Bird Lovegod: Future is fintech and the North must embrace it

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Ask a business studies student what fintech is and you’ll probably receive a blank look or a conversation around robotic fish and dolphins. And whilst this provides for a few moments of marine mammal mirth, the worrying reality is that most students are unaware that fintech is the amalgamation of finance and technology, the two sides of the same coin, and it’s impacting our society, our culture, and even our own identities.

Surely it matters if students aren’t being taught about a commercial sector that’s sculpting our very civilisation? Students are prolific users of fintech, whilst simultaneously being unaware of it, and this leads them to become consumers rather than active creators of the future, and that’s the opposite of the function of education.

Universities in Leeds and Manchester are developing fintech course modules, but why is fintech so problematic for universities to effectively teach?

Partly because it’s hugely diverse. We’re talking all finance and half of all technology. That’s a whopping percentage of commerce. In practice this equates to a veritable alphabet of sub-sectors, artificial intelligence, banking, crypto currencies, cyber security, and on it goes. All with their own jargon and deep domain understandings.

Fintech companies include public facing ones like Transferwise, and ones you’ll never hear of, that do the invisible and essential plumbing of finance. The financial future’s bright, shiny, seamless, and fintech. Which is why universities must somehow find a way to teach it, across multiple courses, or otherwise deny their students access to the most dynamic and globally expansive job opportunities in the market.

As Paul Battye, of Moorlands Human Capital puts it: “The biggest limitation to fintech in the North is the potential for brain drain to the South. The universities produce first rate graduates but often these graduates don’t know where to find jobs in fintech in the North.”

A sentiment shared with Mark Gardiner of Protiviti: “There are some superlative universities in the North producing upper quartile graduates, but they are drawn to London and elsewhere...”

And Henry Denver, from Tilney: “...I think one key opportunity lies in harnessing the abundant talent that comes out of the North’s many excellent universities.” And on it goes. “A major pain point for being based in the North is the competition for talent,” says Lewis James of AlgoLib.com.

Indeed, recruitment of talent has always been a pain point for all tech companies, it’s not unusual for them to have developer teams in Estonia or Brazil, so if they’re willing to go that far in search of skills, perhaps we could do worse than to train the hundreds of thousands of students in the North of England to meet that need. It’s unsurprising many graduates are otherwise pulled into the denser gravitational field of London. “We’re actively exploring ways to connect students with the fintech sector here in Leeds, it’s one of the keys to unlocking the potential of all the northern cities,” says Dan Rajkumar of Rebuildingsociety.com, and he’s right. If the North was a hub of fintech education, how long before the fintech companies themselves migrated here?

It’s a complex problem to solve and the universities need assistance and collaboration; the sector moves so fast that what’s taught at the beginning of a course can be almost obsolete by year three. Entirely new technologies can spring up in less time. Indeed Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, spent stage time on this subject at the Fintech North event in Manchester last month.

In ten years the financial sector will be the fintech sector, there will be no finance without technology, it is literally the present and the future of all things money, so for it not to be taught in our world-leading universities is unfortunate. If the North can fix this problem the London fintech companies will beat a track to get here. Our students are the single greatest resource the North has. The talent is right here, but unnurtured, and we can do better, and we must.