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Outlook for UK fintech hiring after Brexit less bleak than experts feared

U.K. fintech industry insiders and recruiters had initially predicted that Brexit could lead to severe hiring difficulties due to the loss of freedom of movement within the EU. But following the country's departure from the bloc on Dec. 31, the prognosis for recruiting and retaining talent is considerably better than feared.

While the end of freedom of movement creates bureaucracy and inconvenience, this will be offset to a degree by the U.K. government's efforts to make international hiring easier for skilled employees in the tech and fintech sectors. Not only that, but increased remote working amid the COVID-19 pandemic could allow U.K.-based companies to plug skills gaps with hires based in other countries.

British fintech employs around 60,000 people and contributes roughly £7 billion to GDP, according to government figures.

International industry

"Britain's success is built on openness. Being able to attract and retain the most talented people is a critical part of that. It is a top priority for business leaders in financial and related professional services right across the country," Miles Celic, CEO of financial industry body TheCityUK, said via email.

The British fintech industry relies heavily on international talent. Some 42% of employees are originally from overseas, and 28% are from the EU, Innovate Finance, an industry body for the U.K. fintech industry, said in 2018, the most recently available research.

Innovate Finance warned the government in a 2018 statement that a failure to provide a flexible immigration policy could reduce the attractiveness of U.K. fintech, leading to potential losses of up to £361 million in the industry. The Emerging Payments Association, another membership organization, warned in 2017 that a "hard" Brexit could mean the loss of 30,000 fintech jobs.

Fintech beyond borders

Tony Craddock, director general of the Emerging Payments Association, is more upbeat.

"If you had asked me a year ago, the exclusion of the U.K. from the European labor pool of talent in fintech would have been the largest and most enduring problem resulting from Brexit," he said in an email.

"However, the world has turned, and now the lack of availability of talent in the U.K. has been mitigated almost entirely by remote working technology. While human beings prefer to congregate, they have learned to collaborate and cooperate very effectively while remote working even when based in different countries."

Employment laws around remote working overseas are "still a little clunky," but should improve over time, Craddock said. This would mean that technically an employee living in a lower-cost location such as Cyprus could work remotely for a London-based fintech, he said.

Áine Hall, founder and director of Hawk Search, an international executive search firm that caters to fintech and regtech companies along with other financial services clients, also expects the potential of remote working to offset Brexit-related hiring woes to an extent.

"Because of the rapid transformation to home working induced by the pandemic, for fintech companies that are looking to expand, if they continue to offer the option of remote working, they will no longer have to restrict their search for candidates to a certain geography. This will really open up the talent pool available to them without any significant additional expenses," she said in an email.

Helping hand

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, a pair of private-sector groups promoting tech ecosystems, said the U.K. government has already taken steps to smooth the way for international hiring in fintech and tech.

The Startup and Innovator Visas, which were established in 2019, are good examples of initiatives that make it easier for skilled individuals from overseas to work in the U.K., Shaw said.

The U.K. government's suspension of the existing cap on the Tier 2 Visa for skilled workers in December 2020, which had previously limited the number of workers who could enter the country, is also a promising move, he said.

"These are constructive steps which help to convey a message that U.K. fintech is open for business to international talent," Shaw said.

But not everyone is as positive.

"Fintechs like us will likely find it extremely difficult to acquire the talent they need from abroad, and we also face the prospect of a brain drain, with our brightest minds departing for more solid and certain opportunities elsewhere," Yishay Trif, CEO of Moneynetint Ltd., a U.K.-based global payments firm, said in an email.

Business as usual?

Recruitment consultants said they were still receiving mandates for U.K. fintech roles despite Brexit.

"We've not really experienced many challenges [related to Brexit] yet," said Neill Butcher, chief commercial officer of the Conexus Group, a fintech consulting and advisory group, and founder of Headcount Recruitment, which specializes in fintech and payments recruitment, adding that his team was typically recruiting for 30 to 50 U.K.-based fintech roles at any given time, an amount he considers to be normal.

Shawn Rutter, founder and MD at Excelsior Search, a recruiter specialized in fintech and capital markets, said he was "as busy as ever" with U.K. fintech roles to fill, and that Brexit had yet to pose any substantial challenges to hiring.

If anything, it may be easier to recruit candidates from a more diverse hiring pool, for example from Asia and the U.S., post-Brexit, he said in an interview.

Graduate-level recruitment, however, could be tougher, as there may well be fewer young people who come to the U.K. without a job "to give London a try" now that freedom of movement in the EU has ended, he said.