The variety of fintech startups operating in Scotland is a cause for celebration and highlights the growing potential of the cluster, according to FinTech Scotland CEO, Nicola Anderson.
When FinTech Scotland launched in 2018, the cluster boasted just 26 companies. Today, this number stands at more than 180 companies spanning a range of industry verticals.
From cryptocurrency and cash flow forecasting to purpose-driven finance, Scotland has strength in depth. And it’s this depth and variety which Anderson believes underlines the vibrant entrepreneurial nature of the ecosystem.
“We have over 180 fintech business operating in Scotland now and they’re all looking at different, yet really important, areas of focus. That ranges from direct-to-consumer and retail services to the SME market.”
“They’re also focusing on the wholesale market, the payments sector, regtech sector, among others,” she adds. “It shows that the talents and the skills we have in our entrepreneurial community in Scotland cannot be underestimated.”
So far, 2021 has been an exciting year for Scottish fintech. There have been a number of eye-catching investment rounds completed and the number of companies has also grown.
All of this comes despite an unparalleled 18-months during which the sector has been forced to contend with challenging societal and economic conditions.
Rather than acting as a barrier to innovation and development, however, Anderson says the pandemic has offered the ecosystem a chance to showcase its talent, agility and wealth of capabilities.
“The pandemic was difficult for businesses, it also presented an opportunity for the fintech innovators, many of whom are well-versed in adapting and moving with agility, to develop products, services and propositions that help serve the digital economy, support people and businesses,” she says.
“The entrepreneurial mindset and capability we have in the sector, combined with the demand we saw from financial services institutions and customers, means the situation played really nicely into the hands of fintechs.”
Scotland’s fintech ecosystem was well-placed for such a challenge given its wide focus on purpose-driven, impactful solutions for both mass market and business customers.
“Looking at the pandemic, we’ve seen how some really impactful fintechs have made a difference to people. Companies like InBest, for example, have helped people maximise their income and understand if they’re entitled to benefits,” Anderson says.
“A lot of fintechs in Scotland are also assisting the SME market, playing a vital role in supporting SMEs during the pandemic.
“These are companies that are leaning into practical real-world problems that affect society, and find a way to address them and help people,” she adds.
An Opportunity for Collaboration
In addition to offering companies a proving ground, a positive take-away from the pandemic has been the increased collaboration throughout the ecosystem, Anderson says.
“There’s been more opportunity for collaboration between the big and the small,” she adds.
“Large financial services institutions are genuinely interested in how they can build partnerships with smaller fintechs and how they can work to support them. We’re now seeing a significant number of fintechs in Scotland working with the incumbents.”
Traditionally, Scotland’s broader tech ecosystem has been noted for its open, collaborative culture and the fintech cluster has been no different, seeing new ties forged out of adversity and necessity.
“The fintech community supports each other here. We learn from each other and grow together,” Anderson explains.
“That community of 180-plus fintechs isn’t alone, either. It’s supported by the financial services institutions, professional services institutions, the academic community, regulators, government, consumer groups and some of the other tech clusters. This is a real team effort.”
Building International Relationships
Long-term, the performance of Scottish fintech during this period will be a crucial selling-point as the ecosystem looks to build on success and foster closer working relationships with regional and international clusters.
FinTech Scotland has worked extensively to build these relationships in recent years, Anderson says, and working collaboratively alongside the UK Fintech National Network is a key focus for the organisations.
“We have been working hard to establish relationships and memorandums of understanding with around 17 European hubs. We are also working closely with Scottish Development International and the Department of International Trade, both of which are helping support us with global ambitions,” she says.
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Outside prospectors of Scottish fintech can also look no further than the Kalifa Review, which earmarked Scotland as a hotbed of UK fintech innovation. This stands as a valuable endorsement for the sector as it continues shaking its tail feather on the international stage
“The Kalifa Review is something Scotland can point to and use to demonstrate the strength of the cluster here. It’s an acknowledgement of the worthwhile work going on in Scotland and gives us a huge boost of confidence.”
Research, Innovation and Scotland’s Innovation Heritage
Notably, Anderson thinks that a key area of focus when raising the profile and appeal of Scottish fintech involves drawing on the country’s historic reputation as a hub for research, innovation and development.
“There are a few things that really set Scotland apart, in my opinion. First and foremost, we have a very strong heritage in financial services, but we also have a deep heritage in innovation. Those are two really important ingredients that allow us to create an environment for innovation to flourish.”
The latter of these ingredients is an area which FinTech Scotland plans to focus on heavily over the next decade. Earlier this year, FinTech Scotland confirmed the development of its ten-year “Research and Innovation roadmap”.
This roadmap, Anderson explains, will help us grow the alignment between the Cluster and Scotland’s broader digital economy while capitalising on the nation’s academic prowess.
“We’re centring ourselves around four strategic themes where we think Scotland has some real opportunity, such as open finance data, and examining how we think about the future of fintech in a digital economy,” she says.
“This will allow us to really recognise the strength in our academic community and in our research community, and position Scotland as a place where we innovate, create, collaborate and spark new ideas.”
Join the Conversation | Fintech Summit 2021
Nicola Anderson will be speaking about the evolution of Scotland’s Financial Technology ecosystem at the upcoming Fintech Summit on 16th September.
Now in its eighth year, the Fintech Summit is the largest annual gathering of financial technology leaders in the country, and is the official launch event of the Scotland Fintech Festival.
For more details and information on how to register for the 2021 Fintech Summit, visit: www.fintech-summit.co.uk