Scotsman fintech conference: call for 'commercially-driven' innovation

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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Scotland has all the ingredients in place for fintech success and has a massive opportunity to enhance financial inclusion - but needs to be better at delivering innovation on a commercial scale.

Panellists at The Scotsman Conferences event 'What Has Fintech Ever Done For Us?' were optimistic about the sector’s future, if it could harness innovation in a meaningful way to benefit consumers.

“We have got it good in Scotland compared to lots of other countries,” said Craig Buchan, founder of QPal. “There is a lot of support for small businesses and good access to investors - but there comes a point where a business has to raise investment and win customers. If it can’t do that it will probably never be successful.

Mr Buchan said Scotland was doing well at fintech innovation - but needed more “commercial innovation to solve genuine problems” and less “novelty innovation”. He added: “You can get early stage investment in Scotland, but if you do not have that route to profitability, a business will fall.”

READ MORE: In full: The Scotsman's 2019 Fintech Focus supplement
Asked about what excited him most about the potential for fintech to transform lives, Mr Buchan said financial inclusion - which he had seen taking hold in Africa and elsewhere, with the use of cheap smartphones, mobile wallets and an increasingly cashless economy.

Daniel Broby, of the University of Strathclyde, also thought financial inclusion was the big opportunity. “If we can drive down the cost of technology and cut out the middle man, that is the real opportunity,” he said. Currently, he said, banks took around 8 per cent in charges of the £150 billion sent annually to Africa from the west - depriving some of the world’s poorest countries of around £10 billion per year.

Callum Sinclair, a Partner and Head of Technology at Burness Paull, said he was most excited about the potential for greater “empowerment and consumer choice”, while Nicola Anderson of Fintech Scotland said it was the ability to deliver cultural change and tackle financial inclusion.

Chris Brown, Senior Consultant at Deloitte, said: “It’s about clarity - making sure people can understand what financial services mean to them and what is happening to their money in everyday financial services.”

Kristen Bennie, Head of Open Experience at RBS, said she was most excited about the great opportunity for Scotland - and “the next generation of financial services products to make financial transactions much more straightforward”.

READ MORE: Ten tough questions for Scotland’s fintech industry​
Nicola Anderson said she saw financial inclusion was central to the fintech agenda soon after she was seconded to Fintech Scotland from the Financial Services Authority in 2018.

She named Castlight and SOAR - which recently received £450,000 for its credit union proposition - as two Scottish businesses delivering on financial inclusion.

She added: “There are many other businesses tackling particular problems - how to help people understand more about money, how to improve financial literacy. It’s definitely something Fintech Scotland wants to do more of.”