Austrian-born Susanne Chishti is the CEO of FINTECH Circle, the first European angel investor network to focus on fintech. Ms Chishti is one of the most influential figures in the digital financial services sector in Europe and was listed in the European Digital Financial Services Power 50 for 2015.

Susanne Chishti is an entrepreneur and investor with extensive international experience. She has broad-ranging expertise in the field of fintech and financial services. She often appears at fintech events, whether as a judge, a mentor or trainer, and is regularly invited to speak at international conferences. She is the co-editor of The FINTECH Book, the 1st book on the global fintech sector.

Ms Chishti, you became involved in the London fintech scene in 2014. How did that come about?
The atmosphere in the London fintech segment reminded me of the time I spent in Silicon Valley: I was a student at the Haas School of Business in Berkeley 20 years ago. At the time, the Internet was taking shape and Internet start-ups were being set up in garages. There was a strong sense of optimism about a new future that no one was able to put into words at the time. When I felt the same sense of innovation and openness on the London financial scene in 2014, I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help shape the future of the financial sector. Financial technology will radically change our private and professional lives for the better, in the same way that the Internet has revolutionized our world over the past 20 years.

What form does your commitment to fintech take?
As a banker by trade, I had lots of friends and colleagues who wanted to invest in start-up companies but didn't know how to identify the best ones. At the same time, I knew people who were setting up fintech start-ups and were looking for smart money – investors who could also provide input, who understood the sector and had a useful network of contacts. So in 2014, I founded FINTECH Circle. FINTECH Circle is the only angel investor network in Europe. It brings together over 70 private investors who invest as a group in fintech start-ups. We went on to create FINTECH Circle Innovate in early 2015 in response to demand from growing numbers of banks and large institutions who needed help to close the gap between corporate strategy and sustainable innovation in FinTech. We guide them through the global FinTech landscape and are able to source the best targets for partnership, incubation, investment and acquisition purposes. We set up a FINTECH Circle group on LinkedIn with a view to promoting fintech start-ups – that group has now become one of the world's largest fintech networks. Our FINTECH Tours to London offer start-ups an intensive two-day program during which they can make valuable contacts and gain useful practical knowledge. The FINTECH Book is due for release in April 2016. The book contains contributions from international authors who share their knowledge and experience.

What is your view of the current situation in Europe? Do you think there are centers other than London with potential?
We are seeing huge growth in the European fintech segment. Promising fintech companies are being set up in a wide variety of locations – companies that are attracting investors and customers, while also reinforcing the dominant entrepreneurial mindset. Good market conditions are crucial:

  • National governments need to make it clear that they want their country to become a fintech hub.
  • Supervisory authorities need to offer free advice for fintech companies and sandboxes – test environments where new solutions can be trialed before going through the lengthy and costly registration process.
  • Established financial institutions need to promote the centers and invest in the local ecosystem.
  • National governments also need to provide financial assistance for start-ups. For example, in the UK there is a lot of support, with tax incentives and so on.

In the long term, I hope that we will see these start-ups become unicorns – companies valued at over USD 1 billion. And I would like to see those companies choose to stay in Europe for their IPOs, rather than turning to NASDAQ.

Where do you think Switzerland stands?
Switzerland has the best chance of becoming a leading global fintech hub: it is an internationally-recognized financial center, with strong banks and financial institutions. The country also has good universities, capital and innovative strength.
On the downside, the cost of living is high in Switzerland, especially for young entrepreneurs with no income. Known as the bootstrapping phase, this is a necessary phase that all start-ups go through, which is why funding and access to venture capital are so important.
It might be a good idea to create a Swiss fintech association, which could work to establish Switzerland's international reputation as a fintech leader, engage in international lobbying, take Swiss companies on trade missions, and attract talented individuals and companies to Switzerland. The UK and Israel are good examples of how that works.

And what is your assessment of the work done by SIX?
SIX has an excellent international reputation. The truth is that SIX has always built on innovation in the financial sector, even before the fintech segment became popular. So SIX is a real fintech thought leader, as a company that has already launched new financial products in many European markets. I really liked the SIX Hackathon too – I followed it on Twitter while I was in London and your FinTech incubator F10 which I visited end of last year. SIX will certainly have a key role to play in establishing Switzerland as an international fintech hub.