Two Fintech Journeys One “Fintech Wales” Vision

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Fintech Wales was established in 2019 to raise awareness of the thriving fintech ecosystem in Wales, focusing on helping get the right skills and funding in place and supporting this vibrant community to start-up, scale and grow. With a mission to empower fintech and financial service companies here in Wales – and make Welsh Fintech a pillar of the global economy by nurturing talent while connecting and enabling stakeholders across the sector – this independent membership association is championing one of CCR’s key priority sectors, so we spoke to Founder and Chair Richard Theo and CEO Sarah Williams-Gardener, to explore what lies ahead and find out more about their own personal journey in this high-value, fast-growing sector ….

“I was invited to be the fintech envoy for Wales by the UK Government in 2018 as part of their strategy to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a fintech ”, explains Richard, who co-founded both Wealthify and ActiveQuote in the Cardiff area.

“Here in Wales that meant advising on how we could best power up a potential cluster that already had strong market leaders such as Admiral and GoCompare, as well as a burgeoning host of start-ups, in place – to give everyone the best chance of success.”

“Becoming Fintech Envoy for Wales to give everyone the best chance of success”  

“Setting up Fintech Wales was the logical next step” says Richard “to bring together entrepreneurs, small, medium and large enterprises, tech suppliers, higher and further education, schools, the public sector – and anyone else who plays a part in enabling or supporting this sector.”

Having divested Wealthify and retained a NEDship of ActiveQuote, what motivated Richard to take the lead in shaping Fintech in Wales?

Part of it was the desire to ‘give something back’. I came to Cardiff in the early 80’s to study computer systems and networks, got caught up in the passion of the place, and stayed. We all enjoy a wonderful work/life balance here in the region – it’s part of our ‘sell’ a place that offers opportunity and the chance to work with some remarkable people.”

“I wanted to give something back and push the sector forward”

Any frustrations? “The frustrations are common to all parts of the UK”, notes Richard. “When my children return from school after a careers discussion, I ask them what occupations were covered. And ‘Tech’, or more specifically, ‘enabling tech through data science’ is never even mentioned. We remain obsessed with the old professions of law, accountancy and the others, to the detriment of the new and the future. In the States, tech is ‘cool’ and that’s why they have the top-10 tech colleges in the world. We need to really connect with students from their school days onwards, telling the story of how tech is such a critical force for good – and why it’s a uniquely rewarding and fascinating career, welcoming to everyone. That’s the way we’ll open up the careers pathways into our sector – and until we do that, we’ll limit what we can truly achieve.”

We need to make fintech a destination employer of choice for all potential talent”

Nurturing a sustainable skills base for the region is a key pillar of the Fintech Wales mission and Richard is encouraged by collaborations already in place, with partners and courses that include; University of South Wales CEMET, Cardiff University National Software Academy, and the Data Innovation Accelerator, Welsh Contact Centre Forum’s 2 year Graduate programmes in Financial Services and Data Science – both of which have a number of high profile participating employers.

“But we really can’t be complacent and we need to engage strongly with the potential and emerging talent in Wales, making our sector a destination employer of choice.”

Pathways into the industry is a core part of the strategy Fintech Wales are currently shaping. That strategy will also  be looking at how to; support businesses seeking access to funding, provide networking and mentoring support to assist with growth ambition, create centralised working spaces to foster innovation and collaborative working, and amplify the brilliant success stories we have in our midst to help build a sector of global repute.

“Our constitution was created to include and deliver actions for everyone.” 

Richard is clear that the foundations are now in place to maximise the potential of this high-value cluster. “We were careful to create a constitution that represents small, medium and large enterprises, with an advisory panel that revolves on a regular basis, appointing Directors with clear remits to deliver. It means Fintech Wales will always be here for everyone in fintech, taking the broadest of views and continually actioning what needs to be done for the whole sector.”  

For Sarah, becoming CEO of Fintech Wales “has brought together two of my passions my life: Wales and Innovation. Like many people my own journey took me to London but, even though it’s only two hours away from Wales, I still found myself smiling broadly every time I drove ‘home’ westwards over the bridge. My professional life has seen me work as UK Government Affairs Director for IBM and become a proud founding member of the challenger start-up Starling Bank, so I have an in-depth and very informed perspective of what the Fintech sector. For me, our mission is more than ‘just’ making Wales a go-to location for Fintech businesses. It’s about listening to the hopes, dreams and ambitions of our members, removing any factors that inhibit the success of both the innovators and the enterprises. We really are here for the small, the medium and the large.”

This has brought together two of my passions in life: Wales and Innovation”

“We’re currently working on a series of strategies and actions to stimulate interest in the sector – and we’ve been conscious to build an ecosystem around both Fintech ‘Family’ and Fintech ‘Friends’, bringing together support from organisations as diverse as world-class universities and professional service firms specialising in critical areas such as regulatory law, trademarking, tax and many more. From our networking we know the importance of giving every start-up and scale-up the support they need, the moment they need it. That’s why mentoring and celebration programmes – or simply being there to listen and advise – is so important. ”

“The bigger picture couldn’t be more encouraging”

“The bigger picture couldn’t be more encouraging. Along with Richard and Louise O’Shea of Confused, I was fortunate to be heavily involved in the Kalifa Review – Cardiff has been recognised in the top 10 UK emerging Fintech clusters. By collaborating it’s clear that we have every opportunity to make Wales and the rest of the UK a more attractive location for Fintech’s to start and grow. The Kalifa report has suggested the creation of a ‘scalebox’ that provides the additional financial and technological support that Fintech’s need to realise their full potential, this combines with the listing recommendations in the Hill report reaffirms the UK’s attractiveness and continued support for this fast growing innovative sector.

A big ‘thank you’ to Richard and Sarah for sharing their journey in Fintech so far. Look out for our series of articles and digital discussions that follow – and discover the full story of what this fascinating fast-growing sector is bringing to Wales.  

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