Category Archives: News

Private Members’ Bill to Regulate Artificial Intelligence introduced in the House of Lords

Chris’ private members’ bill – The Artificial Intelligence [Regulation] Bill – was drawn near the top of the ballot for private members’ bills and has been introduced, with second reading to be scheduled in the new year.

The Bill has been drafted with the principles of trust, transparency, inclusion, innovation, interoperability, public engagement, and accountability running through it.

The Bill would provide a legal definition of AI, one that is broadly aligned with the OECD’s definition of ‘AI System’ and includes generative AI.

The Bill also calls for the creation of an overarching AI Authority tasked with coordinating sectoral regulators to ensure that the functions and objectives set out in the Bill are met, including the accreditation of AI auditors and promotion of AI literacy

The Bill also covers regulatory sandboxes, AI responsible officers, transparency and IP and public engagement.

Read Chris’ blog post on the thinking behind the Bill and what he hopes to achieve.

The Electronic Trade Documents Act Comes into Force

As a technology enthusiast who has been writing about potential applications of distributed ledger technology and blockchain since 2017 Chris has been a vocal supporter of this new law. The Electronic Trade Documents Act comes into force this week (20th September 2023).

On the face of it a simple change – to allow digital trade documents the same status in law as paper trade documents. In practice, as so many trade documents (such as bills of lading and promissory notes) are possessive in nature some serious thought by the Law Commission has gone into drafting a law that will allow digitization of trade documents to function in the same way as paper documents and be subject to the principle of possession.

Chris has described it as the most important law you’ve never heard of. Not only because it could transform international trade – making it easier, cheaper, faster, more secure and delivering significant environmental benefits – but because it has the potential to turbocharge blockchain innovation and adoption.

The law itself is technology neutral, both agnostic about preferred solution providers and future-proofed as technology develops. What it does do is set out the criteria that must be met by a ‘reliable system’ to qualify as an electronic trade document. These criteria are set out in clause 2 of the Act and include singularity, integrity and exclusive control. Requirements that can be designed using distributed ledger systems.

The implications of this move to digital are huge. Currently there are three elements to trade, finance, paperwork and shipment, all with their own processes and systems and all reliant on paper. If these processes move from paper to data, those three parts collapse. Finance will be able to transact at the same time as the physical shipment and the transfer of possession of the goods (in real time rather than months and weeks).

The UK is at the forefront of these developments and is the first G7 nation to pass legislation that is compatible with the UN’s model law on electronic transferable records (MLETR). English law has a considerable impact on global trade, 80% of bills of lading and 60% of global trade finance operate on English law. Shipping companies and insurers also tend to operate on English law as well as the trade companies themselves.

As Chris says, this is a game-changing piece of legislation, but it is just the start. In the House of Lords, he has been calling on Government to act to spread the work to ensure we make the most of the opportunity and unlock these extraordinary benefits for all.

The UK benefits from a combination of our tradition of common law, technological expertise (including in blockchain) and excellent financial services ecosystem. Now that the Electronic Trade Documents Act has removed a significant barrier to digital trade Chris calls on everyone to get involved and explore how the digitization of trade documents can increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve security and compliance and deliver environmental benefits.

Read more about the Bill’s passage through Parliament and various perspectives on the new law in Chris’s blog.

Fintech Reporting from Westminster

Chris writes regularly on technology, financial services, fintech and regulation for both City Am and Finextra.

Chris covers key policy announcements and legislation (the Edinburgh reforms, Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Electronic Trade Documents Bill) as they happen, as well as relevant debates in Westminster (Bill progress, cryptoassets and financial inclusion).

Chris also reports back from various conferences and events such as UK Fintech Week and Digital Assets Week and addresses key themes such as sustainable finance, open banking and Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) regulation.

City AM: Crypto AM Parliamentary Special

May 10, 2023, International rumblings around regulators’ handling of digital assets Chris considers debates in the US about how the Securities and Exchange Commission are approaching the regulation of digital assets and draws some conclusions about the Financial Services and Markets Bill here in the UK – “An opportunity to right size regulation, to enable international competitiveness without in any sense compromising on consumer protection.”

March 31, 2023, AI in our financial services: Already Impacting ( Chris explains why he has put forward amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that would require companies to ensure the ethical deployment of AI – as well as an AI officer to ensure compliance with that and related requirements.

February 13, 2023, Financial Services and Markets Bill Committee: The half time summary ( In the first of a four part series covering a ‘half-time’ summary Chris looks at concerns around Parliamentary scrutiny, he goes on to consider regulation of SME funding, accountability of the regulators and financial inclusion.

March 29, 2023, Why I tabled an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill on Digital ID (

March 28, 2023, If not quite still king, cash still matters to millions (

March 27, 2023, Regulator accountability?  Let me ‘OFRA’ solution (

March 21, 2023, Can effective regulation make cryptoassets and stablecoins useful? (

March 2, 2023, Electronic Trade Documents Bill: A transformation of trade in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (

February 28, 2023, We must invest in robotics technology because, right now, the UK isn’t anywhere near the podium (

February 14, 2023, Part 2: Financial Services and Markets Bill – an opportunity for SMEs? (

February 15, 2023, Financial Services and Markets Bill: who guards the guards? (

February 16, 2023, Part four: Financial Services and Markets Bill – time to get real about financial inclusion (

January 25, 2023, Who watches the watchdog? “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Part III One of three pieces looking at regulation and the role of the regulator in the Financial Services and Markets Bill. In this piece Chris considers the cost of regulation and how that is weighed against its benefits.

January 24, 2023, I ask for a second time: Who watches the watchdog? One of three pieces looking at regulation and the role of the regulator in the Financial Services and Markets Bill. In this piece Chris considers questions of accountability and proportionality.

January 23, 2023, Wait, so who’s watching the watchdog? One of three pieces looking at regulation and the role of the regulator in the Financial Services and Markets Bill. In this piece Chris considers the new international competitiveness objective to be added as a ‘secondary objective’.

January 18, 2023, Presenting the case for regional mutual banks Chris argues that regional mutual banks could be an important source of funding for SMEs and explains why he is tabling an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill to reignite the positive reality of ‘friendly societies’ and mutual banks.

January 12, 2023, Financial Services and Markets Bill is now with the House of Lords, and its potential is extraordinary This Bill is “the platform upon which much of the Government’s vision for financial services will be delivered”. Chris talks us through the second reading debate in the House of Lords.

December 1, 2022, A question of financial inclusion Chris tabled a short debate in the House of Lords to question the government on what steps they are taking to increase financial inclusion, in particular highlighting the increasing problem of fewer businesses accepting cash and the need to do more to ensure that all citizens have reasonable access to digital payments.

November 16, 2022, Digital Assets Week: A DAW to the future Chris was invited to speak at Digital Assets Week where he shares his perspective on the current state of play with crypto regulation and the need for greater engagement and greater resource to ensure the UK makes the most of the opportunity and take a lead in the global digital asset market.

November 18, 2022, Digital Assets Week: Conversations from the corriDAW In the second part of Chris’s coverage of Digital Asset Week he reflects on four key themes that emerged in ‘conversations from the corridor’, those being: industry engagement, competitiveness and alignment, the power of English law and proofing the technology.

November 8, 2022, The Electronic Trade Documents Bill: The problem, solution and potential benefits Five years after Chris published his report calling on the government to do more to realise the potential benefits of blockchain he explains why this Bill could be Bill could be transformative – both for international trade and blockchain development and application.

October 12, 2022, The Electronic Trade Documents Bill – one of the most important Bills you’ve never heard of Chris explains why the Electronic Trade Documents Bill, just introduced in the House of Lords, is such an incredibly important piece of legislation.

September 29, 2022, The Financial Services and Markets Bill – second reading Chris explains the government’s 335-page Financial Services Bill and what it means for crypto assets.

September 8, 2022, Crypto comes to the Commons Chris writes about a special Parliamentary debate on crypto and shares his own perpective that “there is no inevitability that blockchain adoption would see us all roll away to hell in a cryto-ccrashed handcart.”

July 22, 2022, Is this a positive, proportionate approach to crypto from the government? Chris covers the introduction of the Financial Services and Markets Bill which includes government plans for regulating crypto. Chris concludes the government is showing a “positive, proportionate approach to crypto”. Chris also reveals that he plans to table amendments to the Bill and invites feedback from readers.  

Finextra: The Westminster Series

January 18, 2023, Optimising the potential of the Financial Services and Markets Bill

December 14, 2022, Key questions for the Chancellor’s ‘Edinburgh Reforms’

November 4, 2022, Lord Christopher Holmes selected for Sustainable Finance.LIVE keynote

November 2, 2022, How will the Electronic Trade Documents Bill transform trade in the UK?

October 17, 2022 The second reading of the Financial Services and Markets Bill

September 26, 2022, Westminster cryptoasset debate

July 26, 2022, The arrival of the Financial Services and Markets Bill

June 22, 2022, What to expect from the UK’s Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) regulation

May 11, 2022, What does the Queen’s Speech have in store for Fintech?

March 31, 2022, UK Fintech Week

February 24, 2022, For financial services, 2022 is a year of real regulatory possibilities

Fintech and the fight for digital inclusion

Writing in the Financial Times, Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, highlights the challenge of fintech, online banking and digital payments for those who are digitally excluded.

The Covid pandemic and lockdown accelerated an existing trend towards mobile banking. Mass adoption demonstrates both the potential value of fintech as well as the problems for those who are unable, or unwilling, to bank online or make digital payments.

Siddharth spoke to various experts including Natalie Ceeney who conducted an Access to Cash Review for the Government. Recommendations from the Review have been adopted as policy and incorporated into legislation, including the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

One of the recommendations of the Review was to change the law to allow cashback without purchase. Chris tabled this as an amendment to the previous Financial Services Bill, now Act, with Chris’s amendment as a welcome change to the law. Natalie reiterated the point that “the current digital services available don’t work for everyone.”

Inspired by the Access to Cash Review, Chris has campaigned for something similar focused on digital payments. As Chris says, it is important to avoid thinking one solution will serve all individuals and an ‘Access to Digital Payments Review’ could potentially set up a situation in which you could have financial inclusion driving digital inclusion.

Currently, digital exclusion and financial exclusion, all too often, walk hand in hand. Those struggling to get online are also more likely to be socio-economically deprived.

In the same article Jamie Evans a researcher at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre said, “fintech has the potential to help a lot of people who are financially squeezed, but we have to fund investment in these firms in the right way.”

Fintech is having a hard time in 2022, especially those firms that don’t have the runway of cashflow to see through 2023. With the end of the easy money era, many fintechs are looking carefully at their runways. Supporting individuals who are digitally and financially excluded may be too costly a project for firms looking to prove their worth to investors.

Mick McAteer, founder of the UK’s Financial Inclusion Centre, makes another incredibly important and related point — fintechs serving the digitally excluded should not follow the examples of Big Tech and turn to data harvesting practices for revenues. As Mick said, “whenever you get segmentation and profiling, you get exclusion and discrimination.”

Chris firmly believes this adds up to a role for the Government, both in terms of stimulating innovation and improving regulation. To this end he supports the addition of a ‘must have regard to financial inclusion’ duty to the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and will be tabling other amendments to the bill when it gets to the House of Lords.

Fintech for good needs careful handling Future of Money, Financial Times, October 31st 2022.

Accessible Websites

Regulations governing the accessibility of public sector websites

Due to Brexit there are a whole raft of measures that need to be updated so that they can continue to operate even though the UK has left the European Union. The Draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022 is one such change. It deals with accessible websites.

In essence, the change means that regulations and requirements that apply to accessible websites moves from the European standards (EAS) to the Web3 standards (IWAS). Speaking in the Lords about the change, the Minister assured members that there would be no reduction in standards for disabled people trying to access a public sector website or any additional work for public sector organisations in providing accessible websites:

“These amendments will not reduce any of the UK’s standards and support for disabled people, nor add any additional burdens to the UK’s public sector.”

Viscount Younger of Leckie, Lords Grand Committee, 18th October 2022.

“Accessible websites” simply means that websites must be as easy as possible for all people to use. In particular, it refers to making websites and apps that disabled people can use. So if you use any assistive technology such as a screen reader or speech recognition software, you should still be able to access any public sector website.

For example, a blind student should be able to access their university’s website through a screen reader, find out their timetable and download course information and lecture notes. Or a business owner with arthritis who uses speech recognition rather than a keyboard should be able to log on and pay their taxes.

Technology is neutral so we must ensure websites are inclusive by design

Chris spoke during the debate to underline the fact that technology offers the potential to enable, empower and include. It is equally important, though, to remember that if these technological tools – websites and applications, are not inclusive by design, then technology can just as easily exclude and discriminate.

Lord Chris Holmes, Lords Grand Committee, 18th October 2022

“What we get from technology is the potential inclusion, empowerment and enablement of disabled people given what the technology is capable of doing. Equally, however, technology can exclude and discriminate if it is not produced and constructed while rooted in being inclusive by design. It is understandable why it has taken the country years to enable buildings such as Parliament—that is, a physical building—to become accessible for disabled people. It is desperately unfortunate when we see inaccessible steps, if you will, being built in cyberspace when, in many ways, we are starting from a greenfield site. If everything across the public and private sectors was predicated on inclusive design, there would be no issues here. Does my noble friend the Minister believe that more needs to be done across this area, with a greater understanding across Whitehall, to grasp what it really means to begin and run all this through that conception of “inclusive by design”? Does he agree that inclusion leads to innovation, empowerment, engagement and enablement, by which I mean human-led technology enabling all the talent that we have in this country? In many ways, there could preciously be a more important time for us to focus on this.”

Lord Chris Holmes, Lords Grand Committee, 18th October 2022.

Is enough being done to ensure all public sector websites are accessible?

Chris also took the opportunity to ask the Minister if he was satisfied that the Government Digital Service (GDS), responsible for monitoring compliance, was doing enough to ensure there was a full picture of what is going on out there and aligned to that point if the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) responsible for enforcement, were also doing enough?

To repeat his most powerful message and the reason why we must be absolutely sure that all public sector websites are accessible, it is clear that inclusion leads to innovation, empowerment, engagement and enablement. Human-led technology should be enabling all the talent we have in this country and there could not be a more important time to focus on this.

Full text of debate, Hansard, 18th October 2022.

two hands clasped in handshake overlaid with a grid of dots and interlinking lines to indicate digital communications

Electronic Trade Documents Bill

On 12th October 2022, the Government introduced an important piece of legislation, the Electronic Trade Documents Bill, that will allow the digitization of trade documents.

The Bill, drafted by the Law Commission, is a succinct and straightforward piece of legislation. Legal experts were invited by the Government to make recommendations for reform to allow for legal recognition of trade documents such as bills of lading and bills of exchange in electronic form. This Bill is the result of that work and when passed could consolidate English law as the basis for international trade law for decades to come.

In 2017 the UN published a Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) and so far some 7 or 8 jurisdictions world-wide have adopted it in full -Singapore to the fore- but dozens of others have it under consideration. The G7 countries have agreed to cooperate on its wider adoption and of those it is Germany and the UK who are farthest advanced on it.

When this Bill becomes law it will instantly be easier, cheaper, faster, and more secure for businesses to trade internationally.

The main benefits of the Bill will be:

  • increasing efficiency and lowering trade administration costs because processing electronic documents is faster and cheaper than paper equivalents,
  • increasing the security and compliance of trade by utilising the transparency and traceability benefits electronic documents offer and
  • realising environmental benefits from reduced use of paper and courier emissions.

Chris is a huge supporter of the Bill and has written more about it on his blog and for various other publications.

Electronic Trade Documents Bill blog also published in CityAm

Read the Bill on the Parliament website

Text of the Bill

Related articles:

Government introduces Electronic Trade Documents Bill, Computer Weekly

UK’s ‘ground-breaking’ digital trade bill progresses, Global Government Fintech

Parliament paves the way for blockchain with digital documents bill, CityAm

Electronic Trade Documents Bill introduced to Parliament, Law Commission

Paperless trade plans put before Parliament, BBC

Financial Services and Markets Bill

The Financial Services and Markets Bill was promised in the Queen’s Speech on May 11, 2022 and then given first reading in the House of Commons on July 20th 2022. Although first reading is largely a procedural matter, it provided an opportunity for a closer look at the proposed legislation, in particular details of measures relating to regulatory reform, crypto and financial inclusion. All key policy areas for Chris.

The bill, in broad terms, is said to seize the opportunities of Brexit, tailoring financial services regulation to UK markets to bolster the competitiveness of the UK as a global financial centre and deliver better outcomes for consumers and businesses. The government states that the bill will:

  • implement the outcomes of the future regulatory framework review,
  • maintain the UK’s position as an open and global financial hub,
  • harness the opportunities of innovative technologies in financial services,
  • bolster the competitiveness of UK markets and promote the effective use of capital, and
  • support the levelling up agenda, promote financial inclusion, and consumer protection.

This, in summary, is the purpose of the substantial, 330 page, bill.

The next step in the legislative process was second reading, which took place in the House of Commons on September 7th, 2022. Second reading is an important step in which MPs can identify areas of concern and seek clarification on particular issues. Despite warm words and generally widespread support from across the house, the final part of the bill, dealing with financial inclusion, raised the majority of questions and concerns. Several MPs focused on the issue of access to cash, seeking reassurance that access to cash would be free, that ‘reasonable access’, would be carefully defined to cover distance, accessibility, include face to face banking services and also consider cash acceptance and cash infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the Minister could not reassure the House:

“When I say “access to cash” I mean access to cash. My Honourable Friend raises the question of whether that access should be free; that is a matter to which we will return in Committee, but I cannot give him that assurance at this stage.”

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Richard Fuller MP

Other MPs raised the issue of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), the terrible situation facing ‘mortgage prisoners’, people trapped in high-cost mortgages, the need for more affordable credit and whether the FCA should have a ‘must have regard to financial inclusion duty.’ Chris has spent years campaigning on improving financial inclusion and has raised many of these issues in Parliament.

Powerful arguments were also made about the environment. Caroline Lucas MP pointed out:

“The Bill contains a new statutory objective on competitiveness and growth, which ranks those elements above the UK’s legally binding nature and climate targets. Given that a thriving economy depends on a thriving environment, will the Minister look at this again and consider introducing a climate-and-nature-specific statutory objective as well…?”

Caroline Lucas MP

She went on to point out that we have “a real opportunity to be a green competitive financial centre.”

These are familiar arguments, similar to those Chris and colleagues made in made in the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill debates recently when they pushed the government to be absolutely clear about how they would ensure that the bank invests in infrastructure that will tackle climate change as well as supporting economic growth. 

Concerns were also raised about the regulators, particularly around power, accountability, and capability. In terms of accountability, questions were asked about whether the Henry VIII powers – passing power from Parliament to the executive (in this case regulators and Treasury) would lead to a lack of appropriate accountability for Parliament – Angela Eagle MP said she was worried about “the fact that a great deal of extra power will be given to the regulators and the Treasury.”  

John McDonnell MP was the most critical of the FCA stating that the FCA has been a “catastrophic failure.” He also pointed out that “40 bodies are regulating our finance sector in some way and there is a need for consolidation and to learn the lessons of experiences so far.”

Other concerns centred around the need for greater action to prevent scams and improve fraud protection; for example, the suggestion by Damien Hinds MP that push payment scams and auto reimbursement should extend beyond banks to social media firms and tech companies.

It is excellent that all these important issues have ben raised and as the Bill progresses through its Parliamentary stages there will plenty of opportunity to see if the bill can me amended and improved. Watch this space.

Related articles:

The Westminster Series: The arrival of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, Finextra, 26 July 2022

The Westminster Series: The second reading of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, Finextra, 17 October 2022

The Financial Services and Markets Bill – second reading, CityAM, 29 September 2022

10 Year Anniversary of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

It is ten years since the Olympic and Paralympic Games came to London. Chris was Director of Paralympic Integration at London 2012 for what he describes as a “golden summer of sport” and the International Paralympic Committee Chairman, Sir Philip Craven, described as “the greatest Paralympic Games ever”.

There will be so many magical moments to remember and celebrate and Chris will be sharing his own recollections on his Facebook page – please do tune in and share your own memories of 2012.

One of those special moments is the anniversary of the first broadcast of ground-breaking Channel 4 film Meet the Superhumans.

Broadcast Partner – Channel 4

All the UK broadcasters had been keen to cover the Paralympic Games, and had all offered serious production schedules and equally serious financial packages. So why was Channel 4 chosen to be the Paralympic broadcast partner?

Chris has spoken extensively about the fact that Channel 4 shared his vision of what the Games could be, should be, and – with their support – would be, in the summer of 2012. The ambition was not to nudge the dial or do a little bit better than before, the ambition was to create an entirely new Paralympic Paradigm. Channel 4 understood this.

Meet the Superhumans, was ground-breaking, game-changing, magic for many reasons but that 7 seconds in the middle was absolutely key. 7 seconds in which the more familiar sports marketing images were interrupted to show a military explosion, a neonatal scan, a car crash. Controversial during production, but Chris argues absolutely essential to connect the human to the superhuman.

If you don’t have lived experience of disability it is all to easy to think of disability as disconnected. Other. Not for you. This film needed to make people feel connected. It needed people to feel like the Paralympic Games was for them, for everyone and it worked.

Meet the Superhumans was incredibly successful, award-winning, mind-changing, history-making brilliant TV. And Channel 4 are still doing it. The films produced for Rio and Tokyo are still winning hearts, minds and awards and Channel 4, the nation’s Paralympic broadcaster, has now broadcast thirteen hundred hours of Paralympic broadcast. Every moment a moment to cherish, a moment to inspire change.

An entirely new Paralympic Paradigm.

Lord Chris Holmes introducing ‘Meet the Superhumans’ at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, July 2022

“EXACTLY TEN YEARS AGO…. July 17th 2012. We had sold all the Paralympic tickets. We needed a massive moment to drive broadcasting audiences in the hundreds of millions. July 17 2012 9PM we showed a film on 76 of the UK TV stations….”

Lord Chris Holmes, July 2022

London 2012 Exhibition at the Olympic Park

In collaboration with the London Legacy Corporation, the Lee Valley VeloPark and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund the Paralympic Heritage Trust has created an an amazing exhibition that celebrates the history of the British Paralympic Movement, bringing stories of human endeavour to life.

The National Paralympic Heritage Trust was established in July 2015 to protect and share British Paralympic Heritage. The Trust runs a Heritage Centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire as well as touring exhibitions at sporting and heritage events across Britain. The Trust is also involved in cataloguing the Paralympic collection, important work that is still in progress with a collection of well over 10,000 items. Some of these items are on display at the exhibition.

Chris visited the exhibition with Trust CEO Vicky Hop-Walker who talked him through the exhibition and the various exhibits, including a jacket from the Paralympic opening ceremony and the cycling gloves and shoes worn by para-cyclist Neil Fachie when he won gold. The opening ceremony jacket was designed by international costume designer Tahra Zafar and is decorated with text from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was a central theme of the Paralympic opening ceremony. One of the petals that made up the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron at the London 2012 Games is also displayed. The petals, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, represent each participating nation, 204 for the Olympics and 164 for the Paralympics. The exhibition is completely free and open to the public throughout August and September.

From Paralympics to Parliament

One of the phrases being promoted in this anniversary year is ‘Pass the Baton’. Chris is passionate about maintaining the legacy of the Paralympic Games and one of the ways in which he continues working to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility is through his work in Parliament. He is one of a small group of ex-Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are active in the House of Lords. Lord Campbell, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Baroness Masham, Lord Moynihan and Chris talk about their Paralympic experiences and how it informs their work in the Lords in this video produced by the House of Lords to mark the Tokyo Games. Chris particularly highlights his hope that the London 2012 Paralympic Games helped to transform opportunities for and attitudes towards disabled people.

Olympics and Paralympic Games | House of Lords

Advising the Civil Service on Disability

This month (December 2021) Chris took part in a conversation on disability and leadership with civil service disability champion Sarah Healey. The event was hosted by the Treasury, chaired by Katharine Braddick and Will Garton and open to all departments. There was a great turn out and quality discussion which Chris then wrote about for Civil Service Magazine as ‘five suggestions for removing barriers to disabled people in the civil service‘.

Chris started by explaining his own experience of disability began when he lost his sight, age 14. Since then he has been involved in the Paralympic movement (both as a swimmer and later a director at London 2012) and has served as a non-executive director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Channel 4. As a parliamentarian his policy interest spans departments but can be best summarised as a focus on inclusion and digital technologies for the public good. Chris has also advised the civil service on diversity and written an independent review for the Cabinet Office on how to open up public appointments to disabled people.

One observation made during the discussion was about the vast number of reports that are produced within the civil service setting out how to remove barriers for disabled people, often with a heavy focus on the disabled individuals, whether that be development programmes, mentoring, networks and so on. Whilst many of these recommendations may well be useful they are heavily skewed towards looking at the disabled people as both the problem and the way to fix the problem. The other, far more effective, way to approach this challenge is through addressing the behaviours and culture of the organisation and individuals within it.

With this in mind Chris set out five practical suggestions that we can all consider doing to remove barriers to disabled people….

Civil Service World Magazine, Five suggestions for removing barriers to disabled people in the civil service, Lord Chris Holmes, 3rd December 2021

Chris’s fintech (financial technology) interviews

Chris has been involved in fintech (financial technology) as a policy area since the All-Party Group on Fintech, of which he is Vice-Chair, was set up to raise awareness of fintech in Parliament. There has been much progress between then and now and a particular milestone was the publication in February 2021 of the Kalifa Review.

2020 was such an extraordinary year, a year of incredible suffering and turmoil, Covid-19 turned life as we know it upside down and my heart goes out to all who have been affected. But it was also a year in which technological innovation and digital platforms came to the fore, particularly in financial services.

It seemed an ideal time to talk to some of the most influential people from this world of fintech about what is going on and over the first five months of 2021, Chris sat down with five fintech figures to ask five questions in five minutes, or thereabouts!

The interviews looked back at 2020, considered the Kalifa review, the role of fintech in improving financial inclusion and predictions for 2021. Interviewees were: January, Charlotte Crosswell (CEO of Innovate Finance) February, Adam Afriye MP (Founder and Chair of Fintech APPG) March, Julia Streets (CEO Streets Consulting Ltd.) April, Simon Taylor (Co-Founder 11:FS) and May, Kay Swinburne (Vice Chair of Financial Services at KPMG).

Chris has summarised the conversations below and the full video interviews and transcripts are available on Chris’s blog.

2020, a good year for fintech?

Reflecting on those conversations now, one of the key points of consensus was on what a great year for fintech 2020 had been. The superlatives ranged from “phenomenal” to “stellar” to “game-changing” and there were some impressive stats; 6 million people downloaded their banking app for the first time, in the first month of the crisis and, despite initial hesitation over funding, the number of deals increased from around two hundred and nine to around two hundred and twenty-nine as well as overall investments up from about two and a half billion to about three and a half billion. Significantly, as Simon said, the “macro trends of everybody being at home shunted digital forward at least a decade”. The pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening but certainly pushed many more people who may have been nervous about adopting online banking or digital payments into doing so, including Kay Swinburne’s 80-year-old mother. Julia explained beautifully about why that means fintech has proved its value;

“it has been an enormous enabler in helping people to take control of what matters to them. Whether it’s members of the population just wanting to have control of their finances and know where their money is and therefore what they do with it – how they can engage with the banking system in a way they probably have never done it before – and then also in terms of businesses just continuing to trade and continuing to exist.”

Julia Streets, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

The Kalifa Review

The Kalifa Review provided an excellent focus on the key challenges and opportunities for the UK fintech sector. Charlotte and Kay had both been directly involved in producing the report and Julia hosted the launch event. The broad scope of the review, hundreds of contributors, and an objective to consider the whole ecosystem was welcome. Recommendations were made across five areas: policy & regulation, skills, investment, international and also national connectivity.

Another area of consensus during my conversations was that the Government have done a great job so far in creating a supportive regulatory environment for fintech start-ups. The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) sandbox in particular has been a world class tool for testing and developing early stage fintech businesses, but now there is a real need to address the ‘scale up challenge’. One suggestion, to extend the FCA sandbox for companies that are ready to scale up, was a specific recommendation in the Kalifa Review and the Chancellor has already responded by setting out the FCA’s actions to deliver this ‘regulatory scalebox’.

Another point made more than once was the need for properly joined up, cross-government working. It is hoped that the Chancellor’s commitment to another of the Review’s recommendations; a Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology, will create this kind of cross departmental impetus but as Simon said getting from implementation to delivery will be key. In a similar vein Kay argued that

“the biggest thing government can do right now is to deliver on […] digital ID in particular.”

Kay Swinburne, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

Other areas highlighted were central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and skills, from both a domestic perspective “thinking about different ways we can help people pivot their skills and retrain across the UK” but also internationally. Again, two areas in which the Chancellor has already made specific commitments in response to Review recommendations. Only proving how well-informed and prescient my fintech figures are.

What role for fintech in eradicating financial exclusion?

I asked everyone about the role fintech can play in eradicating financial exclusion. Responses rightly identified the way technology has facilitated access to basic payments and basic financial services, in particular the potential for reduced costs as a result of innovation in both products and processes, for example, alternative credit ratings. Adam pointed out that when it comes to inclusion

“it is not just about having a bank account, it is also about how does the government, how do Local Authorities reach those who may not be on their radar when it comes to traditional banking routes?”

Adam Afriye MP, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

It is precisely these questions that we must be asking in order to ensure we really do address this most pernicious of problems and “make sure it is a basic human right to have access to the services many of us take for granted.” (Kay)

2021, a good year for fintech?

Finally, when asking what 2021 held in store, there was no shortage of optimism.

The first two weeks of January alone saw investment hit 20% of 2020 total investment.

Charlotte Crosswell, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

20% in 2 weeks was an excellent start and predictions for 2021 ranged from “a great year for fintech”, to “one of the best years ever”, to “phenomenal”. As Simon said,

“with fintech moving – beyond internet banks and changes to user experience – into every part of financial services (what Charlotte called the start of ‘phase 2’) it’s exciting for the market, it’s exciting for customers and it’s exciting for society.”

Simon Taylor, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes