Scotland’s fintech future depends on businesses having global ambition and working together in a strong and growing community to tackle the major challenges of skills and investment for the sector, as well as finding a route to market for innovative products.
The Scotsman’s webinar Scotland’s Fintech Future, held on Thursday last week, heard from Nicki Bisgaard, chief executive of payments specialists Eedenbull, that geography should be no barrier to global fintech success.
He said: “We struck a deal recently with National Australia Bank, which demonstrates the capabilities of fintechs such as ourselves. It was sold out of Norway, it’s being delivered from our base in Scotland, and the client [in Australia] is managed by our team in Singapore.
“We can provide our services anywhere in the world, we can service these customers from anywhere.
“We do that from Edinburgh, with our team of 30-something people – 16 different nationalities, 22 different languages spoken. That’s the kind of environment in which we operate, with that global mindset. There are 27,000 banks and 350 million businesses globally, so the opportunities are massive in digital environments such as ours. Why wouldn’t we tap into that?”
Bisgaard continued: “Our base is in Scotland, and we’re more than happy to support businesses and partners in Scotland – but our market is global.”
Nicola Anderson, chief executive of FinTech Scotland, said: “We’re very mindful that, with a population of just over five million, we need that global mindset and Scotland’s doors are firmly open for business.
“We are seeing more and more of our fintechs think about those global markets, and cut their teeth here across the expertise and experience we have in financial services in Scotland, then consider how they take up more globally.”
She added that FinTech Scotland was “going from strength to strength”, with the organisation growing from 150 fintechs at the start of the year to 172 now, just after the first business quarter.
“We’re seeing that growth through new start-ups and through international businesses recognising Scotland as an opportunity, as a really thriving cluster for fintech business,” Anderson said.
This “cluster of committed participants” – financial and professional services, academia, government, Scottish Enterprise, and regulators – was “pulling together strategically to help us advance Scotland’s opportunity for fintech”, she added.
Anderson went on to highlight three key areas of focus to grow the fintech sector, including supporting SME entrepreneurial development – establishing new businesses, taking them from start to scale, then helping those scaling to really grow.
“The second area of focus is enhancing research and innovation and we’ve appointed somebody to help us drive that forward,” she added. “The third is the broader digital economy – the cross-sectoral opportunity of the tech capability within fintech.”
Daniel Broby, director of the Centre for Financial Regulation and Innovation at Strathclyde Business School, told viewers of the webinar that there were great opportunities for fintech in Scotland.
“It’s very exciting times because we’ve moved, because of Covid, from talking about a digital financial future to living it,” he enthused.
“It’s also exciting because we have a very large number of SMEs starting up in this particular area, and a lot of these are coming from the Open Banking initiative. Again, two years ago we were talking about open banking. Now, we’re living it – and Scotland can be at the forefront.”
Broby said that access to capital investment was the key issue in moving the country’s fintech sector to the next stage. “I feel we need to work a little bit harder in Scotland to get the providers of capital here,” he said.
This was one of three highlighted areas where young fintech businesses still need greater support – as well as access to talent and finding a route to market.
Oli Henderson, associate partner in financial services at EY, agreed that access to capital to grow fintech businesses, was a challenge, but saw positive signs.
He told the webinar: “From 2015, there has been significant growth of investment in fintechs and Scotland and the UK. The Kalifa report and various other reports have highlighted where the blockages are that do stop how much funding is available and how to address those – they are all valid areas to be further investigated.
“But as someone who works in the transaction environment with financial services companies, it’s been very busy. We’ve seen more interest from traditional private equity VC [venture capitalist] funds that maybe look at more established companies who are really looking to get into the more growth-phase specific funds to fill that gap.”
Nicki Bisgaard said partnering with “the right investors for the right reasons” was crucial, and that the pandemic response of greater online working had opened up wider investment opportunities.
He said: “You can have more conversations around the world. We’ve been able to talk to potential investors in Asia-Pacific, as well as on the West Coast of the US, which would have been more difficult had it required physical meetings. But I think getting investment to the closing stages and across the line might well be a bit more challenging.”
He added that Eedenbull has not yet struggled to access talent, saying: “Thus far, we’ve been very, very successful. We got some fantastic talent, all across the board. In Scotland – which is our main base – there’s a great pool of talent, but it is an increasingly competitive arena, so we’re all competing for the best people.
Caroline Stevenson, head of the Financial Services Regulatory Team at legal firm Burness Paull, echoed this: “Your location doesn’t really matter and it’s been a realisation that if you want to work for a company elsewhere in the world you can obviously do that from anywhere.
“I think there’s a real worry within the community that we’re going to start losing some of that talent overseas or other parts of the UK, on the back of Covid and how portable people are.”
Three key areas to focus on
Fintech businesses shared their thoughts and advice on three areas of the market where young companies often struggle.
“We wrote down our purpose, our vision, our values, our culture. We brought in experienced recruiters who present themselves in the market as Exizent, [knowing] everything we wanted to achieve. Throughout the process, from first advert to someone starting, we’re very open, authentic and genuine.
We continually review what we’ve done. We haven’t always got it completely right. But we have made sure that there are opportunities to learn. We’ve recruited around 30 people, almost exclusively in lockdown, and have a really strong team with a really strong understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and to go about it.”
Aleks Tomczyk, co-founder, Exizent.
“We found it initially quite hard to communicate the message and vision, but joined a number of accelerator programmes and attended lots of pitch practice events, and refined and honed our presentation skills, resulting in us securing investors. Refining your messaging so investors understand what you’re doing is critical, then building the network so you have access to the best investors to help you to grow your business.”
Loral Quinn, founder and chief executive, Sustainably
ROUTE TO MARKET
“Think about it right up front. When your product or service is in its early stages, do some analysis, understand the market...find out how everything works. Think about who you might talk to and who might provide advice – and ultimately come up with a go-to-market strategy to fit tightly with your overall business strategy, test it and then iterate it.”
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