The Fintech ecosystem is booming, with the UK at the heart of its growth. The UK Fintech sector currently employs over 76,500 people - growing to 105,500 by 2030 - and generates revenue of £6.6 billion per annum.

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The industry has exploded in recent years, with the launch of challenger banks, payment service providers, currency exchange services, alternative finance and crowdfunding platforms.

At Smith & Williamson, we are passionately supporting Fintech’s drive for stellar growth, to disrupt established players and ultimately to change the face of finance.

Supporting growth

We are currently working with a number of UK Fintech unicorns and their founders, plus a wealth of other Fintech businesses operating in the UK and internationally.

We understand how fast-paced the industry is and the importance of a proactive and responsive advisor. We ensure you have the commercial, financial and taxation advice you need, leaving you and your management team with more time to focus on your business.

Our unique offering combines investment management and professional services, which means we are well placed to develop deep relationships with businesses and their founders. As a founding member of the ScaleUp Institute we are striving to influence and improve the ecosystem for entrepreneurial businesses, paving the way for growth and development.

Making connections

We are at the heart of a strong network across the entrepreneurial space, and the Fintech sector in particular.

Our existing relationships with organisations across the supply chain, combined with our strategic partners, allow us to make invaluable connections for our clients, promote knowledge-sharing and best practice, ensuring that the Fintech sector continues to challenge, disrupt and innovate.

A holistic approach

We understand that the entrepreneur and their business are intrinsically linked – our personal approach ensures that the commercial, financial and taxation requirements for the business are aligned with those of the founders at all stages of the business lifescycle.

We work with a wide range of fast-growth Fintech businesses and their founders through to maturity, exit and beyond.

Our teams work closely together with our clients to ensure a joined-up approach and the best result for our clients.

Just some of the issues we are currently advising Fintech businesses on include:

  • Maximising R&D tax credits
    For many Fintechs, there are significant investments in R&D and we can enable businesses to maximise their claims in real time.
    Our approach to R&D is unique - we involve technical software developers as well as tax experts at all stages of the R&D process. We seek to undertake R&D claims on a real-time basis which creates increased transparency and allows for significantly improved cash flow planning and forecasting.

  • Developing and agreeing VAT partial exemption special methods (PESMs)
    We are advising a wide range of financial services businesses, from Fintechs through to traditional financial services organisations, to help maximise VAT recovery.

  • Designing and implementing employee incentive schemes
    For most Fintechs, retention of core talent is critical to success. We are working with a number of leading Fintech businesses to both design and implement bespoke employee incentive schemes to help retain and motivate key staff.

  • Tax and personal financial planning in anticipation of exit
    In the run up to exit, we are providing personal tax and financial advice to the founders of multiple Fintech businesses, ensuring they have comfort over their personal financial position in advance of an exit event. We are also supporting the Fintech workforce more broadly helping them understand their tax payment and filing requirements and options for investment following exit.

Frequently asked questions

What Government support is available for fintechs affected by COVID-19?

The three main financing options announced by the Government to support businesses are:

  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) - supports SMEs by providing access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million. Government support is also available to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender’s fees. The Government is also providing a guarantee to lenders up to 80% of each loan however the borrower always remains 100% liable.
  • Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) - aimed at businesses generating revenues of between £45m and £500m through providing access to funding of up to £25m. As with CBILS, the CLBILS is providing a guarantee of 80% of the balance to the lenders however the borrower always remains 100% liable. The scheme is expected to be launched later in April.
  • COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) – aimed at larger businesses, under the CCFF the Bank of England will buy short-term debt from eligible companies on terms comparable to market terms prior to the impact of COVID-19

Note that neither CBILS or CLBILS are available to banks, insurers and reinsurers (insurance brokers are potentially eligible). Therefore fintechs will need to carefully assess whether their activities preclude them from claiming.

Further cash-flow tips and guidance on other government support measures such as the job retention scheme and deferral of VAT payments can be found here

What key tax issues should Fintechs consider?

The most relevant tax issues to consider will depend largely on the growth stage, profitability and nature of your business.

For loss-making or early-stage businesses, we tend to find the focus is on cash preservation. From a tax perspective that often means R&D tax claims, VAT and payroll taxes are priority areas as these either represent opportunities to generate positive cash flows or real cash/tax leakage.

For larger, profitable fintechs the focus shifts towards tax risk management and tax governance. As the business grows and teams expand, it becomes more and more important to have strong controls and processes in place to manage tax risk. Often this is a challenging transition as fintech culture often promotes flexibility, innovation and empowerment of all staff to make decisions on for example new products, services or markets. Making sure the tax or finance teams have an early awareness of these plans is key to managing the business’ tax risk, both in the UK and internationally.

Key tax considerations may include:
  • R&D tax relief – ensuring claims are maximised but robust, minimising risk of HMRC enquiry which can be costly and delay repayment of any tax credits.
  • VAT recovery – ensuring an appropriate VAT recovery method is agreed with HMRC (if necessary) and applied correctly.
  • International tax – managing the business’ tax residence and international presence, along with ensuring compliance with local tax rules and reporting requirements.
  • Transfer pricing and profit fragmentation - ensuring appropriate policies and documentation are in place to justify an arm’s length price for any related party transactions.
We help fintechs at all stages of growth to identify and maximise tax opportunities, as well as manage and mitigate tax risks across all areas of tax. Find out more about our Business tax services

What is the process for making an R&D tax relief claim?

Fintechs are often incurring significant expenditure on research and development, most commonly software development activities to either improve processes or develop new innovative ways of doing business with a view to disrupting the market.

Making an R&D tax relief claim can be vitally important for Fintechs, particularly in the early stages of growth where cash is so important.

R&D tax relief is claimed through a Company Tax return (assuming the company pays UK corporation tax). A claim can be made up to two years after the end of the accounting period in which qualifying expenditure was incurred, so for example a company with a year end of 31 December 2018 has until 31 December 2020 to make an R&D claim in the tax return.  However, we find that preparing an R&D claim on a real-time basis not only tends to increase the value of the claim (because engineers or developers are more engaged in the process) but also ensures a robust claim is made to HMRC as access to supporting data is more easily available.

The first step is generally to determine what qualifying R&D projects your Fintech has been involved with in the relevant accounting period, and then identify the qualifying expenditure that was incurred on relevant projects. It is important to use the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy guidelines when considering this.

Our R&D team includes developers who fully understand the projects undertaken by clients at a technical level and so help prepare a technical narrative to accompany your R&D claim.   The amount of supporting explanation required depends on the size and risk of the claim. Our expertise has allowed us to deliver a very high success rate of R&D claims with HMRC.

Can my Fintech claim R&D tax relief if we use developers that are overseas?

If your company is paying UK corporation tax as well as working on an R&D project that qualifies for tax relief, then you may end up incurring some qualifying costs that are linked to overseas activities. In order to qualify for the relief, the company must be paying UK corporation tax, but the expenditures that qualify may be occurring overseas – for example with subcontracted work.

Note: there are benefits and different treatments depending on whether your Fintech is considered a Small and Medium Sized Entity (SME) or a large corporation.

If R&D activity is carried out by a division of a UK-based company, but this division is based overseas, it could still be eligible for R&D tax relief. This assumes that your overseas branch is a permanent establishment, whose activities are within the scope of UK Corporation Tax.

The most important thing to remember is that there is no geographical restriction on R&D tax credits. The validity of your claim is based on your qualifying R&D activities and the level of qualifying expenditure – not where the R&D work was conducted.

What costs can my Fintech business recover VAT on?

Fintech businesses are generally only permitted to recover a proportion of the VAT they incur. This is because they commonly make a mix of “taxable” and “exempt” supplies for VAT purposes. We assist many clients in this area from the outset as it can get complex quickly but here is a flavour of the general rules around input VAT recovery to get you started.

Where a Fintech is carrying on “taxable supplies” for VAT purposes, VAT on directly attributable business costs can be recovered. Where a Fintech is carrying on VAT exempt activities for VAT purposes (e.g. including certain insurance, credit and finance services), no VAT recovery is allowed on directly attributable business costs. For costs that are consumed by the business as a whole, VAT recovery will depend on what proportion of your total supplies (sales) are considered to be “taxable supplies” for VAT purposes, as well as whether you have agreed a specific VAT recovery approach with HMRC.

If your Fintech is partially exempt, the “standard method” is often the starting point for calculating how much input tax on costs is recoverable – this must be used unless you have agreed a “special method” with HMRC. A special method should be agreed if the standard method does not provide a fair and reasonable result for your Fintech.

We often help Fintechs to determine whether the standard method is providing a fair result and if not, to approach HMRC to agree the best special method for them.

Please note VAT recovery is never allowed on client entertainment or non-business costs.

What do I need to consider when looking at employee share ownership plans?

Typically businesses set up an employee share ownership plan (ESOP) sometime between pre-seed and early VC stage. When possible, it’s best to communicate options packages as a £ based value on the current valuation (rather than as a percentage of ownership in the company).

Options can have material tax consequences for employees – which need to be understood by both the new employees and also the company itself.

Several tax treatments of the options granted include: taxable event upon grant, taxable event upon leaving company, taxable event upon exercise, or no effective tax event.

Companies focused on social impact goals and/or in developing markets may have unique ESOP considerations

  • Financial Inclusion Goals: Employee-friendly hiring practices and ESOPs can help build local financial inclusion. If this is part of your corporate mandate, consider the added social impact value of offering your options program to all levels of employees.
  • Local Ownership Culture: Conversely, in certain regions stock options may have negligible value to employees, either because of risk aversion, lack of liquidity, or lack of understanding. If this is the case, it is not worth extensively offering options to employees who would rather be paid in cash. ESOP size is a board-level decision. Given the legal and administrative overheads, you won’t want to revisit it between rounds of funding. The size of your ESOP should aim to cover all your potential talent needs through to your next round - make sure your ESOP allocation is sufficient, but if you over- allocate, you risk diluting your stake, and your existing investors’ stake. ESOP size can be created using a bottom up or top down approach (typically a mixture of the two).
    Further information on ESOP size is available on the link below:
  • Traditionally, ESOPs are set to 10% at seed.

We help businesses identify whether and when an employee share ownership scheme may be beneficial. If so, we support businesses in designing a scheme that is fully aligned to their commercial objectives.

What are the best Fintech employee share schemes to attract and retain top talent?

Every founder and business has a different view on how they would like to set up share schemes for their teams. In this area Fintech businesses generally are no different to other fast-growth firms.

The most popular of the share schemes to set-up for employees is the Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) share scheme. Many Fintech’s introduce an EMI in the early stages of growth as a tax efficient way to incentivise key team members and retain their top talent.

Key tax benefits of an EMI scheme include:

  • Generally, no income tax or national insurance contributions on grant or exercise if share options are issued at market value.
  • Capital gains tax payable on sale of the shares, potentially at a reduced rate of 10% if Entrepreneur’s Relief applies.
  • Corporation tax deduction on exercise based on market value of the shares at exercise less exercise price.

Fast-growth Fintechs often out-grow EMI relatively quickly however, as the rules specify that there must be fewer than 250 full time equivalent employees and gross assets must be £30m or less.

If your Fintech does not qualify under the EMI scheme, then we recommend considering the Company Share Option Plan (CSOP). This is another tax-advantaged HMRC approved share option scheme, but with no limit on company size or number of employees, meaning that larger businesses can benefit.

More well-established Fintechs also often use bespoke share schemes to incentivise or retain talent, for example growth or flowering shares.

We advise businesses on all types of share scheme, including design, set-up and ongoing compliance.

How do you work out a valuation for a Fintech company?

Market and company considerations need to be made. Three common approaches to determining business value: asset approach, income approach and market approach.

The key value drivers for business are: technology development, proving the business model, borrow pipeline and investor appetite, building scale and branding, moving into the “black”/ profitability, trust and resilience.

A multiple method approach is usually considered more accurate.

In addition to those mentioned above, other possible methods to use include: discounted cash flow, revenue or book value, replacement cost, price to earnings ratio, strategic/competitive value.

We help Fintechs assess the best approach to valuing their business as well as providing support and advice around potential exit events.

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