In this episode of StreetsTalksTo we are joined by Hilary Smyth-Allen, BPFS Sector & Modern Services Lead and Executive Lead SuperTech, David Stewart, Group Chief Operating Officer for Wesleyan and Co-Chair of the FinTech arm of SuperTech and Jof Walters, Co-Founder Million Labs and Co-Chair of the FinTech arm of SuperTech.
We start the conversation with a fascinating look into West Midlands’ rapidly emerging professional services technology scene. We talk about the impact of The Kalifa Review on the UK’s Fintech sector and what this means for the region. Time to market is a key priority for entrepreneurs and innovators and we discuss how low code and no code are empowering startups. SuperTech is focused on supporting businesses and building on the existing globally and nationally relevant cluster and how it can help businesses scale, all the while ensuring that as a community, it remains fit for future generations of changemakers.
SuperTech is a cross sector partnership designed to showcase the talent, innovation and investment potential of the West Midlands’ professional services technology cluster. This supercluster aims to amplify the voice and the potential in sectors that include fintech, legaltech, prop tech, and insuretech. It is the first dedicated prof tech collaboration of its kind in the UK.
Hilary is the executive lead for the UK’s only professional services tech supercluster. A former chartered surveyor and qualified tax technician, Hilary has a wide ranging career spanning professional and financial services sector including 10 years in practice as a National Director in Fortune 500 company AECOM. Since her time in practice, Hilary worked as Executive Director for regional membership body for professional services for 5 years and established herself as a key influencer in BPFS policy in the West Midlands. She also leads industry engagement on behalf of a range of organisations including nationally funded research projects with University of Sheffield Management School, Oxford Brookes University, City-REDI at University of Birmingham, Dept of BEIS and Innovate UK. Innovation and disruptive technology is a core strand to the policy areas Hilary engages in and SuperTech combines these interests with passion for championing Birmingham and wider West Midlands.
David Is Group Chief Operating Officer for Wesleyan, the mutual which specialises in providing financial services to trusted professions. David joined Wesleyan in April 2019 and became Group COO in August. He has responsibility across Wesleyan for Change & Transformation, Technology, Cyber Security, Data & Analytics, Customer Operations, Procurement and Workplace Services. Prior to joining Wesleyan, David spent over 10 years at Lloyds Banking Group in a number transformation and operational roles, latterly as Chief Operating Officer for the Group Services division. Prior to joining Lloyds, David’s career spanned retail (Asda), FMCG (Mars) and telecommunications (Phones4U). This broad experience has been the foundation for David’s passion to deliver lasting change which benefits customers and colleagues.
Back in 2000, Jof saw the first internet banking product (Egg Card) to its launch and through its early stages of trading creating a $2bn debt book. After moving on to become Head of Innovation for Barclays, he introduced a large Pre-Paid Card programme. In 2006, Jof bought Shopcreator (a leading e-commerce platform), transformed it into a SaaS company, and sold it again. In 2010, he both founded and later successfully later sold the Shilling Group, a boutique M&A advisory and small business lender. In 2015 was recruited as Programme Director by Russian bank VTB and worked for three years to build a Challenger Bank. Jof founded Million Labs with Simon in 2018, he is a director of Silicon Canal and Co-Chair of the central region Fintech Cluster.
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets. And welcome to the podcast series, StreetsTalksTo. In each episode, I interview leaders from some of the most influential firms, bodies and initiatives in the financial services industry. On each episode, we explore what’s at the very forefront of innovation and change. And I hope you enjoy the series, which you can find on all good podcast channels, and all the episodes are listed on our website streetsconsulting.com. You can find the episodes using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. So thank you for listening. And a welcome to this episode of StreetsTalksTo SuperTech.
SuperTech is a cross sector partnership designed to showcase the talent, innovation and investment potential of the West Midlands’ rapidly emerging professional services technology cluster. When we talk about professional services technology, think of the expression prof tech, and it’s the first dedicated prof tech collaboration of its kind in the UK.
This supercluster aims to amplify the voice and the potential in sectors that include fintech, legaltech, prop tech, and insuretech. I’m delighted today to be joined not by one, oh no, not two but three guests from the region. I’m delighted to be joined by Hilary Smyth-Allen, Jof Walters and David Stewart. Let me introduce them to you each in turn.
Firstly, I’m joined by Hilary Smyth-Allen who’s the Executive Lead at SuperTech. She’s a former chartered surveyor and qualified tax technician. She’s had a phenomenal career spanning professional and financial services, including 10 years as a national director of a Fortune 500 company. She’s also established herself through various regional membership bodies and tenures in the industry as a leading influencer in the West Midlands region, and if that’s not enough, she’s also working with a number of organisations. Think there, the University of Birmingham, the Department of BEIS and Innovate UK. She’s very passionate about championing Birmingham and the wider West Midlands so we’re delighted she’s with us today. Hilary, thanks for joining us. Great to see you.
Hilary: Thanks for having me.
Julia: A Pleasure. Joining Hilary, I’m delighted also to introduce you to Jof Walters. Now back in 2000, Jof was involved with the first internet banking product EG card. Remember them? And drove that business through its early stages of creating a two billion book of debt. Just think about what that means. Because after that, he went on to become Head of Innovation for Barclays. He introduced a large prepaid card program, and he’s also bought and sold a number of organizations, including a boutique M&A advisory and small business lender as well.
He’s been working in the industry for many, many years, and what’s also notable is he’s a director of Silicon Canal and co-chair of the Central Region fintech cluster. Jof, I’m delighted that you’re with us today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Jof: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Julia: David Stewart also joins us today. Last but no means, least. He’s the Group Chief Operating officer of Wesleyan, the mutual that specialises in providing financial services to trusted professions.
He joined in April 2019 and became group COO in August that year. He has responsibility across Wesleyan for change and transformation, technology, cybersecurity, data analytics, customer operations, procurement, and workplace services. He’s also heavily involved with Europe’s largest asset management fintech hub called The Engine Room at Wesleyan’s head office in Birmingham, it’s developed in partnership with the investment association and is home for the association’s accelerator program designed to support innovation and investment and asset management. David, thank you so much for joining yesterday.
David: Thank you, Julia. It’s great to be here.
Julia: Fabulous. It’s been a joy talking about your different interests in the region, thinking about your involvement in SuperTech and come from very, very different perspectives as well.
What I’d really like to get into, first of all, is for the benefit of the listeners. I’ve had a brief attempt to explain what it is, why it matters, and why now. But I want to get into that in so much more detail. Hilary, can I come to you first of all? So tell us, what is SuperTech?
Hilary: SuperTech is the UK’s first super cluster for professional services technology. It is a really unique proposition because it’s the only one of its kind, which brings the fintech strengths alongside law tech, alongside prop tech, alongside the other techs that are disrupting the future of professional services. We’ve taken that approach because we have a very, very large regional professional services sector. In fact, it’s a third of our economy. No matter how you measure it, whether that’s by GVA, by number of firms, by employment. It’s significant, and that’s not very well understood outside of the region. It’s not even very well understood all the times within the region, where our strengths in automotive and manufacturing, perhaps, are more widely associated with the region.
But the hard facts are those numbers around professional services, and yet professional services, in its own right, is undergoing massive change, technology affecting our industry as much as others, and we’re competing for the same talent. So there’s a significant opportunity there in order to support the continued growth that ascendance over the last 30 years to where the sector is now, but also a little bit about resilience. I think we’ve seen massive acceleration of those trends in the last recent year. SuperTech fits into that picture accordingly, that we need to be supporting our businesses, but also there’s life outside of the Southeast, and that this trend and the opportunity to build on the globally relevant cluster we already have in the established businesses, but making that fit for the next generation.
That’s where SuperTech fits in and we’re looking to build across the individual areas. There are a lot of lessons be learned from fintech and the journey that it’s gone on and how new entrants, disruptors, technology providers can work and partner with the established businesses, we’ve seen that with the release of Kalifa’s Review of the UK fintech scene and how in the opening statement of that report, Ron Kalifa lays down the financial services and fintech, they’re not sub-sectors now. It’s intrinsic to the way that financial services are delivered. Well, that is likely to be the journey that law tech goes on. in prop tech, as buildings become digital platforms, as legal services can productise and operate in different ways, so we’re trying to get the advantages of that insight and pay it into the others, and also draw on the collective strength of the business community where it’s really integrated in place.
The West Midlands has a really strong business community. It’s highly networked, and why would we try and separate that as we go on this transformation journey? SuperTech has really tried to meet that challenge head on and do it in a different way.
Julia: It’s that collective strength that really shines through in all the conversations I have been having in the region and thinking about the potential as well as building on the history and I think a lot of people don’t realise actually how much innovation there is in the region. I was talking earlier about Jof’s work at Silicon Canal. I want to come to David first of all, actually, because I was saying that you’ve essentially you’re hosting the biggest asset management incubator space. It’s actually a physical space in your office in Wesleyan, really a stone’s throw from the railway station as well. I’ve been there a number of times. I want to return to this question about why now. And David, just hear your thoughts about why you’re particularly involved in SuperTech, and what this means for your community right now.
David: Why now? I think Hilary’s touched on it to an extent, in terms of it’s very clear that there is a huge opportunity within the region. I think it’s fair to say that we aren’t fully leveraging that at the moment, and really why now is that we absolutely want to maximise that opportunity, not just for the established organisations. Wesleyan being 179 years old is clearly one of the older ones, but actually, we’ve already got some really strong startups and scale-ups in the region, but it’s very clear that we can and should have many, many more. We want to galvanise behind the national effort, but very much leverage that opportunity within the West Midlands.
I think the second point is very pertinent to the here and now. We’re a year into the Coronavirus pandemic. If I look at my own business, then it’s affecting the way that customers react. We particularly focus on doctors, dentists, teachers, and those are professions that have been profoundly impacted by the experience of the last 12 months. And so we’ve had to pivot, as a business, to really drive our digital transformation. Instead of our financial consultants seeing clients face-to-face, they’re now doing it virtually and they’re fitting in amongst doctors’ timetables, and those doctors are particularly hard pressed right now, for very obvious reasons. We’ve had to pivot very much as a business, and our colleagues have had to pivot from being in the office to actually working from home, but continuing to drive the business forward.
Actually, if we look then more broadly at the fintech and prof tech world in the West Midlands, we’re seeing employment challenges without a shadow of a doubt. Why now, is partly to help those individuals and those fledgling businesses get the leg up that they deserve in the current climate. That can only help the economy in the West Midlands. The final point I would make is that ultimately, this is about technology, and the benefit of us being a super cluster in SuperTech and spanning multiple sectors is that we can very much give the access to the technology from different sectors. Because if we just focused on one such as fintech, actually those other sectors could miss out. That’s why I would say that why now? There’s never been a better time, I would say, Julia.
Julia: Absolutely, I love the whole point about helping organisations to be resilient that Hilary was talking about earlier, And you were talking about helping them on their journey at a time when it’s really, really needed as well.
Jof, I’d like to bring you in here because you’re an entrepreneur, it’s in your DNA. I talked in the introduction about the businesses you’ve launched, you’ve scaled, you’ve sold, and I’d love to get your thoughts about why this really, really matters and why this really matters right now.
Jof: As David was saying, we’ve just lived through a terrible year, which has created an enormous amount of change. And there’s two things that are happening. Number one, there’s a lot of people that have been displaced, there are a lot of people that are currently on furlough that are worried about their future, there are a lot of people that have been made redundant, have lost their job, sadly. #I think it’s incumbent on an organization like SuperTech, which is just starting out. We have the ability to gather a lot of eyes on what we’re doing.
We’ve got some great partners around this, some amazing firms like Shoosmiths and the Wesleyan and the others that are partners in SuperTech, which can drive a lot of good and change into the local
economy and start to create opportunities for people coming out of 2020 into 2021 and the end of this year.
The other thing is, as we saw people moving away from the city, there’s a change of attitude, there’s a change of feeling in people. We heard this morning that there is a forecast that maybe people will be going back to the office two out of every five days, not five out of every five days, and when there are meetings to be attended.
I think that means that we have an opportunity to bring them into our local economy three out of every five days. We can start to decentralise roles and bring people back into the local tech community. So it’s a great time for SuperTech. Times have changed. Times of disaster drive times of opportunity. And so bouncing right now and spring boarding into 2022, we can drive some positive growth, and new companies, and new jobs, and actually new trade, but drive that into our area. And that’s an important thing.
Julia: It is really important. I think there you were beginning to talk about some specifics about the needs of individuals, as well as the collective corporate point of view as well, whether you’re a small early stage firm or whether you’re a larger organisation as well.
What I’d really love to, in this next section, is getting a little bit more into some of those real interventions, very specific things that are happening. Jof, let me stay with you on this because I know that there’s the SuperTech Seeds program. Tell us a bit more about that and any other interventions that are coming into place.
Jof: One of the things we wanted to do with SuperTech is start doing things really quickly. Clusters like SuperTech benefit from actually knocking things out of the park, let’s do some specific things that help people right now. I own a company called Million Labs, and Million Labs is a company that works with a thing called No-Code. A very brief precis of what No-Code is because we usually have to do one, No-Code is a trend that’s been around for the past few years. It’s currently, I guess, the hottest thing in technology right now.
Microsoft, Google, Amazon have all launched No-code platforms in the past year, enormous amounts of investment in Silicon Valley and actually in the UK as well. What is No-Code? No-Code is a general term that has come to describe the idea that somebody that doesn’t have any development skills, any coding skills could use a piece of software that looks a bit like PowerPoint to draw a picture of an application, configure some settings, and then have that piece of software deliver the application as a finished product that could be launched and looks just like it was built with code. And that’s a No-Code platform, for want of a better description.
We’ve been using this new No-Code trend to run a boot camp where we’re teaching people, well, first of all, we’re teaching people to develop their technology themselves, we’re helping entrepreneurs and people that want to use technology skills in their day job to learn how to use No-Code platforms to build applications. In some cases, they’re launching them as businesses, and in some cases, they’re using them to power up the business that they work in. This is a great way for us to upskill people. It’s also a great way for us to introduce new seedling companies into the West Midlands economy.
Because the way we see it, we have space in our incubators, in our accelerators, things like The Engine Room at the Wesleyan. We have spare capacity, and the reason we have spare capacity is we need businesses growing into that scale-up stage of startups. By creating a route for us to create the very seeds of startups, we know that in a year, two years, three years, we’ll be using that capacity and growing the local economy with some successful businesses.
That’s what we’ve been doing with SuperTech Seeds, and coming soon, I think I’m allowed to say, we’ll be launching our first No-Code pre-incubation program as well. So we’re looking at what we can do to help people that have used No-Code platforms to grow further. Can we help them with funding, mentoring and all of those other things that come with growing businesses?
Julia: This is fantastic because No-Code is being heralded as probably the greatest unlocker in innovation, because it’s all about speed to market. It’s about bringing ideas to life. And also, so many ideas needs to meet a business requirement. So therefore leaders who go, “Actually, I can see an opportunity, but now I need the tech to do it, but I may not be a technologist,” can really bring that to light.
It’s fantastic to hear about the work you’re doing there, because I think that’s going to just not only provide the forum and the structure, but actually it’s going to inspire even more at speed, which is really exciting. Hilary, it seems like you’re really keen to come in here so your thoughts will be great.
Hilary: Absolutely. I want to just to bring it back to the professional services bit and why SuperTech is particularly pursuing this because it’s the combination of that core sector, thinking about its growth and resilience for the future and the asset we have in this No-Code incubator through Million Labs, and Jof being one of the West Midlands fintech coaches in this group.
The challenge laid down for fintech is that the average age of a startup is about 48, something like that. It’s super high, and it’s super high because you need to have the resilience, the personal resilience I’m talking about now, or the itch to scratch. You’ve had the idea. You’ve developed enough domain knowledge to know how to have a problem or a pain point you want to fix in this, in a regulated domain. Then you need to have enough wherewithal and/or personal resources to jump and find the tech partner, and it’s always this combination of the two coming together. And in the other half of my week, I’m embedded in national research projects around law tech and accountancy. We see the same trends coming out of the research there. Really high average age. So we’re constantly thinking, “Well, how would we feed the hopper?” Because if we want to grow the region and we want to have more of this activity taking place here, and we believe we’ve got a strong proposition to do that, there are only so many businesses in an ascent market that’s emerging that you can inward invest. So we have to grow our own.
How do you do that? And I think through this partnership, what we’re trying to do is to enable more actors and more people with ideas to scratch the itch, if we can lower the barrier to entry. Beyond that, what we’ve seen from our pilot trials, because this has been running for a little bit now, is that it has a corporate entrepreneurship setting. How do corporates express ideas? How do they experiment and trial in cultures where innovation is not comfortable, where you sell time for money? This is hard and not to be underestimated.
We think No-Code has way of accelerating that and failing fast, getting that fail-fast development culture and innovation into sectors which aren’t as comfortable with it, and we also think it has a skills play because on the training side, even if somebody does not go on and found a business, but they’ve learned a little bit. They are more employable with our concept that we’re building out, and therefore, we are still contributing with this program to that wider economic growth and some of the challenges that are coming down the path as furlough unfolds and we start to see the real impact. It’s multifaceted.
I think I just have to finish by crediting the greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP who have backed us with this idea and the experiments. It’s that best example of our private-public partnership that’s behind SuperTech because without their resources and support to take a risk and develop this idea, That’s how we’re putting policy into action, through the West Midlands plan.
Julia: It’d be amazing to see those businesses come out, as you say, feeding the hopper and come out the other side and imagine the pride actually of not only being associated with that specific organisation that’s going to be successful, but being part of the community that has, as you said, being not only supporting, but also learning from each other. Also, the cross-fertilization is going to be extraordinary. It’s really exciting. But that’s not to say that there hasn’t been work that’s gone before, because I know this, as I keep saying, I think that the region is underestimated in terms of the innovation that’s come through in recent years. This is an amplification and a supercharge. Hence, they’re our guests, the reason why it’s called SuperTech.
David, let me come to you next as well. Again, this question about specific interventions. Really keen to hear about practical things that you’re focused on as well.
David: SuperTech was only formed just a couple of months ago. It is still very much in the fledgling stage. What I would say is there is absolutely a strong, latent demand from the extended community within the West Midlands, and that’s across academic institutions. It is across startups, and across established organisations such as ourselves as Wesleyan or the big players like HSBC and Barclays that are in the region.
There’s a very strong, latent demand, and it’s fair to say that we’re still forming our plans in terms of how best to bring that community together. We held a launch event not so long back, any events get a lot of interest. But what is very clear is that if we went down a pure membership route, then that is fraught with problems, and there’s a very large graveyard full of membership organisations that haven’t thrived.
We’re quite thoughtful around the most appropriate model, so I think it would be a case to watch this space as we develop those plans. But I would just like to come back to something that Hilary mentioned, because it is very clear that the barriers to entry are high for prof tech organisations across the UK, that is despite, for example, in fintech, some really quite tired advantageous regulation that helps our financial services grow within the UK.
I do think that No-Codes organisations or the type that Jof is helping to develop are a really good opportunity to unlock some of that. If I look at, as a real life example, in Wesleyan we’re focusing very hard on our digital proposition, and we’re just about to apply into a Low-Codes producer, to help us deliver some digital functionality. And that’s something that we, as a 179-year old organisation, are embracing.
Actually, two of our Wesleyan colleagues have been on the first cohorts of SuperTech Seeds in terms of learning how to do No-Code themselves. We’re very much eating what we’ve baked, as it were, to use that expression. It’s really very exciting times.
Julia: It certainly is, isn’t it? I just wanted to, if I could, just nudge the conversation forward and just pivot on a word you just used about regulation actually. I know this is a really weird question to be asking guests on a podcast, but I am slightly excited by this, when you talk about the impact of regulation and the potential for regulation.
What I ask all our guests on StreetsTalksTo is if you have a particularly favourite piece of regulation that you’re paying attention to right now. We’re always really keen to hear because of course, a lot of change must be anchored either around the drivers coming out of regulation or a definition and the future of regulation and the application in the middle.
David, can I stay with you on this one, if you don’t mind? Tell us. Share your thoughts. What is your favourite piece of regulation right now?
David: It’s one of the most interesting questions, Julia, I think I’ve been asked. So favourite piece of regulation. I’d look at this through two lenses. I think from a business lens then there are two elements of regulation that I think are really quite exciting in the UK. One is Sandbox, and the opportunity that that gives to startups to test things in a way that the regulator is supportive of, rather than nervous about, it was fantastic to read in the Kalifa Report that there’s talk about a scale box now to help scale-ups as well as sandbox for startups. So that, I think, is fantastic.
The other regulation, I think really helps businesses is our approach to data regulation, particularly in the context of open banking, because the availability of open banking data unleashes huge potential in fintech developments. I think, ultimately, they help consumers. I’d probably finish in my response to this question with a piece of regulation that I think really does help customers at the end of it, which is particularly in financial services, is the push by the FCA around smarter communications.
Financial services are complex at the best of times, and as an industry, we don’t always make it as easy as we could do for customers to understand the literature and the online material that we’re sharing with them. Smarter comms and the push to make financial services communications simple, clear and understandable for our customers, I think, is a brilliant piece of regulatory effort from the FCA.
Julia: Particularly when we think not only at the highest level where, as you say, the trend towards open banking but also open finance, which is where the interconnected community around SuperTech really, thrive. But also thinking about financial inclusion and suitability and all of the requirements around that. Of course, that really, really matters. Fantastic. loving your thoughts on that. Thank you very much indeed.
Hilary, you come at this from a very different perspective. What regulations and initiatives, on a regulatory level, are you paying attention to right now?
Hilary: I’m less of an expert on regulation, but quite happy to comment on broader policy matters that impact both nationally and locally. The three words that have probably most enabled the evolution and the creation of SuperTech has been the local industrial strategy.
I note that as I say those three words, they are three words that no longer really trip off the tongue of anybody in government and were very, not even last year, the year before, so you roll with the times. But at a policy level, we understand our ingredients, key assets in the region in a way that we didn’t before. Nobody’s ever looked at services to the depths that we’ve looked at it before. Actually, we have some really interesting conversations around skills and innovation, more broadly with national partners because we are the only region that has prioritised business and professional financial services in the UK.
it puts us in quite a unique position. It puts us in more of a leadership position. We’ve tried a few more things. And frankly, whatever it’s called when we have the next iteration of the economic plan, and we do our refresh here, our core ingredients will still be the same, and we’ll align it that way. I think it’s been incredibly enabling because it has freed up this opportunity to invest, to create more public-private partnerships. And everyone’s been on a journey. I’ve been on a journey with David and Jof for the last 18 months or so, and before that many others were we’re, frankly, not used to doing this very much, A) in services, B) in regional services economies.
Intervention is not a thing. Partnership working is discussions and consultation, And then we wait and watch and you come back and ask us again in three years, but nothing happened in between. I’ve been around this agenda for over a decade in this region. And we’ve gone from being missed out of the original economic plan when LEPs first came into that, somebody pointed out, “Well, hang on a minute, there’s this,” through to being in it, but not a priority. Through to it being in it and priority but not resourced, to where we are today.
That only happens with a consistent voice, and when you get to this stage, this is the next evolution. And I’m really excited. I just want to make sure that we can continue that journey, with the emphasis put on cluster organisations in the context of levelling up, in context of the prizes to be won for global Britain’s the current phrase and inclusion and jobs from fintech and the other techs that we are sufficiently resourced to deliver on that. That is one of the big mental gaps that I have. The recommendation is great. The delivery models are very much less clear at the moment, and that’s what keeps me awake at night. So not a favourite piece of legislation or policy, but massively enabling.
Julia: It’s wonderful to hear you talking holistically around it, about not only the historical journey of where you are. And that’s taken an enormous amount of work, I know, but then also, of course, what the potential will be if that last piece is put into place.
Jof, from your point of view, very much an entrepreneurial perspective, building Low-Codes, getting businesses off the ground. How about you? What are your views on regulation?
Jof: Well, I used to be far more interested in regulation. I’ve managed to free myself from banking and the senior manager’s regime and a few other things, what I liked about working in financial services, I went through the new banking startup unit a few years ago with a challenger bank. I went through the Bank of England with the Russian trade bank going through their change of permissions process.
Both of which were actually not as unpleasant experiences as you would imagine. The thing that I like about working, or I liked about working in financial services is actually the door’s quite open for anybody to come and build a fintech. We’ve prided ourselves on the fact that challenger banks have been built by technologists. Core banking systems have been built by people that have come out of Google, not out of the banking industry, and they’ve been met with acceptance. For me, my organisation today, one of our core principles is that we want anybody to involve themselves in startup, no matter what kind of startup they’re trying to build, because they bring something new and different and interesting. If we give them the tools, they might create something truly outrageously interesting. I think with financial services, as David referred to the sandbox and the scale, about the scale box that was in the Kalifa Review,.
I think we can take that kind of practice into other professional service areas where, perhaps, it used to be like this in banking when I first started. Perhaps, founders are presented with a bit of a locked door, actually, and showing that even in the most regulated markets, you can open that door and let anybody in, so long as it’s done in the right way, we’ve got the right level of prudence and control over that. So long as it’s done in the right way, we can give access to any entrepreneur to build and grow a business into something quite special.
I think that’s incumbent on us, when we’re an umbrella organisation that brings in a number of different professional services. Sharing that best practice, and that behaviour, and that mindset is something that’s possible in SuperTech.
Julia: When you think about the financial services, I’ve been in the industry 30 years and if you wind back about 10 years ago, a lot of this just would not have been possible. You say if it’s possible in financial services, it is almost possible anywhere else as well. So it has been fantastic because I know, as you say, David, it’s probably the weirdest question you would get asked on a podcast, but it actually is incredibly enlightening and very focusing, in many ways as well.
Let me just remind everybody. Hope you’re enjoying the podcast discussion as much as I am. You can find us on all good podcast channels. It’s called StreetsTalksTo. And all the episodes are listed on our website streetsconsulting.com. And of course, you can find us on social media if you use the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. And today StreetsTalksTo SuperTech.
Let’s look ahead a little. As we go into the final phases of the show, I’m really keen to hear now what you’re focused on right now. Jof, let me stay with you at this point, because we’re thinking about the SuperTech community, thinking about the foundations of growth that we were talking about before. Let’s look ahead a little. And what are you particularly focused on right now?
Jof: I think we’re very fortunate people. All of the people you have on this podcast are fortunate people. We’re in a position where technology is changing, and it’s changing really fast right now. We know that technology enables all sorts of growth and change. I think it’s incumbent upon us as we have this opportunity with SuperTech, we have this new voice. We have people looking at us. It’s very important that we use our position right now to start to try and plug some of the holes in our local economy and in the wider economy. SuperTech is something which is based in the West Midlands, but looks outwards.
It’s incumbent upon us to use the noise that we’re making right now and this capacity and capability we have to start trying to create growth, to start trying to create change in the near term because that’s what this country needs, but to do that with an eye that says that change that we’re creating right now, that growth we’re creating right now, in five years time we’d like to see those seeds that we planted turning into the big stories that people tell about the West Midlands. “Did you see this?” The phrase that everybody likes to use, “This unicorn? Well, that came out of what they were doing back in 2021, actually. It was a time of trouble, a time of change, but it was also a time of great opportunity. And they used what they were doing with SuperTech to harness that and to create something really special.”
Julia: My gut feeling is I don’t think it’s going to be too long before that begins to come through. Certainly, just the conversations I’ve been having in the region about the ideas that are coming forward, also, the leadership of how the community has come together, but also the entrepreneurs themselves. We look forward to those headlines for sure, and the pride that that will bring to the region. David, can I come to you next? As you look ahead at the next year or two, what are you particularly focused on?
David: I’m very tuned into the fact that SuperTech is unique in the UK because we span professional and business services. And that cross-fertilisation is such an opportunity.
Ultimately, SuperTech is about access to businesses, access to technology and access to talent, and that isn’t unique to fintech alone. It is absolutely relevant to professional business services across the region. As I touched on earlier, I’m very, very focused, along with Jof and Hilary, around how we really leverage that opportunity. There is no better time, as we touched on before. Not just because of the pandemic, though that is a major factor. But also because we definitely have more opportunity than we’re harnessing at the moment, we’re punching under our weight within the region. That’s very much what I’m focused on is how to really maximize that opportunity as we move forward.
Julia: Opportunity is the watch word, isn’t it? With everything you were saying there, the only word I keep returning to in my mind is potential and opportunity, which is fantastic. Hilary, your final thoughts as we’re going out of the show, just thinking about the path ahead. You talked a bit earlier about the history that’s gone before. Tell us what does the future hold?
Hilary: SuperTech is really focused on the West Midlands, but not for the sake and only in the context of the West Midlands. I say that in the sense that we have a globally relevant professional services cluster. That’s the core asset, and we need to maintain that ambition. Being nationally relevant and internationally relevant is so front and centre to where I think we need to take this.
It’s not about the West Midlands and Birmingham versus Manchester versus Leeds versus London, particularly London, it’s not a zero sum game. If London loses, we all lose. It’s thinking about, “Well, what’s our part? And what’s our role in that UK offering? And how do we bring more of that to the benefits to the West Midlands?” Because the overall game is happening. It’s not taking away from others. It should not be about displacement.
I think the only other angle that I will be particularly focused on in the next year, aside from the business model, and how we build some sustainability into this collective vision, and try and see through some of the aspirations of the Kalifa Review from our part in the national network. But what does place even mean? After a year of sitting at home, where does place policy-making fit in? Because it really does fit in because we’re having traction and getting opportunities to talk with the likes of yourself, Julia. This is working because we’re anchored in a place and yet, we’re set everywhere and nowhere. I think that’s an evolutionary journey that we don’t know the answers to yet because people, place, purpose do seem to still matter.
They certainly seem to matter around an innovation agenda about how ideas flow, how we get that creativity going and maintained, but yet somehow we’re all everywhere and nowhere, and I can’t square that circle in my mind, but there’s still a role for place, how we get the best of both worlds and really contribute in keeping relevant internationally and nationally is my next year and beyond, I suspect.
Julia: Wonderful. That’s one of the reasons why I love doing this podcast because it gives us real pause for thought because actually, everything is being re-imagined. I think it’s a beautiful way to end the show, actually, when you think about reimagination of being able to inspire and drive technology through the application of Low-Code at one end of the spectrum, right the way through to the conversation about what is place in the whole innovation journey. It’s been a fantastic conversation.
Jof, first of all, can I just say thank you to you for taking the time out, I know how busy you are, to join us today, great to have you on the show. Thanks for being with us.
Jof: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
Julia: David, busy role as COO of Wesleyan, and thank you so much for joining us today.
David: It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Julia.
Julia: And Hilary, thank you for joining us. Again, inspiring words to see us out with, and just taking the time when you have clearly a lot to be thinking through.
Hilary: Always enjoy our conversations, Julia. It’s been great.
Julia: Anybody who’s keen to find out more about SuperTech, you can find them on their website, which is supertechwm.com. SuperTech West Midlands, of course. And also on Twitter at SuperTech_WM. And to everybody who’s tuned in, thank you for joining us today. I hope you’ll tune in for future episodes, and today, I really enjoyed this discussion as StreetsTalksTo SuperTech.
Kieron: This episode of StreetsTalksTo was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Streets Consulting Limited. Streets Consulting is a business development, marketing, communications consultancy that’s focused on helping Fintechs from the smallest startup companies to some of the world’s largest global organisations. Everybody’s trying to innovate and everybody’s trying to grow. You can find this episode on Streetsconsulting.com and using the hashtag #StreetsTalksTo. We can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @StreetsConsult. Thanks for listening.