Scotland’s fintech innovation efforts received a boost this week as a new board of directors was unveiled for the financial services research body, Smart Data Foundry.

Dame Julia Unwin, former chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, will chair the Edinburgh body, which received £23m in government funding in 2020.

The organisation, backed by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strength in places fund, was set up to ‘unlock the power of financial data to drive innovation and solve big societal issues’.

Joining CEO Frank Gauld, the heavy-weight board is drawn from government, industry and academia bringing with them significant expertise across data and financial services. 

The board will comprise:

  • Zachery Anderson, chief data officer, NatWest Group 
  • Professor Kim Graham, provost, University of Edinburgh 
  • Stephen Ingledew OBE, chair, FinTech Scotland 
  • Fiona Duncan, independent strategic advisor, the Promise 
  • Professor Chris Speed, director, Edinburgh Futures Institute 

Smart Data Foundry, formerly the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence, is a not-for-profit organisation and wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Edinburgh. It has delivered a number of groundbreaking data projects in collaboration with financial institutions including research into the impact of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis on the over-50s. 

Dame Julia said: “Our mission to unlock the power of data has struck a chord with leading figures in academia and financial services so much so they have been motivated to join us and bring about change. We have demonstrated that we can work collaboratively to create clarity through data which can inform policies and decision-making. We want to inspire financial innovation and with this team, I am confident this ambition can be realised.” 

“NatWest Group were the first UK bank to partner with Smart Data Foundry and safely share data,” says Zachery Anderson, chief data officer, NatWest Group. “Data helps us make better decisions and power research into areas that complement the wider NatWest purpose to champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive.” 

Stephen Ingledew OBE, chair, FinTech Scotland, added: “Scotland has one of the fastest growing fintech clusters in the UK, if not the world. Essential to financial innovation is the ability to access and share data, and the groundbreaking work that Smart Data Foundry is leading to create synthetic data unlocks the huge opportunities to inspire financial innovation that will benefit so many consumers and businesses.” 

Smart Data Foundry’s new board also balances the commercial experience brought by Zachery and Stephen with academic experience through Professor Kim Graham and Professor Chris Speed.  

“The ethos of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) is to challenge, create and make change happen,” said EFI director Professor Speed. “We have a purpose to pursue knowledge and understanding that supports the navigation of complex futures. So, the fit with Smart Data Foundry is perfect as they continue to challenge the way research is done and how they create synthetic data out of thin air to drive innovation.” 

Professor Kim Graham has been in her role as provost of the University of Edinburgh for six months and welcomes the opportunity to work with Smart Data Foundry and the board to leverage the incredible talent and history the university has to support the Smart Data Foundry missions to use data to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and to inspire financial innovation. 

She said: “We have a world-class reputation and standing for being a research-intensive institution. Working with Smart Data Foundry can only continue to propel us forwards and enhance our reputation as one of the top five universities in the UK for research power.” 

Helping to improve people’s lives is core to Smart Data Foundry’s purpose and chimes with Scottish Government Strategic Advisor Fiona Duncan’s 20 years of experience working in the voluntary sector in Scotland and overseas.  

She added: “I have spent my career working to encourage positive change, opportunity, fairness and growth of aspirations which improve quality of life. This will demand Scotland takes a different approach to how it thinks about data, moving beyond ‘system’ measures to what the data is telling us and what really matters to the people. My current role as Independent Strategic Advisor to #KeepThePromise is a perfect fit with the ambitions of Smart Data Foundry. I look forward to using my experience and connections in government to help Smart Data Foundry improve people’s lives by unlocking the power of data.” 

The new board members will work with Smart Data Foundry CEO Frank Gauld, who joined the organisation in 2022. 

He said: “This marks an important milestone in our history. As a young and growing business, to have the ability to attract such a talented board tells me we’re on the right track. 2022 was a year characterised by delivery for Smart Data Foundry.   

“Our ground-breaking work with the FCA to generate and supply synthetic data to support their work to tackle the growing problem of Approved Push Payment (APP) Fraud is a great example of how we’re inspiring innovation in financial services. And we continued to support UK Government with a regularly updated Covid economic dashboard, creating an enduring record of how consumers saved, spent and earned before, during and after a pandemic. This level of insight is critical for policymakers to make decisions based on large-scale empirical data, no longer having to depend on survey data.”