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An insider account of a trade mission to Australia

Michael Hufton, CEO of ingage, recounts his tale of joining an 11-day government trade mission to the farthest corner of the globe.
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Post Brexit, international trade is all the rage and innovation is in focus. Fintech is one of the buzz words at the centre of attempts to forge a growth story for the future – and it’s a sector where the UK is the world leader.

A new generation of entrepreneurial executives is ready to take the baton and seize the opportunities afforded by this brave new world. To be one of ten chosen for the UK Department of Trade’s first fintech trade mission down under was exciting.

But what’s it really like on the ground? I put together a brief journal of the day-to-day reality so you can get a flavour of what being on a trade mission is really like.

Day one

Lofty intro aside, where the rubber hits the road for your budding fintech exec is a little more down-to-earth – a six-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, two-hour stopover then another 15 hours on to Sydney. This was in economy, of course, but the luxury afforded by an A380 is power sockets and Sky WiFi, so laptops and iPhones remain fed and email kept in check.

Day two

Still on the plane. Slightly surreal experience when somewhere over the Indian Ocean my iPhone pinged me, asking permission for my ten year-old daughter Lucy to buy a piano game.   Permission duly granted – and seconds later an email from Lucy saying “awesome, thanks daddy.” Even when you run an enterprise technology business, there are occasions when you do a double take at the reality of the always-connected world and the pace of change.

Thursday evening – landed. Efficient travel being the hallmark of ingage, I took the train to Circular Quay and acquired yet another foreign Oyster card to add to my collection – the Opal now joining the Charlie (Boston), the Ventra (Chicago), the MTA Metrocard (NYC) and the ov-chipkaart (Netherlands).

Finally arrived at my bolt-hole, the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, an extraordinary place. Incredible location right on Circular Quay with friendly and welcoming staff. The room has everything I need – but it feels a bit like going to stay with your grandma.

Entrepreneur Michael Hufton

Entrepreneur Michael Hufton

Day three

Pouring with rain. Where’s an ingage umbrella when I need one…?

Good meetings with ASIC and with the head of private banking at Macquarie. Both see the need for reform and the huge change that’s coming. Interesting comment from ASIC – it’s fintech becoming techfin that they’re looking at.

The question of whether the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google come in to the financial services space.

Day four and day five

Weekend off

Day six

A series of meetings at the British consulate, then to Stone & Chalk, Sydney’s fintech co-working space. Interesting comment from one of the Stone & Chalk VCs: “Don’t bring an advisor to a meeting – it’s like bringing your dad on a date.”

Then on to the Opera House terrace followed by the British Consul General’s house in Vaucluse for beer and pizza. In many a presentation we are reminded that Australia is enjoying its 25th consecutive year of growth, was largely untouched by the “GFC” (Global Financial Crisis), and almost a third of the country’s Superannuation funds, the third largest pool of pension assets in the world, are self-invested.

Interesting comments from the British Consul General and his counterpart at AusTrade. Both keen to highlight that a trade deal is top priority, and “whatever you think of Brexit, the outcome will be our two nations getting closer”. A very good case made for Australia as the base into the AsiaPac region.

Day seven

The main event of the trade mission in Sydney – seven-minute presentations, one after the other, to 100+ people at KPMG’s new offices in Barangaroo. So far so good – except that I was the only one to go off-piste, an almost audible intake of breath when I un-plugged the consulate laptop, plugged in my iPhone and demo’d our app.

All sensible delegates stuck to Powerpoint and avoided the curse of the Live Tech Demo. But showing the actual product went down really well. Suddenly people relate to what it is that we do and why what we have is such an obvious improvement on the status quo. Lots of great approaches comments afterwards.

From there a series of one-on-ones – Westpac, the Australian Stock Exchange and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The ASX meeting was squeezed in at the last minute and overran a little – leading to my first real use of our “I’m running late” button: ten mins recouped and no offence caused.

Fifteen minute turnaround trip to the RACA for a quick change then back out in the pouring rain to Macquarie for the main Sydney evening reception. Must have been 100 people there – speech from the NSW minister for innovation and better regulation, and lightning one-minute pitches from each of us. As they said to us, it’s not easy presenting your life’s work in one minute, and nearly four hours of intensive networking is pretty tiring too – this trip is no jolly !

Networking is fast and furious on a trade mission

Networking is fast and furious on a trade mission

Day eight

Alarm call at 3am, pack up, check out, get the 4:33am train from Circular Quay, then the 6:05am JetStar to Melbourne. Catch up with all the crew at the airport. By now some real camaraderie forming. This has been the biggest positive surprise of the trade mission for me – how valuable it has been to spend time with the other delegates. I’ve learned a lot.

Good laughs in the taxi from the airport to the consulate – then another onslaught of presentations and meetings. One important thing I learned from a video conference with ASIC: they are in close consultation with the FCA and very aware of MiFID II. They don’t see commission unbundling on the Australian legislative agenda, but they say they already see it coming to Australia for commercial reasons – and think this will grow further.

The afternoon at the York Butter Factory contained two of the most relevant presentations from First State Super and Australian Super. Both of these really exciting stuff. Two of the biggest of the Australian Superannuation funds at $80bn and $100bn respectively, both internalising an increasing proportion of their asset management for cost and efficiency reasons. Keen on engagement and ESG, very long term in nature, they will need a corporate access solution and have no legacy investment bank relationships.

There’s an obvious fit with what we do – and it’s fantastic to be able to hold up similar clients such as PGGM as a poster child. We could build a really successful super business in Australia.

Back to the consulate, collect bags, check in to our hotels and a quick turnaround to the Melbourne evening reception at Aon. Another one-minute lightning pitch to 100+ people. This one was more of a struggle – when you’ve been up since 3am a solid evening of pitching and networking is pretty hard core.

Some good stories though – e.g. a Glaswegian chap running a section of IT within ANZ, parachuted in to migrate a green-screen DOS based system says: “You would not believe how antiquated core banking systems often are.”

Day nine

Up early, quick swim at the RACV, breakfast then down to KPMG for the main Melbourne presentation session. Luckily I arrived 15 minutes early – enough time to discover their VC system isn’t iOS compatible, so my demo won’t work. Last minute re-design to do a web demo instead.   Live tech demos are always risky. Shaky start but quick recovery – and it worked. Some great comments and really meaningful approaches afterwards.

Then one-on-ones – with the Sutton brothers, who it turns out could be a great help in providing intros to the Supers, and with First State Super, who presented yesterday

Half the group on to New Zealand, for the rest of us that’s the end of the formal part of the mission.

Day ten

A hectic final day of the trade mission – up at 5:15am, in the pool for the open at 5:30am, good 2km swim to clear out the cobwebs, and a breakfast meeting with Ian Matheson, CEO at AIRA. Then back to the RACV for an 8:30am.

Then on to BHP Billiton for the AIRA Melbourne Chapter lunch, heads of IR from 35 companies in attendance. MiFID II presentation went really well, very engaged audience, great questions.

And that’s it. Finally the sun put his hat on, so I took the walking route back to the hotel to pick up my bags and found a buzzy lane of outside restaurants on the way. I was presenting all through the lunch meeting so thought I’d stop for a quick glass of dry Victoria Riesling and six oysters on a sunny terrace – Melbourne is a great city.

An evening Sky Bus out to the airport, a 30 minute conference call with Bloomberg news on MiFID II and a 10:50pm departure to Abu Dhabi. Goodbye Australia!

Day 11

An economy class airline seat isn’t the best way to spend a night, it has to be said. But I did at least get a good few hours kip. Up at 6am Aussie time – by which time I was almost half way through the flight.

Then, courtesy of Etihad WiFi, a few hours to catch up on the email and write-up the trip. Eight hours later arrival into Abu Dhabi, a two-hour stopover, 90 mins delayed departure due to yet more rain – then the final seven-hour leg back to London. Landed at 1pm – finally home at 3pm.

Exhausting but exhilarating and energising, all at the same time. Very glad I went on the trade mission. Now to get some business out of it and make it profitable.

Michael Hufton is founder and managing director of ingage, a fintech corporate access platform, prior to which he spent ten years as a fund manager and eight years as a broker.

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