The sun was shining in Cardiff as 150 delegates gathered to share their views on what makes a responsible finance industry. Leading practitioners, thought leaders and policy makers were here for the annual conference of Responsible Finance and the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards dinner.
The debate was wide-ranging and thought-provoking.
The conference began with an energising introduction to the world of development finance in the US from Toby Rittner. The CEO of the Council for Development Finance Agencies reviewed the evolution of the development finance industry, with its innovative use of bonds and its current innovations to survive the threatened cuts of the Trump administration. Toby challenged the room to greater US/UK collaboration.
Delegates also heard from the European Investment Fund, Centre for European Policy Studies and the European Microfinance Network – giving the international perspective on the future for post-Brexit Britain.
Panellists were questioned about the UK Government’s approach to supporting business and finance, and its implications for the people and small businesses of Britain that aren’t served by mainstream finance providers. David Pitt-Watson of London Business School told delegates that we should go back to basics, and ask what is the purpose of finance? He pointed to the non-existent academic literature on the subject – does anyone know what it is for? The responsible finance industry seemed to know exactly what it is for, remarked David who added that the debate should be about getting finance from where it is to where it is needed.
Suren Thiru of British Chambers of Commerce gave the small business perspective on accessing finance – stressing the appeal of a local offer and also suggesting that the British Business Bank provide more funding for such an offer.
Cliff Prior of Big Society Capital reflected on the possible impacts of Brexit, commenting that it will hit those on low incomes, pointing out that the ‘Referendum lifted the lid on the bottom 25% who are one broken down washing machine bill away from predatory debt’.
Mark Isherwood AM, Welsh Conservative Spokesperson for Communities, Europe and North Wales Growth Deal talked about the need to encourage savings. He told the room that responsible finance “is needed now more than ever”.
Meanwhile, the break-out sessions delved deeper into the projects, collaborations,
systems and opportunities that could make responsible finance work stronger and smarter. Delegates heard about new fintech developments that provide the potential for exponential growth and a quality mark scheme to strengthen and promote the robustness of the industry. Other sessions discussed the importance of universal reporting amongst responsible finance providers, the need for a responsible debt collection approach and new methods of credit scoring to help the financially excluded.
The centrepiece of the conference was the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards. The global programme – brought to the UK by the Citi Foundation with Responsible Finance, celebrated the practical impact that responsible finance has. Focusing on the entrepreneurs who have benefited from affordable, responsible finance, the winners on the night included an innovative Cornish company that recycles shipping containers, a community hub in Lincolnshire and a developer of sustainable clay plaster.
The conference concluded with a look at the future, with some of the rising stars of responsible finance sharing their views on where we are heading as an industry. Jay Sheth of Virgin Money highlighted the importance of gender and diversity for financial services, while Alex Mearns of Business Finance Solutions returned to the key role of fintech.
There was a rousing finish from 20 year old Joshua Rees from Robert Owen Community Banking who gave a fresh perspective on the ethical finance industry. He spoke of how transparency and inclusiveness are key for the future, along with the need for ideological change in the financial sector.
The networking continued as delegates dispersed around the country to get back to delivering responsible finance. The conversation continues on twitter…