Have we got the North wrong?


Following the series of successful Fintech North events and in anticipation of the forthcoming one in Liverpool, (12th June) we posed a couple of questions to our contributor network, asking what the greatest opportunities for the tech and fintech ecosystems are in the North. And to keep the scale straight, what the most significant limitations are. The responses form a series of articles highlighting the North South divide from the fintech sector perspective, and provide opportunity for those keen and willing to take it. Here’s one of the series, a collaboration between Mark Gardiner, Protiviti, Vice President – North of England & Scotland, and fintech consultant and humanitarian interventionist Bird Lovegod.

Mark, in your opinion, what are the Norths greatest opportunities?

The people and untapped talent. There are some superlative universities in the North of England producing upper quartile graduates, but too often they are drawn to London and elsewhere for employment. If businesses in the region can make a greater connection with the higher education establishments and the actual student body – and offer them innovative opportunities – we will retain our talent. A great example would be what the University of Leeds is doing currently with robotics, both from a research perspective, but also with their links to industry and future employment.

And on the flip side… What are the Norths most significant limitations?

Mindset. We can complain about infrastructure, HS2 vs HS3, lack of connectivity at Leeds Bradford Airport (still no train connection!!!) and plenty else, but we need a global mindset to compete in the modern economy. The expected dramatic economic growth of global city economies will shift the balance of power (economic, political, and to some degree cultural) over the next decade. To quote an earlier report by McKinsey’s “the centre of gravity of the urban world will move South and, even more decisively, East.” The North’s cities need to be competing for investment, talent and markets with other cities in Latin America, China, India and elsewhere and our mental horizon needs to be shifted accordingly.

Bird Lovegod Analysis:

Once again, the higher educational ecosystem features as a strength and opportunity. One wonders if the Universities themselves are aware of the situation, and if so, at what level. Given the number of attendees from Universities to recent Fintech North events, both Leeds and Manchester, there does seem to be a recognition of the opportunity from some individuals in academia, and perhaps an acknowledgement of the problem from some faculty, although one would suspect they lack an ‘entry point’ in terms of creating some sort of ‘fix’ for the problem. Both parties may be aware of the gap, but if neither are in the business of building bridges, they can only look across the divide and ponder.

And this rather follows into the second question, that being the limitation, and the factor of Mindset as identified by Mark. A global mindset is missing. Now this is interesting, because it may be that we have all been asking the wrong question here, and not looking far enough afield. We talk about ways the North can compete with the South, ie London, but perhaps that’s not the way to look at it. After all, London is a Global City on a totally different scale to any of the cities of the North, or even all of them combined. Maybe the question should be “How can the Northern Cities compete successfully with other similar sized cities that are not in the UK?” What is it those cities do to stand out and thrive? What they probably do is carve themselves a strong niche, a cultural and commercial identity of their own, with their own unique selling points and features. What they probably don’t do is try to compete against totally established incumbent financial mega cities like London. Individually they can’t, and collectively they don’t have the cohesion, whilst the reputation and legacy of London can never be duplicated, especially by a fragmented collective.

Interesting. A global mindset. Maybe that just means seeing further than London, learning from everywhere, finding the niches, the opportunities, the innovations that fit, and incorporating them into the growing Northern cities. What if Leeds partnered with an Asian city, to cross promote each other’s fintech companies, for example. Perhaps co operation with overseas cities, and the companies within them, adds strength in a way that competing doesn’t. Perhaps a Global Mindset isn’t about overseas competition, but overseas co operation and collaboration. 

Perhaps the whole idea of a Northern Powerhouse competing against the South may be fundamentally flawed. The strength of the North is individuality, the differences between Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield and Liverpool are pronounced. Even the accents, the culture, the attitude. Attempting to amalgamate the North into a single commercial intention may sound like a logical idea, but if it doesn’t fit the Northern mindset, it won’t work. The North is entrepreneurial, and innovative, and creative, and independent and diversely so, as Mark says, the people and the talent are the greatest opportunity and assets. Perhaps we should look for those of a similar creative mindset, overseas, and find ways to work with them, for the betterment of all.

Bird Lovegod, fintech consultant in dialogue with Mark Gardiner, Vice President – North of England & Scotland, Protiviti.co.uk

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