Scotland has long been renowned for its financial services sector. But in recent years the country has also had considerable success in cultivating a rich and dynamic technology industry.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that Scotland is on the verge of becoming one of the world’s leading fintech hubs.
In this article we define what fintech means, assess the scale and potential of one of Scotland’s newest sectors, and outline the career opportunities available.
A relatively new term, fintech is at its most basic the application of technology within financial services.
Fintech can encompass all sorts of companies and all sorts of areas of financial services – payments, insurance, asset management and personal finance.
A common theme is the use of big data and artificial intelligence to better understand customers’ problems and provide convenient solutions for them.
Of course, the use of technology to improve financial products and services is not new, but what makes fintech different is how it is disrupting the conventional models of banking and finance.
In the last 10 years there has been over £37m worth of investment into the fintech sector in Scotland , but with even more momentum building in the last two years.
There has been significant early stage funding in key areas such as data science, blockchain, digital security, cyber identity and open data compliance. These areas are set to grow in the coming years.
There are also plans to launch a Scottish stock exchange in 2019. Project Heather will be the first regulated investment exchange to be focused on businesses that are making measurable positive social and environmental impact.
One of the reasons it is setting up in Scotland is because of vibrant sectors like fintech. It is keen to help growing companies access capital and less mature businesses prepare for public listing.
In addition to this, Fintech Scotland was launched at the beginning of 2018. It is a joint initiative by financial services firms, the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Government.
Since its establishment the number of fintech startups in Scotland has tripled, with Fintech Scotland’s website now lists no less than 60 fintech companies throughout Scotland.
Across the 60 companies, technologies extend to:
Of the 60 companies listed on Fintech Scotland’s website, Edinburgh is home to 36, Glasgow 12, Fife four, Aberdeen two, Dundee two, and one each in Perth, Stirling, the Borders and the Highlands.
In many ways, the country’s fintech sector is building on the recent successes of Scotland’s technology industry as a whole.
Glasgow, Edinburgh and in particular Dundee have a long legacy of success within the gaming industry, while online travel company Skyscanner became Scotland’s first £1 billion business.
To feed this momentum Codeclan opened its first campus in Edinburgh in 2015. Scotland’s first and only award-winning and industry-led digital skills academy, Codeclan aim is to bridge the digital skills gap and deliver high calibre technology professionals to a growing network of employer partners. It now has campuses in Glasgow and Inverness.
Indeed, Edinburgh was ranked fourth in a recent survey of ‘technology hotspots’ across Europe, Middle East and Africa. [ 2]
But Scotland’s fintech expertise is not limited to start-ups. Many of the world’s largest financial institutions have technology teams in Scotland. Opportunities do exist in large corporates as well as smaller, more entrepreneurial enterprises.
JP Morgan’s Technology Centre in Glasgow is just one example of a global financial giant choosing to invest in the technological talent that exists in Scotland.
Also, in May 2019 Lloyds Bank announced it was creating 500 high-skilled technology jobs in a new tech hub in Edinburgh.
Taken together, this means that Scotland has a burgeoning fintech sector with a bright future.
Fintech companies are all about innovation. This is reflected in the culture and working environment. They are often much less formal and rigid than traditional financial services.
Supported by the latest technology, fintechs can offer more flexible working patterns – both in terms of time and location.
Working in a smaller company you will find that you have a more immediate impact on the success or otherwise of the company. If you have good ideas they are more likely to be adopted and implemented quickly.
Given the relative size, it’s also more likely your role will touch on many different areas of the business and be less narrowly-defined than large, established institutions. Variety is a key feature.
Stock options are common, too, so the financial upside can be significant if your organisation flourishes in the future.
Depending on the size, fintech companies will have the conventional support functions common to most corporates: finance, legal, sales, marketing, customer services and HR.
You will also find areas such as risk and compliance common within a financial service company.
Your suitability to these more ‘generic’ roles will depend as much on softer skills as it will on your professional experience and expertise. More on this later.
Technical jobs prevalent in fintech companies include:
i. A passion for technology
This may seem obvious, but you need to demonstrate your interest in how technology is changing the world and how its power can be harnessed to improve financial products and services.
Whether as an individual or part of a team, you may well be working on solutions to problems that have never existed before. The ability to think outside of the box and devise creative solutions is critical.
iii. Collaborative mindset
Startups will not have the defined roles and departments that characterises larger companies. You will need to thrive in a fluid environment where you work across different teams and disciplines.
The very nature of tech startups are unstable. You need to be able to ride out the ups and downs of early growth.
i. Become an expert
Do in-depth research on the sector. What’s it’s history? Which companies are successful? Who are the key individuals? What are the opportunities and challenges facing the sector? What technologies are being utilised?
Not only will this research give you a better idea of what companies you’d like to work for, but it will also be invaluable when it comes to the interview process.
ii. Add relevant skills
Many of Scotland’s leading universities now offer postgraduate course in financial technology. These include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Strathclyde and Napier.
Although each course varies slightly in content, all strive to give you a solid foundation in computing technology, financial theory, ethical and regulatory constraints, and business acumen.
Many also offer an introduction to specialist skills such as artificial intelligence and coding.
iii. Raise your profile
Connect on LinkedIn with like-minded fintech professionals, follow fintech companies you would like to work for, and join relevant LinkedIn groups.
Attend fintech events. Fintech Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Financial Enterprise have rolling calendars of events.
In addition, DIGIT, Scotland’s leading digital tech events company, runs several large technology events each year – including FinTech, Big Data, ScotCloud, DIGIT Leader, Digital Transformation and Digital Energy.
iv. Tailor your application
Whether it’s your covering letter, your CV or the interview itself, it’s important to position your skills and experience in a way that is relevant to the fintech company you are apply for.
For example, if the company is a startup you will need to articulate your close cultural fit. Highlight experience, projects or internships where you thrived in a small, entrepreneurial environment.
Scotland’s fintech sector is experiencing something of a tipping point recently. The rise in levels of investment, market participants, and collaborative efforts to build a supportive ecosystem all point to exciting times ahead.
The sector offers a wealth of exciting career opportunities for candidates with the right blend of skills, experience and attitude.
Having a keen interest in all things fintech, doing comprehensive research, and tailoring your application accordingly will put you in a strong position to be successful.
Some fintechs will fail and others will grow to dominate. But whatever way the chips fall, it’s an exciting time to get on board.