We recently announced our expansion with a new office in Belfast. Key reasons for the choice of Belfast are;
- Well educated, English speaking STEM graduates,
- A very positive business environment,
- An existing financial technology cluster.
Belfast has two universities, Queens University of Belfast, dating back to the mid 1800s, and Ulster University a modern university formed in the late 1960s. Both have advanced courses in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Finance.
The finance school at Queens has a mock trading room equipped with Bloomberg terminals to support practical aspects of finance, and set in the fantastic Riddell Hall building.
The Ulster University Business School has recently constructed a mock trading room, sponsored by CME. Neither trading room is quite complete yet, they are missing SDRView, SEFView and CCPView, essentially tools for the modern rates or credit trader!!
A few interesting alumni and their contributions to science are worthy of note. The portable defibrillator, widely used in emergency medicine, was invented in Belfast by Frank Partridge, his students (and their students) continue research in this area to this day at Ulster University. In quantum physics, Bells-theorem is named after John Bell in recognition of his contribution to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox, Bell was born and educated in Belfast. In our own field of finance, Phelim Boyle, best known for introducing Monte-Carlo methods in finance in his 1977 paper “Options: A monte-carlo approach”, was born and educated in Ireland. He completed his undergraduate studies at Queens, and postgraduate studies at Trinity in Dublin.
Financial Technology Cluster
Belfast has two significant global names in the financial sector, CME and Citibank. Citi employs close to 2000 people in its Belfast office, whilst CME is growing at a rapid pace. Originally, the offices had a focus on technology, but in the last few years other functions have moved to Belfast as well. Another significant employer in this sector is First Derivatives, a local company originally focused on professional services in the FinTech space. There are many other smaller companies in the sector, and an increasing number of technology and data science related startups, some of whom are spun out of the universities. An example is Analytic Engines.
Although Thales is not a fintech firm, it is worthy of note, it is a defence contractor developing weapons systems in Belfast. It employs mathematicians and physicists as actual ‘rocket scientists’ using many similar mathematical techniques used in finance.
One other company I must mention is payescape, based in Ballymoney. They have provided our payroll system from the start, an excellent service that integrates well with our accounting system, Kashflow. (Ballymoney is arguably more famous for being the hometown of the legendary road-racer Joey Dunlop, than for its burgeoning fintech sector).
Quality of life and affordability
Our office is in the University quarter. Within a 40 minute walk (at my pace!!) are the quiet leafy suburbs of Malone, Stranmillis and Annadale where house prices are in the region of £170-210/sqft. Outside Belfast the prices are even lower. The education system retains much of the old grammar school system, outside Belfast it is uncommon to consider sending children to fee paying schools, at both primary and secondary levels. Within Belfast there are a few fee-paying grammar schools, but even those fees are substantially lower than one finds in London. These two components put much less pressure on salaries when compared to London, and allow the possibility of a higher quality of life for those working in Belfast.
Proximity to London
The flight from London to Belfast is about 1hr20mins, it is quite convenient to visit London for meetings and return in the same day. The local airport is named after the famous soccer player George Best, such was his fame that upon death Ulster bank (owned by RBS) commissioned a commemorative £5 note in his honour.
Support from local government
InvestNI is the region’s economic development agency focused on growing the private sector in N. Ireland, by attracting foreign direct investment and supporting local companies to break into overseas markets. They provide initial and ongoing support both financially and perhaps more valuably in a general advisory capacity.
I have been pleasantly surprised at how the government agencies, local business and the education sector all seem to be pulling together in the same direction, to the advancement and betterment of Northern Ireland.
Some people have asked me “Why Belfast?”, I hope this article explains why and suggests “Why not Belfast?”
P.S. It worth looking at some of the outstanding scenery all within a one hour drive from our new office.