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By Jemima Kelly
LONDON, April 12 Money transfer company
Transferwise will move its European headquarters from London to
the continent by March 2019, it said on Wednesday, in a blow to
Britain as it seeks to hold onto its position as a global hub
for the developing fintech sector.
CEO Taavet Hinrikus, who co-founded the company in 2011 in
London with fellow Estonian Kristo Kaarmann, told Reuters that
the new European office would be set up by March 2019, in time
for the end of two years of divorce negotiations between Britain
and the European Union.
The global headquarters would remain in London, where the
company employs around 120 people, because the UK is its biggest
market, Taavet said. But if it was setting up the company now,
it would not chose Britain.
"Uncertainty means that maybe if you're building the next
fintech business you shouldn't build it in London today, until
everything clears up again and we understand what’s going to
happen with access to talent and so on," he told Reuters on the
sidelines of a government-sponsored fintech event in London.
Since last June's vote to leave the EU, other financial and
technology centres such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris and
Amsterdam have been touted as potential challengers to London as
the main hub for European fintech.
A study by Deloitte this week, though, found that London
remained the global number one, for now, along with Singapore.
Transferwise has not yet decided where its new European
office will be, Hinrikus said, although it was considering the
"usual suspects". The new headquarters would provide jobs that
would otherwise have been in Britain, he said.
The main reason for the move was the loss of passporting
rights, which give EU companies unfettered access to all of the
bloc from a single base.
The company, which is valued at more than $1 billion, is
backed by several high profile investors, including Silicon
Valley venture fund Andreessen Horowitz, Virgin Group founder
Sir Richard Branson, and PayPal co-founders Max Levchin and
Customers in more than 50 countries send roughly $1 billion
through its website every month.
Hinrikus was speaking at a conference that featured speeches
from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who said regulators
needed to take a light-touch approach to the fintech sector, and
UK finance minister Philip Hammond, who said it was important
that Britain did not "rest on (its) laurels" when it came to
keeping its competitive edge.
"They're all saying the right things but it’s one thing to
talk and another thing to deliver," Hinrikus said.
He thought London would probably remain a fintech hub for
the time being, but had to make sure it was able to attract
foreign talent. And the lead Britain's regulators had shown in
taking a light-touch approach and starting "sandboxes" for
start-ups was being copied elsewhere, meaning the country had to
do more to keep its edge.
(Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Huw Jones and John