In a nutshell

Innovation in the banking and finance sector is (somewhat paradoxically) nothing new. Developments in technology have been improving the speed and ease of financial services since the advent of credit cards in the 1950s. So, what has changed? Where the term once applied to large monitors chugging away in the back offices of high street banks, it is now something we interact with on a near daily basisranging from mobile banking apps to machine learning, customer service bots, and the complex world of cryptocurrency. As a result, there is now an increasing demand for legal professionals with expertise in this brave new world.   

In such a broad sector, it should come as no surprise that the work of a Fintech lawyer is extremely varied. Fintech originated as the crossover between financial services and IT, but its evolution – particularly in the last ten to fifteen years – has been rapid. According to Laura Douglas - Senior Associate in financial regulation at Clifford Chance: “The vast majority of Fintech companies in the UK work to develop payment systems or payment type solutions, but it’s essentially any novel use of tech products in finance.” Lawyers specializing in Fintech must of course have a strong grasp of the technical details of the products they work with, but that’s not all  

The financial services sector is one of the most heavily regulated, and it is regulation that is the primary concern around Fintech for manyFirstly, it’s a really exciting area because the regulatory framework around Fintech is still developing” Douglas tells us. The challenge this creates for firm’s however is that the regulatory laws are constantly changing: “Holding those two things together, a clients desires to do things now, and what the regulatory laws are now, with what the market might look like in two to five years’ time, is one of the main challenges.”  


What lawyers do

  • Assist clients with the structuring documents that underpin new products. According to Douglas, these documents help to define and explain what a product is and how it works, which in turn helps to determine whether or not the tech needs a license, or whether it needs to be registered.”  

  • Assist clients looking to establish cryptocurrency trading platforms as they seek to navigate regulatory hurdles. For Douglas: “Some of the most interesting work I have been involved with was looking at how they get set up, and how they engage with users across a huge range of jurisdictions while remaining compliant with a variety of different regulatory frameworks.”  

  • Conduct research into region-specific regulatory issuesDouglas expands“We often work closely with local counsel on cross-border surveys to find out what regulatory regimes are in place, and how best to understand those regulations, as well as trying to advise substantively on what regimes there are here in the UK.” 

  • Advise clients handling financial data on how best to utilise and protect an individual’s data in accordance with GDPR law. This might include offering advice to clients on how particular compliance laws apply in practice.  

  • Advise high street banks investing in new technologies on issues in cybersecurity, such as the risks that come with increasing digitization. 

Realities of the job

  • “I think a key one is a willingness to look at things from first principles” Douglas explains, adding that “a lot of this hasn’t been done before, so analytical skills and intellectual curiosity are a must.” 

  • Despite the broad range of practice areas that Fintech lawyers are likely to dip into, most Fintech departments are not looking for generalists. As Douglas puts it“In order to advise clients effectively, we need to understand in a relatively detailed way how their products and services work, so that we can advise them on the right factual matrix.” 

  • For lawyers working in the Fintech space, it is essential to be able to communicate effectively with those working in the business world. This means having a strong grasp of the industry, to such an extent that many firms want their employees to have qualifications or experience in business, such as an undergraduate degree or time spent working in the industry prior to becoming a lawyer.  

  • The total market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies is now over $1.6 trillion, and so it is imperative that Fintech lawyers develop a strong sector knowledge and keep a close eye on the trends that emerge from the cryptocurrency market space.  

  • Fintech lawyers will work with anyone from inventors to developers of new Fintech technologies, so the ability to explain complex technical concepts in simple terms is essential. The people who are describing their products to you might not be lawyers themselves, so translating technical detail into legal jargon is crucial, being alive to not using different words in different contexts, Douglas explains. 

Current issues

October 2023

  • The Fintech industry has been impacted by substantial changes in finance regulatory law introduced over the last few years. One area of regulatory law that has significantly changed in 2023 is Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). A new framework has been implemented meaning BNPL suppliers must now conduct rigorous credit checks on customers in order to uncover their suitability at taking out a loan. Authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, lenders must now wait for confirmation before acquiring the loan. 

  • Although the country remains the second highest global contributor of Fintech investment, UK investment fell by 56% across 2022. The primary reason for such decline stands at the door of surging interest rates in addition to rising inflation, the both of which have significantly weakened investor interest. 

  • Globally, fintech is becoming more and more integrated into our daily lives. With high-profile firms like TransferWise, Greensill, and the BGL Group Monzo and Starling Bank operating in the Capital, London is considered a hub in the financial technology world. As financial consultancy firm Satchel report, the importance and reliability of London and the UK in the Fintech world largely stems from regulated financial policy in addition to advantageous tax deductions within the country. 

  • Market research group Juniper Research report that the value of all mobile money transactions in emerging markets is projected to grow by roughly $500bn in the next four years, ultimately taking its global value to a staggering $2.1tn by 2027. It is believed that the usage of payments-as-a-platform is the fundamental factor facilitating this rapid surge.    

  • One hot topic in the fintech world in 2022 is blockchain. In addition to facilitating cryptocurrency, blockchain technologies have also been gaining adoption in more traditional industries such as banking, manufacturing and professional servicesIt’s estimated that as of mid-2023, users of blockchain wallets stood at 45-50 million globally 

  • Due to the popularity of instant financial services, Fintech companies are seeking to develop faster and more efficient online services, which raises compliance issues for companies as they struggle to meet stricter anti money-laundering rules. Specifically, KYC requirements (Know Your Customer), mandate controls around proof of identity and address, placing limits on how quick and frictionless transactions can be.  


  • The rising popularity of Green Finance among Fintech companies may come as no surprise, particularly as institutions seek to incorporate more sustainable practices into their business models. European law and regulation has so far led the way globally on this particular area, where the concept of green banking has become widespread. It’s expected that this will naturally spill over into the US too, as climate-focused legislation surrounding fintech and banking will become ever more common stateside.
  • Artificial intelligence has impacted a wide variety of industries, and fintech is no different. Whilst AI’s threats are commonly known, it has benefited the fintech industry in terms of being able to offer detailed financial advice and rapid fraud detection, in addition to aiding with heightening productivity and providing more pinpoint accuracy