London-based financial technology startup Kuan is relocating its headquarters from London to Helsinki because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit. Finnish startup accelerators and a startup-friendly business environment were Helsinki’s key attractions.
Kuan offers fast and transparent cross-border payment solutions to small and medium-sized companies in Europe and Asia. In Chinese, Kuan means “money” and “sincere”, and indeed, the company helps its clients eliminate hidden banking fees and enables cross-border payments for real exchange rates, with low fees and short delivery times.
Kuan was founded in 2015 and operates currently in London, Helsinki and Hong Kong with a team of eight employees. With the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the company has decided and already began to relocate its London headquarters to Helsinki.
“Brexit creates uncertainty particularly regarding EU passporting rights, immigration policy and funding opportunities,” says CEO Kenneth Ma from Kuan.
Passporting refers to EU-based companies’ right to conduct business in other EU countries without having to set up an office in each country, which would create substantial extra costs.
“As a FinTech startup, we need to be sure that we can continue to do business in other EU countries. It appears, however, that neither the UK nor the EU can guarantee anything solid at this stage. Furthermore, uncertainty regarding immigration policy may prompt high-skilled tech experts to leave the UK, which would make it more difficult to recruit new talent to our team. Brexit will also halt the significant venture capital funding from the European Investment Fund to UK-based companies,” Kenneth Ma explains.
Kuan will continue to operate in London but a part of its staff, including CEO Ma, will relocate to the new headquarters in Helsinki.
“London is still the hub of foreign exchange but I doubt that will be the case in five or ten years, as the city will likely lose the euro clearing business after Brexit,” Ma says.
Kuan has participated in two Finnish startup accelerator programs – Startup Sauna and Nordea Bank’s Startup Accelerator. The programs were one reason Kuan decided to choose Helsinki for the location of its new headquarters.
“I knew Helsinki from participating in the accelerators. Both programs are very good, and I also like the city. After careful research of the local business ecosystem, we decided to move our headquarters here. Finland is a startup-friendly country, and as a young FinTech startup, we need help, advice and support. Big corporations and Finnish governmental bodies are proactive in helping FinTech startups. Furthermore, the cost of living is lower in Helsinki than in London,” says Kenneth Ma.
Setting up a business and settling in Helsinki has so far gone smoothly, with support from Helsinki Business Hub, Finpro, the accelerator programs, and Kuan’s investor Nestholma.
The only challenge Kuan has encountered is the language barrier: most official documents must be submitted either in Finnish or Swedish. Kenneth Ma hopes that Finland will make English one of its official languages, to make it even easier for foreign entrepreneurs and companies to operate in the country.
“The support we are getting from Finnish companies and organizations is really facilitating our business development here. Helsinki Business Hub has offered us support and information on market entry and helped us connect with partners. Finnish people are very practical and open-minded, and our business partners seem to like working with a company with an Asian background,” Ma says.
Kuan will start by relocating three employees from London to Helsinki. The company also plans to hire two new employees in Helsinki by the end of 2017, thanks to Tekes funding. In the next two years, it intends to recruit up to ten employees in Finland, depending on its resources.
And on a global scale? Kuan is setting its sights far: the plan is to scale its service to Dubai, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Text: Anu Jussila