When I first spoke to my current employer back in 2018, the physical location of my potential future workplace was not discussed. Instead, I became the first “recruit” in Scotland, unintentionally beginning the creation of a Glasgow office for fintech firm AccessFintech.
In the past, pandemics have increased inequalities between regions, but this need not be the case now. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the technological geography of the UK, and indeed the world, was being re-drawn and fintech offers a way of continuing to ‘level up’.
Over the past twenty years, the finance industry has consistently embraced new technology but has never had to adapt to change on such a scale, in such a short space of time.
Enforced remote working has been both a challenge and an opportunity – it pressures firms into thinking innovatively whilst removing some of the stigmas around working from home that has historically reinforced office culture. Fintechs were able to support finance organisations that needed to quickly enact change.
Collaboration is key for success in fintech. The very nature of our business is merging the world of finance with the world of technology and solving challenges that cut across both. At its core, it requires collaboration between people with diverse skillsets and capabilities.
Scotland is somewhere a variety of backgrounds, skills and expertise can be found in abundance. When asked to name a global fintech city, Glasgow may not be the first that comes to mind – this is something that I hope will change, as there is such huge potential for cities across the UK to mirror their European cousins such as Lyon or Dresden or even American ones like Dallas, which all have great high-tech industries.
One reason why this is possible and even likely, is that trade in services is not impeded by distance. Distance may matter, but the starting point is much more important. Services (particularly knowledge-intensive services) can originate in, and are traded with, a relatively small number of global cities.
Global cities like Glasgow or Edinburgh can mitigate the influence of cultural, administrative, and economic differences by providing sophisticated communication, education, and transportation infrastructure, as well as the cosmopolitan values that attract and retain talent. These are the same factors that make it so easy to move people and services between mature global hubs such as London, New York, and Singapore.
The potential for more local hubs of enterprise, which embrace cultural, commercial, and residential mixed-use, is becoming a reality. Scottish workers may have previously faced a stark choice between a career in London or abroad and wanting to be more connected with their local community. That’s no longer the case.
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Recently, Ron Kalifa presented the findings of his review on a webinar hosted by Fintech Scotland where I had the pleasure of representing a Scotland-based fintech with a global footprint and sharing my thoughts on the local scene.
The overriding feeling was that although the Kalifa Review could so easily have been the “London Fintech Review,” there’s huge drive and passion to see beyond this and support Scotland’s own vibrant fintech scene.
One of the key recommendations of the Kalifa review was the creation of a Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology to act as an incubator for the next wave of fintechs (or techfins!). In this light, Ron has been reassured by the excellent work that Fintech Scotland are doing to ensure that Scotland secures a place as a leading fintech centre.
“Levelling up” requires all regions of the UK to work together because innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Scotland has so much to offer for the whole of the UK and the numbers speak for themselves: as of February 2021, there are 158 fintech firms in Scotland, with 11 newcomers since December 2020. These firms are increasingly international with 25%, including our own, having an international HQ.
For some, Caledonia may be a mythical land of unicorns, but let’s be clear, modern Scotland is innovative, dynamic, entrepreneurial and certainly has the potential to produce a very real tech unicorn of its own.