Interview: Nicola Anderson , CEO FinTech Scotland
Growing up on a farm in Northern Ireland, Nicola Anderson could have opted for the outdoor life, something she’s always enjoyed. Instead she set her heart on becoming a doctor. That’s until she discovered economics. A career in business beckoned.
Since studying the subject in Liverpool, her journey has taken a route through hospitality, mentoring and even running her own men’s grooming salon in Glasgow. Then a job came up in financial services regulation and she took a liking to the world of compliance and business modelling.
Now she’s at the helm of FinTech Scotland, one of the more recent additions to the country’s armoury of ‘cluster leadership’ groups. It was set up three years ago with backing from Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, University of Edinburgh, Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise.
Its remit is to manage the growth of a nascent industry that stitches together two other sectors: financial services and technology, with the latter effectively ‘enabling’ the growth of the other.
Do people understand the meaning of fintech? “It depends who you’re talking to,” says Anderson. “But they understand what we’re trying to achieve when you explain it. Essentially, it’s finding solutions to problems in the financial services sector.”
She is now focusing on how the sector deals with “real life problems” and can make a practical difference to people’s lives, while a key part of her strategy will involve collaborating with other institutions, academia and representative groups to draw more investment and widen the global horizons of indigenous firms.
A specific target will be to adopt the recommendations of the Logan Report, the digital plan produced by former Skyscanner executive Mark Logan for the Scottish government and published last summer.
She admits that she is more “Fin” than “Tech”, having worked at the Financial Services Authority which transitioned into the Financial Conduct Authority after the banking crisis.
“When I first joined the financial services industry I was struck by how technical it is. I’m learning all the time,” she says. With technology now underpinning the growth of the sector she has become familiar with a new language of Open Banking, RegTech and data driven innovation.
She joined FinTech Scotland as strategic development director just a few months after its launch, arriving on secondment from the FCA. She has been confirmed as CEO after a period as interim CEO, following Stephen Ingledew’s elevation to executive chairman.
‘Covid has certainly accelerated opportunities for fintech to grow’
Taking on a senior job in normal times is a test, but when the country is going through a pandemic and the changes required by Brexit it presents unprecedented challenges.
“Covid has certainly accelerated opportunities for fintech to grow,” she says. “And we have seen the way it is supporting people.”
One example is in developing technology that enables the more vulnerable to access financial services and benefit payments in particular.
“There are billions of pounds of unclaimed benefits and companies are working on ways to bring claimants together with the support they are entitled to.”
When her predecessor became the first CEO he set a target to rapidly grow the number of companies based in Scotland. It has seen the number of firms grow from about 25 to 150, and it has also seen many of the technologies that have emerged being adopted by others, such as oil and gas.
“What is fantastic about Scotland is that there is an encouragement for people to innovate and share ideas. We have a lot of opportunities to build new businesses and help consumers.”
Occupation: CEO, FinTech Scotland
Birthplace: Omagh, Northern Ireland
Education: John Moores University, Liverpool (Business)
Career Highlights: Area manager, JD Wetherspoon; manager retail banking, senior leadership team, Financial Conduct Authority; strategic development director, FinTech Scotland
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Maggie Craig at the FCA, very supportive and straightforward, and Gillian Russell at Bass who shared her experiences
What did you hope to be when you were young?
How do you relax?
Outdoors, walking the dog. Since Covid emerged I have turned to growing vegetables in my garden.
Do you carry cash?
No. I have not carried a purse for a long time. I have a wallet for cards.
What have you learned about yourself?
An appreciation of the 80/20 rule. Things don’t need to be perfect. I have become more relaxed.
Optimist or pessimist?
What other activities do you engage in?
I have helped with a homeless charity
Name three people, living or dead, who would make the perfect dinner party guests
Michelle Obama, I just read her book and her personal journey struck a chord with me.
Bruce Springsteen, who would take me back to my younger days
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in September last year