Jerome Bloch (360Crossmedia): 3rd Paris Fintech Forum: money time!
The development of the Paris Fintech Forum over the last three years illustrates how the Fintech scene is booming. A strong Luxembourg delegation was there to promote its blockchain and digital currency capabilities, hoping to attract more entrepreneurs and clients. A report from Jérôme Bloch in Paris.
The Palais Brongniart was built at the beginning of the 19th century and was named after the architect who designed it. When you enter the Paris Fintech Forum, the high golden ceiling reminds you of Versailles and a century-old tradition of finance. But times are changing! The prestigious building is now an event venue while transactions are carried out by computers. In the meantime, Luxembourg - whose Stock Exchange was incorporated in 1928 – is investing heavily in Fintech, attending the event in Paris to promote itself as a leading player in this sector. On stage, CEOs of multinationals such as Orange Bank – created by a telecoms company - and start-ups share their views while networking, with pitching sessions taking place everywhere during the two-day event. Everyone gets the message: Fintech is a hot topic in Europe right now.
“Fintech heroes already exist in Luxembourg, but they're discreet”
For Luxembourg-based companies, such an event is initially surprising for two reasons: firstly, the Fintech programme is very political in the Grand Duchy. Ministers, banks and consultants tend to use Fintechs as a marketing tool, resulting in a gap between hopes, expressed as press-releases, and the international reality. Several start-ups in Luxembourg complain that they are often approached by so-called ‘partners’, who in fact only want to sell them something or take advantage of the “Fintech” branding rather than invest real time and money in this sector. Secondly, the country, which has developed an incredibly efficient programme by recruiting top talent including Nasir Zubairi, tends to underestimate the speed at which its competitors are growing. Yes, Luxembourg is a financial centre, but so is Paris, which is undergoing a spectacular transformation led by Xavier Niel’s Ecole 42 and StationF. Attending such an event is surely the best way to address both issues and strengthen your game. Suddenly, international entrepreneurs are benchmarking Luxembourg with other Fintech centres like Paris and Frankfurt and comparing key factors: administrative efficiency, rent prices, available qualified workforce and so on. There's a lot to improve but this is a unique opportunity to engage in a very competitive and positive battle.
So now that Luxembourg is building momentum, it's time to turn the marketing machine on. In Paris, no-one cares about Finance Ministers, expensive consultants or organisations created to promote Luxembourg as a financial hub. If you want to attract successful entrepreneurs, you need to showcase your value proposition - and your ‘heroes’. They do exist! Digicash, the highly publicised and SNCI-funded project, has turned into a national champion while other, more discreet Luxembourg-based players are already serving clients all over the world. Two of them were exhibiting at the Paris Fintech Forum: EMPCorp, the online payment champion lead by Gilles Moro, with a turnover of more than 10 million euros and Birdee, the robot-advisor engine. They should be ‘used’ as proof of Luxembourg’s relevance in the Fintech world. Other heroes including Xavier Buck and Bert Boerman could be showcased effectively too. But this raises questions about the relationship which Luxembourg in general and public servants in particular have with success, another subject which has never had to be addressed in the past. But times are changing and we're entering the money time, so there isn't really a choice.