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The Big Interview: Silicon Valley Bank

Scott Thompson talks tech trends, Brexit and why London’s still brilliant with Phil Cox, Head of EMEA and President of the UK Branch Silicon Valley Bank

IBS Journal: Could you tell us about Silicon Valley Bank and how 2016 panned out for it?

Phil Cox: Silicon Valley Bank is a commercial bank that only serves the innovation economy. We have been laser focused on technology and life sciences for over 30 years. We have had a UK presence for over 10 years and opened a full branch in the UK in 2012.

2016 was absolutely fascinating. After the highs of 2015, which was a huge year for UK tech, US venture funding into Europe completely stopped in January. Too early to be Brexit-related, it seemed that the industry was slowing down and valuations were coming back down to earth. That said, the UK continued to innovate, raise capital at home and keep forming companies. We saw fewer deals done but the same volume of capital involved, essentially a flight to quality.

Once the Brexit vote was in, our clients quickly recalibrated and carried on with business as usual. We grew our client base significantly in the UK last year, almost doubling our number of clients and expanding our loan book to £1.1 billion. We also moved to much bigger offices on Finsbury Square in London and hired over 35 people. In 2017 we’ll be expanding further to fuel our rapid growth, hiring around 30 more people here in London.

IBS Journal: Which FinTechs and banking technologies stood out for you in 2016?

PC: The majority of deal volume was across payments, enterprise, investments, forex and research (source: Pitchbook). A trend that we were excited about last year was RegTech – given the number of FinTech businesses springing up all over the UK, there is a huge market for the technology that supports and underpins regulation – from identity checking to compliance monitoring. Not particularly glamorous, but incredibly important.

Open Banking was the 2016 buzzword. Here at Silicon Valley Bank we hired a team from banking API startup, Standard Treasury, in August 2015 to help expand our digital banking platform. In June 2016, we announced an expansion of its card-processing relationship with First Data to leverage its industry leading borderless commerce solutions. This put us on the path to be able to support the largest e-commerce companies by offering the ability to accept and make payments globally, cross-borders/platforms and to scale this capability as they grow. Through a separate partnership with Mastercard, we create flexible, scalable payment solutions that not only make it easy for our clients to run their businesses, but allows us to provide complex payment backbone solutions to our FinTech clients.

IBS Journal: What are the key tech trends/topics to look out for in 2017?

PC: 2017 will be the year that we see full-scale adoption of virtual reality and artificial reality by consumers. Whereas 2016 was the year for talking about it, 2017 will be the year that we actually start to see real adoption of these technologies into the home. A lot of our clients have pivoted to add a VR element to their proposition where possible, given that it is such a hot topic and so interesting for investors. VR is no longer just about gaming – it is heading into every single vertical.

We’re seeing lots of exciting developments in ‘Tech for Good’ with businesses tackling food wastage, financial inclusion and climate change. On the subject of food, food tech looks as though it will continue to boom in 2017 – the way we consume food is changing, kitchens are being built to remove the middle man, the restaurant, from the takeaway ordering process and we haven’t yet reached peak grocery delivery.

IBS Journal: What are your thoughts on the European funding landscape in 2017 (key developments, issues, challenges etc)?

PC: The biggest challenge for Europe is staying relevant and attractive to non-European investors. There will always be a healthy funding market at home, but businesses need to be particularly exciting/different/revenue generating to attract investment from, say, the US or China. In the UK, one key issue is what happens with the European Investment Bank as we gear up for Brexit. Investment from the EIB will continue but slow down significantly over the next few years, and stop completely once we are out of the EU. That’s where the role of venture capital, private equity and bank debt becomes even more crucial to the industry’s growth.

IBS Journal: How will London fare in 2017? Will Brexit have an impact on its position as a leading FinTech centre?

PC: London is still a brilliant city for financial services and always will be, which means that FinTech will continue to thrive here. There’s no doubt that Brexit has pushed businesses to question where their HQ sits, and for FinTech the biggest issue is passporting. However, passporting has never been particularly simple and our leaders will need to provide clarity and find solutions. Entrepreneurs will always innovate and borders will continue to evaporate. Tech knows no boundaries, it’s one of the best examples of globalisation done right.

IBS Journal: In terms of London’s position as a leading innovation hub, which countries will pose the biggest threat in 2017?

PC: We don’t see any countries as a threat to the UK. It’s all about collaboration and sharing success – that’s how tech thrives. We’re excited about Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Chicago, Beijing, Vancouver and all the great tech hubs in between.

This interview first appeared in the February issue of IBS Journal. Click here to subscribe.

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