Over the last 18 months, the UK has faced a period of great uncertainty, shaped by global trade tensions, local threats of recession and political change. In this unsettled environment, the UK tech sector has continued to thrive, outpacing growth in the rest of the economy. This year’s UK Deloitte Fast 50 winners are at the forefront of this growth, achieving an extraordinary average growth rate of 3,878 per cent over the last three years.
Beyond the Fast 50, the broader UK macroeconomic and political climate has been one hampered by uncertainty over the last months. Changes in the political landscape and trade war tensions have depressed the confidence of consumers and businesses, with Deloitte’s Consumer Tracker highlighting job security as a growing concern. The recent reluctance of the Bank of England to raise interest rates highlights trepidation over the UK’s productivity.
This environment has affected businesses of all sizes, from large enterprises to start‑ups. Deloitte’s 2019 Q3 CFO Survey indicates that UK corporates are adopting their most defensive strategies in nine years, looking to reduce costs and build cash balances. At the other end of the scale, the number of start‑ups that emerged in 2018 was 13 percent lower than the previous year. This has been depressed as prospective entrepreneurs hold off from starting their ventures until greater clarity emerges over the UK’s political and economic future.
Yet, against this backdrop, the UK’s technology sector continues to develop and flourish, achieving growth over one‑and‑a‑half times quicker than the rest of the economy5. The UK now has 24 unicorns – a privately held start‑up with a valuation in excess of $1bn – and remains firmly established as a leader on the global technology stage. Strong investment in the UK has helped to fuel this growth, with Tech Nation reporting total venture capital investment of £6.3bn in 2019, more than any other country in Europe. The UK Government provides further support across industries.
The FinTech Bridge Programme looks to help UK companies expand abroad, and there has been £1bn of investment in the National Quantum Technologies Programme since 2014.
Within the technology sector, the Fast 50 winners have performed exceptionally, with an average revenue growth of 3,878 per cent over the last three years. The winners generated total revenue of £670m in the last financial year, and currently employ over 8,700 staff, including almost 2,500 dedicated to Research and Development.
London‑based FinTech business, heads up this year’s Fast 50 cohort, having achieved extraordinary growth of 48,477 per cent over the last three years – the fourth highest growth rate in the history of the UK Fast 50 competition. The company provides a digital alternative to established banking institutions, and has an ever‑expanding range of offerings, including budgeting controls, insurance, and cryptocurrency exchange. FinTech businesses as a whole comprise 30 per cent of this year’s winners, including six businesses in the top ten, highlighting the UK as fertile ground for FinTech start‑ups. These organisations offer a broad range of services, including credit platforms, such as small– and medium‑business credit provider OakNorth Bank (2nd place overall, three‑year growth rate of 37,449 per cent), and regulation, such as government ID assessment business, Onfido (10th place overall, three‑year growth rate of 2,855 per cent).
Software businesses continue to make up the largest proportion of winners, up to 48 per cent from 40 per cent last year. The sector is led by Clearmatics (5th place overall, three‑year growth rate of 5,995 per cent), a London‑based blockchain business building decentralised network platforms.
This year’s winners hail from across the UK. London continues to dominate, with 64 per cent of the winners based in the city, including eight of the top ten. Supported by the presence of large financial institutions, a strong international talent pool, and proximity to potential investors, the capital maintains its particularly strong performance in FinTech, being home to 13 of the 15 winners.
Outside of the capital, standout performances include DivideBuy (3rd place overall, three‑year growth rate of 23,878 per cent), the Newcastle‑ under‑Lyme‑based interest‑free credit provider, and Oxford Nanopore (8th place overall, three‑ year growth rate of 4,259 per cent). The latter, a health care company focused on DNA sequencing, heads up four winners from a resurgent South East – which was absent entirely from the Fast 50 in 2018.
In this year’s report, we focus on the CEOs at the helm of these inspiring businesses. These leaders are integral to success; setting the direction of the company, while also building and empowering the teams that drive the business. First, we consider the leaders’ wide‑ranging experiences, across industry and in start‑ups. Then we draw on Deloitte’s Business Chemistry preferences tool to explore the varying traits. We unpick the leaders’ roles and responsibilities in the business, and the changes they have overseen during their tenure. Finally, we look at the team they surround themselves with, and the importance of cohesion between this group.
Duncan Down is a Transaction Services Partner with 12 years’ experience of supporting clients on transactions. He specialises in supporting Mid-Market Private Equity Houses and their portfolio companies in acquisitions, bolt-on transactions/ refinancings and disposals across the UK. He works across a range of sectors, but primarily focuses on TMT and Business Services with specific responsibility for Deloitte’s involvement with high growth companies and is the lead partner for our Technology Fast 50 awards. Although focused on UK acquisitions, Duncan has also led transactions involving clients/ targets in the US, Latin America, Israel, the Nordics and Mainland Europe.