Glasgow universities redesigning education for fintech revolution

19 May 2019

SimpliTasker co-founders, Othmane Ammor (left) and Sarthak Kukreja (right).
Photograph: SimpliTasker

Innovative courses and support programmes are offered by universities to prepare fintech enthusiasts for the future.

Othmane Ammor, 28, is one of the co-founders of SimpliTasker, a one-stop digital platform that lets you connect to a household service provider on demand. SimpliTasker aims to disrupt the service market by providing customers – individuals and businesses – access to money upfront and spread the cost of service over a chosen period of time by partnering with a credit service provider.

Ammor hails from Morocco, where he’d been a banker until he moved to Glasgow in 2015 to study business administration (MBA) at the University of Glasgow. He met Sarthak Kukreja, his fellow co-founder, at an annual MBA event held in Strathclyde University. Kukreja’s entrepreneurial spark immediately struck a chord with him.

Ammor said: “The collaborative initiatives pioneered by the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde facilitate entrepreneurs to tap into resources and knowledge sharing platforms of both the universities, which is fantastic. Between these universities there is no competition, everybody wants to help each other to build successful businesses with innovative ideas. This makes Glasgow great!”

SimpliTasker is one of the financial technologies (fintech) driven startups incubated at the Strathclyde fintech accelerator. The accelerator has also seen startups such as Bank Pal and Listings Ledger develop exciting new propositions. Bank Pal is a low cost alternative lending solution to traditional overdrafts; Listing Ledger aims to create a whole new industry by valuing private companies in real time using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) describes fintech as the evolving intersection of financial services and technology. It refers to startups or companies using the power of technology to deliver financial services in many innovative and efficient ways, resulting in disruption of the traditional financial industry.

Strathclyde’s fintech accelerator programme began in March 2019. Entrepreneurs accepted onto the programme will have access to the benefits of its Strathclyde Enterprise Network Rising Stars Programme that supports emerging startups from the community as well as customised packages, including £10,000 as financial support.

Ammor said: “We are assigned a dedicated mentor to guide us through and are also offered masterclasses to enhance business skills.”

The university was also the first in the UK to launch a postgraduate programme in financial technology in 2017 – MSc in Financial Technology. The University of Glasgow followed suit by introducing its MSc in Financial Technology in 2019 that, according to their programme brochure “provides an advanced education in the multiple converging skills and knowledge bases that are required by the organisation of the future.”

These programmes are multidisciplinary in nature, covering business, finance, and computing science. Both the universities also partner with the University of Stirling to offer PhD programmes in fintech, the first of its kind in the UK.

Daniel Broby, director of the Centre for Financial Regulation and Innovation at the Strathclyde Business School said: “Glasgow has a vibrant fintech ecosystem with its universities at the core. We now have a growing PhD cluster. All this innovation is down to the entrepreneurial nature of Strathclyde and its ability to re-invent the taught curriculum to reflect new digital realities.”

These universities also boast vibrant, student, fintech societies on campus. The University of Glasgow (UoG) Fintech Society is the first in Scotland, and they welcome students interested in applying technological innovations in the finance sector and beyond. The Strathclyde Fintech Society aims to be the touchpoint between students, academia, and business leaders in the field of disruptive financial technologies.

Stephanie Freeman, the president of Strathclyde Fintech Society, said: “We are raising awareness of a wide range of projects within the financial technology ecosystem here in Glasgow. We are providing an opportunity for direct industry engagement in a more casual setting in comparison to a conference event. We hope to inspire students to get involved with local or even international projects within this growing sector, despite one’s background.”

A press release from the Scottish government in March 2018 revealed fintech in Scotland attracted nearly £37 million in investment over the last 10 years with an emerging “ecosystem” comprising of startups, large firms, universities, and the public sector.

Glasgow is at the forefront of fintech development compared to other Scottish cities. According to Fintech Scotland, Glasgow is a “fintech powerhouse.” In addition to startups, large financial firms have established operations, and research and development centres in the city. Some of the big names include JP Morgan, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas, Santander, AXA, Zurich Insurance, and more.

A recent Tech City UK report states that the city employs almost 25,000 in the digital tech sector.

Steven Smith, the vice president of Strathclyde Fintech Society, is hopeful about the employment opportunities that fintech generates.

“The majority of large financial service organisations have technology graduate schemes which focus on cyber security, data driven AI/machine learning, and cloud computing. Additionally, the smaller startups are scaling up at a rapid rate and therefore there are plenty of opportunities if you are a keen data scientist or software engineer.”

The digital GVA (Gross Value Added) in Glasgow averaged £591 million from 2013-2015. The city also has a reputation of being startup friendly, evidenced by the creation of an average of 331 startups per year from 2011-2015. Strathclyde University leads the startup ecosystem by spinning out more than 50 successful startups with annual sales of £80 million.

Previse is a London-based financial technology startup that secured an £800,000 grant from Scottish Enterprise to open a research and development centre in Glasgow. David Brown, co-founder and chief product officer at Previse believes aligning political interest with academia and the commercialisation of fintech helps innovation thrive.

Brown said: “Access to world-class talent makes Glasgow the choice of destination for large financial firms.”

Eleanor Shaw, senior vice dean of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde Business School said: “Right now, the City of Glasgow is well positioned to build a sustainable fintech community rooted in Glasgow but with impact right across Scotland. From the recently launched Glasgow City Innovation District anchored around the scientific and research expertise of the University  of Strathclyde, to the location of JP Morgan’s Glasgow Technology Centre, to Barclays announcement that they will build a new campus in Glasgow that will recruit up to 2500 new employees and be focused on using technology and design to encourage innovation and collaboration. Glasgow is set to lead a fintech transformation that will attract not just large financial services but thousands of entrepreneurial companies to the city, all creating new employment opportunities that will in turn attract top talent to the city.”

She continued: “Fintech has the potential to disrupt the financial services sector and make significant economic and social contributions to Glasgow and Scotland through new highly skilled jobs and innovative employment opportunities. However, fintech will [only] realise these and other benefits if, as a community, the key players [including universities] collaborate and work together.”

Infographic: Dheepu George

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