Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Charlotte Wood is head of innovation and FinTech Alliances at Schroders
For someone who is only thirty years old, Charlotte Wood holds an impressive resume. Schroders’ head of innovation and Fintech Alliances studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. She realised however, that lab work didn’t particularly interest her, and she went on to study business studies. After completing her education, Wood joined boutique consultancy Elixirr, where she helped companies connect with financial technology start-ups. She remained with the firm for nearly five years, and one of her clients was Schroders Investment Management. The £444.4 billion asset manager recruited Wood, with a mandate to ensure that the firm had access to innovative Fintech solutions, in a newly created role.
“Part of my role is to help Schroders take advantage of internal innovation,” Wood explains. “I have spent quite a lot of time looking at how we can harness internal expertise. We have a few different iniatives that we try to use to get people to put their ideas forward, and make sure they can be reviewed.”
One of those initiatives is the launch of the firm’s ‘Ideas Hub’, a platform where people can submit ideas, and can vote and comment on ideas that have been put forward. “You can get some really great collaboration on the platform itself, then you have a review process. We are constantly thinking about what value the ideas bring to Schroders or our clients, whether they are viable, and how we can deliver them. Based on that criteria, we think about next steps and how to take an idea forward,” she says.
Wood believes that there are still enormous opportunities for technology to transform the asset management business. “If you look at other industries, once they start changing, the pace of change never slows down. Retail banking for instance, didn’t change and then suddenly stop changing. They are always building on the foundations of what’s already happened. And in our industry, there’s been a huge advancement in the use of data to drive our investment decisions for example. That will become even more sophisticated, and asset managers will have the opportunity to deploy more AI and machine leaning, and get more benefits from the data that they already have,” she suggests.
In March 2018, Wood launched Cobalt, a programme to support Fintech start-ups via a residence programme. “It was set up to enable us to collaborate more effectively with very early stage companies,” Wood explains. “We saw that there were a number of start-ups out there that had great propositions, but for various reasons we struggled to engage with them effectively. Either the product wasn’t complete, or from a company maturity perspective, there weren’t the right policies or procurement frameworks in place. So the approach we decided on was to bring the start-ups as close to us as possible, to give them desks in our building and access to some of our systems, in order to accelerate the collaboration.”
Schroders is quite open with the programme, according to Wood, and does not restrict the start-ups from working with other people. “The most beneficial thing we can do for them is to help them get market fit and access. And if we didn’t, it would limit the start-ups that wanted to work with us.”
Wood is also a keen advocate for improving diversity in technology and financial services. “Diversity is an enormous problem. One of the key issues that you see in the Fintech landscape is that it’s a perfect storm; There are diversity issues in the tech world, and in financial services, and when you combine the two, you end up with real underrepresentation. But also, female founders struggle to raise funding, compared to their male counterparts. We have a number of iniatives running to improve diversity within Schroders, and there are industry initiatives to help improve the funding into minority (e.g. female)-founded companies. That’s really important, because without addressing the funding side of things we won’t ever have diversity at a leadership level within Fintech,” she says.