In a bid to make sense of all this, academics from the Business School and the Edinburgh Futures Institute are organising the first ever conference on the Economics of Financial Technology to take place here in Edinburgh in June. The three-day conference will include keynote lectures, panel discussions and presentations of research papers—with submissions welcomed until 13 January.
According to Gbenga Ibikunle, Senior Lecturer in Financial Markets at the Business School and Director for Industry, Economy and Society at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, the changes being brought about by FinTech are vital for the wellbeing of society. Therefore, he says, academics, finance experts, and policymakers have a responsibility to shape the way forward:
"This is the first major conference that the Edinburgh Futures Institute is headlining in collaboration with the Business School. We have this desire to ensure the data revolution is for societal benefit. One of the ways we're trying to do that is in financial services. How can data better work for people excluded from the financial ecosystem? And not just gain access in a way that will leave them open to being taken advantage of.
"We have an opportunity to drive the creation of new financial instruments and products. In order to achieve that you need a lot of viewpoints coming together, hence our conference. We want to bring academics together to talk about the latest research but also policymakers who are now focusing on those same issues.
Tell us about your keynote speakers.
"We're going to have Sir Dave Ramsden, Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking at the Bank of England (Sir Dave was Chief Economic Advisor to the Treasury and Head of the Government Economic Service from 2007–2017). He's going to talk about the bank's evolving approach to FinTech, with a focus on the themes of openness and integration.
"We'll also hear from Bruno Biais, Professor of Finance at HEC Business School in Paris, and an advisor to the New York Stock Exchange and European Central Bank. And from Sanjiv Das, Professor of Finance and Data Science at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business, who has global expertise in derivatives."
What do you hope to learn by bringing people together?
"You have a lot of activity in the financial system aimed at improving the bottom line. We want to try thinking in a way to focus on using data to better serve consumers. We want to shine the light on innovative business models, startups like Transferwise and Azimo for example, where they have driven down the cost of money transfers. Previously people only had access to send money abroad using established banks and paid a large amount to do that. Whereas now for as little as £1 you can send a significant sum abroad. That is changing the industry.
"Another aspect we want to look at is the omnipotence of data in financial markets. An average instrument may see only about 3–5,000 transactions a day from perhaps up to about half a million orders; even orders that do not result in transactions sway prices. Those changes are basically noise that is designed to benefit some segments of the market. Financial markets have moved away from their original function and have become ways of making money from the trading process. Rather than taking advantage of data to improve the bottom line, let's look at how it can benefit the average consumer. Don't forget we invest significant proportions of our pension pots in financial markets so how they operate is of importance to us all."
How will businesses benefit from the discussions at the conference?
"This event will be of interest to researchers in financial institutions. They realise the need to provide products to serve consumers who are demanding, for example, that investment firms should target ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors when constituting their portfolios. When we collaborate with industry partners they tell us this must be a key focus. Consumers are demanding this shift in focus. The conference will give an opportunity to see where research is going and for industry representatives to present their own work. Discussions will bring together people with relevant views and help shape policy."
Gbenga Ibikunle is a Senior Lecturer in Financial Markets and Director of the MSc in Finance, Technology and Policy.
Papers for the EFT Conference can be submitted on the Economics of Financial Technology website up until 13 January.