Frankfurt: From imperial fair hub to emerging fintech capital of Europe
Mon 5 Nov 2018
Ahead of their talks at TechWeek Frankfurt, Cecilia Fernandez de Cordoba, DevOps transformation Lead for Deutsche Bank’s retail arm, and Steffen Mueller, Senior Manager Cloud Sales Strategy for T-Systems, explain why Frankfurt is fit for business
Germany’s largest economy and third largest city has established itself as the country’s foremost hub of digital transformation and connectivity. It mixes a robust finance sector with leading tech fairs, and is home to world-class universities, corporations, and a thriving startup community.
Frankfurt’s identity has been intertwined with international trade since the 12th century. The city lays claim to the world’s first international fair, apparently dating back to 1140, according to a letter signed by Emperor Frederick II. 300 years later the fair’s merchants successfully petitioned for the opening of an exchange, vastly increasing the range of goods that could be sold and setting the precedent for another 500 years of trade.
Fast forward to today and Frankfurt’s financial and trade fair roots are still clearly visible. Home to the European Central Bank and 70,000 workers in the financial services sector, Frankfurt is the financial capital of the continent. Its trade fair at Messe Frankfurt is officially the world’s largest. According to recent estimates, only four other cities are more globally connected.
800 years ago books were the order of the day. Today, a new cohort of tech aficionados flock to Messe year-on-year to share sector insights and buy and sell the latest tech. Roughly 19,000 suppliers showcase their tech to 1.1 million prospective customers each year.
Not only does Frankfurt boast this gargantuan footfall, it is also fertile ground for the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, creatives, and developers. According to Startup Genome, Frankfurt is only a few years away from transforming into a truly globalised startup ecosystem, providing universities and corporate communities continue to nurture the city’s innovators and they attract more international talent.
This should be no problem when you consider that powerhouses like Deutsche Bank and T-Systems call Frankfurt their home, and educational tech torch-bearers such as the newly-launched Frankfurt School Blockchain Center are churning out top talent at a rate of knots.
In numbers: How does Frankfurt compare to European and Middle Eastern cities?
Attracting international talent is what Frankfurt does best. It is a city that has opened its arms to the international workforce; home to over 180 different nationalities, with over half of its 700,000 population coming from immigrant backgrounds.
“It’s like taking the multiculturalism of a city like London and compressing it,” says Steffen Mueller, Senior Manager Cloud Sales Strategy for T-Systems.
In last year’s domestic cup final, Frankfurt’s football team Eintracht Frankfurt –who’s squad contains players from 17 different countries– dispatched with Bayern Munich in true David and Goliath style.
“They showed how multicultural collaboration is done right,” says Steffen.
For some time, the world’s brightest minds have been attracted to Frankfurt’s abundance of highly regarded MBA programmes. Particularly popular is the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, widely regarded as the best business school in Germany. The next step is to make sure more of these graduates lay down their roots in the city for good.
Mueller admits that his relationship with the city has been ‘an everlasting on and off story’. Although he doesn’t call the city his home, he says many of his most important and exciting assignments have led him to Bankfurt – as the city is locally known.
“Frankfurt has the highest concentration of startups in a given sub-sector (fintech) globally across the nearly 100 ecosystems we studied.” – Startup Genome Annual Startup Ecosystem Report 2018
As Bankfurt is a couple of measures more relaxed than the fizzing streets of London and Hong Kong, it has a particular appeal to those seeking a calmer but no-less-flat way of life.
Cecilia Fernandez de Cordoba leads DevOps transformation for Deutsche Bank’s retail arm, and moved from Ecuador to complete an MBA in Mannheim, a city one hour south of Frankfurt. After three years experiencing ‘a not so busy city loaded with culture and infrastructure,’ she decided to stay in Frankfurt permanently.
“It’s an easy city if you compare it to Berlin, London or Paris. You can cycle the whole of Frankfurt in one hour and it is even manageable in the rush hour.
“And due to the airport and fair hub, it is easy to meet and connect with other business people or entrepreneurs,” she says.
As is the obligation for any international city, a selection of world cuisine lines Frankfurt’s thoroughfares. For new startups eager to climb up the industry ladder, these restaurants and hangout spaces combine with a student population to make the perfect incubation space. This is reflected in Startup Genome’s report, which, Steffen points out, rated the city 7th in the world for its “sense of startup community”.
In numbers: Comparing Germany’s Fintech Hubs
While Cecilia recognises that Frankfurt does not have much in the way of tourism –traditional opera house and green spaces notwithstanding– she views its no-nonsense prioritisation of business (Steffen informs me the main business district is known as “Mainhattan”) as is one of its greatest strengths.
“It is known as a very organised “small big city” with all the required infrastructure. Everyone knows that you come to Frankfurt to do business,” she says.
“In case you want to break away for vacation, one of Europe’s largest airports is just around the corner,” jokes Steffen.
Cecilia says perhaps the biggest change she has witnessed in the city in the past decade is its embracing of digital transformation and tilt towards distributed innovation.
“You can see many digital offerings and a lot of small companies with great ideas. You see how even in the fair there are small events going on all the time. We went from big and centralised events to many places where ideas can be exchanged and opinions are expressed.”
Frankfurt’s subsector strengths
Steffen agrees that there is a growing need for fresh, scalable ideas that can transform large corporations in line with the global trend toward digitalization, and is particularly excited about how the city is establishing itself as an international fintech mecca.
“Frankfurt has been a nucleus for financial services experts around the world. Large German banking and insurance players reside here, whose core markets are undergoing major changes.
“As fintech comes of age and brings along some awesome products, traditional players are looking to reinvent themselves. Helping them along that journey is challenging, inspiring, and much fun.”
TechWeek Frankfurt is kicking off at the Messe on November 7, with a total of 6,000 delegates in attendance. Check out the programme now to see when Cecilia and Steffen are delivering their keynotes. Free to attend. Registrations open.