Targeting a top spot in the data league
As the first man in charge of a new sector initiative a lot rests on the shoulders of Stephen Ingledew. He arrives duly prepared with a batch of print-outs to show that he’s not wasted any time since being appointed the chief executive of Fintech Scotland.
He offers a quick run through his neatly illustrated document, showing what has been achieved in the first 30 days and setting out his key goals, including a target for moving Scotland into what he calls the FinTech “Champions League”.
It’s an apt analogy for someone who harboured hopes of becoming a professional footballer and is now playing a key role with a new team assembled by a private and public sector partnership.
If his ambitions for Scotland’s nascent FinTech sector are to be achieved it will mean rapid promotion from a current ranking of 15th by the Global FinTech Hub Federation to top 10 place by 2020. That’s just two years away, but Ingledew says the tight deadline is a big positive.
“It focuses minds,” he says, “It’s 500 working days, or thereabouts. If you set targets for five or ten years ahead it doesn’t get the right impetus. A shorter timetable means you have to get on with it.”
FinTech is the economic buzzword of the moment, a coming together of financial services and technology. It’s a fast-expanding sector with a UK value this time last year of £6.6 billion which is expected to grow substantially.
The Scottish government has identified it as a key new industry and has backed FinTech Scotland with an initial £250,000.
“Part of the reason I took on the role was because of the genuine commitment of the Scottish government. They wanted to see something happen,” says Ingledew, who spent his career in marketing and distribution, including the transformation of Standard Life’s marketing and customer functions.
‘How long is a piece of string? There could be 20 or 200 FinTech companies’
He’ll be working alongside the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise and private companies, and therein lies a big question. Just how many FinTech companies are there in Scotland? Ingledew smiles and shrugs his shoulders.
“How long is a piece of string? There could be 20 or 200,” he says. He admits that it comes down to how FinTech is defined, and he prefers to see it as about “the use of data”.
It’s generally seen to be something disruptive and certainly innovative, and aimed at improving the customer experience as well as the efficiency of companies.
It embraces a lot of market activity from payment technologies and peer-to-peer lending, to crowdfunding, digital currencies and investment advice delivered using algorithms.
But it can be broader than that. Ingledew says the benefits of FinTech can be extended to most industries, including security, bioscience, the legal sector and even gambling.
“Gamification has been an important development in improving the customer experience and was something we used at Standard Life,” he says. “I also see us working with the telecoms companies.
“Technology is everywhere now, it’s like electricity. It impacts on everything we do from booking a holiday to doing our shopping.
“I’d say our focus is on data and we have to build on Scotland’s heritage in data, in academia and in the growth of the tech sector. This is where we’ll be concentrating our effort.”
He is a big believer in working with others, not seeing other regions and participants as rivals, but as potential partners.
“Collaboration is more important than competition. If you have collaboration with people from different backgrounds and experiences then you will get innovation and creativity.
“Teamwork is essential. We have a great financial services sector and great academic institutions, but the sum of the parts makes them greater still.”
He’s now engaging as many of these constituent parts as want to be involved in order to hit that 2020 target. Is it achievable?
‘Big companies have the problems and small firms often come up with the solutions’
He reveals progress has been made and that some inward investment is on its way.
“We have made a good start. We have had meetings with five FinTech companies interested in coming to Scotland and a couple have committed,” he says.
Scottish Development International has been involved and Ingledew is now helping to accelerate the process.
He is working on an action plan which will be presented to key stakeholders in April. It includes plans for developing FinTech as a career choice for young people and creating a “virtual FinTech factory” where big companies would share data with smaller, innovative firms.
“Big companies have the problems and small firms often come up with the solutions. We are aiming to bring them together.”
To that extent, the FinTech initiative will draw on another public-private sector initiative, CivTech which is a collaboration of small technology firms and deliverers of public services.
Some believe that because one of FinTech’s ambitions is to improve company efficiency it will lead to fewer, not more jobs.
Ingledew doesn’t share that view. “There will be new jobs. Technology is releasing people from mundane roles into more human interaction and jobs that require intuition.
“There has been an explosion in coding and data science, and so on. The world is changing fast and there will be new types of work that we have not even thought about.”
So how does he see FinTech Scotland fitting into the overall ‘eco-system’?
“We are not a trade body, but a strategic enabler,” he explains, adding that it is “action oriented” and stressing that he wants to be around to see some of the outcomes.
“I think I have enough years left in me to see some of the changes we’re instigating come to fruition.”
Birthplace: Reading, raised in Leicester
Educated: University of Sussex (Law)
Career highlights: Senior executive leadership positions in marketing, distribution, operations and products with Barclays, AMP, Frizzell and Berkeley Berry Birch.
He has held a number of non-executive director roles at organisations including Scottish Financial Enterprise, The Institute of Financial Services, The Chartered Insurance Institute and The Financial Services Authority.
Last summer he was one of four non-executive director appointments to Marketing Edinburgh
What gets under your skin?
Bigotry. People refusing to embrace other people who are different. Also procrastination.
What’s your weakness?
Best advice you’ve received?
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s not about what you say you are going to do, but how you do it.
Think big, act small, move fast
Any other business?
I am a fanatical runner. I did 24 marathons or half marathons last year.
Claim to fame?
I once had a trial with Leicester City Football Club. I played against Gary Lineker [a native of the city and a former player] in a schoolboy match.
If you could meet three people past or present, who would they be?
Nelson Mandela, who brought about change and conducted himself so well despite the injustices against him
Joe Strummer, who believed in change and progress. He said: “The future is unwritten”, which meant it was up to us to shape our lives.
Nicola Sturgeon, who has a value-driven approach to bringing out change.