Why Encompass chose Glasgow as its UK base
When most young businesses decide it’s time to branch out a little, they’re more likely to be eyeing up the next big city, a move south to London or a venture that’s at least within reasonable striking distance.
And leaving behind the crashing surf of Bondi Beach and the iconic Sydney Opera House for the grey chill of the Clyde and the “squinty” bridge may well feel like a 12,000-mile journey too far.
Yet as Australian Alex Ford trudged along a grey Sauchiehall Street, recently landed from the warm glow of life in Sydney and in search of a satisfying cup of coffee, it was crystal-clear that the trip half-way round the world was worth it.
“First impressions? Apart from our CEO insisting we walk further than I thought was necessary in the climate to find a great cup of coffee, was that there was lots going on and a pool of experienced people working with leading brands,” she laughs.
“People are the deal-breakers,” she stresses. “There are a number of factors that make you choose one place over the other, but if the people are not there, it’s not worth looking further. If you do find a couple of places with the right people, it’s what’s offered over and above that really makes the deal.”
It is two years since Encompass Corporation established its first office outside Australia in Glasgow, taking advantage of a lively and experienced fintech community, attractive inward investment support and a location that has turned out to be even better than first imagined.
Although only launched in 2012, Encompass had already established a hungry market in Australia for its smart software designed to make vital – and often complex – “know your customer” (KYC) checks for banking, finance, legal and accountancy businesses a seamless and stress-free process.
It’s technology that is in increasing demand. Compliance and regulatory standards designed to prevent money-laundering, illegal business and terrorism are constantly evolving; making necessary checks with as little staff time wasted as possible key.
With many financial institutions lumbered with inefficient legacy systems, a fast, smart digital offering that scans the likes of Companies House, Lexis Nexis and Thomson Reuters simultaneously means previously time-consuming individual checks can be carried out automatically.
Having licensed the company’s first products in Australia to compliance firm SAI Global, Encompass co-founders Wayne Johnson and Roger Carson turned their attention to fulfilling global ambitions and finding the best place to make their business’s new home.
Enter key character Singapore-based Hugh Sutherland, one of Scottish Enterprise’s network of GlobalScots – experts in their fields and with an interest in helping Scottish business flourish.
Their paths crossed in Sydney, where Hugh was working. Impressed by the business, he became a stakeholder.
“When we said we were looking at the UK, he encouraged us to come,” explains Alex, the firm’s vice-president of operations.
Hugh’s wealth of Scottish business connections paved the way. “I went into sales mode for Scotland and made it clear the obvious location was Glasgow, which hosts the back office systems for so many leading financial institutions and has the skilled staff they would need,” he said.
With contact made with key Scottish Development International and Scottish Enterprise people, and the business encouraged by the similarities between UK and Australian regulatory and legal systems – made adapting products to a new market much easier – the executive team arrived with an open mind: locations in Europe and Northern Ireland were also on their “to see” list. But Glasgow stood out.
Gerald Murphy, former director at City Park Technologies, arrived as an adviser, bringing personal experience of Scottish Enterprise support to grow his own Glasgow-based business and giving Encompass executives a steer towards what investment incentives might be available.
“Scottish Enterprise connected us with recruiters here,” recalls Alex. “We were able to interview a few people and get a feel for the talent that’s available as well as see the city. We felt it was a good fit.”
The combination of experienced staff and future prospects – such as Strathclyde University’s recent announcement that it is to offer a new Masters in fintech qualification – along with a vibrant, established tech community, tipped the balance in Glasgow’s favour.
By May 2015 Encompass was based in West George Street and on the way to creating21 jobs making a £2.2 million investment – including £357,000 regional selective assistance support provided by Scottish Enterprise.
“The inward investment offer was very attractive,” adds Alex. “When you’re a start-up, doing things that are new, the support you get to help attract people and get talented people in place makes a huge difference.”
A move to a Buchanan Street loft-style space with its own roof terrace and BBQ area reflected the firm’s Australian roots before a growth spurt led to St Vincent Place. The 24-strong local staff is boosted by a further ten at the company’s London sales hub and three in the north of England.
“Glasgow has a large, highly-skilled, stable and well-educated workforce,” Encompass co-founder Roger Carson said recently. “More than 30,000 work in financial services, and local universities produce high-quality computing science and software engineering graduates.
“It has also enabled us to keep our costs relatively low, less than half of what it would have been in London.”
That’s just part of the picture, though. A Scottish Enterprise account manager provides support and contacts, while Scottish Investment Bank – which recently provided a £1.8m investment – now has a boardroom presence, opening doors to its network and helping deliver best practice.
Encompass has also made a point of seizing networking opportunities, making itself visible at SDI and Scottish Enterprise events.
Now every inch a Scottish business, Encompass is moving into a fresh stage of growth. The recent SIB investment means it can speed up its expansion plans and accelerate product development.
Recently it was selected as one of just 16 firms – and the only Scottish business – to take part in the UK Department for International Trade’s first RegTech trade mission to New York as part of New York FinTech week.
“We’re happy with the culture, the staff and how the team has come together, the loyalty and the commitment,” says Alex. “We love it here. We do genuinely think it has been such a great choice for us.”
The Aussie pioneers are here to stay.