Enda McDonnell: Enterprise Ireland optimistic about continuing growth

Many Irish companies are scaling rapidly, says Enda McDonnell, Manager of Financial Services & Fintech at Enterprise Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland is stepping up its efforts to support the ongoing development of homegrown international services firms outside the capital city.

The financial sector is viewed as having particular potential for expansion at a time when uncertainty related to Brexit is acting as a brake on the prospects of key industries.

As Manager of Financial Services & Fintech at Enterprise Ireland, Enda McDonnell is playing a central role in the implementation of this strategy.

“Enterprise Ireland has a mandate to scale companies internationally, working with people with ideas,” he said. “Firms need to be highly innovative.”

The financial sector has been identified as showing particular promise for growth — and within this category, two areas stand out, Reg Tech and payments technologies.

Reg Tech growth

‘Reg Tech’ is a new field in financial services. As financial entities face a growing burden in the area of regulatory compliance, technologies have been developed to assist companies in meeting these added legal and administrative demands.

Several Irish companies have emerged as important players in the area.

Kildare-based AQ Metrics is one such company. Its key area of activity is risk monitoring. It also provides a regulatory reporting service for fund managers and administrators along with risk insights.

Kyckr is based at the Waterford Institute of Technology West campus. It has automated the process of verifying and maintaining information for its customers who include Bloomberg, HSBC and Citigroup.

Another Waterford company, Sedicii, is involved in data security, providing a combination of biometric based authorisation and ground breaking cryptography to customers involved with digital transactions.

It provides block chain based solutions to allow for the tracking of digital asset ownership. Vi Clarity, a Kerry-based firm, is also in the risk, compliance and auditing space.

Kerry-based Taxamo provides clients with a service which is aimed at ensuring that they achieve global tax compliance by using digital solutions.

Google headquarters.
Google headquarters.

The leading name in this area is Kilkenny based Taxback.com, which employs around 1,200 worldwide.

In November 2017, it announced the creation of 80 posts in Kilkenny and the firm is currently recruiting seeking to fill posts in compliance, talent acquisition, software engineering and data analytics.

Payments opportunity

The second key growth area identified by Enda McDonnell is payments.

Firms are both working with the banks and developing new funding platforms as alternatives to those provided by the incumbent players.

Blockchain security

And a third key area of opportunity for growth is blockchain — involving the delivery of enhanced security and transparency for transaction. There is considerable overlap between the above activities.

As Enda McDonnell has observed, a big shift is underway in the direction of mobile technologies. Adapting fintech to the needs of 24 hour day mobile users is a priority.

The big tech players such as Google are themselves developing new technologies to rival those of the existing financial institutions.

Financial inclusivity has emerged as another key factor, as growing numbers in developing regions of the world gain access to banking products.

So is Ireland managing to punch well above its weight in this field?

“We are certainly in a position where — if we can drive on over five to ten years — we can do so,” he says, adding that countries such as Singapore, Israel and Switzerland are focusing heavily in this area.

The IFSC put Ireland on the map, beginning with the late 1980s. Since those days, the degree of concentration, in relative terms on the capital city has lessened though, of course, the sector continues to grow there.

Fund management services are now provided out of Kilkenny by Carne which recently added 50 posts to its 150 strong workforce.

Dublin based Centaur recently opened a second office in less costly Maynooth, Co Kildare, on the very outer edges of Dublin,employing 30.

Cork has emerged as a leading national centre for cybersecurity — Belfast is now a major centre with 1,500 jobs in the area, stemming from work carried out at Queens University.

EI’s strategy is to promote the development of clusters of firms in each of its nine regions. The South East, South West and Cork are seen as being of particular significance in the financial area.

“There are opportunities for all of the regions to come together. We are reshaping how entities can do so.”

Firms are being encouraged to choose regional locations for second sites. Many of the mainly youthful workforce are attracted by the greater work life balance on offer away from the large conurbations.

Fexco, arguably the leading non bank regional Irish financial entity, has operated out of picturesque and relatively remote Killorglin since 1981.

Looking ahead, cooperation with Its and universities in developing new enterprise and assisting in their upscaling is viewed as of vital importance by EI.

An innovation voucher programme has been developed to assist firms in developing an understanding of innovation. The vouchers are worth €5,000 each.

On a larger scale, Enterprise Ireland has developed a team to work with would be funders such as venture capitalists and build closer relations with the banks.

“Increasing the supply of funding ( to companies ) is always a challenge. The key is the capability of firms. Is the project realistic? Is the business plan focused ?”

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