Summary: What’s going on in Belfast and why should you care? An overview of the global FinTech hub and why we primarily recruit consultants from the area.
It’s a common misconception that innovation is new in Belfast. Modernization has been practiced for generations: shipbuilding, rope-making, tobacco farming, and textiles are all end-products of Northern Ireland’s capital. In fact, the Titanic was built in Belfast and as locals will often remind you, ‘it was fine when it left here.’
Belfast has been given a run for its money since the economic crisis in 2008. Net migration loss, declining industry, and low economic growth plagued the region— turning it into, essentially, a barren boondock.
Yet under the radar, a startup ecosystem was quietly growing over the past decade. Today, the city has become a global hotbed for tech innovators — chiefly in the financial services industry.
Because of tightly-targeted education programs and determined government support, a breed of top-tier talent drives the banking and financial services sector.
Together, with over 895 international companies that reside in Northern Ireland, have turned Belfast into a centre of technological and scientific excellence.
Why Belfast is Attractive for Industry
Competitive operating costs is one reason Belfast has become an industry heavyweight. Total operation costs are up to 20-30% lower than the rest of the UK and Europe. To get more comparable, London and Dublin salaries alone are typically 30-40% higher alongside steep property costs. It probably has affected your FinTech investments in the UK already. Plus, you miss out on a pool of incredible (and untapped) talent.
Tech in Belfast is second to none. 84% of NI students achieve top three grades in A-Level exams, compared to 77% in the UK. According to InvestNI, 70% of IT professionals hold a degree level qualification – only 62% do in the greater UK.
NI’s top Universities — Queens and Ulster — tailor undergraduate and graduate programs that fuel a never-ending pipeline of world-class talent. So it should come as no surprise that over 36,000 people are employed in the financial and professional services sector by internationally recognized companies including Citi, Allstate, Mercer, Danske Bank, Fujistu, Baker McKenzie, and more.
But don’t think of Belfast as a one-off kind of hub. Clients looking to expand into new markets look to this FinTech centre for superior capability in emerging technologies (i.e., blockchain & AI), regulatory & compliance, cybersecurity, and more.
What Factors Drove Change
So, how did Belfast become the world’s FinTech hub of choice?
Uncertainty around the economic drawbacks caused by Brexit stimulated Belfast’s rapid growth. But don’t be fooled, Belfast startup births jumped 143% from 2011 – 2016. When London became at risk of losing EU talent because of Brexit, the spotlight shifted to a new FinTech powerhouse in the North. Infrastructure development, investment in advancing talent pools, and global marketing directed at financial firms greatly changed the landscape.
Financial services giants are leaving London. Tullett Prebon set up shop in Belfast and aims to provide over 300 new jobs. New tech centres are also being built to support their international growth strategy.
Highly focused University programs supply advanced workers. It’s no secret that Belfast’s tech talent is top-notch. But why? Because of strong collaboration between academia, government, and industry — major companies help shape the education system. For example, the Queen’s University FinTru Trading Room equips students with high-level, real-time analytical skills to meet industry needs.
Increasing pro-business environments. Danske Bank, Queen’s University, and Catalyst’s Northern Ireland Science Park continue to support this innovative community through developments in research centres, tech parks, support systems, and fund-matching.
The Advantage of Recruiting from Belfast
Why do we recruit most Vox Consultants from Belfast? There are many reasons to engage in areas like London and Dublin, enough for another entire article, but overall, Belfast achieves all these advantages at the same time:
- Specialized Workforce — Think Smarter: Belfast’s University system is always evolving in a range of financial services disciplines with over 5,000 graduating students annually. Queens University & Ulster University both promote globally-recognized research centers that create excellent talent who address real industry needs.
- Young & Vibrant Talent — Think Productive: Belfast is an energetic place to work and live! The city is home to one the youngest and most qualified workforces in Europe. Plus, Belfast is one of the happiest cities in the UK — leading to more productive, trustworthy, and collaborative Consultants that align with Vox values.
- Pioneering Attitude — Think Disruptive: Because of the collaboration between academia and industry, graduates have expertise in niche areas including trading and payments technologies, RegTech, cloud computing, analytics, and cybersecurity.
- Scalability — Think Bigger: The lean and accessible nature of Belfast’s talent makes it scalable. Companies previously unable to afford top talent have a resource that can be leveraged regardless of size, expanding their range of services while increasing the probability of success.
We provide consulting services to the top-tier bank and broker-dealer clients in the U.S. and Europe. We focus on G20 regulatory change management and have consultants placed at tier 1 banks in the U.S., Belfast, and London.