Home Policy & Governance Irish minister hails fintech’s public sector opportunities at Lab 2024 in Dublin

Irish minister hails fintech’s public sector opportunities at Lab 2024 in Dublin

Neale Richmond: delivered the keynote address at the Global Government Fintech Lab 2024 in Dublin | Credit: Deirdre Brennan for Global Government Fintech

Ireland’s newly appointed minister of state with responsibility for financial services has hailed the opportunities for the public sector to capitalise on the ‘digital transition’ and collaborate with private-sector fintech suppliers in a speech at the Global Government Fintech Lab 2024 – his first formal public remarks on fintech since taking up the role.

Neale Richmond gave the keynote opening remarks at the one-day event, which attracted an international array of speakers to Ireland’s capital, Dublin, on 25 April. Richmond, whose brief also includes responsibility for credit unions and insurance, was appointed to the role just over a fortnight previously (10 April).

“The Covid pandemic can now be looked upon as an inflection point for the fintech and digital finance sector, and it is clear that the wider digital transition we are experiencing will continue to gather pace. While this provides significant opportunities for the private sector, I believe that it’s also true in the public sector,” Richmond said.

“The opportunity to collaborate here is very welcome, and I’m particularly interested to learn how your [public sector] organisations engage with fintech firms and the role that fintech plays in improving public services in your jurisdictions,” he told the international audience at Dublin Castle’s Printworks venue.

“It is difficult to overstate the opportunities that fintech has brought and will continue to bring to Ireland, both in helping to achieve our public policy goals, but crucially, to provide better outcomes for our citizens,” he said – a sentiment echoing the keynote address delivered by his ministerial predecessor, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, at the 2023 Lab, which was also held in Dublin.

RELATED ARTICLE Irish minister champions fintech’s public policy potential at ‘Lab’ event in Dublin – a news story on the ministerial keynote at the 2023 Lab by Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (she is now minister of state for European Union affairs and defence)

‘National fintech hub’: getting to the detail

Richmond – who was previously minister of state at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment – was speaking just over six weeks after Ireland’s government published its latest annual priorities for fostering growth of the fintech sector in an ‘Update to Ireland for Finance: Action Plan 2024’ strategy document.

The original ‘Ireland for Finance’ strategy was unveiled in 2019 and its update – a whole-of-government strategy charting the development of international financial services in the European Union (EU) member state to the end of 2026 – was published 18 months previously. The strategy’s five themes are: sustainable finance; fintech and digital finance; diversity and talent; regionalisation and promotion; and ‘operating environment’. Both fintech and sustainable finance are priorities.

“I’m looking forward to continuing the work of my predecessors in overseeing the implementation of the strategy as I’m well aware of just how important it is to Ireland,” Richmond said at the Lab, which was organised in partnership with Ireland’s Department of Finance and supported by knowledge partners Microsoft and ClearBank.

The 2024 action plan contains 13 ‘key deliverables’, with ‘assessing proposals for the establishment of a national fintech hub’ among six deliverables in the fintech and digital finance section.

“Work is underway to explore the costs and benefits of establishing the new national fintech hub, and I look forward to receiving more detailed proposals from industry and working closely with the officials in my department over the coming months to progress this project and also to identify where we can drive innovation, allow fintech start-ups to scale and to produce further employment opportunities in the sector,” Richmond said in his speech.

Implementation of the ‘Ireland for Finance’ strategy is overseen by a public-sector high-level implementation committee with input from an industry advisory committee. Richmond is chairing a joint committee, supported by the Department of Finance’s international financial services unit, that meets quarterly.

RELATED ARTICLE Ireland hosts public sector fintech pioneers in Dublin for third ‘Lab’ – an on-the-day event summary of Global Government Fintech Lab 2024

‘Top-class fintech innovators’

Richmond used much of his speech to highlight the importance of fintech and financial services more broadly to the Irish economy, saying that “the presence of financial services firms continues to grow across each region”.

He described Enterprise Ireland, a government agency, as “one of the largest investors in fintech start-ups in the world”, with “a portfolio of over 200 fintech and financial services companies that they are helping expand into new geographical markets”.

Ireland, he said, “continues to produce top-class fintech innovators who are delivering leading digital solutions to customers around the world”. He named the companies Fenergo, Wayflyer, Fexco, TransferMate and FINEOS, as well as going on to highlight the presence in Ireland of further fintech companies, including Stripe, Fiserv, PayPal, Paysafe and Revolut.

He also mentioned work being undertaken by the Department of Enterprise and Enterprise Ireland to “explore the concept” of a national innovation incubator (across multiple sectors); and the Department of Finance’s work on a ‘National Payments Strategy’, which, he said, “is being prepared for publication later this year and will include a payments ‘roadmap’, taking account of developments and payments such as instant payments, open banking and payment fraud, as well as acceptance of cash by private and public sectors, and, crucially, access-to-cash issues.”

Richmond also pointed out that technology is not without its dangers. “While embracing the many exciting opportunities that fintech provides, we must also exercise caution in the face of risks such as fraud, cyber-crime, money laundering and the financing of the terrorism,” he said, adding that government agencies had run “digital media campaigns to support consumers in harnessing the opportunities and benefits of fintech, while highlighting the potential risks with products such as cryptoassets and buy now, pay later [BNPL] products.”

RELATED ARTICLE Irish government to explore potential for establishing ‘national fintech hub’ – an article (14 March 2024) on Ireland’s government publishing its latest annual priorities for fostering growth of the fintech sector

Focus on fintech solutions – not (necessarily) fintech companies

Global Government Fintech Lab 2024: Ian Hall introduces the event with a speech including a videoclip from a recent webinar about ‘fintech for government’ | Credit: Deirdre Brennan for Global Government Fintech

Richmond was welcomed to the stage by Global Government Fintech editor Ian Hall.

In his own opening remarks Hall referenced that the event was taking place against a changed economic backdrop for fintech compared with the first Lab, which was held in Estonia in 2022, and the 2023 Lab, which was also held in Dublin.

“In Estonia two years ago, and also in Ireland last year, global investment in fintech was surging. Things aren’t quite so rosy now,” Hall said. “The business media have been full of reports in recent months stating that fintech investment has fallen markedly in many countries. The investment story is important. At a big digital payments event in London last month, one speaker described private-sector fintech funding as the ‘elephant in the room’.”

“But it is also the case that government authorities in Ireland, the UK and – it seems every country across Europe and the world – absolutely want to continue to support, and be associated with, the fintech sector,” Hall continued.

“It’s not a stated part of many governments’ financial services and technology strategies – yet – but public authorities are able to really help the fintech sector by procurement,” he said. “And this is happening across all our [Global Government Fintech’s] topic areas – from government use of open banking; to investment in anti-fraud and payment innovations; to the growing number of central bank digital currency technology explorations all around the world.”

“Supporting fintech companies is often where a lot of attention sits when many people think of ‘fintech’,” he said. “But fintech solutions are, of course, supplied not just by ‘fintech’ companies’ but actually by the world’s biggest financial firms and the world’s biggest technology firms.”