Often a strength of ours in Jersey is that we expect and demand high quality services and don’t take the excuse of being a small island as a reason for not getting them. However, the flipside of that is we can also be quite self critical – and there are times we simply don’t appreciate what we have – and I’m not just talking about our low crime rates, relatively clean and pot-hole free streets and strong sense of community.
I’ve recently come back from London and a lunchtime presentation for the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI). This is a forum for debate and research about the future of the international finance services sector. The audience consisted of people from the UK finance industry, fintech start ups, regulators and even staff from various London embassies. The subject of the event was ‘Sandbox Jersey: a round-table discussion of how one jurisdiction is seeking to harness the power of RegTech’. I spoke along with our Special Adviser, Dave Birch, and Amy Bryant, Deputy CEO at Jersey Finance, with the pitch that Jersey was a great testbed for FinTech start-ups to work with a supportive Government, a strong team of economic development agencies/industry associations in Digital Jersey & Jersey Finance, a world class financial services regulator and a tech savvy closed user group of 100,000 people surrounded by water.
We were obviously conscious that quite a few locations, not least London itself, were giving the same pitch to FinTech companies, and I’m sure many readers will question how Jersey can hope to compete on this new world stage.
However, we quickly found that not only were the audience already aware and respectful of Jersey’s reputation as a well regulated and skilled international finance centre (and incidentally they hadn’t fallen for the ill informed recent rhetoric in the UK media) but they were amazed at how far we had come with our digital infrastructure, including that we would shortly hit 100% ‘full fibre’ broadband (the UK is at 3%) and already had 3 separate Internet of Things networks as well as our world leading 4G speeds.
Everything we talked about in relation to Jersey differentiating itself by offering itself as a whole island sandbox or testbed for new technology, went down very well, a response that has been repeated at many other events we’ve addressed.
It just goes to show it is very easy to be blinkered and not get a sense of perspective in Jersey. We can be too critical of what we have here. I’ve often heard remarks from both those inside and outside of our industry, that we can’t possibly hope to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley. My response? We’re not trying to. What we are doing is achieving global recognition for our digital industry – not by trying to replicate what they’ve done, but by finding our niche and being one of the best at it – just as we’ve already done with our finance industry.
Who would have thought that a small wool and cider producing rock in the Channel Islands, would give rise to a global financial centre? Jersey’s finance industry started with the simple repealing of an old 18th century law that limited the interest rates to be charged on loans. Its repeal brought merchant banks to our shores and so laid the foundations of our modern finance industry which is a match for any other jurisdiction in the world.
We can use our position in finance as a strong foundation for building our digital sector. We already have a global reputation for professionalism and high standards. The presentation at CFSI, was held jointly with Jersey Finance and in our post-Brexit age it’s important that we pull together as an island to market ourselves as more than the sum of our parts.
We have many more events like the CFSI lunch planned as we go out and showcase our Jersey sandbox proposition. We also have world leading experts coming here to talk at various events and upskill our workforce, not least University College London, IBM and Cisco running a course later this month to provide an introduction to IoT and inspire islanders to create projects and businesses at our Digital Jersey Xchange lab.
We should be proud of what we have in Jersey and have faith in our proposition to the world.