Hong Kong’s Ironfly Technologies spreads wings to London to lure qualified staff as fintech back home takes flight

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 8:01am

Hong Kong’s financial technology start-ups are spreading their wings in London as they seek new markets and qualified talent to expand their businesses.

Kevin Mak, CEO of Ironfly Technologies, a three-year-old Hong Kong financial technology, or fintech, company providing a data analytics and trading platform, said the company will open a London branch in the next couple of weeks to help bring in experienced staff.

“Our product is reasonably more complex when it comes to financial technology, so I would say if you’re building an app, sure, you could probably get a lot of people here, or outsource to the Phillipines,” Mak said yesterday.

READ MORE: ‘Fintech is about to disrupt the banking world’: No of start-ups in Hong Kong doubles in 2015 but city unlikely to become Silicon Valley of the East anytime soon

“It’s because we have a more specific type of people that we’re looking for and there’s an older, more established market for that kind of people [in London].”

Speaking at the Hong Kong-London Tech Forum, Mak said another attraction of opening a branch in the English capital is the concentration of potential clients there, many of whom are bigger than in Hong Kong. The start-up is also expanding to Japan and Singapore.

London is home to 40,000 start-ups and is expected see up to 13,000 more in the next decade, with 44,000 employed in fintech start-ups, according to Gordon Innes, CEO of London & Partners.

London’s digital technology firms have seen strong growth since the launch of the Tech City initiative by British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson in 2010.

The city’s history as a financial centre has provided a strong basis for fintech firms, Innes said.

It tech start-ups, which are centred around Silicon Roundabout in East London, attracted US$2.2 billion in venture capital in 2015, Innes said.

READ MORE: Hong Kong walks fine line on fintech as regulatory balance sought

In comparison, total venture capital investment in Hong Kong last year reached US$324 million, up from US$139 million in 2014, according to the Hong Kong Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.

The British capital is also drawing Chinese investment, with an announcement earlier this week by technology and investment group Cocoon Networks of a US$713 million fund to invest in start-ups in the UK and the rest of Europe.

The fund is backed by China Equity Group and Hanxin Capital.

Cocoon CEO John Zai said the London-based firm had chosen to invest in Europe as valuations for start-ups there are about a third the price of comparable companies in the United States, and just a tenth of the price of those in mainland China.

“We’re trying to build an ecosystem, equity investment, all over the world and we’re choosing to do that between China and Europe first,” Zai said.