Our innovation services

Our innovation division has a suite of market-facing tools and services to support innovative firms.

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ journey for an innovative new product or business, our services are designed to support firms at any stage of maturity. From collaboration, initial idea, proof of concept stages, to obtaining authorisation or scaling up in the market, or expanding internationally through cross-border testing. 

Collaborating on ideas with innovative firms

Direct Support  

Direct Support provides a support contact for businesses launching innovative services or products. This service helps businesses understand our regulations, navigate our processes, ensure our regulation keeps pace with innovation, and creates innovation-friendly rules.   

Firms who we support will typically receive feedback on whether they need to be authorised, what kind of authorisation they need, whether a rule or piece of guidance is relevant to their innovative model. The Direct Support team acts as an interface with the rest of the FCA – and successful applicants are given a point of contact. This allows your teams to speak to the right person to resolve their regulatory questions, discuss potential risks and issues, and ultimately to make sure regulation is not an obstacle to innovation. 

Direct Support is available throughout the year, and firms can apply at any time. The team provides support at all stages of maturity, from start-up to scale-up to incumbent. 

Businesses must meet our eligibility criteria before being accepted. In addition to regulatory assistance, upon applying for authorisation, firms are highlighted as Direct Support firms. This means firms benefit from prompt allocation of a case officer, and additional post-authorisation support in the form of a named supervisory contact. 

Advice Unit 

The Advice Unit helps firms by offering regulatory feedback on automated advice or guidance models within the investment, pension, protection, mortgage, general insurance and debt sectors. 

All businesses are subject to the same eligibility criteria and, once met, the Advice Unit can provide regulatory feedback on their model.  

This feedback can be captured by an initial meeting to discuss the proposition and the scope of regulatory input. Specific implications of the model can be deciphered and addressed through discussions, informal steers, and individual guidance, while also providing input on the authorisation process for unauthorised businesses. 

The Advice Unit also engages our behavioural economics team and the Financial Ombudsman Service, to seek input towards contributing factors of delivering an automated model.  

TechSprints 

TechSprints - also known as ‘hackathons’ - are events that allow us to gather participants from across the financial services industry and beyond to develop ideas and discuss challenges. Participants include large financial services institutions, RegTechs, FinTechs, academics, technologists and innovators. 

Techsprints help accelerate and development of new solutions through collaboration, resulting in new partnerships and pilots. For example, our machine readable and executable regulation TechSprint led to a pilot between us, the Bank of England and 7 banks that developed the Digital Regulatory Reporting (DRR) work programme. 

We periodically run our TechSprint programme on an approximately yearly basis. You can find full details, including upcoming events, on our TechSprint page

Digital Sandbox 

The digital sandbox provides successful applicants with access to a range of high-quality synthetic data assets to test and develop their propositions. The digital sandbox was launched to support products and services at earlier stages of development.  

It also provides a focused ecosystem to accelerate early-stage development, through access to a range of industry mentors and demonstration opportunities. 

The digital sandbox currently operates as a cohort model. The pilot cohort focused on 3 use cases which had been exacerbated by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic: preventing fraud and scams, consumer vulnerability, and access to finance for small businesses. 

We will, in conjunction with the City of London Corporation, launch a second phase of the Digital Sandbox pilot, focusing on sustainability and climate change challenges. 

Integrating the benefits of invention and innovation 

Regulatory Sandbox  

The regulatory sandbox helps businesses test propositions with real customers. Firms can test products and services within controlled environments, supporting the identification of consumer protection safeguards into products and services. All applications to the sandbox are assessed against the same eligibility criteria.

We look to support models which are at the cutting edge of innovation, and often the firms testing in the sandbox are the first of a kind. Our aim is to foster innovation where the market needs it. Because of this, we support firms innovating in creating different products and services, even if there are other examples of a model in the market. 

The regulatory sandbox is open to applications from all sectors of the financial services market, see our page on applying to the regulatory sandbox for more information. 

The regulatory sandbox is currently run on a cohort basis, with periodic application windows opened throughout the year. However, our intention is to move to ‘Always Open’ in summer 2021, making the regulatory sandbox available throughout the year. In doing so we will also expand and clarify the scope of qualifying propositions to ensure we support firms and sandbox tests which will lead to tangible benefits for consumers and markets.   

Cross-border Testing (GFIN)  

The Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN) is a network of over 70 organisations committed to supporting financial innovation in the best interest of consumers. GFIN helps to find a more innovative way for firms to interact with regulators globally. 

One of the ways GFIN seeks to achieve this is by developing a cross-border testing framework, known as the ‘global sandbox’. Cross-border testing is an environment for firms to test and scale innovative propositions, business models and technologies across multiple jurisdictions at the same time.  

The GFIN Cross-border testing initiative is run on a cohort basis. Firms wishing to test their propositions across jurisdictions can apply during the application period through the GFIN website using a Single-Entry application form which will be submitted to the selected regulators. The evaluation criteria depends on the requirements of the relevant regulators in the jurisdictions that firms apply to. Our requirements for the GFIN cross-border testing are identical to those for our Regulatory Sandbox. 

Enabling innovation to expand at scale 

Industry events

We are committed to exploring ways in which our approach to regulation can be evolved and enhanced to allow for innovative firms of all sizes to scale and grow for the benefit of markets, firms and consumers. 

We plan to organise a number of industry engagement events, such as roundtables and workshops, to help further develop thinking on key priority fintech areas and ways in which practical and productive collaboration nationally and regionally can take place at scale.  

Our engagement with industry will also highlight and inform the demand and need for support from firms in the growth phase, with a view of sharing knowledge, skills and expertise for all firms through scalable insights. 

Page updates

10/05/2021: Editorial amendment