In the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, luck was the last thing the Irish government was relying on to help its financial technology companies gain an audience in Atlanta, the electronic payments hub of the U.S.
Enterprise Ireland, a government agency that supports Irish firms going abroad, led a group of seven Ireland-based innovators to Atlanta to help them navigate the community of investors, customers, partners and government officials as they aimed to deepen inroads into the U.S. market.
Most of them already have some sales or presence in the U.S., with some, like Fineos and WorldNet Payments, already boasting offices in a city that now has dubbed itself “Transaction Alley.” Some, like Corlytics, have their executives living here, even without a physical office.
Ireland may be a hotbed of digital innovation, but it’s also a small market of just 5 million people. Irish firms do have access to the 500-million strong European Union, but in the heavily regulated financial sector, English-speaking nations are the natural next frontier. Brexit has shaken up that equation and helped the U.S. move up the priority list.
“Traditionally an exporting company would go to the United Kingdom, but now, with that kind of uncertainty, where do you go next?” said Terence O’Rourke, chairman of Enterprise Ireland, in an interview.
The U.S., with the strong heritage connections, huge market, predictable regulation and English language, makes a lot of sense for Irish firms, especially those whose solutions are valuable to major players.
“Big U.S. companies want to find want to find innovative, small, agile companies that come in with new ideas, and we have some of the best in the world in Ireland. We only survive in Ireland as such a small country by being very innovative, very agile,” Mr. O’Rourke told Global Atlanta during a reception held for the companies on the rooftop at Ponce City Market.
Daon, which helps banks, payment networks and other companies authenticate users involved in electronic transactions, is one company spending more time in Atlanta as it is awakening to the opportunity here, said Nick Hallas, head of North American sales.
The company is alreayd working with customers like Visa, MasterCard, the USAA and more, but the pre-St. Patrick’s Day mission provided open doors for the company to pitch potential new partners on its platform.
“One of the biggest things is just being able to meet the right people,” Mr. Hallas said.
Daon’s authentication engine can use anything from a fingerprint and a facial scan to the way a person types on a keyboard as identity markers. That helps both the customer and the end user.
“People buy us because they want the security and to decrease the fraud, but most of our clients love us because of the user experience and convenience,” Mr. Hallas told Global Atlanta.
WorldNet Payments has already secured big-ticket partnerships, and now it’s looking to deepen market share in the U.S. under its own brand, said Conn Byrne, senior vice president for sales in North America and Europe, who recently relocated to Atlanta.
“We white label our gateway solution to them, and then they can sell it to their customers. When we see our customers generating a huge amount of revenue selling our products, we thought, ‘Why don’t we get over there and try ourselves?’ Mr. Byrne said at the Irish Chamber of Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday March 15.
Mr. Byrne said Atlanta is not only a transportation hub, but it’s home to the talent the company needs, with major players like First Data, Global Payments and Elavon being located here.
“A lot of these companies are prone to merging, which means there’s doubling off up of a lot of staff, so for us that means that we can get a lot of really experienced payments experts within this industry,” he said.
Other companies on the delegation had different “Why Atlanta” arguments. Kirk Urrea, business development manager for global payments provider TransferMate, was more interested in the city’s strong corporate base. The company, a darling of the Irish payments space that is aggressively expanding globally, operates a network of bank accounts covering some 70 percent of the world. The company’s software splits the payment into two local payments, making the process cheaper and simpler.
“In most of the cases we can completely eradicate that the fees that a bank would charge you along the way because there are many stops along the way. For us, it’s two open transfers,” Mr. Urrea told Global Atlanta.
Whatever their reasons, the companies were united in their appreciation for the inroads provided by the Irish government.
The Consulate General of Ireland in Atlanta facilitated many meetings and helped Enterprise Ireland, which doesn’t “yet” have an office here, navigate the local landscape.
Corlytics, a spinoff from university research which is backed by one of Enterprise Ireland’s early-stage investments, benefited from the way the trip opened doors, said its Atlanta-based senior vice president, Tim Sweeney. A company like his, which monitors global regulations to help companies manage risk, needs the right sales channels.
“It really just showed the nature of the connection between the Irish government and Atlanta, and we’re really grateful for that,” said Mr. Sweeney, one of the many executives who said he found the rumors of Atlanta’s Southern Hospitality to be true.
Mr. O’Rourke would like to see even deeper connections. He suggested after meeting with the Office of International Affairs at the City of Atlanta that Atlanta and Dublin become sister cities as a platform to formalize these types of exchanges in the long term. He remembers previous visits from Georgia officials but said more frequent interaction is needed.
“We can’t be good at everything, so we’ve got to pick where we’re going to be strong, and (fintech) is one of the strengths for us, and therefore Atlanta is a natural connection for us as well. We’d like to build on that.”
Ireland was one of the four countries that hosted an international pavilion at last year’s Fintech South conference in Atlanta. That event, which was new to many of the delegates, is coming up again April 22-23.
See the full list of companies on the trip and their descriptions embedded below:Companies Atlanta Fintech Tour