Category Archives: Insight

The East Africa Insurance Sector: driving momentum to ensure climate change mitigation? 

By Sarah Caddy 

Extreme weather events are on the rise due to climate change, placing East Africa increasingly at risk. The recent torrential rain raising Lake Tanganyika to dangerous water levels is just one example, with experts citing climate change and deforestation in the Burundi highlands as causes for topsoil erosion around the lakes. Droughts, tropical cyclones and even plagues of locusts have all been experienced recently. Each threaten the health and livelihoods of households and economies. 

In response, there’s growing impetus to promote sustainability in the run up to the global climate event COP26, to be held in the UK in November. As experts in estimating risk and with significant investment capable of steering meaningful change, the insurance industry is well placed to advise and make a difference.   

To this end, the Nairobi Declaration on Sustainable Insurance was launched by the UN Environment Programme’s Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative (PSI) on 22 April 2021. Founding signatories including the Association of Kenyan Insurers (AKI), ICEA Lion Group, Egypt’s Regional Center for Sustainable Finance (RCSF), FSD Africa, and PTA Reinsurance all pledged to strengthen the African insurance industry’s contribution to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include ensuring a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Four months on, with global climate disasters continuing to make news headlines, we look at the efforts being made by the African insurance industry to achieve the goals outlined by the Nairobi Declaration.  

As the only African member of the 22 global insurers and reinsurers who collaborated over 2020 as part of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) insurer pilot group, ICEA Lion Group is vocal about its pioneering role. Writing about its work on the group, it describes the analytical tools the firm is developing to improve climate risk disclosures in line with the recommendations of the TCFD, using the latest climate science. With mounting global pressure on accountability and evidence-based net zero target achievement claims, we predict an increase in African insurance firms communicating their use of tools aligned to the TCFD recommendations, and their role in mitigating against climate change. 

Meanwhile, FSD Africa refers to the obligations for the insurance industry to act on climate change. Writing in their July 2021 blog, risk managers Kelvin Massingham and Zillah Maliah outline the extent of the sustainable development crisis that we currently face, and the essential role that the insurance industry must play in facilitating the flow of capital to climate mitigation investments.  Their call to action to their industry peers is to act now: with only 3 percent of global climate finance allocated to sub Saharan Africa, and a low percentage of African weather-related losses currently being insured, East Africa is poorly equipped to meet the cost of increasing climate disasters. Delay from the insurance industry could prove to be catastrophic. 

While home to 15 percent of the world’s population, Africa is responsible for only 4 percent of global carbon emissions. And yet, Africa’s citizens are already among those suffering most from the effects of climate change – not only from extreme climate events, but also from decreasing agricultural yields and increasing disease transmission, as outlined in this article by the UNFCCCDespite the unfairness of this situation, there is hope. Rama Yade, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centerdescribes the potential offered by the African continent to reverse climate change. She writes convincingly of the renewable energy opportunity, but also of the “massive investment” required to achieve full capacity – fifty billion dollars per year by 2050, according to the United Nations 

The onus is on African insurance industry leaders to leverage their collective might towards a sustainable future. The appetite for working collaboratively towards a common goal that benefits society as well as business is evident in the work of the Nairobi Declaration. By effectively communicating their individual efforts, those insurance firms that are pioneering in this regard can not only be seen as industry leaders but may also nurture best industry practice for all. 


Understanding the full value of rural electrification in sub-Saharan Africa

By Ryan Witton 

According to the International Energy Agency’s 2019 Africa Energy Outlook, some 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity (that’s 75% of the global total), and around 900 million lack access to clean cooking. Despite this, the population without electricity access is in fact falling thanks mostly to the speedy energy transitions of a small number of leading countries, particularly Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana and Ethiopia. Electrification in these countries has been implemented through grid connections and a rapid rise in off-grid systems such as the solutions provided by Bboxx 

At the turn of the century, Africa’s installed renewable energy capacity was around 22 gigawatts (GW) – a sharp contrast to the 189GW capacity in Europe the same year (a continent with 85 million fewer people). In the two decades since, Africa’s installed generation has more than doubled to over 53GW and is continuing with strong momentum. Just take a look at recent officially launched projects like Kipeto‘s 100MW wind farm in Kenya or AMEA Power’s 50MW solar PV power plant in Togo. 

We all know that access to electricity brings a host of economic and social benefits to high-growth nations, but the full worth of providing these clean sources of energy in rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa has yet to be realised. While the physical health challenges of traditional fuels for generators and cooking is widely examined, the strain on mental health is granted much less consideration.  

Let us look at the case of Teresia Olotai, a Maasai mother of six and senior ‘Mama’ of Lobulu, a tiny rural enclosure (or “boma”) in Tanzania. Like the other women in Lobulu, life without electricity for Teresia was challenging. In the darkest hours of the night, she risked falling on stones or unwittingly stepping on venomous snakes. She has had to deliver babies in the dark, and when her children woke at night, she fed and changed them by touch. Candles and kerosene lamps posed a potential fire hazard in her wooden hut. This was until Teresia and her boma became part of a USAID Power Africa Project to install rural solar micro-grids. 

For rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa, the introduction of access to clean electricity has undoubtedly led to positive impacts in physical wellbeing. Electrified health centres are able to offer extended service hours, laboratory testing and vaccine refrigeration. In the home, there is less illness from indoor smoke inhalation and fewer burns from traditional cookstoves. The physical strain attached to carrying heavy loads of wood or kerosene, along with a danger of physical assault during collection (especially for young girls) is also diminished. Increased access to health and hygiene information via TV, radio, and the internet can be greatly beneficial. But let us also consider the psychological traumas arising from these same situations. 

The concept of wellbeing runs far deeper than what can be ostensibly observed at a purely physical level. Studies in renewable energy interventions, predominantly solar and hydro pico-, micro-, and mini-grids, have revealed positive mental impacts for rural people that emanate from a lower perceived risk of injury or illness. Examples of these risk reductions are increased security inside and outside the home from thieves or wild animals with improved lighting, or a lower chance of illness, injury and property damage from burning kerosene indoors.    

Women have reported better sleep at night knowing that they had safe lighting for emergency situations, especially involving their children. Connectivity through improved access to mobile phones is a huge boon to mental health, and communities are able to celebrate their new-found ability to stay connected to loved ones, friends, and family when they are able to charge phones at home, rather than walk and bus to town and pay a vendor.  

Lighting facilitates communal and family gatherings, extended study hours and has been revealed to reduce the risk of domestic violence because households are generally happier with increased light. Regions where public services have been improved and street lighting has been provided offer the greatest community wellbeing benefits, with increased safety outdoors and more opportunities for communal gatherings and entertainment after hours. And of course all of this has an impact on economic growth. 

The worry or stress felt from the risk of injury, sickness, or lack of sleep can in many ways be more ubiquitous than the physical harm itself. It is therefore crucial that these implicit, as-yet-unquantifiable impacts to mental wellbeing be given just as much focus as physical impacts when planning renewable energy projects and micro-grids in rural sub-Saharan communities. 



Sara Bonafair

Kick the habit of ignoring advice given by parents and career advisers, just this once, and take it from a peer – internships are worth your time. As a recent grad, I know the feeling of having just barely survived another round of exams and essays. The last thing you may feel like doing is researching, applying for and doing an internship – especially, if you are young and lucky enough to still consider career pressure a distant prospect. Nonetheless, I believe you can never be too young to embark on the trial-and-error process that will lead you to a career in an area you will enjoy in the years ahead.

That’s not to say that we don’t all change between the ages of 17 and 20 something, but if you start the learning process early, it can grow with you. Starting now takes some of the guesswork out of deciding where to direct your focus when you graduate and minimizes some of the stress of committing to your first job. Internships are an integral part of understanding what you want to do, how you want to do it, who you want to do it with – and, crucially, what you don’t want to do.

I took the advice of my career adviser, when pressure and my resume were still pretty non-existent, and ‘playing professional’ seemed almost exciting. From the age of 17, I explored every interest under the sun, from art to financial services, navigating the ocean of opportunities offered to students searching for experience. I worked for small firms, large firms, start-ups, and corporations, making my mantra ‘you never know until you try’. By my last year, a process of elimination allowed me to be able to say with conviction that I wanted to work in the communications industry.

In my last year, I tried advertising in a small firm and while I enjoyed the personal mentorship that was possible in a close-knit team, found advertising wasn’t for me. I tried PR in a large firm, on a B2C team, I enjoyed the type of work, but found the lack of opportunity to slow down and ask questions to understand the bigger picture and strategy frustrating. This learning process was essential to understand what I was looking for – a small PR-firm.

Soon I discovered Gong, which was not only what I was looking for in terms of being a small award-winning corporate communications agency in London, but also what I was looking for in terms of combining my personal and academic interests in my daily work. The supportive and collaborative environment that Gong cultivates had become an important criterion for me. Sitting next to project heads, I was able to really understand everything necessary to produce Gong’s marketing and communications services to its clients, feeling no hesitation in asking how to do things and why. As I developed my skills in the nuts and bolts of PR, I felt I was, at the same time, contributing to impactful work on client briefs that I was proud to be part of.

I can imagine why employers are just as keen as experience-hungry students to offer internships. They give the management team the invaluable opportunity to witness prospective recruits in action rather than relying on intangible words on a CV and an interview.

In short, internships permit you to first realise the industry you want to be a part of, then to envision your ideal role and the environment in which you want to perform it. Internships can also be a ‘getting to know you’ period, for yourself and your future employer. It’s a quick way to learn how to perfectly position yourself after graduation for a rewarding first job to kick off your career. So my advice is, at the end of term, instead of a week of box-sets in bed to take your head off exams –get out there and get an internship!

Beyond diversity: The business case for developing an internal culture of inclusion


Philip Dundas

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are on the agenda for most organisations in terms of recruiting a broad talent base. But it is increasingly recognised that the diverse and inclusive perspective you get from that workforce can enrich the internal DNA of a company. This helps to shape its strategic goals beyond the thinking of senior leadership across the whole organisation. In the global marketplace the most innovative companies recognise that to impact on their strategic goals, diversity isn’t just about the range of people within an organisation but the diversity of thinking that reflects.

Equally important as an organisation is how inclusion connects to diversity: your ability to reflect the world around you in your workforce is just the start. The 2014 Deloitte report Global Human Capital Trends, clearly defines ‘diversity of thinking as a business imperative’. Diverse teams draw out better ideas, smarter conversations and ultimately better business decisions.

Lots of organisations have identified inclusion as a bedrock of innovation and to that extent drive and foster the diversity and inclusion agenda across their sectors, seeing how it can shape and transform their organisations and their people. It’s not always in the most obvious places that D&I shapes the way businesses function. Well-managed and effectively implemented D&I policies emerge through a much wider range of issues; from how to adapt the built environment for workability and getting the most from a cross-generational workforce to understanding the implications of working globally and the importance of inclusive leadership.

The benefits of D&I go way beyond compliance into every aspect of a business. From senior leadership right down to graduate entry employees, an inclusive organisation relies on the diversity of thinking from an ever inclusive workforce to be ahead of the game.

Sarah Nicholas back from secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective in Rwanda


Sarah Nicholas

As I struggle to warm my fingers after a freezing commute through London this morning, it’s hard to believe that this time last month I was spitting distance from the equator. I was in the land of a thousand hills – Rwanda – sharing my experiences as a communications consultant with some truly inspirational entrepreneurs and individuals while on secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) in Kigali.

Listening to the stories of entrepreneurs and colleagues there, it is clear that innovation is thriving in East Africa. But more than that, AEC’s mantra that ‘all solutions to Africa’s challenges already exist on the continent’ now feels more credible and tangible than ever.

Just one example is Marcel, who, having been orphaned by the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994, wanted to harness the main driver and instrument of destruction – media and youth – and turn them into a force for good. Now three years after launching, and with support from AEC, Marcel’s news website Umuseke is the second most read digital media outlet in Rwanda and employs 20 people – not bad for a 25 year old.

Another case in point is Rwanda’s answer to Uber, SafeMotos. The app combines booking software with black box technology to ensure customers are only hopping on the back of the safest motorbike taxi drivers in town, offering valuable peace of mind in a city where 80% of traffic accidents involve motos. Peter and Nash developed a go-to-market strategy with think – AEC’s tech incubator, funded by telecoms giant Tigo Rwanda – and the app now adorns billboards across the country.

But it wasn’t only the vision and determination of AEC’s entrepreneurs that blew me away, the passion and commitment of their own team was infectious.

A social enterprise with job creation as its ultimate goal, AEC is a collection of business incubators and accelerators who support local entrepreneurs enabling them to grow, employ others and make a long-term contribution to the economy. In two years, they have already helped 150 entrepreneurs to create 700 jobs and have big plans to expand to seven African countries within 10 years.

Having a soft spot for the entrepreneurial spirit and our own growing communications practice in East Africa, a partnership between Gong and AEC seemed a natural fit and I was luckily enough to be the first of the team to spend a month offering pro-bono comms consultancy and skills building to the organization and its entrepreneurs.

It was certainly a busy month! I created communications plans and marketing strategies, ran messaging workshops, edited websites, drafted press releases, held media training for a bootcamp full of social entrepreneurs and supported AEC’s launch into Tanzania – on which, more later.

But it wasn’t all work. In just 4 weeks I explored Kigali, met a four-month old gorilla in the Virunga mountains, kayaked on Lake Kivu, tested out my first shaky words of Kinyaruanda, got caught in some spectacular rainstorms, was laughed at relentlessly by market stall holders, flew to the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in a really small plane, and leapt into a lake fully clothed (there was a reason for it!).

For now, while I immerse myself back into the fray of all important client work back at base, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the AEC family that made it such a great experience. I will be back!


Concern Universal on how to make phone calls using a mud oven


Narda Shirley


I often find myself banging on to clients about the virtues of bite-sized video as a story telling medium. But I was reminded again of its power when I watched a video about a Concern Universal project called ‘how to charge your phone with a mud oven’. At just 1 minute and 30 seconds long, with only captions to explain what’s going on, the film has had over 20 million views and inspired 62,000 comments.

The ‘Flower Pot stove’ is bucket-sized and made of mud. It is made locally to a tested template, and runs on just a few sticks of wood, roughly a third less than a fire would use. It also produces much less harmful smoke which is an important innovation as the simple act of cooking kills 4.3 million people each year.

Approximately 2.5 billion people living in the developing world burn biomass as a primary energy source; this number is expected to grow to 5 billion by 2050.

Thanks to the clever little thermo electric generator that attaches to the stove, and produces electricity from its heat, people living in rural locations without access to the grid, can generate enough power to charge a phone or power a torch. Mobile phones, now very cheap, can help relieve poverty in so many ways. Remote farmers can get better access to fair market pricing and selling time for people to make phone calls can be a means of generating additional income in a community. Torches mean children can study after dark making more of education opportunities.

Concern Universal, (CU) the charity behind the initiative has a sweet spot for innovation where it improves the lives of women in particular. Its resourceful new Global Head of Communications & External Affairs, John O’Brien has masterminded an event on Tuesday 22 March at the fashion and design emporium, Clerkenwell London. The event, called ‘fashionUP’ will raise awareness and money for the work of the charity which has been going for 40 years and whose work extends beyond Africa into Latin America and Asia.

I’m shamelessly shaking down my friends (and theirs) to stump up the donation price to come along to ensure that Concern Universal gets a great turnout and raises the money it needs to continue with its work. While we are chomping on canapes, downing a few drinks, and taking in the stylish surroundings of the Clerkenwell emporium, it’s affecting to think that all over the undeveloped world, rural families are watching the last glimmers from their cooking fires go out, sinking them into complete darkness. Well done CU for shedding some light on all the issues and with such a clever solution. See you on the 22 March! And check out that film here.

Photo credit: Toby Richards

Girl Power shone brightly at Economist Energy Summit 2015

Narda Shirley

A young female delegate at the Economist Energy Summit on 4th and 5th November was overheard to remark that the audience in the room was unusually diverse. Energy is one of the industries that still struggles with diversity. Anecdotally it seems, if you haven’t done your time on an oil rig (or other heavy engineering equivalent), it will impact your ability to climb the career ladder. This can be an issue for women, which is in turn an issue for the industry which is desperate to build new engineering talent pipelines.

In our business as comms advisors, it is very often the case that what we learn working for one client, gets applied in other contexts. So it was with the Lloyd’s insurance market Dive In Festival of diversity & inclusion still very much in mind, that I set off for the Honorable Artillery Company to help tweet from day one of the conference on Wednesday.

For my money, the two stand out speakers on the agenda on day one were women. Dorothy Thompson, CEO of Drax Power spoke to the Economist’s Energy Editor, Edward Lucas about the wood pellet-based renewable energy side of the business, Drax Biomass. She made a compelling case for biofuels, explaining where the wood for the pellets comes from, the advanced technology in the supply chain that compresses and transports the pellets and the parity of the fuel with coal in terms of performance.

The final slot before drinks went to Dr. Michal Meidan of China Matters, an energy consultancy. She gave a masterclass in the use of data points that consistently supported her comments and observations, keeping the session bubbling along as she discussed China’s energy mix in consumption terms and the future for gas, with her own engaging energy and style.

Of course it’s not only gender, but cultural diversity and age that can bring new perspectives to foster innovation. Two entrepreneurs stood out in particular on both counts. Mytrah’s CEO Ravi Kailas gave a compelling interview about how his wind power business is creating new capacity for the national grid across 6 states in India. And young entrepreneur and Bio Bean founder Arthur Kay (who was studying architecture when he had the idea) explained how waste from coffee is being used to generate power in his innovative UK based business.

Over drinks, conference sponsor BP offered delegates the ultimate ‘millennial’ young gamer innovation experience, the chance to try on Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets for an immersive experience of their exploration and R&D. As you can see from the photo, it was an offer I just couldn’t resist.

The Economist Energy Summit 2015 certainly helped the industry present a more than usually diverse face to the audience. It will be interesting to see which stories and spokespeople get picked up in the final round-up of the reporting to see if the media also found merit in the diversity of voices and views on offer.


From inception to opening: Building Nairobi Garden City

Managing a mixed-use real estate development on the scale of Garden City – 200 homes, 25,000 sqm of office space, a hotel, a 3 acre park and the largest retail mall to date in East Africa – means dealing with a complex community of suppliers. So, when it came to PR and marketing support, the Garden City team were looking for a simple and complete solution.

Gong’s ability to field a combined team of PR specialists and design from Gong Creative, based in both London and Nairobi, enabled us to partner with Garden City on all its mar-comms requirements.

We refreshed the Garden City logo and created a striking new slogan and visuals to capture the sheer variety on offer. A new website and social media channels mean Nairobi residents have been able to watch the buildings rise from the ground as well as find out about letting and sales opportunities.

At the end of May 2015, the long-awaited shopping mall finally opened, to great acclaim. On-the-ground, Gong secured front-page trailed Financial Times coverage as well as extensive local media news for the event. The FTreported that Garden City provided the perfect location and was the “right partner” for shopping giant Walmart to finally enter the Kenyan market – previously “a prize beyond its reach.”


Collective Genius


Narda Shirley

Challenger brands and innovation often go hand in hand. But how easy is it to break into a mainstream category like yoghurt in the UK when it is dominated by major organisations like Muller and Danone with brands like Muller Corner and Activia?

I have been fascinated by a newcomer called The Collective for a while, not just for its utter deliciousness, but also because it looks so different from everything else on the shelves. And I don’t mean artisan ‘hand knitted’ yoghurt that is only available in a few independent delis, we are talking Waitrose and premium branches of Sainsbury’s here.

I could sense an Innocent-like approach to the brand, not just in its packaging design, web site and tone of voice, but also in its location. Innocent’s invitation to pop into Fruit Towers in west London was always intriguing, as is the location of The Collective brand owner, Epicurean Dairies in Acton – an area not known for its lush pasture!

Buoyed with the confidence of curiosity, I gave them a call and co-founder Mike Hodgson agreed to tell me their story. The web site gives a strong clue as to the origins of The Collective in New Zealand. It turns out that Mike was on the lookout for a brand he could get excited about to launch in the UK, using his considerable experience of working in the yoghurt and fresh desserts category. ‘I hadn’t done a start-up, and it was something I needed to do for myself.’ Unsurprisingly perhaps given the trajectory of The Collective in the UK, it turns out that Mike knows his way around supermarkets and brands. In his career he has worked both for corporates, (like The Greencore Group and St.Ivel) and entrepreneurs (he was a consultant to James Averdieck the founder of fresh desserts company, GÜ).

At Greencore, Mike was MD of the ready meals business, but after his years as a corporate man, he jacked it all in, took his family on a round the world trip and bought a pub in the Lake District. It was during that world trip that he says he ‘fell in love with NZ and admired their ‘go for it’ spirit. Returning to run his gastro pub, he showcased wines from New Zealand, which began his successful connection with the country.

Whilst running the pub, he struck up his relationship with GÜ, initially as a part-time consultant, but after it was successfully sold to Noble Foods in 2010, he took on the role of MD full time for a year. He credits these experiences as the catalyst for The Collective in the UK.

“Running the pub enabled me to really connect with the public again, seeing my customers’ reactions to the specials board every day, talking to them first hand to get immediate feedback on what they liked. The engagement really fuelled my passion for great food and gave me the impetus to do something on a bigger scale.

“The GÜ experience convinced me I could do something similar, but this time for myself. I was actively looking for a business idea UK at the same time as The Collective were thinking about expanding overseas. I only had to taste the product to know we’d found something really special. The challenge was to replicate the unique bio culture that produces the yoghurt’s extraordinary consistency in NZ here in the UK with British milk. We also wanted to tweak some of the flavours to British tastes.”

We discussed the lemon (my favourite) as a case in point. “I’m a Northener and to me the obvious way to go was towards lemon curd. Similarly we gave Russian fudge flavour a taste of Devon toffee.”

Mike enrolled his business partner, Amelia in the venture. They had worked together at GÜ. He credits Amelia and her relationships with, and knowledge of the supermarkets, as being a major factor in their success to date, that and their manufacturing partner in the venture.

“When you are launching a new product, you can go one of two routes – capital intensive (and therefore inherently risky) where you set up your own manufacturing operation or outsource to a specialist manufacturer. We chose the second option so that we could focus all of our efforts on sales and marketing. But even beyond that, we actually convinced a manufacturer to become the third partner. Giving them skin in the game has created stability as well as instant credibility for the integrity and reliability of our supply chain with the supermarkets.”

When I asked Mike what really motivates him about a start-up, he laughs and says that he now appreciates what people mean when they say you have to be a bit mad to be an entrepreneur. He cites the values and the attitude of the business as the way in which they really want to make their mark. “We just want to be easy to do business with, and be really helpful, that’s why I’m happy to talk to you. We don’t court publicity, but if people are interested in what we are doing, that’s great. My wife does all of the customer service and feedback – it’s a hangover from the days of running the gastro-pub, because we really believe in listening to people and taking what they say on board. If we have a loyal customer base who feel valued, we know that they will help get the word out about how good the product is.”

One of the most compelling things for me in hearing this challenger brand story is that Mike is not a groovy young MBA grad with a disruptive idea. He has worked his way around and through the industry and even taken a step back from corporate life before deciding to start-up his own thing. He says of the challenge, “ I think I have a slightly masochistic need to do something that’s hard and that other people think is (to quote some) ‘very brave’ or ‘bloody stupid’ Clearly managing to achieve hard things gives you a strong purpose and achieving that is very satisfying.”

He is proof that a variety of experiences and perspectives can add up to being able to see things in a new light. He is a ‘portfolio man’ who has taken inspiration to launch a company at the point when in a different generation, many people would have hunkered down and waited for retirement. For me, the standout elements of the story are the factors that have set the scene for rapid growth: Sector experience of sales and marketing, distribution and supermarket relationships; manufacturing and supply chain stability and integrity; a tried and tested product with a distinct brand personality that just needed to be localised and a business partnership with Amelia that had been forged in another successful company. And of course, the entrepreneur’s special sauce; relentless desire and self-belief.

The results speak for themselves, turnover is already exceeding £10m and they are on target to be profitable this year. It all adds up to an irresistible recipe for success.

Can we really ever have true innovation and entrepreneurship within Financial Services?

Renny Popoola

2015 has seen lots of noise around the emergence of new challenger banks in the UK with much being said about the potential for emerging firms to take on the big players and provide a credible alternative for consumers. The outlook for the sector looks promising. Whilst Metro bank was the first business to obtain a full banking licence in 150 years, 6 new banks have been authorised since 2013 and dozens more on the pipeline.

Clearly, the industry is aching for a game-changer. A company, firm or idea that reinvents the way the public engages with firms and delivers banking and financial services to customers that is relevant and accessible.

We have seen such game changers disrupt the leisure industry (AirBnb, Housetrip), transport (ZipVan, Uber), communications (WhatsApp, Skype), entertainment, (Netflix) and to some extent health (Myfitnesspal, Fitbit). Most have become leaders in their own sphere paving the way for a new wave of brands to offer a traditional service with a modern twist.

With systemic changes occurring in many other industries, it does raise the question- what will be the financial industry’s uBer?

The digital age has completely revamped most spheres of our life in an enormous way. But, the impact on how we bank, invest, insure and save has been relatively minor. Whilst the concept of financial advice has undergone some change with comparison sites and online forums, many other facets of financial services have yet to experience their digital awakening.

This is surprising considering that we’re repeatedly reminded about customer dissatisfaction with financial services.  The fact remains, barriers to entry are significantly high despite the regulators’ efforts to encourage innovation and competition. Obtaining authorisation is more often than not a long and expensive process.

Historically, disruptive financial brands have tended to be spin offs or marketing exercises from the larger players. For example, whilst Sheila’s Wheels innovated how insurance could be marketed, it was part of the HBOS group. Even firstdirect, regularly heralded as a game changer in the UK banking sector due to its reputation for customer service, is owned by HSBC.

It’s not a surprise that innovation within the financial industry comes mainly from established players, but it does highlight the difficulty for outsiders to reinvent the market. To some extent, the increased regulatory and capital requirements placed on financial services providers for consumer protection is the biggest hurdle to true innovation in the sector.

What we are beginning to see are individuals, once part of the establishment, looking to shake up the industry.  We’ve seen Nutmeg founded by former stockbrocker Nick Hungerford,  offering an accessible alternative for wealth management, and Stockopedia started by a former investment manager, allowing DIY investors to beat the banks.  With the recent shake up of the pensions industry, such alternative investment services are likely to experience increased demand.

In banking, new players like Atom Bank, Starling and Fidor aim to capture market share through offering digital services. Again, what unites these brands are founders with significant experience with the big players exploring gaps in the market to innovate.

Financial services are still some way off from experiencing its version of Amazon, completely turning the industry on its head. There is a possibility, because of the risk involved within the sector, that it will never experience such upheaval. What is increasingly evident is that if such digital innovation is to happen, it most likely will from within- be it an experienced individual who wants to change the status quo or even a traditional firm with new ideas on offering financial services.