Fintech events are flourishing in Canada

Virginie De VisscherAcross Canada, the development of sector ecosystems has merged pre-existing, renowned expertise in both software development and financial services. And now that the resultant fintech industry has begun to flourish, the way has been paved for a proliferation of business events to capitalise on this considerable opportunity.

The result may well be Canada’s positioning as one of the world’s premier destinations for fintech growth in the years to come.

That’s certainly the hope of Destination Canada’s Business Events team, the government-owned organisation tasked with enriching the events sector in a range of industries, but in particular fintech, given the country’s affinity with both sides of the digital coin.

“At Destination Canada’s Business Events team, we have undergone a huge change over the past few years in our efforts to try and attract international events,” says Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, executive director, Destination Canada’s Business Events team. “We started off by being a business-to-business (B2B) sales agency targeting meeting planners or through the traditional hospitality industry via trade shows and the like.

“Now, however, we really consider ourselves as a fully integrated marketing agency focused on delivering opportunities for our partners.”

These partners are, significantly, the prospective host destinations across vast Canada. The combined aim is to change the perception of Canada to the global audience across a range of sectors, with fintech one of the key focuses among the wider economic sector strategy.

Filling in the gaps

In addition, rapid proliferation of fintech ecosystems in Canada, which now comprises close to 1,000 companies, according to the Fintech Growth Syndicate, Business Events Canada is keeping on top of micro-trends to tailor prospective events and partnerships.

At present, these include attraction to the payments space, as evidenced by more than a quarter of fintech companies veering that way, enhancement of B2B solutions from financial institutions and the evolution of lending.

“Ultimately, fintech is redefining the customer experience and innovations are having to put customers right at the centre of their relationships and activities,” says Ms Sturk-Nadeau. “From a products and services perspective, this has led to a lot of financial products evolving to adopt that consumer-based, small business mentality.

“However, to truly keep ahead of the curve, we are trying to serve as facilitators of a win-win scenario. This means event organisers need to find out what the main trends are in each host destination. In doing so, they’re more likely to attract key traders and panel discussions to their events. A spotlight will then be shone on their own fintech ecosystem needs, and ultimately that can serve as a catalyst for improved trade investment and talent attraction in the long run.”

Complete regional economic development is the phrase used to best sum up this process and the more that Business Events Canada understands different host destination needs, the better the organisation will be at attracting appropriate international events.

The importance of partnerships has never been greater to achieve this and “fill in the gaps”, says Virginie De Visscher, the organisation’s senior director of business development for economic sectors.

“The best way to approach and address trends like fintech – to keep ahead of the curve and translate it into tangible events – is through leveraging events and associations,” she says. “This is the only way to know where the knowledge gaps are to make sure the overall picture of the sector is covered, but also to prevent conflicts, competition or repetition among
those events.”

These partners consist of economic development agencies throughout Canada, as well as traditional destination marketing organisations, federal government departments and Canadian industry associations.

We have one of the fastest-growing pools of financial services talent globally and also one of the fastest-growing technology job markets

Collision: a sign of Toronto’s global status

The subsequent goal is to understand fully each respective tech ecosystem in the country. The reason for taking this regional approach is due to the nuances of each destination. From fintech startups to legacy tech companies providing fintech solutions, or even global platforms expanding into financial services, Canada’s appeal is clustered around a number of provinces.

Quebec and British Columbia have proved especially prevalent in the space during recent years, but none have been as prosperous as Ontario, more specifically, its provincial capital Toronto.

One such event heading back to the city next year after a successful first foray in May 2019 is North America’s fastest-growing tech conference Collision. Sunil Sharma is the co-host of the event, complementing his primary role as managing director of Techstars, the largest technology investment accelerator in the world.

Having recruited a number of international fintech companies over the past two-and-a-half years and with Collision 2020 on the horizon, he is well placed to analyse Toronto’s role in elevating Canada’s business events scene in the fintech domain.

“For Collision, the overall objective is to bring enterprises, startups and corporate investors to one place,” Mr Sharma explains. “For the next two years, the event is happening in Toronto, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Canadian event. More significantly, it’s a sign of Toronto’s status in the global fintech space.”

The Techstars boss pinpoints a perfect blend of finance and tech that exists in the city, which startups can learn from and investors can capitalise on through events like Collision.

“My hope is more startup companies from around the world will visit Toronto and discover the city is unique, with a rare combination of tech and finance acumen across the full spectrum of services,” says Mr Sharma.

“We have all types of large finance companies based in Toronto and when you combine that with the software engineering output of the city, and all the universities and colleges here, then you end up with a concentrated downtown of a large city already blessed with, and consistently on the lookout for, top talent.”

FinTech Connect: recognising talent crossover

The unique extent of quality talent crossover that exists in Toronto is indicative of the wider national trend that Business Events Canada is looking to tap into.

And while the association is quite new, there is an evident, proverbial goldmine of talent, experience and enthusiasm to tap.

Development of sector brochures and knowledge-mapping materials signify nascent progression from within, but it’s events like Collision which are set to accelerate the agenda more concertedly.

Excitingly, in 2020, this event will be joined by FinTech Connect for the first time, as another tangible signal of what’s to come.

Choosing Toronto for the event’s first visit to North America, founder and managing director Steve Clarke says: “FinTech Connect is where large teams from global financial institutions go to assess the latest innovations that will underpin their next phase of transformation. It is where fintechs come to accelerate dialogues with digital buyers with responsibility across digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), open banking, cybersecurity, regtech, payments and blockchain.

“The exciting plans to launch our second international trade show, FintTech Connect Toronto, to shine a spotlight on best-in-class Canadian and North American financial technology to our global network and community, derives from the city being the second-largest financial centre in North America and the birthplace of AI.”

Business Canada fintech

FinTech Connect’s partnership with Business Events Canada reflects Mr Sharma’s analysis of a wider country that is also considered a market leader in the fields of blockchain, cybersecurity and payment technology.

Mr Clarke adds: “Canada has a proud heritage of producing amazing fintechs, including the likes of Koho, a top challenger bank, Purefacts, the innovative wealthtech specialist, and Borrowell, an alternative consumer financing service.

“However, when it comes to B2B applications of financial technology, the local market is more concentrated than others, due to the banking oligopoly of a select few players. This is probably why alternative finance providers have been especially well received and why events like this are important to promote further diversification and input.

“Canada is still establishing its market-wide approach to open banking, which is currently in a pre-legislative consultation phase, and the team behind FinTech Connect Toronto hope to press this agenda by bringing together global policymakers and practitioners who can advise on best practice implementation.”

My hope is more startup companies from around the world will visit Toronto and discover the city is unique, with a rare combination of tech and finance acumen

Smart as well as beautiful

Moving forward, the emphasis for Business Events Canada is to find a balance between showing off its own pioneers to the rest of the world via domestic events and encouraging international expertise to Canada to expand and inform the industry further.

“Sometimes we’ll be reactive to organisations coming to us with the intention to host an event in Canada and sometimes we’ll be proactive to go after associations that fill in the gaps,” says Ms De Visscher. “To facilitate both methods, we’re investing heavily in our economic sector strategy, adding new members to our team who will focus on our key strength of fintech among other priority sectors.

“Additionally, our knowledge map of the fintech ecosystem across Canada, compiled off the back of data and research that is expanding all the time, will ensure we have a better value proposition to associations and international corporations in the future.”

Enhanced opportunities in regard to talent attraction, industry expansion, investment and trade are all earmarked as positive consequences of the strategy.

“Our role is, therefore, to be a facilitator, to attract business events which will then be a catalyst to more than just tourism benefits,” says Ms De Visscher. “Moreover, especially pertinent given the size of our country, by filling in the knowledge gaps and facilitating this sector growth, we’ll also be contributing to the interconnection of the country’s fintech ecosystems.

“By joining epicentres, we’ll be connecting the conversation and presenting Canada as a united country for fintech growth.”

Ms De Visscher points out that Canada is a smart tech place, as well as a beautiful place to visit. And when it comes to fintech, the country is smarter than most.

She concludes: “We have one of the fastest-growing pools of financial services talent globally and also one of the fastest-growing technology job markets.

“What we need now is the events industry to mirror that growth. We have the talent and the ecosystems. Now we need to attract the rest of the global industry to realise this opportunity with us and push the sector forward from here.”

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