The top five problems this year’s EY FinTech Australia Census is trying to solve

FinTech Australia Danielle Szetho

FinTech Australia chief executive Danielle Szetho. Source: Supplied

For the second year, EY Sweeney and FinTech Australia have come together to survey Australia’s fintech industry to check on its progress and identify its strengths and future priorities.

We’re closing the survey this Friday to analyse the data, and prepare the census report for launch at our upcoming Intersekt FinTech Festival in Melbourne.

To encourage everyone to complete the survey, I’m putting my neck out to identify what I think are the top five problems that up-to-date census information will hopefully help us solve for Australia’s fintech industry.

I don’t mind if you disagree with me on the list below — but I do mind if you don’t care, and don’t tell us.

1. Gender equality

Last year’s census told us that just 13% of Australian fintech leaders were women. We were truly shocked by this revelation of such low female participation at senior levels.

We’ve since put in place measures to encourage and celebrate women in our industry, including creating a new FinTech Australia constitution, which required that at least 30% of board members are women, and giving out a Female FinTech Leader of the Year award as part of the Finnies awards in May 2017.

We’re also planning a big announcement around this issue for our Intersekt Festival.

In a new question for this year’s census, we’ve asked participants to tell us how they think we should tackle this issue into the future. The census will also tell us whether female participation in our industry has improved compared to last year.

2. Collaboration with the big end of town

Last year’s census found that 41% of fintechs nominated “building partnerships with banks and other financial institutions” as a key external challenge.

To put this into plain English — banks were slamming the door in the faces of the 36% of fintech companies who listed banks as their target customers, right across the country.

We’ve lately seen evidence that the relationship between fintechs and banks is improving. We’ve seen NAB and Westpac invest in and partner with ZipMoney, and only this week, the Westpac and NAB-backed Data Republic has teamed up with Stone & Chalk and Reinventure to create a “data accelerator” to build new technology businesses from anonymised data sets.

So does the industry feel that collaboration is beginning to improve? Only the census will give us the answer.

3. Going global

If 2016 and 2017 were the years that we finally began to get the policy and regulatory environment right for Australian fintech, we’re hoping that 2018 will be the year that we get lots of our fintechs going global.

But to do this, we need to know what’s getting in the way of them wanting to expand overseas. The fact of the matter is, at present, we don’t really know what these barriers are.

We want to find out why fintechs are not considering overseas expansion — particularly given the explosion of fintech sandboxes in Asia, and increasingly harmonised regulation. We’re hoping to use this information as part of a new collaboration with Austrade and other Australian Government agencies to create strong international pathways.

Last year’s census told us 38% of respondents were planning to expand overseas in the next 12 months. Hopefully we should see a great uptick on that front in this year’s data.

4. What’s next on the policy front

Australia’s fintech policy environment has undergone rapid change over the last 12 months.

We’ve seen a commitment to an open banking regime in 2018, an expanded regulatory sandbox, moves to streamline licensing for new digital banks and equity crowdfunding legislation passed.

So what’s the next policy big hit we should be pushing in Canberra’s corridors of power? Should it be a Digital Sovereign Currency, a single cross-industry Digital ID solution, or more tax incentives for Australian founders?

5. Addressing our skills shortages

Last year’s census found that 43% of respondents nominated ‘attracting qualified or suitable talent’ as an internal challenge. The biggest talent shortage was engineering and software, followed by design/user experience.

FinTech Australia, StartupAUS and TechSydney used these findings to strongly advocate to the Australian Government to amend changes to skilled migration visas announced in April 2017.

FinTech Australia for instance issued media and joint submissions citing these figures, arguing for the government to change its approach.

In July, the Australian Government made changes to its reforms, including reinstating key occupations like web developers to the skilled migration lists and removing some restrictions to startups using skilled migrants.

We’re almost certain that skills shortages remain a critical problem for Australian fintechs, and will be an ongoing issue for Canberra’s policy radar. But we can’t make those arguments without hard data from the community.

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