Lauded as “the biggest event in fintech since fintech”, last Friday night saw the inaugural fixtures of London’s fintech football league.
Eight of London’s leading fintech startups pulled together fleet-footed teams of engineers, designers and data scientists to embark on a mission to make startup sporting history.
Under the bright lights of the Powerleague pitch in Shoreditch, the players continued the fight for supremacy already begun by their founders with pitches of a somewhat different nature.
It’s not an entirely novel idea: several of London’s restaurant startups also run a football league, and plenty of firms in London have teams playing at PowerLeague.
But Anthony Marion, 11:FS team vice-captain and one of the organisers of the Fintech League, thinks the it could be a game-changer for London — or even Europe’s — fintech scene.
“It’s a great way to bring everyone together — at least starting with London — around a shared passion,” Marion says. “We all work in fintech, we all feel like we belong to something.”
The post-match pub trip is also a great way to find out what’s going on behind-the-scenes at fellow fintechs. “It gives you a good insight into life [at other companies], what people are doing.”
It could also lead to stronger connections within the fintech community. “I spoke to people I’d never spoken to — and that was just week one. We’re going to see them every Friday for 13 weeks; there’s a whole host of possibilities,” Marion says: from joint problem solving to sharing invitations to events and workshops or even recruitment opportunities.
The seeds were sown last summer, when fintech consultancy 11:FS organised a friendly against digital bank Monzo. Before the game, Marion and colleague Petrit Berisha created a spoof video — and the rest of the company went “crazy”.
For the official league, Marion, Berisha, Michael Bailey and Simone Giorgetta — who are part of the media arm of 11:FS’ business — planned an even more ambitious video. “We did it with £0 budget and filmed in our lunch breaks,” he says. A stroke of luck came when 11:FS chief executive David Brear put them in touch with Sky Sports journalist Ed Draper who presented the promo clip.
Since posting the promo video last week, Marion has had requests from 15 other London fintechs to join the league. He’s also had enquiries from potential sponsors for a second league, kicking off in the autumn.
This season will be merely the alpha product, he says: “We want it to be more.”
What about a European fintech league?
The news has led to calls (admittedly, from Sifted’s Nordics correspondent Mimi Billing) for international expansion.
Surely, with all the fintech companies in Stockholm, we could easily beat the Brits at ⚽️ ?… @Klarna @iZettle @lendify @lysa_ab @opti_se @qapitalapp @dreams_apps #fintech #sthlmtech https://t.co/KNCPlQ3upY
— Mimi Billing (@MimiBilling) March 25, 2019
“We’ve had requests from internationals,” says Marion. “That’s something we want to do.”
The “ideal scenario”, he says, would be to have multiple country leagues across Europe, with a weekend tournament for the winners of each country to play each other. The challenge, of course, would be budget — unless a sponsor stepped in.
Before the league kicked off, Marion admits he was a little worried he might have taken it all a little too seriously — but the reception exceeded his expectations.
Supporters turned out en masse; Receipt Bank alone had 30 to 40 fans on the sidelines — and a team chant. Disappointingly, though, there were no banners or flares. “We want the fans to level up, if they want to see more from the players,” jokes Marion.
What a start from the team in the #FintechLeague ???
6-3 victory vs @ReceiptBankFC
RBFC ?just didn’t feed the Haj enough it seems ? pic.twitter.com/uwNB5o5lea
— 11:FC Sportsball (@11Sportsball) March 22, 2019
The companies were competitive, but chatty. “At the end of the day, we’re just people interested in similar things,” says Marion — “but I am looking forward to the Starling v. Monzo match.”
Where were the women?
Female footballers were sadly in the minority, with only Starling putting forward a mixed team.
I think we can all agree the real win is football.
— Funding Options FC (@FundingOptionFC) March 22, 2019
“It’s a mixed league — and we want to have more women involved,” says Marion. Starling and Curve’s squads have three women each and Receipt Bank’s has two. 11FC (the name of 11:FS’ team) regular left back Sarah is taking time off to have a baby.
It doesn’t help, Marion adds, that at most fintechs “the male-female split is not equal”.
“The message from us is that everyone’s welcome; the most diverse the better.”
Where was N26?
“When we were setting up the league, N26 were just setting up an office in London,” says Marion. But that said, N26 is not one of the 15 fintechs who’ve been in touch in the past week interested in joining the next league…