Toespraak Digital Finance Summit 2020

Mr. President,

Ladies and gentlemen, dear participants.

As the Minister of Finance I am pleased and honored to be invited to this event. Despite the Covid crisis it remains pertinent to  bring together the Belgian and European Fintech community for the fifth time.

Not in the least because one of the most rewarding aspects during a summit – besides being inspired by leading speakers – is networking. I’m positive that interpersonal contacts at coffee- and lunchbreaks will be missed, although it has to be stated: your organization – by its nature and activities – has to be one of the most prepared and adapted organizations to face these unprecedented times.

But also because the Belgian Fintech sector has great importance, not only for me as a Minister of Finance, but to our economy as a whole.  Today, and in the future.

Mr. President, I’ve noticed that my predecessors were always welcomed guests at your summit and I can readily gather their enthusiasm to address this summit. FinTech is truly getting more important, year by year, on a global level. On the European level, FinTech has become this years’ most important industry by investments of more than 33 billion euros. Belgium should be an early adopter for once in this sense, and you will find a driving force in me to achieve that, but I’ll gladly come back on the Belgian situation later on in this speech. First, let me continue by saying that I believe, the attention your organization and summit has accumulated in the Belgian press in recent days and weeks is exemplary of the increased importance of the sector.

On the global level we have seen undisputed disruption in the Fintech world as investments have increased in a decades time from around 10-20 billion USD to a staggering 150 billion in 2018 and 2019. Although we have to face the fact that in that last decade main FinTech investments occurred in the USA and China; Europe is steadily gaining. I mentioned before,  a figure of 33 billion euros, representing Fintech investments in 2020. These investments account for the biggest investment in technology to date. Even more so, they exceed investments in HealthTech, HR technology and many manufacturing technology sectors.

With regards to Belgium - on investment rankings - our country occupies a respectable seventh place within the European Union. First and foremost, this is commendable. But.  We must strive to do EVEN better, and I am confident that we will. We have all the assets right here, right in the center of Europe. So this can undoubtedly be achieved, especially if we look at the recent developments of our last decade.

Indeed. Ladies and gentlemen. Since 2010, near 1 billion euros have been invested in our Belgian FinTech sector. And you will pardon me as I pick out the unusual year we call 2020: not due to Covid but thanks to the amazing contribution of Unified Post, only just recently listed in September amidst the Covid crisis, an interesting 368 million euro has been invested in Belgian FinTech this year. Having such ‘Fintech Licorne’ does not happen by accident!

Actually Belgium has a long history of excellence in the fintech sector: we merged our payment scheme (BanContact Mister Cash) over 40 years ago, we host the Swift and Euroclear headquarters, and more recently, we launched our Identity Management ‘Itsme’ with great success, together with initiatives such as contactless PayConiq which was massively accelerated in its adoption during the sanitary crisis. I am positive these adoptions are here to stay.

I’m quite sure that our Belgian reputation of excellence in the Fintech sector won’t change and should not change in “the world after” as it is vehemently called in the invitation to this summit. Our Fintech start-ups and scale-ups have begun a lot of recognized initiatives in payment, lending, alternative financing and personal finance.

This should not come as a surprise. As Belgium, and especially Brussels, ís truly the center of Europe; the center were a lot of new regulations are decided: on open banking and cryptoassets to name a few. In this manner, Belgian initiatives can enjoy great proximity with ruling decision makers. I haven’t even mentioned how well positioned we are with respect to growing regulation in the technology segment of this industry!

I deem it needless to remind us all that Belgium has a lot of strong assets for investors and entrepreneurs: we have modern infrastructures, admired education – our universities are world-renowned for their innovative research centers and are breeding grounds for spin offs in numerous high-tech sectors. The quality of life we have to offer is among the best in the world. I would be gleeful to see Belgians more confident and proud of our pea-size country. We should radiate these assets and accomplishments more often as to make it more self-evident that we can usher in strong and mature expertise in the fintech sector…

It is therefore a restated objective by our government to be not only ambitious, but also proactive in this sector that is creating immense value for our country and economy.

This new government. Ladies and gentlemen. Is committed to craft a plan to boost our economy. Needless to say that such a boost is necessary as the challenges that lie ahead (and their impact on the economy) are numerous. Even though they also contain opportunities, especially for the Fintech sector. Never let a good crisis go to waste. Right?

The covid crisis, in particular, which is by far the biggest sanitary crisis we have experienced in recent decades is hitting everyone extra-ordinarily hard. Be it regular Jane’s and Joe’s, industries, economies, governments. None are spared. And I will be as frank as always in stating that economic losses and – generally said – the impact on our economy are far from over. It is, however, precisely this crisis that has given an enormous boost to the digitization of our society and economic operations. Digitization has proven in this crisis to be more relevant than ever. Indeed, digitization has proven to be one of thé key responses to this crisis as we saw dramatic acceleration of needs and wants, including e-commerce and other adjacents for Fintech players.

Hence. Opportunities do exist, even in these trying times. But we must use this crisis as an opportunity to push Belgium to the top.

And this new government is determined to support, as much as possible, the individuals, initiatives and companies that seize these opportunities. Mr. president, I’ve read the interviews you gave last week and the proposals you made on behalf of Fintech Belgium. I believe we share the same ambitions, as your ambitions fit perfectly in the general economic policy of this government. In that way, we will continue to pursue a stimulating policy in the field of research, development and innovation. Because our government firmly believes that research and innovation supply the much needed boosts our economy so desperately needs. Innovation and growth are the two key components here. As the governmental agreement states: “only by research and innovation, can we respond to the challenges faced today”. And indeed, our country must be able to develop technological and innovational clusters for which we can take on European leadership. Therefore, we will pay particular attention to stimulating innovation and more specifically to niche sectors where Belgium can develop its leadership role further.

In this context, I would also like to mention, that special attention will be paid to the growth of companies. After all, a high-performance economy needs both small and large companies and both can, and should, reinforce each other. With respect to  this  strong supported vision, we will take initiatives to support our start-ups as well as our scale-ups. The activation of private savings, as initiated by the previous government, seems to be one of the pathways we have to sincerely stimulate for this purpose. And let’s not forget that a lot of the economic measures taken in the context of the Covid-crisis are really helping a lot of companies, as is true in the Fintech sector, not only to survive this transitional phase, but to take it to the next level and create a solid and successful industry.

On the other hand, this government, as well as the European Commission has decided to focus strongly on the recovery of our economy in the wake of the Covid crisis. We hàve to help repair the damage caused by the pandemic to our social and economic ecosystems. FinTech can surely boost the relaunch of our economy not in the least by using smart and innovative technology to make personal and corporate financing faster, easier and cheaper. Besides the efforts our government will make in this context, the European Commission’s Recovery Plan for Europe is giving all of us an excellent opportunity to do so. From our side, we will, as much as possible, support all the initiatives taken by the European Commission in this context ànd in the context of the general European Commission’s strategy on digital finance.

I’m convinced that through the large number of initiatives that will be taken, a lot of opportunities are awaiting the Fintech sector. Seize them! Research, innovation and digital transitions are no randomly chosen keywords in all of the European Commission’s communication. The new Fintech projects proposed by the European Commission offer a window of opportunity for the governments and all your companies. The Belgian government has the vast will to keep – and even strengthen – Belgium as an attractive, lucrative place to invest in Fintech companies, to establish business and to set up new Fintech companies.

Besides all that, our new government, and not in the least my department, wants to take all possible chances to boost the further digitalization of our public services. Citizens and companies should be able to fulfill tax and financial obligations digitally as it is not only faster, it also provides greater legal security.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us be clear: we must be attractive not only because the corona pandemic crisis is knocking us hard, but also because the looming Brexitdeal - be it a hard or a soft approach – can damage the Belgian economy as a whole in a very hard way. We have to make sure that our country is the best possible option for Fintech companies when they need to leave The City in order to manage their European Union Services, and as recently stated: I believe we have strong arguments to succeed in convincing them; but I’m avidly convinced that this summit, as well as the memorandum I received, will provide me with further recommendations to achieve that goal.

In that way, I would be delighted if I would be invited on your sixth Digital Finance Summit and even more so if I could then, in “the world after”, discover, together with you, that Belgium has risen one or several places in that investment ranking we touched on a few moments ago. I, in any case,  have the ambition to support your sector wherever and however I can.

I wish you all a very interesting and inspiring summit.

Thank you.