Kiwibank launches New Zealand's first FinTech accelerator

New Zealand’s first FinTech accelerator has been set up – and could help New Zealand grow its share of an industry worth $1 trillion worldwide.

Kiwibank, Xero, Callaghan Innovation and Creative HQ have all joined forces to launch the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator. Based in Wellington, the accelerator will initially fund and support eight Kiwi FinTech startups to build, launch and expand products in global markets. 

The accelerator programme will begin in February 2017. Applications are now open to interested entrepreneurs throughout New Zealand.

 Kiwibank chief executive Paul Brock says the effective combination of financial services and technology could be a boon for the New Zealand economy. “The global FinTech industry is taking off and New Zealand is ideally placed to take a leading role in the FinTech revolution,” he explains. “New Zealand has shown its ability to grow true digital-era disruptors that can foot it with the world’s best so the challenge is to build on that success so others can break into global markets.”

Key to that success, he believes, is providing the support necessary for startups, who amy struggle to scale up of their own. “The key is to give innovative Kiwi startups the support they need to take new financial products and services to the global stage and grow the New Zealand economy,” he says. “The Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator will stimulate FinTech innovation in New Zealand by helping new ventures prove, build and launch their ideas. It will do this through providing funding, expert mentoring and connecting them with investors.”

A PwC report from March of this year into global FinTech found that 83 percent of financial services companies surveyed believed their business was at risk of disruption from FinTech companies. At the same time, global investment in FinTech is booming, with investment reaching $5.3 billion in the first quarter of 2016, an increase of 67 percent over the same period last year. In Australia alone, the FinTech sector is forecast to grow to more than $4 billion by 2020, of which $1 billion is expected to be new added value to the Australian economy.

Those numbers have Brock excited. “Because we’re a major bank uniquely focused on the New Zealand market, it’s important to us that New Zealand has a strong, local FinTech community, ensuring our financial services sector continues to evolve and grow,” he says. “For Kiwibank, supporting a FinTech accelerator will help drive our own internal innovation agenda, both with Kiwibank teams taking part, and also the chance for our culture to be influenced by what our people see in the accelerator programme.”

And he thinks the accelerator has heaps of potential beyond just the accelerator itself. “With enough guidance and perseverance, Wellington could establish itself globally as a place where great FinTech ventures are born, joining other cities such as Singapore, San Francisco and London. This will attract the best and brightest talent to New Zealand, along with new investment.”

Co-funded by Callaghan Innovation and Xero, the Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator will support startups using Creative HQ’s Lightning Lab acceleration programme. Lightning Lab will take in eight digital startups and provide them with structure, startup methodologies, business skills and focused support to help them successfully prove, build and launch ideas to market. The 14-week mentor-intensive programme is based on am accelerator model developed by TechStars in the United States.

Xero CEO Rod Drury says Aotearoa is ideally placed to capitalise on FinTech’s growth internationally and domestically. “The growth of the financial technology sector is a boon for the local economy,” he explains. “We see this as a great opportunity to develop our local small businesses, technology leaders and professional workforce by helping to propel the country’s pace of innovation.”

Like Brock, he also believes the industry ripe with potential. “Financial technology is reshaping the way small businesses around the world run their operations – giving them a deeper insight into their true financial position and enabling them to make better-informed business decisions.”

Kiwibank chief transformation officer Nick Astwick says now is an ideal time for businesses to get involved in FinTech. “Financial services is probably the closest to the next disruptor,” he explains. “It’s probably the optimal time to get involved. We think it’s the right time.”

The accelerator also fits with Kiwibank’s ethos, says Astwick. “We want to make Kiwis better off,” he says. “This is a great opportunity to help Kiwis scale. We think it’s good for business and it’s good for the country.”

Astwick says the recruitment phase for businesses to enter the accelerator will likely last until 14 December. The mentorship and support provided by Lightning Lab are among the biggest selling points, he explains. “New business models are getting formed through partnerships, through cooperation.”