Rosemary Gallagher finds out how one fintech firm from Freienbach in Switzerland is hungry for talent to deliver a banking transformation
Edinburgh is recognised around the world as a global home of financial services, from well-known banks to fund managers and insurance companies, and it is gaining a great reputation for being a leader in fintech.
One company set on expanding in the Scottish capital is global fintech firm Avaloq. Headquartered in Freienbach, Switzerland, Avaloq is a leader in digital and core banking technology, providing software as a service (SaaS) and business process as a service (BPaaS) solutions predominantly for banks and wealth managers.
With more than 2,000 staff spread across Europe, Asia and Australia, Avaloq serves a mixture of banking and wealth clients in the UK, including such big names as Barclays, Smith & Williamson and Coutts.
Growth in Edinburgh and London is part of the firm’s wider global expansion plans, according to Mark Doherty, managing director and head of Avaloq’s Edinburgh development centre. He says: “We’re an international company with customers in almost 30 countries. The UK is where we innovate though, and our bases here in Edinburgh and London are primarily to attract the brightest talent in the world. This lets us to innovate at the pace needed for our UK and international expansion.”
Since setting up its research and development centre in Edinburgh six years ago, Avaloq has grown to employ more than 100 people in Scotland and is recruiting dozens more software developers, business analysts and product owners over the coming months.
Mark Doherty says: “The UK is an obvious strategic location for global fintechs, and Scotland plays a central role in underpinning our access to incredible talent.”
He explains that when Avaloq was looking to increase its number of development centres, it looked at various cities and countries and decided that Scotland was the ideal environment.
“Edinburgh opened up a rich seam of IT talent and financial services expertise to us. There’s a growing ecosystem here that has led to collaborations with forward-thinking organisations like FinTech Scotland and Scottish Financial Enterprise.
As it has grown, Avaloq has taken more space in the prestigious Tanfield office development in the Warriston area of the city. Early last year, Avaloq more than doubled its floorspace at the site and is in the process of rebuilding its facilities to accommodate its Avaloq Academy and other new teams with unique focus.
“In Edinburgh we focus on a number of key areas, particularly across digital banking in payments, wealth management and the internationalisation of our software. For example, we’re currently building tax engines and regulatory reporting engines for many countries and clients. In addition, we also create the tools and API frameworks that underpin our products and enable our developers and partners to innovate. Our teams are from very diverse backgrounds and given the nature of the work we have attracted people from academia, oil and gas and from digital giants like Adobe and Oracle.”
The company prides itself on having a strong focus on innovation and quality. “We are passionate about making a difference to people’s lives. What we do at Avaloq sometimes feels far from improving social well-being at first sight, but projects related to financial regulations like Open Banking and MiFID II are all about protecting consumers and improving the availability of credit and choice for businesses and consumers,” says Doherty.
“There is really no room for error in the areas that we work in. Risk, governance, compliance and security are built into every step of our development process. That can cause stress which we deal with as a team. Employee well-being and work-life balance are extremely important to us. We have team events like yoga, healthy eating classes, monthly fun events and pool and table tennis tables to help our staff let off steam.”
As the firm evolves, Doherty expects to see Avaloq further collaborate with a range of partners to deliver technology that enables great experiences for its clients. “Banks are transforming,” he says. “They’re seeking to remove the complexity of all the IT they used to have to take care of at huge expense. They need close partnerships to help them achieve that goal.”
He explains that Avaloq is “taking it a step further” and delivering application programming interfaces (APIs) across its product lines.
Doherty says: “Everyone is pretty familiar with Uber or Google Maps on their phones. Look inside those applications and there are many different sources of data overlaying each other that create the whole user experience. That’s the type of experience we’re enabling by providing APIs that allow developers to get creative. APIs let Avaloq and its partners use our imaginations freely and react faster than ever to customer demands.”
Avaloq’s agile approach to development makes innovation easier to achieve, thanks to incremental improvements that can deliver smaller changes more frequently.
“As Avaloq grows it will partner with other organisations with a common focus on security to develop new products for clients,” says Doherty. “When developing new features, security, reliability and of course customer experience come top of the list.”
The next stage of Avaloq’s expansion in Edinburgh is to grow its team, strengthen its bond with Scottish universities and continue to transform its processes by constantly improving what it does.
Doherty says: “We want to keep doing what we do really well. We want to maintain our start- up culture as we grow. Every day we work with colleagues around the globe, but we are also a close-knit team and one of our first ports of call is to expand and collaborate directly with our clients.
“Second to that is continued and ongoing technology transformation including the adoption of the latest cloud technologies.
“We are transforming our technological foundations, and this requires huge investment in new knowledge and understanding. The good news is that we have lots of people who are very excited about learning how to use new technology and how to apply it to help our clients.”
Mark Doherty is committed to Avaloq retaining its start-up culture as it recruits more people.
“If anyone is looking for a job where you will be trusted from the start and be given the flexibility to get the job done, then Avaloq is worth considering. That culture attracted me to the firm in the first place and continues to keep me here. We work with other Avaloq teams across the world, and our base in Tanfield has a lovely setting with a rooftop garden, and it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the botanic gardens.”
“It’s not often you get the opportunity to work in a start-up with 100-plus people all dedicated to making a strong contribution to the organisation!
Avaloq recognises that it must actively compete with others in the Scottish FinTech sector to attract the best people. This ‘war for talent’ is especially intense for FinTechs, where many employees traditionally come from overseas. But Avaloq has long-term plans and is equally keen to foster local talent. As well as working with Scottish universities to ensure academia understands what the industry is looking for, Avaloq liaises with schools and other organisation to encourage an interest in technology among people from a young age. For example, it recently opened its doors to school pupils (both primary and secondary) to help them gain an understanding of the world of FinTech and get them thinking about a career in the burgeoning sector.
FinTech looks set to expand in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland and Avaloq – with its combination of international reach and start-up culture – is one of the firms driving growth and innovation across the industry.
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