David Ferguson – 1 year as a fintech envoy for Scotland

David Ferguson, CEO at Nucleus, the independent WRAP platform, shares his thoughts after a busy year growing his business and representing Scotland internationally as a fintech envoy.

The government is keen to ensure UK fintech doesn’t become too London-centric and has now built a network of regional fintech envoys to help deliver that ambition. When the Treasury first asked if I might be interested in one of the positions, Graeme Jones of Scottish Financial Enterprise had already started exploring what could be achieved here, but there was still much to be done.

When I was first asked to get involved I initially questioned how much time it would consume and how it might conflict with or distract me from my full-time role at Nucleus. I discussed it with our chairman and other members of the Nucleus board and concluded it should be positive in terms of helping to position Nucleus and also in the personal learning and development opportunities for me.

Graeme’s energy and connections have been the driving force behind the creation of Fintech Scotland and I guess I’m trying to help the new organisation find the right balance between serving the needs of start-up and early stage fintechs and our established institutions. Having worked in one company for 11 years (and trying to get it off the ground for nine years before that), I’ve found it pretty tricky to to get my head around all the different players and their various roles in making Scotland a success as a fintech destination. Against that, I’ve found it hugely inspiring to listen and learn from others, whether they work for established businesses or they find themselves in the same position Nucleus was 10 or so years ago.

Progress to date has been through a steering board made up of a group of around 30 volunteers, but we are now close to formalising the entity with a more conventional board structure in the next month or so. Initially because it was a group of volunteers everyone was keen to take the project forward, and there can almost be too many ideas. What’s important now is a clear sense of focus, and the board and the chief executive will be pivotal in making this happen. There is a business plan in place, though that may be revisited once the CEO is in place as it will be their’s to drive.

What we have with fintech is an industry characterised by very small start-ups and large institutions. There can be various incarnations of that and interactions between the different groups, with start-ups being bought by the institutions, selling their products to or through institutions, mergers, or institutions taking stakes in other firms. This is about creating a culture and a system that together with universities and the public sector, starts to answer the question of how do we, in the round, make this a great place to do fintech. We already have world class universities, and a particular high spot with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics. The next stage is to cultivate an ecosystem where people who are good at this stuff can go for help, access resources and ultimately collaborate for success.

If I end up better at my job as a result of this then ultimately that it is good for Nucleus. If Fintech Scotland becomes a success, then Nucleus will benefit from that as we should find it easier to attract talent. My fintech envoy role doesn’t directly align with benefits to Nucleus, but I’m hoping there could be lots of interesting spin-offs, which would be cool.