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无协议脱欧对英国金融科技行业意味着什么?

专栏国际资讯

无协议脱欧对英国金融科技行业意味着什么?

陷入困境的英国首相特丽莎·梅上周回到布鲁塞尔,与欧盟就英国脱欧问题进行了更多会谈。

尽管她获得了保守党国会议员63%的投票,赢得了保守党领导地位的信任投票,但由于爱尔兰担保问题,英国"无协议"脱欧的威胁仍然存在。

英国脱欧消息众说纷纭,下文对英国目前情况进行了简要总结:

如果英国脱离欧盟的退出协议确实由议会投票通过,那么英国将于2019年3月脱离欧盟,并将开始"过渡期"。这过程至少会持续到2020年12月,届时英国政府将就未来与欧盟的关系达成一致。

如果英国政府在此期间无法与欧盟达成协议,那么"担保协议"将生效,使双方有机会继续交易。

这将使英国进入欧盟的"单一关税区",同时北爱尔兰将继续遵守欧盟单一市场的一些额外规则,确保其与爱尔兰共和国之间的边界保持开放。

然而,英国国内对"担保协议"的反对呼声很高,尤其是来自北爱尔兰的民主统一党(DUP)的反对,而她需要该党的支持来维持政府。DUP反对担保协议中提到的仅在北爱尔兰展开额外的海关检查,并威胁在议会投票时反对梅的脱欧协议。

据报道,梅最后尝试安抚DUP时要求对任何担保协议进行为期一年的限制,但被布鲁塞尔拒绝。

因此,全球投资研究公司Morningstar MORN -2.05%预测认为,尽管梅的信任投票顺利完成,但英国仍有30%的机会出现"无协议脱欧",而且由于国内反对的原因,英国脱离欧盟并没有达成协议。

长期以来,伦敦一直被认为是欧洲甚至全球的金融科技之都,自2016年6月以来,伦敦的公司吸引了超过50.8亿美元的投资。与此相比,巴黎获得了13.8亿美元,柏林获得了10.2亿美元,斯德哥尔摩获得了6.83亿美元。

虽然特丽莎·梅已经宣布英国的家庭将获得关于如何为"无协议"情况做准备的"官方建议",但尚不明确这种情况会如何影响金融科技行业。

那么,这对金融科技来说意味着什么?

关税制度

英国政府透露,在"无协议"的情况下,英国将与欧盟达成"第三国关税制度"。

这意味着由于要对欧盟和英国之间流动的物品进行更严格的检查,至少会造成供应链的部分中断,并导致进出口软件、设备和产品的延迟。从欧盟发往英国的货物将被视为从"第三国""进口",因此可能需要预先支付英国进口增值税,即使对于价值较小的货物来说也会增加成本。

对于发往欧盟的任何金融科技服务,发送者必须在入境国缴纳增值税。虽然出口商可以要求退款,但预计可能需要几年的时间来处理。在边境进行更全面的检查可能会导致延误,这也是北爱尔兰未来讨论的焦点,如果出现"无协议"的情况,金融科技行业应该注意这一点。

英国税务与海关总署(后文简称HMRC)预计海关申报量可能会从目前每年6000万增加到每年2.55亿,主要针对的是以前从另一个成员国进入欧盟的产品,因为是自主进入,所有并没有处理此类产品所需的人员或基础设施。HMRC正试图改变其服务并处理与英国脱欧有关的更新,公共账目委员会的议员已经表达了对这种"高危过度扩张"的担忧。

投资

伦敦几家"独角兽公司"之一的TransferWise曾宣布他们将在英国脱欧之前将其欧洲总部从伦敦迁到欧洲大陆,其创始人解释说,考虑到英国未来的"不确定性",包括"无协议"的可能性,这里不是建立金融科技企业的最佳地点。

与这两位爱沙尼亚人持有相同担忧的人很多,据称有100家金融科技公司正在考虑迁往柏林。法国政府还宣布计划吸引英国脱欧后目前仍位于伦敦的"数千家"金融科技公司。

事实上,由于业内众多知名人士公然表示反对,该行业受英国脱欧不确定性的影响是不可避免的。针对硅谷等九个其他技术中心的商业领袖进行的调查显示,英国脱欧以后,一半以上的人现在不会让自己业务进入英国市场。此外,还有四分之一的人表示,他们明年不会投资英国的技术业务,直到英国与欧盟达成任何协议。

虽然伦敦仍然是欧洲的金融科技之都,但通过上述研究可以发现情况令人担忧,许多风险投资公司都对投资持保守态度,直到确定英国脱欧协议。"无协议"可能会进一步刺激投资者,这对小型初创企业的影响最大,那些处于种子融资阶段的企业最需要投资。

现在很多初创企业可能会选择在英国境外创建,享受竞争对手金融科技城市的激励机制,以免受任何可能的负面"无协议"后果影响。

通行证

在最近对其成员的一项研究中,Emerging Payments Association(EPA)发现,91%的受访者认为通行证对英国的金融科技行业来说很重要或非常重要。通行证允许位于某个欧盟国家的公司可以与欧盟内任何其他国家的公司自由贸易,只需很少的额外授权,好像他们就是一个泛欧组织一样。

这使得欧盟内部的公司比欧盟外的公司具有显著优势,如果出现"无协议"的情况,位于英国的公司将立即失去这一权利。这样一来,金融科技企业将不得不在另一个欧洲国家开设子公司,以便继续像现在一样进行交易,并从相关国家申请当地许可证。

对于许多像TransferWise这样的支付公司而言,这带来了一个巨大的问题,因为"无协议"意味着他们在获得进一步的批准之前可能无法在整个欧洲大陆提供服务。

美国环保局局长Tony Craddock此前告诉Forbes,"无协议"情况以及英国公司通行证权利的丧失"降低了伦敦作为欧洲领先的金融科技中心的可能。[总而言之],没有什么前沿技术可以阻止孤立主义破坏贸易。"

英国政府已宣布将推出一项临时许可制度,允许欧盟境内的金融科技公司在英国脱欧后继续进入英国,通行证有效期三年,但目前尚不清楚这是否会得到其他欧盟成员国的回应。

员工权益

伦敦凭借其吸引全球精英的能力成了全球金融科技中心。EY一项研究发现,目前伦敦金融科技行业从业人数达到44,000人,在全球所有城市中人数最多,此外,还有155,600名数字技术专业人士常驻伦敦。Tech Nation Survey显示,伦敦市41%的居民是在国外出生,金融科技行业有54%的劳动力来自国外。

英国政府已承诺如果发生"无协议"英国脱欧的情况,欧盟居民目前在英国所享有的工作场所权利保持不变。8月份发表的一份文件中明确指出:"2018年脱欧法案包含了各种欧盟指令权力。这意味着英国的员工将继续享有英国法律规定的权利,涵盖欧盟法律中的各项规定(包括上文列出的规定,下方另有说明除外)。政府将对工作场所立法的语言进行小幅修改,以确保现有法规反映英国不再是欧盟国家。"

然而,英国内政大臣Sajid Javid近日透露,新提出的英国移民白皮书规定,将来只有薪水在38,000美元左右或以上的外国"高技能"员工才能继续工作。

因此,目前收入低于这个门槛的欧盟员工的未来仍然不确定,更不用说那些希望将来前往英国的人。伦敦软件工程师的就业市场就是Javid指出的白皮书所导致问题的最好例子。Glassdoor数据显示,当地平均工资大约为52,000美元。对于小预算的初创企业或希望雇佣更多欧盟初级或中级软件工程师的公司,这将导致他们完全依赖国内就业市场,并可能导致员工严重短缺。

如果可能的话,担忧员工在英国长期工作的权利的雇主应鼓励员工申请永久居留权。只要非英国公民能够证明自己在英国连续工作了五年,就有权永久居住在英国。政府表示,截至2021年12月31日,个人可以继续申请永久居留权。

欧盟解决方案也计划于2019年3月推出,适用于目前居住在英国但未满五年的欧盟公民。该方案的确切条款目前尚不清楚,但据说欧盟公民如果做出在英国工作的进一步承诺,就有机会获得"预先确定"的身份,从而获得居住权。

政府也建议如果出现"无协议"的情况,雇主最迟应在2020年10月前为自己的欧盟劳动力提供"工作检查权"。鉴于过渡期定于2020年12月结束,在此之前仍有足够的时间来申请保障工人权利。

The United Kingdom’s beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May was back in Brussels last week for yet more talks with the European Union over Brexit. Despite winning a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party, achieving 63% of the vote from her own MPs – the threat of a “no deal” Brexit remains significant thanks to the issue of the Irish backstop.

For those of you suffering from Brexit-fatigue, here is just a brief summary of where the U.K. currently stands:

If the U.K.’s draft withdrawal agreement on leaving the EU is indeed voted through by its Parliament, then Brexit will occur in March 2019 and a ‘transition period’ will begin. This will last until, at the latest, December 2020 during which time the British government will agree upon its future relationship with the EU.

If the British government is unable to reach an agreement with the EU during this time then a “backstop agreement” will come into force, allowing both parties the opportunity to continue trading.

This would see the U.K. enter a “single customs territory” with the EU where Northern Ireland would remain privy to some extra rules of the EU’s single market, to ensure that the border between itself and the Republic of Ireland would remain open.

However, May has received considerable opposition to the “backstop agreement” in the U.K. – none more so than from the marginal Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, whose support she relies upon to maintain her government. The DUP opposes the additional Northern Ireland-only customs checks that the backstop could see implemented and has threatened to oppose May’s Brexit Deal when it is voted on in Parliament.

Reportedly, May requested a one-year limit on any backstop agreement in a last-minute attempt to appease the DUP, but this was rejected by Brussels.

As a result, global investment research firm Morningstar MORN -2.52% has predicted that despite May succeeding in her confidence vote, there remains a 30% chance of a "no-deal" Brexit occurring and the U.K. tumbling out of the EU without an agreement thanks to the opposition at home.

So, What Would That Mean For Fintech?

London has long been considered the European – even global – capital for fintech, with firms attracting over $5.08 billion of investment since June 2016. In comparison, Paris received $1.38 billion, Berlin $1.02 billion and Stockholm $683 million.

While Theresa May has announced that families in Britain will be given "official advice" on how to make preparations for any "no deal," it is less clear how such circumstances would impact the fintech industry.

Here, I have outlined what companies should be aware of and what preparations they can take to minimize any negative fallout.

Customs Regime

The British government has revealed that in the case of a “no deal," the UK would enter into a “third-country customs regime” with the EU.

On the ground, this means that there would be at least initial disruption to supply chains and delays importing and exporting software, equipment and produce due to more stringent checks on items moving between the EU and UK. Goods sent to the UK from the EU would be viewed as "imports" from a “third country” and would therefore likely have to pay UK import VAT up front, increasing costs even for smaller value goods.

For any fintech service sent to the EU, the sender will have to pay VAT in the country of entry. While the exporter may be able to claim a refund, it is predicted that this may take up to several years to process. More comprehensive checks at the border are likely to lead to delays, as has been the focal point of discussions over the future of Northern Ireland, which fintechs should bear in mind if a “no deal” occurs.

HMRC has already predicted that it is likely to see an increase in customs declarations from 60 million a year at present to 255 million a year, thanks to produce, which was previously checked on its entry into the EU in another member state – which by its own admission it does not have the personnel or infrastructure to handle. MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have already expressed concerns that HMRC is "dangerously overstretched" as it attempts to transform its service and handle updates related to Brexit.

Investment

Eyebrows were raised when the CEO’s of TransferWise , one of London’s few "unicorns", announced that they would relocate their European headquarters from London to the continent ahead of Brexit. Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo K??rmann explained that due to "uncertainty" over the future of the UK – including the possibility of a “no deal” – it was not the best place to build a fintech business.

The Estonian pair is allegedly far from alone in their concerns, with one hundred fintech firms supposedly in talks to relocate to Berlin alone. The French government has also announced plans to attract "thousands" of fintechs currently based in London post-Brexit.

In fact, the industry is by no means not immune from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit with a range of high-profile figures speaking out against the deal. A poll of business leaders in nine other technology hubs, including Silicon Valley, found that more than half would now not bring their business to the U.K. as a result of Brexit. A further quarter said they would not invest in a British technology business over the next year until terms of any deal were agreed with the EU.

While London remains Europe’s fintech capital, for now, research from the above study paints a concerning picture, with many venture capitals withholding investment until terms of any potential Brexit become clearer. Should a “no deal” occur, it is likely to spook investors further – with the impact felt most by smaller, startup firms, with those at the seed funding stage most in need of investment.

It is likely, that many startups will now look instead to launch outside the U.K., welcomed by incentives from rival fintech cities, so as not to concern themselves with any possible negative “no deal” fallout.

Passporting

In a recent study of its members, the Emerging Payments Association (EPA) found that 91% of respondents believed that passporting is either important or very important to the U.K.’s fintech sector. Passporting lets firms based in one EU country trade freely with any other abroad, yet within the union, with minimal additional authorization, as if they were a pan-European organization to begin with.

This gives firms within the EU a significant advantage over those outside of the organization, and in the event of a “no deal," firms based in the U.K. would immediately lose this right. Instead, fintechs would have to open subsidiaries in another European country to continue trading as they do now and apply for a local license from the country in question.

For many payments firms, like TransferWise, this poses a huge problem as a “no deal” would mean they could be unable to offer their services across the continent again until they receive a further approval.

Tony Craddock, the Director General of the EPA, previously told Forbes that the event of a “no deal” and the loss of passporting rights for firms based in the U.K. “reduces the chances London will remain as a Europe-leading fintech center. [Ultimately], no amount of leading-edge technology will prevent isolationism from damaging trade.”

The British government has announced that it would introduce a Temporary Permissions Regime that would allow fintechs based within the EU to continue to passport into the U.K. for another three years after Brexit, yet, it remains unclear whether this will be reciprocated by other EU member states.

Workers' Rights

London has established itself as a worldwide fintech hub thanks to its ability to attract the globe’s best and brightest. According to an EY study, there are currently 44,000 people working in the city’s fintech sector – the greatest number in any city across the globe – and 155,600 digital tech professionals calling London home. While 41% of inner-city London residents are foreign-born, 54% of the workforce in the city's fintech industry is from abroad, according to a Tech Nation Survey.

The British government has promised to maintain the workplace rights that EU nationals currently enjoy in the U.K. should a "no deal" Brexit occur. In a document published in August, it clearly stated that: "The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 brings across the powers from EU Directives. This means that workers in the U.K. will continue to be entitled to the rights they have under U.K. law, covering those aspects which come from EU law (including those listed above except where caveated below). The government will make small amendments to the language of workplace legislation to ensure the existing regulations reflect the U.K. is no longer an EU country."

However, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid revealed this week that as part of a new proposed white paper on immigration in the U.K., "highly-skilled" employees from abroad will, in the future, only be allowed to continue to work if they are on a salary of roughly $38,000 or over.

Therefore, the future of EU employees currently earning less than this threshold remains uncertain, not to mention those looking to move to the U.K. in the future. The problems caused by Javid's alleged whitepaper can be best illustrated through the employment market for software engineers in London. According to Glassdoor, their average salary is roughly $52,000. For startups on a small budget or firms looking to hire EU staff in more junior or middle-level software engineer roles, this creates a complete reliance on the domestic employment market and could lead to major staff shortages.

Employers concerned about employees' long-term right to work in the U.K. should encourage them to apply for permanent residency, if possible. This gives a non-U.K. citizen the right to live permanently in the U.K., as long as they are able to prove they have spent five years continuously in the country. The government has said that individuals can continue to apply for permanent residency until 31 December 2021.

An EU Settlement Scheme is also planned to be introduced by March 2019, which would apply to EU citizens who currently live in the U.K. but have not done so for five years. The exact terms of the scheme remain unclear at the moment, but it is believed it will provide an opportunity for EU nationals to obtain residency by obtaining "pre-settled" status by demonstrating a further commitment to work in the U.K..

Employers have been advised that in the event of any "no deal," that they should diarise "right to work checks" for their EU workforce by October 2020 at the latest. With the transition period scheduled to end in December of that year, this should still give adequate time to apply to safeguard workers' rights.

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