Growing through a global crisis - FinTrU boss reveals April was a record month for the financial services firm
AS the head of one of the north’s most outward looking and fast growing companies FinTrU, Darragh McCarthy believes the world of business will be a markedly different place when the threat from coronavirus eventually recedes.
With the global economy in constant flux and regulations shifting, demand remains high for financial services firms that can offer solutions.
Fortunately for Darragh McCarthy and FinTrU, that hasn’t changed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In fact, the company has just secured two significant new clients in recent weeks, joining an undisclosed list of global investment banks from New York to Tokyo that have looked to Belfast and Derry to navigate the regulatory landscape of international finance since late 2013.
“We have continued to expand through the crisis, really driven by our clients and their needs and demands just continue to grow,” said the chief executive.
While most sectors have been forced to furlough staff, FinTrU has continued to recruit in response to the demand. By June, 75 new people will have joined since the pandemic arrived on the island.
The workforce is set to reach the 500 mark within days and 600 by the end of 2020, putting it well on course to create the 605 new jobs it promised in an Invest NI-backed £38m expansion, announced in June 2018.
Of course, due to the lockdown, none of those workers are actually on site in the Belfast and Derry offices.
“We’re 100 per cent working at home at the moment,” said the Cork native, speaking from his own home in Belfast.
In typical FinTrU fashion, the firm looked around the world and could see what was coming.
“A lot of our clients have operations in various countries that were locking down before the UK. We could sense it coming, so we went from having nobody working from home in late February, to 100 per cent homeworking by mid-March.”
The company founder admits to have been surprised at how well it has worked. So much so, he’s planning to replace traditional desktop computers with a laptop cradle, allowing staff to choose either the office or home to work.
“We have better productivity from people working at home. People are not commuting; some people are happier. There are of course people who miss the social contact of coming to the office, so we’re not going to go 100 per cent working from home.”
“The dynamic of the office is probably going to change forever and I don’t see that ever going back.
“The net demand for office space will go down, because companies like us are going to have a greater blend of working from home. It’s as simple as that.”
Mr McCarthy also believes that larger open offices will be less ‘in vogue’ in future as a result of Covid-19.
“No company can really afford that office going completely offline.”
Operating in a region with a lower population density than many of its competitors, plus the technology infrastructure of domestic broadband, has also worked to FinTrU’s advantage.
Mr McCarthy revealed that the firm has picked up a lot of recent business from geographical locations where competitors lack the capacity and digital infrastructure to enact homeworking in the same way.
“There could be a real case made for a location like Northern Ireland, and for a business like what we do, to see a significant increase in what I describe as ‘reshoring’, bringing a lot of these functions back to places like Northern Ireland.”
The result of the recent crisis has been continued growth for FinTrU, making the financial services firm very much the exception to the wider story unfolding across the north’s business community.
“We’ve just closed our books for April and it was our best month ever. March was our best month before that.
“We very deliberately have not furloughed a single person and we haven’t applied for any government financing loans. We haven’t had to.”
He revealed that FinTrU has continued to invest in its growth, with its sights firmly set on a new sales office in the US.
“We’ve just incorporated a US subsidiary; we’ve taken a lease on an office in New York with the idea of further expanding our footprint.”
The firm will also invest around £1m this year in a new technology tool, built around clientoutreach.com, which is geared toward winning new customers.
But the chief executive is anticipating that coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact on the world of business.
“I fear the world after Covid is going to be a very different place. If it wasn’t, it would be better for all of us, but I think we need to be realistic.
“FinTrU is probably more the exception than the rule.
“The broader economic impact on hospitality and tourism, and all these various industries that have been completely decimated.
“I don’t see those industries unfortunately coming back quickly.
“It’s going to take a long time, and I think social distancing is going to be here for the foreseeable future.
“We also have the Damocles sword of Brexit. I was already very worried about that before this all happened.
“I genuinely do fear that the economy in aggregate is going to take a battering, and it’s probably going to take several years at a minimum to get it back to where it was.
“But I think there will be bright spots of sectors and companies that will evolve and I think we will come up with a Northern Ireland landscape of more companies like FinTrU in this sector, that are more technology enabled, are much more agile and can keep going.”