Piet Oudolf’s Lurie Gardens.

By Roos van der Meer
Economic Affairs, Netherlands Consulate General in Chicago

After mapping out the opportunities for Dutch business in Chicago’s food and beverage space, the spotlight now turns to FinTech.

Financial technology is another vertical where the Dutch and the Chicago innovation ecosystems collide, both boasting strong infrastructure to support the FinTech community.

Global Fintech Hubs Federation (published by Deloitte) ranked Chicago No. 5 in the world as a FinTech hub. According to the report, Chicago acts as the epicenter for all FinTech activity in the Midwest, representing more than 20,000 financial institutions.

This could be of interest to Dutch startups and scale ups coming out of the Netherlands, which has one of the strongest entrepreneurial environments in Europe, boasting a strong talent pool, several technology hubs in close proximity to each other, a mature financial ecosystem, low payment transaction costs, and a growing FinTech cluster.

Much like the Netherlands, Chicago has the building blocks to be a hotbed for financial technology startups:

  • The Chicago area is home to some of the biggest US players in the FinTech field. Some top FinTech companies located here are Braintree, Avant, Envestnet, Morningstar, Discover, Allstate, Aon & CME. These established businesses are also spinning out entrepreneurs and angel investors in the FinTech space.
  • It has a strong talent base. With Chicago’s history as a trading and banking city, well-established institutions have groomed a pool of talented, tech-minded financial professionals. More than 6 percent of the Chicago workforce is focused on the financial ecosystem and Chicago is home to nearly half of the top business universities in the US.
  • Chicago has enviable infrastructure for businesses operating in the financial space as it is placed right at the center of the fiber optic cable connections between New York and California.

Government support is enabling Chicago’s companies to quickly innovate to create groundbreaking technology. Government-backed organizations, such as Barchart, 1871, and FinTEx (the Chicago equivalent of Holland FinTech) have helped Chicago climb the ranks by making it an increasingly attractive business environment for FinTech companies and a magnet for disruptive ideas and industry experts.

More than trading

Chicago was already on the map as a trading community (also among Dutch trading companies with IMC Financial Markets and Optiver having a major presence in Chicago), but there is much more going on in the financial services sector.

With Innovators like Avant Credit and Enova and established companies like Morningstar in investments, Discover in credit, CME Group Inc. in exchange operation, and Aon in insurance the FinTech ecosystem in Chicago goes well beyond trading.

Working on new things

As many Chicago-based companies are heavily invested in FinTech, the development of blockchain solutions is high on their list of interests.

CME Group Inc., for example, is working closely with the British Royal Mint to create a distributed ledger-based gold trading platform. Deloitte expects that over the next 12 months, state and local governments will partner with the private sector and NGOs to pursue greater adoption of blockchain as well as creating an innovation friendly environment. This is good news for Dutch blockchain entrepreneurs.

Chicago also recently launched The Currency, a new FinTech center of excellence, and opened the doors of its own FinTech incubator called FinTank. FinTank is focusing on a range of verticals including blockchain, cybersecurity, big data and business intelligence. All of which form the pillars of today’s new-age financial applications.

These developments are a testament to Chicago’s growing FinTech cluster.

Challenges ahead

Being the No. 5 FinTech hub in the world is good, but it’s not No. 1. There are a few challenges that Chicago has to overcome to rise among the ranks.

FinTech in Chicago has a low presence of foreign startups. The scene should become more international. There is also a relatively low level of knowledge sharing and a shortage of scaling capital that can inhibit growth.

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