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Mayor of London urges Japan Inc. to upgrade payments systems, draw on his city’s fintech sector


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London Mayor Boris Johnson told a forum in Tokyo that his city has expertise Japan could use as it prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. | BLOOMBERG

The mayor of London on Thursday urged Japan to embrace more financial innovations such as mobile payments as it prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Speaking on a visit to Tokyo, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said London-based financial technology companies can help Japan Inc. bring itself up to date with new conveniences such as swipe-card payments and private taxi-hailing apps.


He said such innovations are unstoppable, however much established industries may resent the fact.

“We have to recognize that disruptive technology is simply inevitable and we cannot put the technological genie back in the bottle,” Johnson said. “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, folks, that’s it.”

Speaking at the British Embassy in Tokyo, Johnson made a sales pitch for London’s burgeoning fintech sector, which centers on payments and lending and is driven by the use of mobile technology.

Fintech startups are throwing a small but significant challenge to the activities of banks.

Figures show London has become Europe’s fintech capital. As recently as 2014, the city accounted for 53 percent of total investment in fintech in Europe, management consultancy Accenture reported.

The forum heard that the 2012 London Olympics helped to make cashless payments routine as the city handled an influx of visitors from all over the world.

By contrast, Japan Post Bank Co., Japan’s largest bank, still operates ATMs that shut down overnight and during weekends, and payment network operator MasterCard Inc. says Japanese consumers use cash for 85 percent of transactions, compared with only 48 percent in Britain.

A representative of British bank Barclays PLC said by global standards corporate Japan is blind to the benefits of partnerships with innovative startups.

“It’s more risk-averse than the U.K.,” said Derek White, chief design and digital officer at Barclays. “There’s huge opportunity to just open that up. More than anything, (it’s about) opening minds to the fact that it can be done and doesn’t have to be done in closed systems anymore.”

Japan’s problem is partly one of its homogeneous culture, said Ikuo Hiraishi, CEO of SunBridge Global Ventures Inc. “The most important thing is how we can be globalized,” he said.

“People can start a global business anywhere, anytime. If we cannot go abroad … someone is going to come to this country to disrupt the existing (situation),” Hiraishi said.


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