University of Edinburgh course to feed fintech skills pipeline

Gbenga Ibikunle. Picture:  Lisa Ferguson
Gbenga Ibikunle. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Promoted by University of Edinburgh

Every seat of learning creating a new course wants to attract the brightest and best students from around the world – but the University of Edinburgh is looking for even more with its new MSc in Finance, Technology and Policy.

The university is confident that its carefully designed programme will bring rising fintech stars to the Capital and deliver high-quality staff for existing businesses as well as entrepreneurs and innovators.

We want to attract the best students and we want them to stay and add value to the economy of Edinburgh and the city region by creating innovative products and solutions which have a social welfare relevance, and to set up firms here as a result of their ideas and inventions. That is one of the aims of the broader city region deal of which fintech is part.

Gbenga Ibikunle

However, there is a much broader social purpose underpinning the course. The MSc will form part of the offering from the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) – to be based at the old Royal Infirmary site in the Quartermile business district – with its broad and ambitious remit to address some of the biggest problems facing society today.

“We want our students to think about the market – but also about the implications of what they are creating for society,” says Gbenga Ibikunle, programme director of the new MSc and Senior Lecturer in Financial Markets at the university.  

“We want graduates leaving the course to be future fintech leaders and to think about social issues too. There is a direct link between our programme and this social contribution, and the wider aims of the EFI. It’s about looking at the positive and negative influences of financial services on society, and how we can drive forward the positive influences.”

With a real ‘finance for good’ philosophy underpinning the fintech sector’s growth in Scotland, the MSc, which launches this September, looks like the right course at the right time.

Ibikunle expands: “The most desirable outcome is to see students make a social impact based on the programme we have set up, by bringing talent from all over the world and embedding businesses, creating jobs and making a positive social impact here.”

READ MORE: How Edinburgh University and Heriot Watt are driving Data Driven Innovation

The original aim was to recruit 25 students, but this has been raised to 40 due to the quantity and quality of applicants.

“We have had 400-plus, including amazing students from all around the world – South-East Asia, North and South America and all over Europe,” says Ibikunle.

“We want to attract the best students and we want them to stay and add value to the economy of Edinburgh and the city region by creating innovative products and solutions which have a social welfare relevance, and to set up firms here as a result of their ideas and inventions. That is one of the aims of the broader city region deal of which fintech is part.”

Practical

Masters students will therefore have the opportunity to run with a practical project throughout the duration of the one-year course, with a view to creating a new fintech product or service.

“We developed the course to be both academic and vocational,” explains Ibikunle. “Some students will want to go into jobs with established companies, but we want those doing projects to come up with proof-of-concept products, and we will then put them in touch with venture capitalists and provide support to pitch and develop their idea.

Part of the success of the new course will be its ability to deliver graduates that industry needs. This means filling clearly identified skills gaps and linking into the industrial strategies of the UK and Scottish Governments – both central planks of the Edinburgh city region deal.

“At the moment, fintech firms’ recruitment is not very efficient,” says Ibikunle. “They might need a data scientist who can understand, analyse and draw conclusions from data, but also an expert who knows about finance and regulatory systems. What we want to do is to deliver graduates who can blend those skills.”

He continues: “When we first started putting the programme together, we noticed a dearth of talent when it comes to the interface between financial services and technology. Industry is struggling to attract fintech talent.

“We need to address that very quickly and provide our masters students with the knowledge they need to manipulate big data relevant to financial services – and marry that with an understanding of regulatory systems.”  

There was also a specific reason to name the course Finance, Technology and Policy. “The policy aspect is very important,” says Ibikunle. “Without the imprint of policy, you cannot move forward.”

Like the wider city deal, the focus on positive social impact runs through the new MSc. “We want students to understand the implications of what they are doing for society,” says Ibikunle. “For example, there’s a lot of work going on around the credit worthiness of individuals and ensuring that decisions taken are relevant to their credit history.

“It’s about using a range of alternative data to bring more people into the financial arena. Modelling the level of [lenders’] risks better, so they can provide products more cheaply. That would make a real difference to society.”

The University of Edinburgh’s fintech offering – tailored to add value to existing degrees being delivered at the Centre for Informatics – will be supplemented by a part-time MSc, currently under development, and a PhD due to launch in January next year.

READ MORE: Why data is key to Scotland’s future economic growth

“[The PhD] students will work on problems that firms want to solve,” Ibikunle explains. “Industry comes up with problems, we discuss them and ensure the questions are of academic relevance, and we advertise it to potential PhD students. We hope to be working with some established industry names and a sprinkling of young fintech businesses.”

Ibikunle knows that Scotland needs to be at the fintech cutting-edge if it is to stay at the forefront of the sector’s growth.

“The future of financial services is data-driven, there is no question about that,” he says. “From a university perspective, this opens up exciting opportunities for collaboration and allows new academic disciplines to emerge.

“In terms of business, only firms able to deploy data-driven solutions and enhanced products will succeed. These are the firms who will win the future and expand market share.

“We need to invest in fintech today to ensure Scotland is part of that – and to make sure firms established in Scotland can challenge for global market share in the future financial services industry. We will do this in a way that is also helping these firms address some of the biggest challenges facing society. Finance for good runs through all of this.”