Embracing a time for action mindset

Stephen Ingledew is Chief Executive of FinTech Scotland

The pandemic has challenged all aspects of our personal and working lives with the economy and society having to respond and adapt in unprecedented ways.

We can all draw lessons from our experiences over recent months as well as take on board learnings from people and teams on the front line of addressing the acute health and care needs of citizens most impacted by the challenging environment.

For me, one of the stand-out lessons is the continuing imperative to take action with others and learn from each and every decision and step taken together.  In other words, focus on the ‘doing’ with an agile ‘progression over perfection’ approach.

This has very much been the mantra of Scotland’s fintech community as highlighted by Economic Secretary Fiona Hyslop recently and will help as we take the important actions towards recovery.

This also reflects the resilient response of the broader fintech cluster including many proactive Scottish Financial Enterprise members, who collaborate closely with FinTech Scotland.

Reflecting on the past six months, there are three inter-connected themes which embody a ‘time for action’ mindset – innovative action, collaborative action and inclusive actions.

Innovative action

The accelerated adoption of digital technologies has created a fertile ground for fintech enterprises to demonstrate the strengths of their innovative propositions in supporting people and businesses in the emerging digital and data driven economy. 

Fintech entrepreneurs and teams have positively responded by delivering real time actions which have enabled consumers and businesses to better manage finances in a more virtual world.  

Examples of responding to the ‘time for action’ were also highlighted in The Scotsman’s 2020 Fintech Focus supplement, which you can read here. Furthermore, how Scotland’s innovative fintech firms have rapidly mobilised to the challenges arising from the pandemic environment was also recently brought alive by the Scottish Development International article here.

As with small and medium firms across all parts of the economy, the challenges of scaling an innovative technology enterprise will continue to impede growth opportunities. The recent action orientated Tech Ecosystem Review by the leading entrepreneur Mark Logan was very much welcomed. It contains specific enabling recommendations in respect of funding, people skills development and infrastructure to support innovative enterprises scale better and faster. In my view this was an exemplar in how government initiated reviews should be written.

It’s very encouraging that Scottish Government has already embraced the reccomendations, including creating a national network of hubs for technology startups and the establishment of a new fund to invest in the Scottish tech sector.

The momentum for this is already there with the recently announced digital quarter in Edinburgh by Crosswinds, alongside fast developing technology driven Glasgow City Innovation District  led by the terrific team at the University of Strathclyde.

With regards to other government reviews and more specifically on fintech innovation, FinTech Scotland is also contributing to the HM Treasury Fintech Sector Review led by Ron Kalifa announced over the summer.  This review will report early next year and hopefully provide a further platform for a range of pragmatic intervention actions to further boost fintech enterprises in respect of funding support, skills and internationalisation.

Collaborative action

On collaborative international actions, FinTech Scotland has valued the alliance with sixteen other fintech cluster hubs across Europe over the last year, reinforced by recent mutual developments. This provides the basis to intensify collaborative action to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European Fintech community and to share best practice.

This collaborative action is also evident closer to home in Scotland, especially with some of the larger SFE members. For example, there are a range of supporting actions for early stage fintech enterprises from Royal Bank of Scotland, including the excellent collaboration platform Business Builder.

We are also delighted to be working in collaboration with Lloyds Banking Group on the development of their Launch Innovation Lab, which will provide opportunities for fintech enterprises to develop mutual propositions with the bank taking shape.

It will be great to share further examples of these collaborative actions at the SFE event led by Fujitsu tomorrow, 23 September 2020. There’s still time to register and join the discussion here.

The support for fintech enterprises and small firms generally over the past few months has been crucial and, in this respect, the collaborative action by the dedicated team at Scottish Enterprise has been really valued.

The powerful impact of collaborative action was very much in evidence in the pioneering development of the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence (GOFCoE) led by the University of Edinburgh, FinTech Scotland, FDATA and Scottish Enterprise. The engagement of fintech enterprises and a number of SFE members contributed to the establishment of GOFCoE in central Scotland and securing multi-million-pound funding from the UK Government research and development arm, Innovate UK. 

One of the initial collaborative projects underway is working with SFE members on the FiSAB Banking and Economy Group to use the GOFCoE data utility capabilities to analyse data to understand the impact of the pandemic on citizens and small businesses.  This unique collective approach to data insights enabled by GOFCoE will provide valuable insight for both the Scottish Government in progressing economic policies as well as supporting banks to have a better understanding on how best to support customers.

Inclusive actions

On the theme of helping customers, leveraging digital technologies and data has been at the centre of a number of inclusive initiatives to ensure everyone in our communities are considered. The campaign has been appropriately coined as ‘no-one is left behind’.  For example, the fintech and tech communities have been contributing to the digital nation initiative led by the terrific Scotland IS team in collaboration with the Scottish Government digital team.

Over the last few months Scotland’s fintech cluster has also been involved in a number of inclusive initiatives focused on vulnerable consumers, such as the Chemistry programme by Sopra Steria in partnership with Edinburgh Innovations and FinTech Scotland

FinTech Scotland is also supporting the NESTA Rapid Recovery Challenge programme focused on developing inclusive innovations through fintechs to enhance financial inclusion and well-being which was announced this month.

The other key consideration for inclusive actions is in respect of employment opportunities.

As the economy generally and the fintech cluster specifically emerges from the initial phases of the pandemic it is vital that people from all communities are embraced in creating new job opportunities.

The early recovery signals in the job market from fintech and tech firms are positive. However, there is much to do and the fintech community looks forward to embracing the creative talent amongst young people, including new initiatives such as those highlighted by Sandy Begbie’s excellent action focused plan on employment opportunities called the Young Person Guarantee.

The Scotland FinTech Festival, which runs until 5 October, very much embraces the inclusive action theme of engaging people.  With over 70 events and meet ups on a range of fintech-related topics involving a hugely diverse range of participants from Scotland and globally, the festival very much captures all aspects of both the challenges and opportunities for the fintech community and cluster.

While events are primarily on a virtual basis with minimal opportunity for physical networking, it has provided the opportunity to involve fintech leaders from Europe, USA, Australia, India, Hong Kong and everywhere else in between.  There is always so much we can learn from our international friends and fellow innovators, very much reflecting the inclusive nature of the global fintech movement which we are part of.

Time for action

In summary, one of the anthems on the music scene 40 years ago, as I was about to embark on my financial services career, was Time for Action. This was very apt in the early 1980s as communities faced significant and divisive economic challenges and the collective way forward was very unclear.

Unfortunately, back then collaborative leadership actions were curtailed and many enterprises and communities faced serious hardship and division which took decades to recover from.

Four decades on, while the pandemic has given rise to very different challenges, hopefully we can all learn from the hard lessons of the 1980s and the past six months by embracing a ‘time for action’ mindset when it comes to innovation, collaboration and inclusion in supporting economic and social recovery.

Published 22 September 2020