New strategy for trade group
Interview: Graeme Jones, Scottish Financial Enterprise
Graeme Jones: understanding the pinch points (pic: Terry Murden)
‘The impact of technology is a red hot topic’
Graeme Jones was just back from a yachting holiday off the west coast of Scotland and was nursing the effects of a mild cold.
“The weather was challenging,” he says, with a knowing smile. Not that it will put him off. Yachting is a passion and his Jeanneau 33, berthed in Largs marina, is a source of personal pride.
Back in his day job in Edinburgh as chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise he’s charting a course of a different kind and was preparing that evening for the inaugural meeting of a new group that has been in gestation for most of the six months since he took over from Owen Kelly.
SFE has established what it calls a High Level Strategy Group which has been tasked with taking a broad look at the shape of the sector five and ten years out. It is an ambitious project that will determine the sort or jobs that may be created or available over those periods, the training that will be required and the technology that will enable the sector to thrive.
It is one of three core projects that have come out of a tour Jones has conducted of the 100 or so members, asking what they want from SFE. Another working group will look specifically at the growth of the fintech sector, and a young professionals forum will bring together the next generation to promote careers and ideas.
“I wanted to know what the worry beads were,” says Jones. “What keeps them awake at night.”
Technology emerged as an underlying issue.
“Whether it is law firms, asset managers, banks or accountants, the impact of technology is a red hot topic,” he says. “It is global and it respects no boundaries.”
It is also potentially disruptive. “A company may feel it is operating efficiently when suddenly someone develops an app and the whole business model is put in doubt. We have to confront that situation.”
One result of his consultation with members is that SFE will now become a “thought leader” and the new groups being formed are a manifestation of this process.
“We have to understand the pinch points and ensure the sector is equipped to face the challenges facing it,” says Jones.
He has spent a lifetime in the sector, doing the tour of blue chips, including Aviva, RBS and Standard Life. He was a senior partner at Experian when he was approached about the SFE job and saw an opportunity to help shape the industry.
It has to be said that SFE has had its detractors over the years. Set up in 1986 in response to deregulation of the City – known as Big Bang – it has come in for criticism from time to time for lacking authority and purpose beyond being a talking shop.
Jones sees it playing a more central role, as a source of research and debate that will determine how the sector should prepare for the changes that technology will bring.
Since setting up the new strategy groups there has been one other big change which will influence the shape of things to come – the Brexit vote.
“We would rather things had stayed the same, but that was not to be,” says Jones. “Undoubtedly, the Brexit issue will be one more layer to add to our discussions on globalisation and digitalisation.”
SFE’s new fintech group has already held its first meeting and will feed into the overall strategic debate. The combination of finance and technology has the potential to create a new sector and Jones wants to develop a hub that reflects Edinburgh’s status as a financial centre, second only in the UK to London.
As such, he is working with the Codebase technology centre and hoping the Financial Conduct Authority’s innovation team in London will agree to a regular presence in Scotland.
“Any company setting up in financial services needs to consider regulation and licensing, but we want to avoid the need to travel to London to do this,” he says.
If creating and nurturing new companies will be a challenge for SFE in the years to come, Jones is also mindful of its role in helping to clear up the mess of the past. Scotland’s reputation as a prudent manager of money took a battering during the banking crash and the legacy of 2008-09 lingers deep in the public’s mind.
“There is no silver bullet, but we have to focus on the customer, on getting things right, delivering good service. I think we’re through the worst, but no one around our boardroom table is complacent.”
One result of the crash was that it tarnished an entire industry and deterred some young people from entering the industry, particularly banking.
The SFE Young Professionals group is, in part, a direct response, but the main purpose in setting it up is to give young people an opportunity to develop their careers in ways that suit them.
Jones says: “Young people want to meet other young people. They don’t see themselves working for one company all their career.
“But we don’t want them to leave for London to make progress. We need to build a community here that breaks down silos and encourages mobility.”
He’s also hoping those now entering the financial services sector can teach his generation a thing or two.
“We will listen to what they say. They may tell us we’re miles off,” he says.
Education: Dingwall Academy, Aberdeen University (Geography and geology)
Career highlights: head of distribution for Aviva, head of regulated sales at RBS Group and manager of strategy and operations at Standard Life, senior partner Experian.
What did you intend to pursue as a career?
I studied geology at Aberdeen and considered the oil industry
Other professional activities?
I sit on the government’s Financial Services Advisory Board
What frustrates you?
Bad weather on the west coast!