How students are driving innovation in Scotland's fintech sector

University students are helping large and small financial services companies tackle real-world business challenges as part of a valuable link-up driving the growth of Scotland's fintech community.

Masters students across a range of courses at the University of Edinburgh spend a three-month summer placement with either big firms like NatWest/Royal Bank or small start-ups.

Xiaodong Xi worked on a project to assess credit risk (using neural networks) for NatWest while doing his Masters in Operational Research with Data Science - and clearly impressed the bank as he was subsequently employed in the credit risk team.

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Mr Xi, who has since supervised a Masters student on another project, said the experience had been hugely valuable. "I got to do a real-world project and experience what it's like to work in the banking industry prior to my graduation - which gives me a very good idea of what it would be like if I ever worked in such an industry or working in such a team. It was a very valuable experience for me and I found it very interesting and exciting."

Picture: Shutterstock
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Rosie Wilkie, a Business Development Executive in the University's School of Mathematics, links up Masters students with businesses. She said students working with large banks were able to use their skills and knowledge to examine large quantities of data - with firms who have "millions of customers and billions of transactions".

She added: "They are taking their skills and knowledge, and applying it to real world data, real world problems. Sometimes they come up with a new way to do something. The company gets access to fresh thinking, and the modern ideas and skills the students have been learning throughout their Masters programme. These techniques and skills are moving very fast."

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One small company which benefited from a Masters student placement was Vested Impact, which aims to redefine what it means to be a millionaire - in terms of someone who impacts millions of lives in a positive way.

Kim Abbott, founder of Vested Impact, said: “We had an idea of what we wanted the student to look at, but the data didn’t give the answer we expected. However, the student did pick up on it on a trend, we didn't expect to see around the volatility of products - they found that products that have more impact seem to be less volatile to market changes.

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“We now quote that research with clients, so that was brilliant for us as a business - and I think the student really benefited from working with a start-up.”

One of the University of Edinburgh courses that participates in the placement programme is the increasingly popular Masters in Finance, Technology and Policy.

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Director for the programme, Dr Taylor Spears, said: “You can think of a spectrum of problems that a business might face, ranging from very specific business-focused issues that demand a lot of business and financial knowledge on the one hand, to very technical problems that require deep, specialised knowledge of informatics and machine learning and software development on the other. I think our students are really well-placed to help solve problems in the middle of that spectrum because of the range of skills they have.”

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