0.33 on every £1 spent on R&D and large companies can claim up to £0.11 on every £1 spent on R&D. The Patent box is another incentive that companies can use to get a reduced rate of corporation tax of 10% on profits earned from patented inventions and other intellectual property.
For investors, there are government schemes like the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), which are designed to encourage investment into young and high risk companies. EIS is for more mature companies and SEIS for very early stage investments. The EIS and SEIS allow for an income tax relief on the invested capital of up to 30% and 50% respectively.
In the tech space there is a concentration in London, but there are key clusters elsewhere too. For example, Cambridge with expertise in software, biotech and mobile. Oxford is known for medtech, digital health and education. Bristol is well known for IoT, cloud solutions, haptics and bionics. Manchester with media, agencies, fintech, sports and manufacturing. Cyber security in Cheltenham, and Fintech in Scotland.
Looking at the dynamics of the UK tech sector, there are opportunities across a number of industries. Within services, disruptive business models and technologies are the driving force behind a world leading financial and business services tech industry in the UK. Technology is central to manufacturing, industry and the UK’s productivity targets, whilst a shift to the low carbon economy is stimulating demand for green technologies. Consumer lifestyles are increasingly based on goods and services that are personalised, instant, connected and environmentally positive.
Opportunities in fintech
In 2020, fintech companies received 32% of all UK venture capital investment. There are several well-known fintech unicorns in the UK, such as Revolut, Monzo and OakNorth. The UK has world-class talent in the financial services and tech space, with London being a global financial hub. There are a number of Swedish fintechs that have established themselves in the UK, for example, Klarna, Tink and Trustly.
According to Ernst & Young’s UK Fintech Report 2020, the UK has one of the highest adoption rates of fintech technologies amongst older age groups compared to the global average. The report also outlines that amongst digitally active consumers demand is driven by services in money transfer, payments and insurance. On the B2B side, SMEs are looking for solutions that can help with lending, payments, operations, reducing costs and administration.
By 2028, 37% of all UK payments will be contactless compared to 19%
There are also opportunities in capital markets, regtech, wealthtech, insurtech, distributed ledger and digital currencies. Innovation in UK fintech is driven by technological advancements in for example AI, automation & machine learning, big data & analytics, cloud computing and distributed ledger technologies. Furthermore, in 2016 the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) introduced the world’s first regulatory “sandbox” in which fintech companies can trial their products and services in a real market.
Another initiative to strengthen the ties between fintechs and large financial institutions is the Fintech Delivery Panel, which is a group powered by Tech Nation and supported by HM Treasury. It was founded by members from the UK’s five largest banks and several fintech start-ups. The panel initiated the UK Fintech Pledge, by which large financial institutions commit to creating guidelines for onboarding of fintechs and SMEs that wish to work with them.
In Northern Ireland, 1 in 5 people in the financial services and tech sector work in a fintech role. It is a centre of excellence in Fintech and in the fDi Fintech Locations of the Future 2019/2020 report was ranked as a top three location.
According to Fintech Scotland, there is a cluster of over 160 Fintech companies there and after London it is the UK’s largest financial centre. Furthermore, data from the Investment Association shows that 20% of the UK’s asset management is done in Scotland. Companies are attracted by the strong network around Fintech Scotland and the low operational costs.
The EY UK Fintech Report 2020 estimates that there are around 135 fintechs in Wales and the financial services industry employs around 61,000 people. The Welsh ecosystem is strong in online and digital insurance and cybersecurity.
The UK’s fintech sector is composed of numerous subsectors, each with its own opportunities. Alongside digital banking, paytech is the largest segment, taking in 23.8% of the total industry revenue. Estimates suggest that by 2028, 37% of all UK payments will be contactless compared to 19% in 2018. The UK, being a leader in payment technologies, presents opportunities for companies in for example digital commerce and mobile POS payments (Source: IBIS World Financial Technology in the UK, Oct 2019).
Credit and lendingtech are two other subsectors that have grown, where the “buy now, pay later” concept with the likes of Klarna, Clearpay and Laybuy are seeing rising popularity.
Meet the Swedish businesses that are making it in the UK fintech industry.
A thriving games industry
The UK has a thriving games industry and 2020 was a record year reaching sales of £7bn, a year on year increase of close to 30%. Games software makes up £4.55bn of sales, and most of it was sold through digital channels, with only £689m in physical sales. The largest segment was digital console sales of £1.7bn, followed by mobile which amounted to £1.5bn (sources: Ukie and Omdia).
The games hardware segment experienced dramatic growth from 2019. Console hardware sales reached £853m, up 74.8% year on year, and PC hardware sales of £823m was an increase of 69.7% from 2019. Sales of console games accessories and VR also increased during 2020, with an upturn of 36.9% and 29% respectively (sources: Ukie and GfK Entertainment).
The UK is home to several blockbuster games like Grand Theft Auto, Fable and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Swedish and British games industries have close ties, and one of the more recent Swedish-Anglo successes is King, the studio behind Candy Crush. In 2020, Avalanche established a new studio in Liverpool, Sharkmob opened up in London, Amplifier Games Invest acquired Silent Games in Newcastle and Thunderful entered the UK by acquiring Coatsink in Sunderland.
In 2020, console
hardware sales reached £853m, up 74.8% year on year.
Talent and regional opportunities
The UK has a large talent pool and world leading universities that offer undergraduate and masters’ degree courses in games development. In 2015, The Independent Games Developer Association (TIGA), introduced an accreditation for university courses to ensure that they meet the relevant industry standards. According to Ukie, in 2016 there were 16,140 people employed in the UK games sector, with a further 47,620 jobs created indirectly by the industry.
In England there are several strong games clusters, particularly in London, the North West including Manchester and Liverpool, Guildford, Leamington Spa, the South West including Bristol and Cornwall.
Looking beyond England, Scotland for example boasts the UK’s first Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education located at Abertay University in Dundee, which is home to the highest ranked degree for video games in Europe for the fifth year in a row according to Princeton Review. Scotland has invested £11.5m in the inGAME R&D centre in Dundee that will drive process, technology and product innovation across games and media.
In Northern Ireland the gaming industry is developing a cluster that has been spurred on by the creation of Pixel Mill, a collaborative and accessible co-working space in the Ormeau Baths Innovation Centre. Hypixel Studios’ establishment in Derry-Londonderry, following its acquisition by Riot Games in 2020, is another major addition to the games sector in Northern Ireland.
In Wales, most games companies are based in Cardiff and Bridgend. One of the better known Welsh games companies is Wales Interactive.
Meet the Swedish businesses that are making a mark in the UK games industry.