FinTech Wales is implementing a 10-year road map, spanning schools, business and government, to create an incubator the size of a country. Hannah Duncan investigates.
FinTech Wales is shaking up the nation with ambitious plans to future-proof employment. Ripping up the rule book, tech CEOs are appearing in schools while competitors collaborate in government offices.
It’s part of a 10-year plan, which strives to pave the way for innovation with more research, more partnerships and by plugging national skills gaps as FinTech Wales looks to build a nation of (very employable) tech heads and (very investable) opportunities. They call it a road map, but it’s more a four-dimensional matrix: a colossal coming together of leaders to fight for the economy by leveraging fintech.
“Providing the environment and mechanisms to support a resilient and growing fintech and financial services sector is a real opportunity to put Wales on the global map,” says general secretary of FinTech Wales, Gavin Powell.
“Developing a road map of the technical needs of the sector is at the core of that and will give a competitive advantage to the stakeholders involved. It will identify common technology challenges, which will help to drive collaborative projects for next-generation products and the necessary skills pipeline. It will also allow the sector in Wales to become much more proactive about the technology and skills needs of the future, allowing more timely interventions, planning and preparation to take place.”
For some time, this small nation of just three million people has been layering and increasing its worldwide digital offering. It has an outstanding resume, with all eight of its universities pumping out highly-skilled tech graduates. Fintech has become a national priority.
Why? Because of the impending rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Research by Future Advocacy shows that more than 26 per cent of jobs in Wales’ services-heavy economy could be automated away within the next decade, with potentially devastating effects on the country’s infrastructure, not to mention Welsh self-esteem. Much of the impact is likely to be felt on the street: retail employment makes up around 14 per cent of Welsh jobs, most of which could be washed away as the e-commerce tide rises. Nasdaq predicts that globally it will account for a staggering 95 per cent of purchases by 2040. And while international internet giants rake in a healthy profits overseas, revenue for local governments could be slashed, affecting all areas of public service.
So, determined not to get left in a digital rut, the Welsh government, FinTech Wales, and schools and businesses across the country, are collaborating to fire up tech. Government papers even hint at igniting skills among future generations by shaking up the national curriculum.
Universities and research facilities in Wales are already among the best for tech developers. Last year, Cardiff University opened its landmark AI MSc programme. Working with fintech rock stars such as Amplify, BAE Systems, McKinsey’s QuantumBlack and DeepMind Technologies, the masters degree incorporates project-based learning using world datasets to address global problems. Bangor and Swansea universities have opened world-leading programmes in coding, cybersecurity and software, too.
As students graduate, the country is filling with tech experts. That’s the beauty of being a small country, the paradigm is easier to shift and this may account for the higher-than-average number of startups.
Nurturing these tiny fintechs is essential. The Development Bank of Wales (backed by the Welsh government) has been a pivotal source of seed funding, loans and equity for 70-plus tech businesses. Set up in 2001, the bank has invested more than £43million so far and all this activity is attracting more angel investors who are encouraged to make use of a portal developed by Global Welsh to browse the new companies and plant money directly.
Typical of Wales, nothing beats community spirit. Everywhere you look there are events, pitching workshops and get-togethers. Nobody is getting left behind and the support is immense. From the startup boot camps organised by Global Welsh and Hodge Bank, to the FinTech Wales forum – designed to identify and smash down tech barriers, there are many digital fingers in digital pies.
As Wales-based insurer Admiral’s head of change, Matt Wintle comments: “We should be proud of the work we do in technology in South Wales, where we have some great companies enjoying huge success, largely powered by their technology capabilities. We have a wonderful opportunity to make more of this, as well as the growing academic capabilities we have, to be much more proactive in our development of the sector and the talent that supports it.
“I see every reason Wales can be a centre of technology excellence in areas such as analytics and digital, if we can be organised and forward-thinking, and shout about how proud we are of what we have already achieved!”