In this episode of #StreetsTalksTo we talk to Nicola Anderson, CEO of Fintech Scotland. In this conversation we learn more about FinTech Scotland, their key objectives to help the community of fintech entrepreneurs, the ambition of the economic contribution, strategic partnerships, and the development of an inclusive environment to enable fintech innovation to really thrive.
We outline the opportunities that fintech collaboration and innovation bring to us all, with an update on the FinTech Research and Innovation Roadmap, one year on since it was launched. The Roadmap was published with a very specific question, what should the future of finance look like? It was developed in close coordination with fintech entrepreneurs, the financial services sector, academia, regulators, Government bodies and consumer groups, and provides a framework to increase the positive impact of fintech innovation across Scotland and the UK.
We discuss the significance of fintech in our digital economy and how its evolving innovation and problem solving in the current economic climate. We talk about how the Kalifa Review and research and development (R&D) in Scotland along with data, can advance business and help economic development in the UK and beyond. And lastly Nicola shares her favourite piece of regulation!
Under Nicola's leadership, FinTech Scotland has become a leading cluster of excellence for fintech innovation, driving a range of strategic initiatives and programmes to support economic growth, and build an inclusive and internationally connected fintech ecosystem in Scotland and across the UK. She is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in fintech, and is actively involved in action orientated programmes and policy developments that drive greater financial inclusion and diversity in entrepreneurship. Contributing to the development of fintech innovation across the UK, Nicola co-authored the FinTech Research and Innovation Roadmap (2021), supporting recommendations set out in the UK FinTech Review led by Ron Kalifa. The Roadmap is focused on industry prioritised research and innovation for the future of finance. Prior to joining FinTech Scotland, Nicola held a variety of senior roles in large corporates and in the financial services industry regulator, the FCA. With over 15 years of experience in financial services, she has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, and is committed to driving positive change through collaboration and innovation.
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 we think about the challenges facing clients, stakeholders, and the industry at large as we uncover the opportunities that both exist today and as we look ahead, particularly as we all navigate these fascinating times.
We 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. And you can find the episodes using the #StreetsTalksTo. Thank you for listening and welcome to StreetsTalksTo FinTech Scotland.
FinTech Scotland is an independent not-for-profit cluster body, jointly established with the financial services sector, universities, and Scottish Enterprise to ensure that Scotland seizes the FinTech opportunities and achieves positive economic and social outcomes by encouraging financial innovation, collaboration, and inclusion as part of the broader digital economy objectives.
FinTech Scotland was founded in January 2018 as a joint initiative by the University of Edinburgh, Lloyd’s Banking Group, HSBC, and Scottish Enterprise. The organisation is now supported by a broad range of global financial services, technology, and professional services firms as well as major universities, the Financial Conduct Authority, and Scottish Enterprise. Now, a couple of other things I would just point out. Number one is that in 2019, FinTech Scotland was one of the founding bodies along with FinTech North at Innovate Finance of the UK FinTech National Network, which is driving collaborative FinTech innovation and development right the way across all UK regions. The second thing is that FinTech Scotland in August last year was formally recognised for the development of a FinTech cluster and accredited with a silver label for cluster management excellence by the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis. No doubt, we’ll get into that very shortly, and I’m delighted today because we’re joined by Nicola Anderson, the CEO of FinTech Scotland. Nicola, how are you? It’s great to see you.
Nicola: I’m absolutely delighted to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Julia: I’ve always been fascinated by your career, and I wonder if I could just take a moment to introduce you to the audience by just putting out a few elements. A few things I’d love to highlight to the audience, if I may. One is I’ve mentioned you are the CEO of FinTech Scotland, and under your leadership FinTech Scotland has driven a range of strategic initiatives and programs to support economic growth and build an inclusive and internationally connected FinTech ecosystem in Scotland and right the way across the UK.
And one other point that I would particularly bring to the fore of your prestigious career is also your role previously, you’ve worked at large corporates, but also at the FCA, the Financial Services Industry Regulator and with more than 15 years of experience in financial services. So what’s really struck me is it costs your deep understanding of the challenges and also the opportunities that face the sector. Is that a fair summary of your career?
Nicola: Thank you. You’re very kind. I’m absolutely privileged to be leading FinTech Scotland. It’s a fantastic organisation with a really strong ethos of driving better outcomes for people, for businesses and for our economy. And knowing that we can do that alongside all of the strategic engagement, strategic collaborators that we have, it’s a total privilege.
Julia: It’s important. It really matters because if I think back to the Chancellor’s Spring Budget this year, and a really core element of that was about harnessing British ingenuity, if you like, and to make the UK science and technology superpower front and center, not only on the national but at the international stage as well. I’d love to get your thoughts about clearly why that matters, but also the role of FinTech within that.
Nicola: So important, isn’t it? As we think about technology changing the way we live, changing the way we do business, really helping us advance the digital economy and how that’s evolving, we need to create the ability to adopt these technologies and importantly to really think about how these technologies can solve problems and enhance our day-to-day services, whether that’s as citizens, whether that’s as businesses, as we consider the evolution of our digital economy and life as we know it if you like. And FinTech plays a significant part in that, I think what at its heart, I think FinTech is about innovation and it’s about problem solving. And it’s the problem solving and innovation using technology and that kind of approach, that creativity allows us to really address and advance solutions to issues that we know exist.
Let me give you a couple of examples. If we stand back and think about where FinTech innovation is taking us at the moment and why the chancellor’s commitment is so important. We’re facing a significant cost of living crisis here in the UK at the minute. FinTech innovation is starting to help people understand their money better. It’s starting to help people maximise their income in different ways, and it’s starting to really support people in a difficult current economy. So that’s one example. FinTech innovation as we lean into the climate agenda is also helping us address significant issues across the UK in our housing stock as one example with some brilliant businesses talking about decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes. I mean, that kind of ambition with the problem at its heart is why FinTech is really important as we lean into the opportunity that technology presents.
Julia: I love both those examples, even at the highest macro level, but also the most deeply personal level. But they’ll all come back to also why it matters to us as listeners, us as business owners and us as an industry as well. I mean, one of the things I love about FinTech is at the very heart of everything is just this relentless focus on research and development and really the R&D within the innovation pathway. I’d love to get your thoughts about, so what’s going on in Scotland, how’s the industry doing, and round R&D in Scotland and shine some light on what’s going on.
Nicola: You’re absolutely spot on. It’s vital. So as we stand back and think about R&D, the first thing I would say is the Kalifa Review, the UK review of FinTech highlighted the value of research and development, R&D investment as we really think about the opportunities that we wanted to really capture with FinTech. So at that strategic level and knowing the expertise across the UK and the regions of the UK combined, we have a significant opportunity to really advance our capabilities here.
Research and development is at the cutting edge of technologies, new applications, emerging capabilities. And this will drive innovation in two fronts, I think, first of all, we’ll have that strong industry engagement and that’s the commercial application. So it’s what we know and what we want to advance today, but secondly, it creates the environment to support more entrepreneurial development. What are the businesses of the future? What do we need there and how do we create the environment to really drive that? So R&D sits at the heart of that, and we can see that as we evolve and develop the FinTech Scotland cluster. And indeed as we see FinTech evolving right across the national network in the UK.
Julia: I wanted to ask you is how do you think we are doing. I don’t want to necessarily bring in the Brexit word into the discussion, but I think it’s important to think about, as you said businesses for the future, and what is the pathway of economic development in the UK and beyond our shores as well. How do you think we’re doing?
Nicola: I think there are a number of things that we can learn from other sectors, particularly who are utilising R&D really effectively. The Kalifa Review talked about the importance of R&D in FinTech and financial services. So as we put that firmly on the table and consider what’s the opportunity here, let’s look at those other sectors and see what we can learn. So we know that we have significant learnings from R&D through COVID and the application of that capability to help us chart a path as we thought about emerging out of COVID.
We know that we have significant university capabilities in reaching international waters and drawing in expertise right across the world as we consider some of the big questions that we want. And we know that financial services in FinTech is a cross-border opportunity. So with that kind of capability in mind, what we’re seeing evolve is a couple of really significant examples.
The University of Edinburgh, for example, have a fantastic data-driven innovation program. They’re taking the capability and the importance of data alongside research and development and starting to think about what do we need to do as an industry to really drive that forward. What are the key questions that the industry wants to answer and how do we engage with the industry on that? So for example, they have a fantastic program with Baillie Gifford around data ethics, all connected to research and development. So we can understand that topic and have an objective perspective on it and then think about how do we advance that into business.
The other example that I might offer here is the Smart Data Foundry, specifically created to help us with R&D on data, on the topic of open banking and open finance. An environment, if you like, that encourages participation, allows us to learn, allows us to be curious, and then starts to think about how do we apply those lessons into industry. Some of the topics that they’re putting on the table from an R&D connected with data are fascinating. For example, some brilliant work on the over-55s and the impact of COVID on their pensions. What that’s really charging is starting to allow us to develop the products and services that we need for that cohort. And we’re also starting to think about, well, how does those lessons that research, that insight have an obligation into policy development?
Julia: It’s so important because every technology business is a data-centered technology business in some way, shape, or form. In the conversation about financial inclusion, let alone diversity, equity, inclusion, the whole thing about the ethics of data and which is going to be powering our artificial intelligence tools and beyond. And then also the insights and the learning from that which is going to shape some of the innovation as we look ahead is really fascinating as well. But I do want to add a slight counter to this because I am a little concerned that we’re watching the amount of investment flowing into FinTech dropping. I’d love to get your thoughts on do you see a slowdown in investment in FinTech in Scotland. And do you see the Innovation Roadmap and community addressing that, encountering it?
Nicola: Let me start by talking a little bit about FinTech Scotland. That really sets the scene a little bit. Our focus is absolutely about harnessing and leveraging the opportunities that FinTech innovation presents to deliver economic contribution. We have three key objectives at FinTech Scotland to help us to do that. One is around the community of FinTech entrepreneurs really helping them in understanding their business model, business model development, and what are their key priorities as we think about their evolution, investment absolutely is one.
The second objective that we think about at FinTech Scotland as we lean into that ambition of economic contribution is impactful collaboration. And that takes us to develop those relationships with strategic partners such as Lloyds, HSBC, and others, that you mentioned at the beginning. So that’s a really important part of the cluster.
And then the third part of the cluster is we think about that development of an inclusive environment to enable FinTech innovation to really thrive. And it’s through that approach and those principles and that ability to really drive responsible innovation that we are seeing results and results include increased investment. The investment into FinTech innovation in Scotland in 2022 was 200% higher than in 2021, not far off 300 million. We’ve just done some analysis on Q1 results for 2023. We can continue to see continued investment. So absolutely, we know the environment is more difficult, but because we’ve created a cluster that’s leaning together, working together, really forging commercial opportunities for those businesses, it sets a really powerful theme as we share that investment opportunity with investors.
Julia: I’m really interested by this, the cluster, and I said at the beginning you’ve won an accreditation from Europe being a leading cluster. From the point of view of entrepreneurs and participants in the industry, can you just talk a bit about the value to them of this cluster accreditation?
Nicola: Absolutely. I’m very happy to do that. We are very mindful actually and deliberately talk about being a cluster body. Let me explain a little bit more about that because what we are not is a trade association. What we are not is a membership organisation. What we are is an environment that brings together the commitment of significant stakeholders and participants who all buy into the vision that FinTech innovation presents a strategic opportunity for Scotland’s economy and for the UK’s economy. And it’s with that background then that we really see support for innovators and start to grow, start to thrive. And that manifests itself in a number of different ways. So for example, there are a number of different specific innovation programs running with large financial services institutions offering very specific challenges to those FinTech entrepreneurs that allows them to develop a responsible business and proposition.
And it allows them to really think about the opportunities for partnerships and the demand within the financial services to advance their proposition. We see that the majority of FinTech businesses in Scotland and indeed across the UK are developing B2B propositions. Their business model is to work with the large financial services institutions in the main. And indeed we have that appetite across the large financial service players to really think about how do they integrate with FinTech, how do they absorb FinTech? And so the cluster and the entrepreneurial approach very much creates tangible actions to allow that to happen.
Julia: And of course, this is core of the entire debate, which is how do the large players play with the smaller players at a time where we must make sure that governance is rigorous, that cybersecurity implementations are sharp, hard and fast, and protective because protecting consumers as much as it is about the business and the industry itself.
Nicola: Absolutely critical. And this is why we are deliberately focused on being a cluster, because what that allows us to do is bring in the capabilities and the expertise that is needed to make sure we’re developing and supporting the development of entrepreneurship that really considers the priorities across the industry. So as we think about the cluster and the large organisations included in the cluster, that includes the likes of NCC, some of the biggest cybersecurity businesses, that includes the likes of our technology partners and technology players. That includes the universities, that includes the regulators, it includes all of those really important components to allow a FinTech entrepreneur to really think about a business proposition that will advance and have commercial value more quickly.
Julia: It’s interesting to hear you talk not only about how the regulators are very much part of the cluster community but also the opening remarks, I talked about your previous career at the FCA. This is a question I ask all our guests, slightly odd one, but what’s your favorite piece of regulation?
Nicola: That’s a brilliant question to ask an ex-regulator, I think. What is your favorite piece? My goodness. As we think about FinTech and the opportunity that FinTech presents, you can’t get away from how far open banking is advancing that discussion. And we know that there’s more to do on open banking for sure. We know that that piece of legislation has however advanced conversations, and that’s the fantastic thing about that. That’s opening up more discussions. I’m having more discussions at the moment with large financial services institutions about open banking and the development into open finance than I have in a while. And some of those conversations are with the likes of pension businesses, investment businesses, they’re really curious about what can we learn from open banking and the capabilities that it’s presented, and the outcomes that it’s giving for consumers. And I think that’s vital as we consider why regulation really forges the opportunity for innovation.
Julia: And of course, being centered around consumer need and consumer protection is incredibly importanm and the biggest topic of all discussions to these days is open banking and open finance. Thank you for that. I’m always really curious what piece of regulation people really enjoy, but I wonder if I could just take us on a slightly different journey. We’ve talked about the national agenda, we’ve talked about the FinTech industry, we’ve talked about the Kalifa Review, we’ve talked about the importance of the cluster, but we have to recognise we’re working in really changing times, and of course with an eye on what’s going on in Scotland at the moment, particularly thinking about new governance. And also the question about devolution as well, I could not have you on the show and ask you for your thoughts on that.
Nicola: FinTech Scotland is a bioeconomic opportunity and we are connected nationally across the UK FinTech National Network. And we are forging strong relationships right across the world, and we continue to drive that ethos and that connectivity. That’s an important point for us as we evolve the cluster. So some of these things are out of our control, change of government, what that looks like, but actually we’re very clear on our focus and we’re very clear on the mandate that we’ve been given right across the cluster that is about driving the opportunities that FinTech presents for Scotland and for the UK. And it’s with that actually that we have so much enthusiasm.
Julia: I’ll be hard pushed to imagine that any new government would come in and just go, well the work that you’re doing is clearly making a massive contribution in terms of inward investment, economic growth, financial inclusion, and creating jobs and community, and results that benefits consumers, businesses, and the industry, I can’t believe they wouldn’t get behind it. So it’ll be really fascinating to see. And thank you for your thoughts on that. One of the great things about business and life is of course, the only constant ever is change. And I think one of the most exciting things that’s happened this year is the creation of the Center for Financial and Innovation Technology, CFIT. I’m very curious to know how you are working with them. How do you interact with them?
Nicola: I couldn’t agree more actually. It’s a fantastic opportunity to really drive the FinTech story for the UK and one of the recommendations indeed from the Kalifa Review. So we were involved in the steering group as FinTech Scotland really contributed our views on the evolution and the evolvement of CFIT. We’re working really closely with Charlotte and Ez as they think about how they start and how they connect across the regions on CFIT. And I’m really pleased to drive the agenda as they think about their coalitions and their focus there for skills.
Julia: I just wonder if I could take a moment to all our listeners, thank you. But I hope you’re enjoying this conversation as much as I am. Let me just tell you for a second how to find StreetsTalksTo. You can find it on streetsconsulting.com/streetstalksto, and of course follow us on social media using the #streetstalksto, because today StreetsTalksTo FinTech Scotland. Now Nicola, just returning to the conversation, we’re thinking about the Roadmap and your first year anniversary of the Roadmap as you are right now with a very clear from what you’re saying pathway ahead. Can you give us some insights into what we can expect and what you particularly think about as we look ahead?
Nicola: The Roadmap was published last year with a very specific question, what should the future of finance look like? And the contributions right across the FinTech industry, the financial services, professional services, academics, regulatory and consumer organisations has really helped us shape that Roadmap and the contributions within. And it’s given us a very clear focus. We need to drive innovation on four key topics, open finance data, climate finance, payments and transactions, and financial regulation. And as we stand back and think about the progress as we consider year one, it’s fantastic to see the number of FinTech entrepreneurs that are working in climate finance, really addressing some of those problems. I mentioned before, leaning into the problem of how do we decarbonize 20 million homes across the UK. That’s no small feat. And these innovators are really thinking about how they strive to drive solutions to that. And we’re really proud of the Roadmap.
It’s a really clear demonstration of the cluster in action, what collaboration can drive because it gives us clarity and focus on four key areas where we think there’s real opportunity for FinTech innovation for Scotland and the UK, open finance data, payments and transactions, financial regulation, and climate finance. We’re taking stock of where we’ve come from so far. And I’m really looking forward to moving even further forward in the years ahead with a couple of specifics in mind actually, Julia, there’s some really interesting stuff that we’re doing on the climate finance agenda, working with Space Scotland, how we use that type of data to really drive change and insights into the sustainability agenda. And the second, which will come as no surprise considering my regulatory background is how do we advance innovation in financial regulation. And we will drive that forward by a new initiative called the Financial Regulation Innovation Lab. And that’s been seeded by some support from UK government recognizing the importance of innovation to accelerate these types of opportunities. And we’ve got some great industry engagement on that topic too.
Julia: Well, it’s going to be certainly a fascinating pathway ahead for sure. Really interested in your remarks there about certain domains you’re paying attention to. We’ve thought about even, I love the fact you’re bringing Space Tech. I mean, how amazing is that? But also with a very keen anchor in the governance of the regulation. But we’ve also talked about the importance of the cluster. We’ve talked about the national agenda and of course, navigating interesting times, but continuing to attract investment and continue to focus on the power of research and development to enable this phenomenal industry that is FinTech. Nicola Anderson, CEO of FinTech Scotland, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nicola: Thanks so much for having me.
Julia: Let me just tell everybody how to find you. I mean, let’s go straight to the website, which is fintechscotland.com, on Twitter FinTechScotland, and of course on LinkedIn, FinTech Scotland as well. So if you’d like to find out more, you can get in touch with Nicola there. In the meantime, I’ve been Julia Streets. Thank you for listening to StreetsTalksTo. And this has been StreetsTalksTo FinTech Scotland. Until next time, goodbye.
Roshan: This episode of StreetsTalksTo was produced by me, Roshan Roberts on behalf of Streets Consulting Limited. Street Consulting is a business development, marketing, and communications consultancy that’s focused on helping FinTech 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. And you can find this episode on streetsconsulting.com and using the #streetstalksto. We can also be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter @streetsconsult. Thanks for listening.