An innovative partnership between Predictiva and the University of Edinburgh is at the forefront of a fintech revolution

When asked to picture a stock exchange – whether in London, Paris, New York or Frankfurt – many of us still revert to an image of the controlled chaos of the old pit-style trading floor. This was, of course, consigned to the history books in the UK in 1995 when the market was deregulated and computerised trading introduced.

Scroll forward to the 2020s and the scene has changed dramatically again in a world of AI modelling using deep learning and reinforcement, autonomous trading and predictive analytics. It’s unsurprising that the University of Edinburgh is at the forefront of this revolution in the city that, after London, is the UK’s biggest financial services hub.

Maysara Hammouda is chief technical officer (CTO) of Predictiva, an AI technology company based in Edinburgh with a vision to grow into a global organisation allowing easy access to the latest technologies around the world.

Quite simply, Hammouda says, he and his co-founder, chief executive officer Ashraf Attia, want Predictiva to make advanced AI available to everyone. Its autonomous trading project, Investiva, uses AI models to improve financial-trading sector profitability by 80 per cent and trader work-life balance by 90 per cent, and its work, he adds, has resulted in it recently being selected by the UK technology and business network Tech Nation as a regional winner in its rising stars competition. The company was also funded by Innovate.

Hammouda gained an MSc in AI from the University of Edinburgh, which he then joined as a part-time research assistant and the company maintains strong links with the University.

“We are working with the business school on multiple projects, including Masters’ theses,” he explains. Together with the Data Lab, which brings together industry, academia and the public sector to drive innovation using data science and AI, Predictiva is contributing to a PhD student scholarship at the business school.

Now is the time to seriously get up to speed with fintech: FinTech Scotland reports that the sector in Scotland saw a 50 per cent surge in the number of smaller financial technology companies during the Covid pandemic while Vikram Pandit, the former CEO of Citigroup believes technology could replace approximately 30 per cent of banking jobs by as early as 2023.

With predictive analytics central to much of this change, companies such as Predictiva and innovative academic institutions such as the University of Edinburgh are well placed to lead from the front.

The University is actively translating its research work into support for industry through strategic partnerships, explains Ksenia Grant, Acting Director for Financial Services & Fintech Sector for the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI).

The EFI – the University hub for financial services and fintech sector collaborations (alongside three other sectors) – is one of the five data-driven innovation hubs created for research expertise and facilities to help industry sectors become more innovative through data partnerships with a major focus on financial services and fintech.

Grant adds that the University can also help attract government funding to support collaboration between academia and industry via bodies such as UK Research and Innovation.

“Companies are looking to us for talent as our major focus is education. But, increasingly, we are also partners for innovation collaborations leading to development of new products and services, providing an additional level of expertise that companies do have in house,” she says.

With long experience in the field, the University recognises the need for partnerships. “That’s been useful for companies such as Predictiva and its work with predictive AI. It is at the stage where it is growing quite rapidly, and the founders see their relationship with the University as a useful opportunity to tap into our expertise.

“Its Fintech PhD research student is based with the company rather than at the University which is not the traditional model but rather one in which they have a dedicated partner who is interested in driving their projects. It’s very much part of a two-way, long-term collaboration that we’re aiming for; the more that we get to know a company the more we can help.”

All of which is underpinned by the fact that the University is one of the founding partners of FinTech Scotland, a recognised cluster model with the stated objective of achieving “global collaboration for world-wide connectivity and unlocking research” and which was the first of five universities in Scotland to deliver fintech programmes. Meanwhile, the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Deal has put data-driven innovation at its heart with an investment over 10 years of £1.3bn that was made in 2017.

The evolution of fintech is transforming many aspects of our traditional financial services sector with new services being developed and customers being offered more choice about how they manage their money while many smaller, innovative companies can gain entry to and shake up the rarefied world of banking and finance.

How Inbest uses data solutions to aid the financially vulnerable

Fintech means different things to different people – from digital share broking through online payment processing to fraud analysis software – but it also opens the door to better solutions for the socially and financially disadvantaged and investment in fintech is increasing among socially conscious brands.

One company that has developed strong cooperative bonds with the University of Edinburgh is Inbest, founded by Manuel Peleteiro in January 2017 after working as a consultant in the wealth management and insurance digital lab at a large financial provider.

“At some point most of us will be financially vulnerable and our ambition is to reduce financial vulnerability by improving the financial security, resilience and capability of our communities,” says Peleteiro.

He explains that Inbest partners with financial firms, financial inclusion organisations, research institutions and consumer groups to build data-driven solutions to identify financial vulnerability at an early stage and help people to manage their personal finances. “Most tech entrepreneurs have come from relatively privileged backgrounds and have never been exposed to the problems of predatory lending or how difficult it is to access benefits. These people tend to become involved in projects that require blockchain and AI but have less idea about financial inclusion,” he says.

When FinTech Scotland set up its consumer panel in 2019 to increase inclusion within fintech and the financial services industry more broadly, Inbest wound up its consultancy practice and decided to concentrate on this sector, partnering with governments and financial firms to improve the financial wellbeing and resilience of vulnerable households.

An automatic online service operated by not-for-profit lender Scotcash is helping some of the UK’s eight million financially vulnerable households which are currently missing out on some £16 billion in benefits to which they are entitled.

The company, says Peleteiro, has been involved with the University of Edinburgh since the inception of the business, conducting workshops and collaborating on a range of research projects. “Inbest has been clear about its objectives while it’s been similarly useful for our academics to provide input and have that kind of hands-on company collaboration,” says Ksenia Grant. “It’s an excellent illustration of how we can work with smaller companies as well as big financial services institutions and support them on their innovation journey.”

Partner Content in association with the University of Edinburgh