IFGS: Karen Elliott speaks on funding within UKFin+ Network

University of Birmingham Professor, Karen Elliott, speaks about the new UKFin+ Network, forthcoming funding and combating digital poverty in fintech

Karen Elliott, Professor of Finance and FinTech at University of Birmingham has won £2.5mn (US$3.1mn) to give to co-created funding projects within the FS and FinTech industry and academia. This project is funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will fund co-created R&D bids between industry and academia, focusing on financial services, fintech and addressing financial inclusion/digital poverty.

She stated in an exclusive interview with FinTech Magazine; “I want to make people aware of the funds available, to enable collaboration with each other to look at problems … I put a very hard emphasis on tackling financial inclusion.” 

Combatting Digital Poverty

Elliott is an ambassador for the Digital Poverty Alliance, which supports partners and people who want to help deliver solutions for those experiencing digital poverty and inequality.

Speaking on the DPA objectives, she said “digital poverty is split between stage one and stage two. Most people at this event reside outside digital poverty, they have a phone, they know how to use it and [mobile] apps. This illustrates that people possess digital and financial literacy skills to understand what they're signing up for in the FinTech space.” 

“But if you've got a person who's not in that position, hasn't been educated in finance or technology, combined with the current cost of living crisis, and cannot afford connectivity or even when connected cannot use the apps to their advantage, then they're stage one. 

Stage two occurs when people are connected, but still lack the necessary digital and financial literacy skills to use FinTech products and services to their best advantage.”

“The DPA Ambassadors and associates are trying to balance out digital poverty. For the UKFin+ Network, this could see a collaborative partnership between the DPA or a member of the DPA and academia. The partnership would co-create a bid and apply for the various funding on offer.” 

“Likewise, we have some fintechs examining financial literacy, and technological solutions could be extended to  financial inclusion and tackling the barriers to inclusion.”

Key facts (according to Digital Poverty Alliance)
  • 1 in 5 children homeschooled during the pandemic did not have access to a laptop or similar device
  • 26% of young people do not have access to a laptop or similar device
  • 53% of people offline can’t afford an average monthly broadband bill
  • 2.5mn people are behind on their broadband bills

Putting UKFin+ Network on a learning pedestal

Elliott is making a call to drive demand. She says, “the UKFin+ Network is not the usual research project from a university … This is actually us saying: you design and co-create an R&D project for FS/fintech with an academic of your choice across the UK (a subject that you want to do), [and then] put the proposal in for a funding bid via the Network and we can fund projects.”

UKFin+ is a very different approach to research and the only funded academic network in the UK, the first of its kind to be funded by the Research Councils. The project is being led from Birmingham with Professor Aad van Moorsel, along with partners at Edinburgh University (Professor John Vines), Imperial College London (Professor Will Knottenbelt), and Cardiff University (Professor Jing C) in Wales.

Concerning the future expansion of fundraising in finance, she stated that; “There is a recognition that working in a business school like myself requires collaboration across different disciplines such as my connection with computer science, we need to have that synergy between computing and business skills to work in FS and FinTech going forward.” 

“Working across the socio-technical space, means that we can co-create and garner more industry insights about what are the real problems, rather than coming up with theoretical concepts to test.” 

“I see it being a way to facilitate knowledge transfer between theory and practice, because one without the other, lacks something, particularly when we've got challenges around finance; the Covid crisis, Brexit, and now we're experiencing the cost of living crisis.”

“I know that a lot of fintechs want to drive [the message]; how can we best use technology to benefit people, but to be efficient using the latest digital technologies?”

One of her visions as co-director of the MSc degree in FinTech at the University of Birmingham is to also cover topics that are relevant within the industry itself, outside of the academic sphere, and amalgamate the two within the syllabus.

“We're having the first in the series of annual FinTech Open days at the University of Birmingham - working with Supe Tech West Midlands. In collaboration with Hilary Smith-Allen, we have secured local FinTechs to come into the university to showcase what is the cutting edge of fintech in action. This will also help to retain students in the Birmingham area - and we keep that talent pool in the region, but the building of talent feeds into the whole UK FinTech scene.”

“The whole emphasis of FinTech [is] to make finance do better things”

Elliott says that, with the next generation of talent, “what we need to do is connect knowledge, theory and practise together in a way that works for both sides (industry and academia).”

She has been working with Daniel Gold at Stratiphy and, with the money that they were awarded by Innovate UK, her students will be working with Gold to develop new technology to look at different ways to do wealth portfolio management. Instead of being primarily aimed at the wealthy, it will focus on people who have “smaller pots of money.”

“Once you engage with industry outside of the university and actually go; ‘Okay, what are the key issues that we've got in the industry?’ And then upon returning to the university environment, start to reflect on how to tackle the issues, and have a real conversation about how we can change to educate in line with expectations fuelled by continued digital transformation, results emerge.” 

“Sometimes FinTech services could explode with the current levels of technological change … but at least we can get industries to engage and start discussing with our students and address how we can adapt learning to accommodate change. We already have successful co-created placements at the University of Birmingham to help our students be industry ready for the FinTech sector.”

“Continuing to engage in this form of synergy will help FinTech incrementally make finance and access to finance better for all.”

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