UK Trade Mission Brings Bitcoin and FinTech to Southeast Asia

PM trip

Last week, wallet provider Blockchain became the first bitcoin company to take part in an official government trade mission.

CEO Peter Smith was one of 31 executives to take part in a trade delegation, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, to promote the UK’s FinTech businesses in Southeast Asia.

The FinTech sector, which now employs 135,000 people in the UK and creates $20bn in annual revenue, is a key part of the Conservative Party’s plan to stimulate trade and investment.

While the nation received 42% of Europe’s FinTech investment last year, trade body Innovate Finance want to capture even greater share of a market still dominated by Silicon Valley and predicted to be worth $46bn by 2020.

Cameron’s trade mission coincided with the release of the organisation’s ‘UK 2020′ manifesto which calls for the nation to create over 25 FinTech leaders “whether by IPO, global market share or by valuation”.

Alongside the key players in the FinTech ecosystem, Innovate Finance also counts bitcoin firms BitReserve, CoinFloor and Elliptic as members.

Championing business

The Treasury’s newly appointed ‘special envoy’ for FinTech, Eileen Burbidge, is a partner at VC firm Passion Capital, one of the backers behind UK exchange CoinFloor.

Though the government has mentioned bitcoin and blockchain technology in its rhetoric to date, Smith’s invitation is the most concrete evidence it is championing bitcoin businesses as part of its agenda.

Smith told CoinDesk:

“Our public policy team has been actively engaged with the Prime Ministers office, as they seek to learn about the technology, formulate policy and most importantly, encourage the industry here in the UK.”

The CEO said he was “honoured” to be part of the mission around Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia.

“The highlight was having the chance to explain bitcoin, and our company, to the Prime Minister while we flew between cities,” he added.

Alongside SMEs such as RateSetter and Earthport, others in attendance included FTSE-100 insurance company Aviva and Rolls Royce, who signed a £340m deal with Vietnam Airlines during the mission.

Though many of the delegates in attendance had heard of bitcoin, their understanding was limited, Smith said. One of the biggest take-aways from the trip, he said, was the need for better education – which can be something as simple as setting up a bitcoin wallet and receiving funds.

Stimulating the economy

In the year since withdrawing his first bitcoin from a bitcoin ATM, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne announced a landmark plan to regulate digital currencies in the UK.

Under the proposed laws, bitcoin exchanges in the country will be required to adhere to anti-money laundering regulations, meanwhile companies will be able to opt in to consumer protection standards, coordinated with the help of the UKDCA and the British Standards Institution (BSI).

The government is also investing $10m into research on digital currencies, in a joint venture between Research Councils, the Alan Turing Institute and Digital Catapult.

Unlike New York’s “inflexible” BitLicense, startups have praised the UK’s measures for their light touch. The FCA’s regulatory sandbox has proven particularly useful for many startups who cannot afford up-front compliance costs.

In a previous interview, Marco Santori, global policy counsel at Blockchain said:

“The clarity and research evident in the Treasury’s recent publication on digital currencies demonstrates its true desire to get the details right, and to learn along with the industry in the process … This is in welcome contrast to the blunderbuss approaches we’ve seen in other jurisdictions.”

The government’s formal consultation on digital currencies is expected to begin this summer.