Fintech Summit 2021 took place on September 16th, bringing together speakers and delegates from across the Scottish fintech ecosystem and beyond, to discuss the past year and plan for the future.
Not only was Fintech Summit 2021 DIGIT’s first physical event since the beginning of the pandemic, it also marks the start of the four-week-long Scottish Fintech Festival.
In the opening address, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, noted that one of the main challenges facing Scotland’s fintech industry is how it can maintain its advantages in financial services in a growingly competitive and global world.
This provided a key theme over the day – how fintech has navigated the opportunities in adversity and the challenges in growth.
18 seismic months
Fintech, like the rest of the world, has endured seismic upheavals over the past 18 months. With fintech providing solutions to keep the world working, their evolution has been accelerated by the pandemic.
To quote Bloom CEO & Founder Nina Mohanty, fintechs are all grown up. She noted that compared to over the previous decade, fintechs are raising more money, going public and are now expanding into new markets around the world.
In addition, the range of services they offer has expanded and they are targeting more demographics, expanding beyond a traditional finance audience.
However, the delegates noted that we still have a long way to go. While fintechs have the potential to serve socially excluded or underrepresented groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and the disabled. At present it is still early adopters and people who use their services for pragmatic reasons that are the main fintech customers.
While fintechs have been major beneficiaries of the rise of digital technologies over the pandemic, there are many in danger of being left behind. For example, those who still use cash, those who rely on bank branches, or those without the digital or financial literacy to use new technology may struggle to adapt.
As such, one of the places fintechs need to improve is on creating products and services that can serve everyone in society.
One example of the confluence of new technology and old methods is video banking. This leveraged the rise of video calls to speak with bank representatives.
Not only does this provide a similar service to going into a bank branch, it provides work for the thousands of bank employees that might have been furloughed across the country.
Meeting the future
Disruption was another keyword from the day. The rise of digital technology will mesh with rapidly changing political, social, economic, and environmental factors.
In his presentation, Head of Innovation, Growth & Transformation at TCS Akshaya Chandra pointed to cloud technology as being one of the top disruptive tools, and one that will drive enterprise agility.
In addition, he claimed that the Internet of Things will become a sort of digital spine, connecting everything.
He also noted that technology will not be the only disruptor. Ethical issues will dictate how and where people spend and invest their money. Furthermore, wellbeing – physical, mental, environmental, and financial, will be key consumer demands in the coming years.
However, there are places in which fintech needs to improve. CEO & Co-Founder of Sustainably Loral Quinn noted that while Scotland’s fintech community provides a great deal of support, there are still issues with accessing capital.
Zumo CPO & Co-Founder Paul Roach added that while Scotland is good at accessing seed funding, it is the higher mid-level round, up to series A, that many companies struggle with.
Quinn said that part of the challenge is getting in front of the right investors, as so much depends on their interests and the stage they’re at. “You need broad visibility to get in front of as many people to meet the right investor,” she said.
Work smarter, together
Data is a key enabler for the fintech industry. It allows companies to leverage user data to create insights, both to create better tailored products and services, and to help customers make more intelligent financial decisions. It also helps companies identify those would benefit most from financial advice and assistance.
Chief Data & Analytics Officer at NatWest Zack Anderson noted that we are moving into a data-sharing world. Companies, big and small, universities, and other institutions, all have valuable data. By sharing it and pooling it, organisations can collaborate to create better insights.
“We can easily share the data that we have for the good of the country, for the good of the communities that we serve,” he said.
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However, data sharing brings up issues of privacy. Nobody wants their data shared at the best of time, but when it comes to sensitive financial data, companies need to protect their customers.
One way to leverage the advantages of data while keeping people protected is by using synthetic data. During one of the day’s breakout sessions, Chief Data Scientist from the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence Nick Radcliffe discussed his group’s work on creating synthetic data.
This uses artificial intelligence to parse data sets to generate fake examples – say taking 100 people, examining their finances, and creating 100 fake people with finances representative of the sample group. As such, it leverages the advantages of big data sets while protecting customers.
The three Bs
One of the key ways fintechs can work towards building back better post-pandemic is the promotion of education.
CEO & Founder of MoneyMatix Tynah Matembe said that she always takes an education first approach: “The more educated we are, the better choices we can make.”
In addition, she noted the importance of greater diversity. This involves ensuring that key decision makers reflect the evolving demographics of Scotland and the UK. When they reflect the demographics they represent, this will help democratise the creation of consumer products.
This involves moving away from traditional design models. Too often, banks have designed their products for their own good, not the good of their customers. Moving towards a more design and service led model can help here, where startups focus on a problem or challenge that needs solved and engineer their product around that.
Ultimately, the coming years provide fintechs with opportunities, both to grow and develop their companies, but to improve society. As Kate Forbes said: “The fintech sector has the power to transform lives.”