Strategic coupling between finance, technology and the state: Cultivating a Fintech ecosystem for incumbent finance

The rise of Fintech challenges established financial centres and incumbent financial institutions to rethink their strategies to remain obligatory passage points in the age of digitizing finance. To appreciate these changes, it isimportantto maintain theoretical interchange between developments in financial geography and economic geography, its parent discipline. In this paper, we argue that the ways in which evolutionary economic geography impacts strategic coupling in global financial networks are crucial to grasp tomorrow’s geographies of Fintech. Through an in-depth examination of Brussels, we analyze the potential of Fintech opening a window of locational opportunity in financial services. Belgium has put together a strategy to seize this window by leveraging its politically neutral image and Brussels’ existing niche in financial collaboration and infrastructural plumbing. The latter status is exemplified by the presence of global players SWIFT and Euroclear. We analyze how Belgian entrepreneurs and politicians assess Brussels’ locational resources, and strategically couple big financial institutions with small tech startups in order to cultivate a Fintech ecosystem in the service of incumbent finance, constituting a FinTech-State triangle. As such, we document and analyze how the coalescence of finance and technology offers new opportunities for second-tier financial centres, whilst highlighting the difficulties in reaping these in practice.