What are the key opportunities in the Irish fintech sector?

3 Oct 2018

Alan Quinlan. Image: Ignition Advice

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Alan Quinlan of Ignition Advice tells us of the challenges faced and the rewards reaped in the world of fintech.

Alan Quinlan is founder and CEO at Ignition Advice Ireland.

He is highly experienced in the international fintech field, having held senior roles at Australia’s BT Financial Group (part of the Westpac Group) and Mercer Ireland.

Quinlan has worked with the Australian team to develop Ignition Advice as a leading digital advice provider in Ireland.

‘I try to create an environment that encourages fast learning and fast failing’

Describe your role and what you do.

I run Ignition’s Dublin-based European subsidiary, which involves building and scaling our footprint across Europe so that we can deliver our platform to European-based clients. We are currently building up the local human capital capability to complement our Australian-based team.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I try to ensure I am always flexible yet focused and disciplined all at the same time. It’s also very important to leave enough room in your working week for thinking as opposed to always being in ‘doing’ mode.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Attracting the right people is always a challenge, especially in the fintech industry and especially being based in Dublin where the market is so competitive. We believe we are well positioned for growth and our story is resonating with potential employees who want to be part of something successful from the beginning.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

In broad terms, we are well positioned to capitalise on the disruption in financial services. More specifically, there are four key opportunities that work together in our favour:

  • the digitisation of financial advice
  • the change in consumer expectations around how they want to consume products and services
  • the shifting of the income in retirement burden from companies and government to individuals
  • the difficulty for large incumbent financial organisations in changing to a more agile way of working
What set you on the road to where you are now?

Travelling, and specifically spending time in Australia where I completed my MBA and discovered a lot about myself, has been important. I also had the opportunity to spend a number of years working in the financial services industry in Australia, where I learned a lot and met really interesting and innovative people who inspired me.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I’ve made lots of mistakes, I’m happy to say! A common factor that I’ve recognised leading to mistakes is not backing your ‘gut feeling’ in certain situations – it’s normally a good barometer. Also, not acting quickly enough when you recognise that you’ve made a mistake.

On a positive note, I am finding the ability to self-reflect gets easier as I get older.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I try to give my team enough space and autonomy to help them thrive and encourage them to push boundaries. I try to create an environment that encourages fast learning and fast failing, and to be there for them when they need advice and a general boost.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

Observing the applications that come through to us for open positions would highlight diversity issues and a general skewed pool of talent available. I have yet to see or hear of a silver bullet to fix this issue.

A long-term, multi-stakeholder, multifaceted approach is needed where government, academic institutions and industry participants are all in alignment. We hire the right person for each specific role with an underlying view that a broadly diverse workforce positions us best for the future.

Who is your role model and why?

I admire people who show entrepreneurial flair while keeping balance and perspective in their lives. I also take great encouragement from everyday people who find strength and courage in adversity. Some modern-day role models for me would include Vicky Phelan, the Collison brothers and my dad.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Lots of books spring to mind, I’ll narrow it down to a diverse list of three:

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Internet, phone, laptop, coffee and exercise!

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