Lithuania attracting global fintech firms

MR PRAJIT NANU,
MR PRAJIT NANU,

VILNIUS • Mr Prajit Nanu was in a hurry to find a European base to expand his fintech start-up from Singapore. He reckoned it would be a year or more to get an e-money licence in Britain or Germany.

Then he stumbled upon a brochure touting a country that was not on his radar.  Lithuania, a nation of 2.8 million people with no real pedigree in the technology side of banking and finance, was offering to get him up and running in three months. Now he is preparing to start his European operations in February.

"It seemed impossible, to be honest," said Mr Nanu, chief executive officer of Vertex Ventures-backed InstaReM, which provides cross-border payments services in more than 40 countries. "People like us don't want to wait a long time for a licence. Time to market is very important."

The Baltic state  is positioning itself as the amenable backdoor to the European Union and euro region for developers of everything from payment networks to foreign-currency services and gaming firms.

With Brexit weighing on London, Europe's traditional finance hub, and Bitcoin taking off, the country is targeting a global fintech market that has attracted more than US$125 billion (S$168 billion) of investment since 2010. 

As well as Mr Nanu's firm, currency and international payments app Revolut and money-transfer business Contis Group are among the 38 companies that have received or have bid for Lithuanian fintech licences this year.

The central bank reckons Britain's plan to leave the EU has thrown up an opportunity to help foster a more competitive financial services industry in Lithuania. 

"Now everyone is looking to have some share of the pie," central bank board member Marius Jurgilas said. "Some of the people are scavengers doing it just because they want their share. We have an intricate reason why we're doing it." 

OFFER THAT IS HARD TO REFUSE

People like us don't want to wait a long time for a licence. Time to market is very important.

MR PRAJIT NANU, chief executive officer of Vertex Ventures-backed InstaReM, on Lithuania offering to get him up and running in three months.

The fintech mission began about a year ago, with the central bank holding roadshows from Tokyo to London. In the past month, it has met investors in Singapore, Japan and China.

It offers a specialised banking licence with the euro zone's lowest initial capital requirement, €1 million (S$1.6 million). That includes access to the Single Euro Payments Area, permitting electronic payments across the euro region.

Britain's departure from the EU meanwhile has cast uncertainty over the "passporting" rights that let offices in the British capital provide services across the bloc.

London-based Revolut, which has raised more than US$86 million in venture capital, applied for a European banking licence in Lithuania last month. Its Baltic head Andrius Biceika said that unlike in other countries, it was easy to reach the decision makers at the central bank.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2017, with the headline 'Lithuania attracting global fintech firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe