In tech we trust?

March 5, 2020

It’s sometimes hard to know where to stand with regards to tech. On the one hand, it’s seen as a panacea for the modern world’s challenges; on the other, it’s something to distrust, a malevolent force that threatens our privacy. So what shall we believe, asks Karen Elliott, senior lecturer in fintech at Newcastle University Business School?

In recent years we have seen the Cambridge Analytica scandal, growing concerns about Amazon’s power as both retailer and provider of web services, and many people still feel raw after the banking collapses of 2008. Events such as these create a wariness of tech and specifically the algorithms being used to make decisions that impact people in their day-to-day lives.

Unintended bias in data and the algorithms that analyse that data is a concern. As is the potential for surreptitious analysis through semantics. Who is checking the machines’ behaviour?

Banking is an interesting example. We see the rise of the ‘challenger banks’ with their new ways of working, heavily reliant on digital technology, but people are wondering ‘Who are these new banks? How do we know that this new way of banking is responsible? Will they last?’

I believe the solution lies in developing a social license for tech-heavy operations.

We’re starting to see the rise of corporate digital responsibility – think CSR, but in the digital space. It’s important to build confidence and trust in modern systems through governance, transparency and rigour.

This introduces the need for human-centric considerations alongside advanced technological development.

For the last year-and-a-half, I’ve worked on a project called FinTrust. It’s led by Aad van Morsel from Newcastle University’s School of Computing along with Kovila Coopamootoo, a computer scientist specialising in privacy and security. We’re working to develop industry standards and social licenses to operate in the fintech sector.

The FinTrust research draws on various disciplines. Social sciences researchers are examining how trust can be measured, how trust is gained and lost, and the subsequent implications of this. Researchers in psychology and human factors consider trust on an individual level. Finally, the computing experts are studying bias within the algorithms that power AI and ways to make them fairer.

FinTrust is one of the key components of the North East’s strength in fintech. Various regional networks are joining with national and international schemes, such as the FinTech National Network, Fdata, Open Banking, the Portugal FinTech House, Georgia Atlanta FinTech Academy and IBM.

North East fintech benefits too from ‘boomerang Geordies’, who are returning to the region with a wealth of experience and insight from having worked in some of the world’s major financial hubs. For example, we’ve been fortunate to have Grant Murray ( and Kevin Telford (ThoughtWorks) support us.

We’re recognised as a fintech force with a huge range of organisations creating a fintech ecosystem – the report FinTech North East Ecosystem report, published by Whitecap, is exciting reading. But we need to raise the profile of our capabilities here and drive more national and international connections. Fintech here is burgeoning – we need to capitalise on that.

As a region, we’re proud of our rich history of impact across the world through innovation. It seems we’re well set to continue that trend in the Fintech era.

Newcastle University
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