Few sectors appear as well equipped to thrive during the turbulence of the last two years as Scotland’s fintech sector.
With Edinburgh serving as the sector’s focal point and Glasgow and Dundee each providing areas of strength, it is growing rapidly, so much so that Fintech Scotland has recently published a roadmap setting out ambitions to add 20,000 jobs over the next decade.
But is fintech still an under-appreciated aspect of the economy, and is it time for Scotland to start putting it on the same pedestal as the likes of salmon, whisky and oil and gas?
Core-Asset Consulting MD Betsy Williamson sat down with Anthony Rafferty, CEO of Origo - an established fintech brand that has been tasked with building the UK Government’s pension dashboard, bringing huge inward investment into the country.
Betsy: To start off can you give us some background on Origo?
Anthony: We were set up by a group of pension investment and protection firms, to solve persistent industry-wide problems. Through Origo those companies could work together in a consistent fashion, working behind the scenes of the financial industry to keep things flowing.
We provide software as a service (SaaS) and we work for providers, platforms, advisers and customers.
We see ourselves as the original fintech firm, as we were born in 1989, the same year as the World Wide Web. To date we’ve been best known for Origo Transfer system. If you’ve moved a pension in the past, there’s about a 95% likelihood it was through our systems.
Our focus remains industry pain points - and essentially coming up with digital solutions. This has led to the development of products enabling frictionless access and a smoother journey. Connecting data and enabling it to speak the same language between platforms is a key challenge facing the industry.
Betsy: Can you tell us a little about the UK pensions dashboard deal?
Anthony: This is really important. It’s the biggest pension project of our generation.
It will eventually provide everybody with a clear view of all their pensions and indicative income in retirement in the one place.
It’s important now more than ever because many people are spending less time in a job and are more likely to move around.
They then have a mix of pension pots that they’re not connected with – and therefore don't have a holistic sense as it’s all so complicated. They rely on piecing together individual statements.
The dashboard will also reunite people with lost pots. The whole thing will connect people with their financial futures.
We’ll be able to see all pensions on one screen and get a clear figure for retirement.
An important element to this is that younger people will be better placed to assess their situation and do something about it. Without a dashboard we are in the dark.
It’s a government-sponsored initiative and we’re partnering with Cap Gemini to deliver the core architecture, which is a pension finder service , the consent and authorisation layer that allows data transfer. We’ll deliver the governance register too.
It will be developed over the next two to three years – and I’m pleased to say that so far it is going very well.
So in terms of support for the sector, it’s all about ambition really. We need those in power to talk about Scottish fintech with huge amounts of pride. We can be world leaders.Anthony Rafferty CEO of Origo
Betsy: What is the wider fintech sector like in Edinburgh? Has it been the big success story of the last two years?
Anthony: I think it's absolutely amazing. I look at Edinburgh and don't think we can be based anywhere better.
I spent about five years working in London, out of a digital garage in Hoxton. Even compared to that there is a real buzz about Edinburgh – and in my view it’s a much better place to live. We tend not to have the brutal 90 minute commute and - above all else - it’s a beautiful place.
The universities are taking fintech very seriously, and are delivering a constant supply of people. CodeClan does a really good job also. We’ve had a few of their graduates and they’ve been great for our business.
There’s a UK-wide shortage of specialists and experts, but we're not having that much difficulty finding really good people. People want to work here and want to stay.
I sit on the advisory board for Fintech Scotland so I get a good overview of the sector. It’s important to stress that it isn’t just Edinburgh, but Glasgow and Dundee are also thriving.
We also hold out hope that we can broaden fintech in Aberdeen as part of its diversification from oil and gas.
The reason Origo was founded in Edinburgh was because the companies that collaborated to create it had an Edinburgh bias, driven by the likes of Standard Life and Aegon.
In 2022 we serve the whole of the UK and a majority of our clients are English. But all of these things considered, we are established in the perfect location for us.
I’m glad too – I grew up here and was delighted to be able to relocate from my last job in Yorkshire.
Betsy: What is the recruitment situation like in Edinburgh, or wider Scotland? Hiring crisis, or lots of opportunity?
Anthony: While I’d say we’re not quite in the hiring crisis many sectors around us are it’s certainly not as easy as it was four years ago – and there’s no doubt it's getting more difficult.
It’s a hot market and it’s testament to the number of firms that warrant good people, good developers, testers, and business analysts.
The key pandemic-related development, is that we’re really used to working from home. So the idea that we only will recruit someone within 30 mins of Edinburgh isn't the case.
We’ve recruited people that don't live anywhere near the office and we interact in the exact same way. Within much of the service sector I’d say the idea of only recruiting people local is totally outdated.
When we all went home in March 2020 I was worried, and I thought productivity would drop but the exact opposite happened. We were more productive and had our best ever years in 2020 and 2021, with 2022 well on track.
Everyone had a laptop already and it went incredibly smoothly. There's a bit of a developer stereotype, that we quite like working on your own, solving problems. So working from home has really suited this part of the financial services sector.
These are all huge opportunities for the fintech sector – and mean it should outperform most other sectors. It’s really important that we get this right for Scotland. Edinburgh can and should lead the way.Anthony Rafferty CEO of Origo
Betsy: Biggest challenges or drawbacks we face here?
Anthony: You’d probably expect it to be staff-related, but we’re effectively combating that. I’d say that for the fintech startup community, it is access to capital. My feeling is that there is still a bit of a London bias.
But on the whole, the advantages here far outweigh any drawbacks - because we've got a thriving community and a lovely place to live. Prices are a lot lower too.
Betsy: What one thing could either the Scottish or UK government do to further unleash the sector?
Anthony: It might sound like a bit of a cliché, but when we think about Scotland we have oil, tourism and whisky. I think there's room for another “big thing” we're famous for – and that can be fintech.
So in terms of support for the sector, it’s all about ambition really. We need those in power to talk about Scottish fintech with huge amounts of pride. We can be world leaders.
Betsy: How do you see the sector changing over the next few years? Can Edinburgh lead the way?
Anthony: It sounds a boring answer, but what we need is continued growth.
The last two years has provided a huge catalyst for digital solutions. Practically overnight entire sectors embraced paper-free transactions and processes that they had stuck with for generations. Perhaps none more so than the legal profession.
While we’ve benefited from companies bringing forward digitisation, consumers are now far more familiar and comfortable using web chats and visitor screens too. People are used to transacting from home.
The internet of things and open finance – having all data to hand on a device – will both see huge movement over the coming years.
These are all huge opportunities for the fintech sector – and mean it should outperform most other sectors. It’s really important that we get this right for Scotland. Edinburgh can and should lead the way.