MarketInvoice head of legal and compliance Eoin O’Reilly talks to The Lawyer ahead of his session at the In-house Financial Services conference.
What can be done to fortify the UK’s position as the global leader of fintech?
I actually think we’re doing a lot of things right in the UK to create an environment where fintechs can thrive. The basic principles behind open banking show that the UK is willing to take active steps towards levelling the playing field between banks and incumbents to the payments industry. Although, I don’t think we’ve yet seen the real fruits of the open banking regime.
The UK also has a strong foundation in peer-to-peer lending and investment. The fact that you can now open an ISA with a peer-to-peer platform, a sector that’s only been granted authorised status by the FCA in the past 2 years, shows that tax and regulatory authorities are working together on a fintech agenda.
However, I think the consequences of Brexit, both direct and indirect, will set us back by years. The bandwidth that Brexit is taking up, and will continue to take up, with legislators and regulators, means that any fintech agenda will drop down the list of priorities. In terms of more direct impacts, the risk that the UK could lose access to a wealth of talent across the EU is a key concern for anyone hiring in fintech. You only have to look around the buildings in Old Street and Shoreditch to see that our sector relies on a very diverse workforce.
How does your in-house function collaborate with the wider business?
I’ve found that I’ve fallen out of the habit of using the term ‘the business’ when referring to commercial stakeholders. In banking I found that there was this very clear divide: I give the advice; and ‘the business’ makes the commercial decisions. There’s less of a divide in a scale-up fintech where, irrespective of a person’s role, he/she needs to bring some additional skills to the table, whether it’s experience of project management or commercial negotiations. It’s important for my team (covering both legal and compliance) to have an early touch point with any new product or process that we develop in the business. However, this comes quite naturally in a business where the whole company still catches up at a weekly Town Hall. Collaboration is definitely easier when you know every colleague by name. Although, as we’ve just reached the milestone of our 100th employee I might be put to task on that!
What are you most excited about within the fintech space?
I’m most excited about collaboration between banks and fintechs. Naively, I used to think that a fintech had to be the underdog competitor to a banking giant, trying to chip away at market share. However, it’s become clear to me that working in partnership brings so many more benefits for both parties. At MarketInvoice we build our products without having to worry about legacy systems or any presuppositions about the way things should be done. Our focus has been making a digital platform that’s simple for the customer to use. It’s natural that banks and fintechs work together to bring these kinds of solutions to a broader base of customers. There are few (if any) fintechs that try to offer the full product range of a high street or commercial bank, so it’s natural that we work with banking partners to make our platform accessible to their customer base.
Working on our commercial partnership with Barclays has been a key milestone for my career and I expect that we’ll see more and more of these partnerships in the fintech space over the coming year.
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you have done instead?
I always wanted to be a diplomat when I was younger, and that was without knowing that it’s the only profession that does liquid lunches and closing dinners better than lawyers.
Eoin O’Reilly is one of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s In-house Financial Services conference on 9 April. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.