According to professor John Finch, Head of the Adam Smith Business School at Glasgow University in Scotland, future success in the FinTech environment depends upon combining innovation with talent development.
As companies adjust to the new world of work, in large part brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic which has condensed years of digital adoption, including the use of FinTech, into a matter of months, in terms of talent development, the focus on leadership skills have been amplified. "We are seeing demand for rounded leadership perspectives coming through at all levels and in different forms," the professor says. The scope of leadership skills applies to leading small groups and business specialisations to network building and establishing business ecosystems to leadership responsibilities necessary to drive a company's mission, ethics and sustainable practices.
According to professor Finch, it is important to remember while fast-tracking trends such as automation and digitalisation have been catapulted forward, it is still people working in teams that provide the heartbeat of a company. With technology metaphorically flattening the world and bringing businesses, services and people together in new ways, professor Finch notes that questions are being raised about social impact, integrity and data privacy. As this happens, there is evidence that companies are becoming more willing to show the humanity behind their operations. This is applicable to start-ups, enterprises that are scaling up, and also established companies. At the Adam Smith business school this is being reflected through programmes that focus on the awareness the individual can have on others, group behaviours, compassion, empathy and critical thinking, and the essence of what makes teams tick. As the fusion of human capabilities and technology increasingly play an integral role in a reshaped world of getting work done, professor Finch explains the school has introduced experiential learning across its degree programmes at an earlier stage.
As opportunities to utilise FinTech continue to extend beyond the financial sector, to innovate and implement new ideas, the Adam Smith Business School FinTech degree programme offers a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Students benefit by selecting programmes delivered collaboratively by the business, law and computing science schools. This way, professor Finch says students are able to develop skills they can apply to careers in technological and financial markets including big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding and robo-advising.
The schools links with business and industry also provides invaluable experiences. As FinTech has taken on an increasingly important role making financial services and products more accessible, the school and its students work with companies and social enterprises to co-create projects that harness the use of advanced technologies. Importantly, while the COVID-19 pandemic has brought disruption and uncertainty, students collaborating with companies on projects have been able to gain first-hand experience of how organisations respond to a crisis. Professor Finch explains, as lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions compelled companies across all industries to change their established work practices, the experiences of students followed a similar trajectory. "Students were able to gain valuable insights from the shared experiences," he says. At the same time, significant development of Scotland's financial sector in recent years, especially in Glasgow, provided a degree of stability in terms of opportunities for students to co-organise projects with the business community. Crucially, the majority of companies that offer internships and graduate recruitment programmes maintained their strategies, even though the structure of the programmes switched to virtual or remote working.
Believing that global connections are crucial to the development of students’ understanding and awareness of FinTech trends, the Adam Smith Business School has formed partnerships with several leading international academic institutions. One such partnership has been formed with Zhejiang University International Business School, Hangzhou. With travel restrictions in place preventing the usual in-person interactions, a recent online forum that brought the Adam Smith and Zhejiang business schools together with FinTech Scotland took a panoramic view of FinTech ecosystems and shed light on seeking opportunities for accelerating the network across ecosystems that will shape the future. With support from the business schools’ alumni, professor Finch says participants gained global perspectives as well as develop cultural competencies and build valuable international networks. Meanwhile, with the Adam Smith Business School as one of the sponsors of the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) FinTech Awards— which offers businesses from Hong Kong and Mainland China the opportunity to explore the UK’s FinTech eco-system—professor Finch says opportunities are created for growth and internationalism. "With collaboration and cooperation between universities and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, networks are knitted together and intertwined across the ecosystems," he says.
A modern view of an historic perspective
Reflecting on what 18th-century Scottish economist Adam Smith—author of the seminal book Wealth of Nations and considered to be the father of modern economics—would make of today's increasing digitally-led economic and social environment, professor Finch believes he would have been fascinated, but also aware of potential stumbling blocks. "I think he would have been interested in the ethical and moral conduct issues around trust and data privacy that coordinating technology specialisations and scaling up quickly can produce." In addition to the division of labour in the modern economy, Smith would have been drawn to the issue of extending technology applications into areas where they would have an impact on financial wellbeing as well as orderly social and economic systems.