Here at the Business School, we’re determined to help the financial services sector innovate and tackle a skills gap as firms grapple with the impact of new technology, writes Gbenga Ibikunle.

We’ve launched a new PhD initiative to give businesses across the UK access to fresh talent, to help develop innovative products and services.

The Fintech Doctoral Programme will be delivered in partnership with companies and is a collaboration with EIT Digital, Fintech Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It combines a PhD training structure with a specific focus on topics at the intersection of finance/economics and informatics/technology.

Each PhD student will work on a project commissioned by their sponsoring company. Projects need to be of commercial interest to the sponsor and aim to drive development of innovative digital solutions and products.

Sponsoring companies will provide a supervisor for the project and remain closely involved to ensure delivery of commercially relevant outcomes. The PhD student will be supervised by 2 academic experts from the University.

During the first year of the programme the students will be based mostly in Edinburgh as they undergo a comprehensive training programme. During years 2 to 4 of the programme their time will be divided between the partner company and the University. The exact arrangements will be decided with the company to suit requirements but we expect students to become fully integrated into companies hosting them. After completion of the programme which lasts 4 years, graduates are likely to enter employment with their sponsor.

Why should companies get involved?

A recent report by Innovate Finance and WPI Economics, entitled ‘Supporting UK FinTech: Accessing a Global Talent Pool’, predicts that by 2030 there will be around 3,300 FinTech firms, with a shortfall of 3,200 workers needed to support them.

New regulations, changing customer expectations, and rapid advances in technology are putting pressure on financial services companies to digitally transform. The new Doctoral Programme will address this challenge.

Markets and financial products have never been more complex, with algorithms, rather than humans, now executing the majority of trades in financial markets, determining consumer credit-worthiness and interacting with consumers in the delivery of financial services. The skills required to succeed have become more diverse. AI, product design, data science, blockchain and coding skills are all highly sought after. These roles are struggling to be filled, particularly in those cities outside of London with a significant financial services presence such as Edinburgh, Leeds, and Manchester.

Conversely, the proportion of traditional financial services roles required, such as those in sales, finance and tax, and general management are in decline, especially relative to the business as a whole.

Fintech organisations and teams require new talent familiar with the latest artificial intelligence or machine learning developments who also understand financial markets and regulations so they develop technological solutions which can be implemented. Nowhere is this gap in skills talent more evident than in Scotland, where the ambition for global Fintech leadership is unmatched by the workforce needed to realise such an ambition.

Our PhD in Financial Technology is what we would call ‘industrial doctoral training’. Such industrial PhDs are common and successful in science engineering disciplines (manufacturing, energy, pharmaceuticals). We have taken learnings from these business-academia collaborations to create a programme designed to benefit financial services companies.

If you’re a business interested in taking part, contact my colleague Ksenia Siedlecka to find out more.

Gbenga Ibikunle

Dr Gbenga Ibikunle is Senior Lecturer in Financial Markets and Director of the MSc Finance, Technology and Policy

Fintech Doctoral Programme
MSc Finance, Technology & Policy