The world of finance is changing fast. The financial crisis and poor business practices have fractured confidence in traditional systems. Pervasive globalisation and urbanisation will require massive infrastructure investments in roads, schools and hospitals to cope with an estimated 72 percent rise in urban populations by 2050.
New technologies are upending the ways we do business by recalibrating the demands of consumers who want goods and services to be provided quickly, safely, cheaply and effortlessly. Keeping up with these changes is a challenging but not impossible task.
In response, professionals, entrepreneurs and policy makers are searching for new ways to invest and think beyond the ‘bottom line’. The alternative finance sector has seen significant growth, with more than USD50 billion invested in some 2,500 FinTech companies since 2010, alongside growth in green and impact finance.
Financial institutions, governments and the private sector are turning to innovative financial mechanisms that leverage both social and environmental impacts, plus financial returns, in order to foster sustainability and resilience in complex systems. The UCL Institute of Finance and Technology (IFT) has been founded to explore such challenges, and aims to unlock financial opportunities, possibilities and practices that will achieve prosperity for more people.
"Create all the happiness you are able to create; remove all the misery you are able to remove.” – Jeremy Bentham
- Interview with Prof Francesca Medda
- UCL Professor of Applied Economics and Finance, Francesca Medda, has recently begun her role as Director of the new Institute of Finance and Technology. This exciting new UCL programme offers teaching that will incorporate practical learning activities designed by both academic and industry-based staff. Students have the opportunity to develop commercial competencies, keep up with innovations and to help set the pace for future industry developments and academic research. We sat down with Professor Francesca Medda to discuss her career, the Institute and the benefits of this new programme.
Q. What does being Director of the Institute of Finance and Technology involve?
It is difficult to pin down exactly what I do on a day-to-day basis – thus far, my role varies and every day is different! I developed this programme expressly to provide students with courses that combine industry with academia – that idea became the overarching umbrella for the entire programme and everything sits underneath it. As these are early days for the programme, I’m working with the department to ensure that the courses meet the highest UCL standards. I’m also speaking with students interested in taking part, as well as liaising with the lecturers. Each day offers new opportunities and – at times – new challenges to overcome. Setting up a new programme is never easy, but I’m very satisfied with the depth and scope of the courses and the interest is overwhelming! My own research comprises another part of my role. Three key emphases: digital finance, impact and sustainable finance, and urban and infrastructure investments means that my research dovetails nicely with the themes of the programme.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself – what is your professional and educational background?
My studies have taken me across Europe. My undergraduate degree is in Engineering at a university in Italy. I then moved to London and studied Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE), and from there I went to Amsterdam to continue my studies in Economics at the Tinbergen Institute. I was already working in finance when I started my career in academia. My first position was at LSE, with a move to UCL a few years later. I am also an economic adviser to the UK Ministry of Environment and Agriculture (Defra) and the Ministry of Finance (HM Treasury).
Q. What makes you so excited about this new programme?
The whole programme is exciting and relevant, I’m not sure I can name just one thing! But I think what is most significant for me is that the programme is something that hasn’t been done before at UCL– a true collaboration between industry and academia. Also, I think that the most exciting thing for students and staff is that we’re teaching the ‘full picture’. Instead of just learning what Bitcoin is, for example, or how it’s used now, students are taught how the monetary system was set up in the first place, how that led to Bitcoin and the potential future uses of this system. To be able to successfully predict where we’re going, we need to know where we’ve been and what is happening now – that is what we’re striving to teach.
Q. Who do you think should be applying?
This is a programme for postgraduate students, so those who have already completed a degree. On top of that, I think the ideal student for this programme is someone who is curious to learn, who likes change, but who also wants to lead that change. This programme doesn’t just teach the ABCs of finance and business. It teaches one how to spot opportunities, how to adapt quickly to an ever-changing environment, and how to gain success – for yourself, and to build success for your community. There is the misconception that finance is not available or accessible to everyone, and that it comes at the cost sometimes of sustainability, cultural heritage and the environment. Finance is simply a tool that can be used to the benefit of all. It helps to build the wealth of all, and when used properly, it will build opportunities for everyone.
Inspired by Bentham's utilitarianism, IFT's core social purpose is to create a knowledge-sharing hub for business ideas and entrepreneurs, providing financial laboratories, seminars and networking breakfasts. Back-to-Basics financial and accounting training for local and City community members will also be offered.
We will open our expertise to local start-ups and entrepreneurs by inviting industry leaders who work with us to support the community with business advice. To widen participation in our financial education even further, we are exploring community outreach activities, and hope to open up new routes to financial careers for students who might never have considered university, or a career in finance.
Please contact IFT Head of Operations Eva Farace to discuss research, networking and widening collaboration opportunities directly.
For more information regarding widening participation at UCL, please visit UCL's Access and Widening Participation website.
- From west London to east: a bold journey with bold purpose
UCL’s founders Thomas Campbell and Henry Brougham – inspired by our spiritual father Jeremy Bentham – were committed to innovation, accessibility and relevance. Two hundred years later, we are bringing a fresh approach to east London and our home in the new UCL East campus. Bentham’s drive to “elevate the lives of all” feeds UCL’s core social purpose. At IFT, we share this value.
Our flexible, productive platform at UCL East will provide leadership and training through research, collaboration with industry and government, and an entrepreneurship accelerator. Alongside teaching activity, we’ll develop and test new models which embed technical, environmental and social aspects within financial mechanisms. We’ll also address ethical issues related to compliance, regulation and the social interface of financial products.
At UCL East, the IFT will bring the best minds together, preparing future finance professionals to tackle the challenges and develop the possibilities that lie ahead.
New spaces: networked and flexible
Our pioneering approach will take shape in spaces which are truly fit-for-purpose for experimental, impact-focused research and executive education. Our proximity to the City enables us to bring the knowledge and experience of the world’s most powerful financial institutions to bear on the vexing problems we confront on a daily basis.
The ethos of collaboration and experimentation at UCL East is a concept we have taken to heart at the IFT. Our spaces are designed to facilitate research, dialogue, problem-solving, and an experiential learning approach, which is especially well-suited to the fast-moving nature of finance.
IFT students will benefit from being part of a strong network of industry innovators, with our spaces enabling these connections.
Photo credit: Luca Micheli, Unsplash