Notes from the Paris Fintech Forum

The Paris Fintech Forum, which bills itself as the largest digital finance event ever organized in France, took place on January 28th in the Pierre Mendes France conference center at the French Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The event featured 102 speakers from 12 countries, and 47 startups. More than 600 people attended.

The day consisted of interviews with senior executives from French financial services firms, panel discussions, and keynote speeches. Startups presented concurrently in a separate room (which meant you were always missing one thing or the other, unfortunately).

The event highlighted the breadth of French Fintech innovation, and the competitive advantages France offers – including world-class engineers, many established financial services firms to partner with (or disrupt), and growing support from accelerators and domestic venture investors.

Several interesting themes emerged throughout the day. Among them:

Relationships between French Fintech startups and larger firms in France

There was disagreement among some panelists on how seriously French banks and financial services firms engage with them. Several startups I spoke to feel some firms request presentations out of curiosity rather than serious intent. (This is a complaint of entrepreneurs everywhere.)

But Groupe BPCE Chairman Francois Perol cited his firm’s experience with P2P payments startup S-Money (which it acquired) and invited Fintech startups to reach out for serious discussions.

Both views are probably true. It seems clear that incumbent firms in France are still struggling with the challenges presented by startups which are unencumbered by legacy infrastructure and legacy thinking. Some established firms just watch while others enthusiastically engage with disruptive entrepreneurs. Customers will inevitably be the winners, no matter which approach the larger firms take.

For French Fintech firms, is Europe one market or 19?

This was one of the more intriguing topics. The answer varies. If you are selling software, for example, then the Eurozone may look like one big market with minor accommodations required for language and culture. But in other categories, Europe can feel like 19 smaller markets due to regulatory differences, and the U.S. may look like a better bet for expansion (though in insurance and money transfer, U.S. regulation is state-by-state).

Regulation by London versus Paris

Everyone in financial services likes to complain about regulators (sometimes with good reason). But the CEO of London-based Kantox cites clear leadership from elected officials and regulators in London as key to keeping London at the forefront of Fintech and financial services innovation. He points to banking licenses being given to startups in the UK – regulators are proactive in making innovation easier.

The co-CEO of Paris-based Pret d’Union counters that French government representatives and regulators are also very supportive. He states French investment regulation is increasingly friendly to startups and encourages angel investors.

But venture investor Philippe Collombel of Partech Ventures points out that French regulators need to be more visible on the world Fintech stage because their leadership is required. He believes regulators across Europe put their domestic retail banking champions at risk of disruption by being too conservative.

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