Ahead of his keynote speaker role during the Finance 2.0 section of this year’s Tech Tour Solutions, Anthemis Group founder Sean Park tells GrowthBusiness why he sees so much promise in the space and why Tech Tour resonates with his investment firm.
The European Tech Tour Association, which organises networking events for entrepreneurs, VCs and corporates is coming to London on 27 September. GrowthBusiness speaks to Sean Park, founder of financial services investment and advisory firm Anthemis Group, to find out what motivated him to found Anthemis and why Tech Tour works for the start-up space.
What is the story behind Anthemis Group?
The firm was founded three years ago with the goal and aspiration to re-invent finance, so a fairly big target. We hope to go about doing this through two main activities. The first is that we support and invest in start-ups and early stage companies that are disrupting and innovating components across the financial services sector. This involves anything from wealth management to retail banking to capital markets.
We also have a propriety activity which is tightly connected to that where the focus is more on helping larger companies to transform the business and help with innovation and implementation.
The firm itself is made up of 25 professionals: individuals who have spent many years typically working for larger financial institutions. The value we bring is acting as bridge between what is new in start-ups and entrepreneurs and the existing financial services establishment.
What was the motivation?
The opportunity we saw was that industry after industry over the last 10-20 years has been disrupted by new information and communications technology such as internet and mobile. We felt that, when we first started working on this right back at the turn of the century while in old jobs, there is a certain inevitability to it happening here.
It is a big industry and there are a lot of barriers to entry, but the economic struggle was a massive sign that cracks were appearing and financial services was not going to be immune to these forces.
What is it that excites you about the space?
Financial services as a sector is a $4 trillion global industry and it has been, until very very recently, pretty much immune to any sort of disruption.
The beautiful thing is that there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from other industries relating to trends such as consumerisation and the importance of design. It is almost a cliché now, but when people ask us who we like to invest in we often say the Apples of finance.
That means a beautiful user experience that is focussed on the customer but is enabled with technology. To pull that metaphor along, finance historically has been much more Microsoft like with enormous complexity exposed in its full to the customer which makes it very hard to use.
Apple’s products are very complex in terms of engineering but it is essentially a simple user experience to allow them to achieve what they want to.
What is an example of one of your portfolio companies that fits into that analogy?
The thing about finance is that we think it should be all about what is the customer trying to do. So it is more about saving for retirement rather than buying mutual funds. That objective may entail buying mutual funds but that can be behind the scenes.
One of our companies that fits that very well into that is in wealth management space and is called Betterment. They have some deep technology, some pretty hard core engineering, but what they do is provide a really simple intuitive interface that allows people to understand goals, register their taking and save for any kind of a timeframe. It’s much more intuitive than other traditional offerings.
Why have you decided to get involved in Tech Tour?
This will be the first time that I have been involved so I am by no means a Tech Tour veteran. But i’ve known of them for a number of years and was connected to Sven Lingjaerde [Tech Tour founder] by some mutual friends.
Trough tech tour, Sven has always tried to address things that are in the market and the finance 2.0 track is something they have been talking about it.
I think Tech Tour and Sven have seen that there is a lot of emerging activity in financial services in the start-up space and that is how he connected the dots.
It is a great platform and it fits with our philosophy which is connecting the early and the new and the disruptive with the traditional and existing incumbents.
I suspect that this is true of most industries but i have worked for 20-odd years in financial services and it is very much an ecosystem, even arch competitors have to work together when underwriting an IPO. In the context of building a new financial services paradigm we are a big believer that the best and only way to do that is to create the connections between the incumbents and the upstarts. That has been the raison d’être of tech tour so it’s a great fit with what we are doing.