What is Fintech? And how to build a career in Fintech

Earlier this week, CFTE had the pleasure to be invited to speak at an event organised by the Oxford Fintech & SmartLaw Society (Oxford FSS) called the ‘Introduction to Fintech and Fintech Careers’.

In actual fact, Oxford FSS was founded by Alfonso Delgado, an alumnus from Around Fintech in 8 Hours (our first online Fintech foundation course) with the evening being organised by another Alumnus, Lukas Wagner and Peter Lewinski.

To both of them, our congratulations for organising an event that attracted over 120 students on a Tuesday night! For those of you who know Oxford, you’ll know there is always a multitude of events happening at any one time – pictures from the event here.

It also goes to show to growing interest in Fintech among the student community.

Now back to the event.

The Agenda

The focus was very much on giving attendees a good overview of exactly what is Fintech and the career opportunities that exist within this fast-growing area of finance.

To do this, the event was organised into three segments as follows:

  1. First, David Shrier, Head of the Oxford Fintech and Oxford Blockchain strategy programmes at Said Business School, provided a comprehensive overview of Fintech by looking at the Fintech ecosystem and how it’s evolving.
  2. Then CFTE’s co-founder, Tram Anh Nguyen, focused on helping students understand how Fintech is changing the nature of careers in finance and the skills that would help them succeed in an increasingly dynamic environment.
  3. This was followed by a joint Q&A where student pitched their question to David and tram Anh

You’ve got the layout, now lets dive into some of the content that was covered, beginning with David.

 

David Shrier and the Fintech Ecosystem

David covered a lot of points but to begin with here is an excellent passage from his talk, which neatly sums up the impact Fintech is having on finance:

“The fintech revolution is capable of building a better infrastructure in finance, predict future financial events, shift consumer behaviour and bank the unbanked.”

In two lines, David covers a lot.

“Better infrastructure” is one of the defining features of the “Fintech revolution”. One of the points he noted during the talk was the potential of blockchain to save banks $20bn a year by improving middle and back office processes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Automation and artificial intelligence will help banks implement more efficient processes and analyse masses of data to make better decisions.

 

Fintech and the coding boom

But banks aren’t the ones leading the Fintech revolution. To sidestep away from the contents of the event, it’s worth looking at a Fintech startup called Stripe who is helping to build a “better infrastructure”. They’ve created a new payment infrastructure to help businesses set up transaction facilities in a matter of days as opposed to weeks as was previously the case.

For example, instead of an SME’s going through a cumbersome process between middle agents (banks, Credit companies) they can start accepting payments from customers by simply implementing a few lines of code onto their website!

 

The takeaways

This kind of innovation in finance has led to a number of new developments, which David summarised as follows:

  • Better infrastructure finance
  • Predict future financial events (predict the S&P 500 down to 0,1% precision)
  • A shift consumer behaviours (is both a cause and effect of Fintech)
  • Identify people better (1.1 billion people with no identity mostly women and children, 10% of Syrian passports are forged)
  • Bank the unbanked (3.5 B people excluded from the financial system)

Ok so Fintech is here to stay but as a student/professional, what areas should you invest time in learning to future-proof your career?

 

To sign off David’s segment, here are his top 5 recommendations:

  1. The concepts of statistics/R/Python
  2. Philosophy for AI? They are good at how to think in a structured fashion
  3. Behavioural economics
  4. Cognitive science
  5. Development economics (banking the under-banked)

 

Chinese New Year promotion

 

Tram Anh Nguyen and Fintech Careers

Blue and yellow are complementary and so was David and Tram Anh’s presentations.

Where David focused on the theoretical aspects of Fintech, Tram Anh looked at the humanist side of the equation.

Her main message of the evening and one that CFTE is persistent in communicating is that technology is transforming finance fast. In fact, it’s happening faster than most people even realise and there is now an urgent need to upskill.

A point she highlighted by relating to her own experiences: 

“When I started my career, I was a trader at Standard Chartered and a market maker for Asian currencies in NY. Today, some of my friends who used to run teams of 100 people now do the same job but with 10 traders.”

Her experiences are one point of reference. But one only needs to look at the changing financial landscape to see further evidence of the seeds of change.

For example, in only a few short years, the number of Fintech startups in London has ballooned from just a few hundred to over 4000.

This has consequently had an impact on the activities of established financial institutions, who are now investing more in leveraging the same technology as these startups, which in turn is impacting the skills they now value.

 

Balance of skills will be key

What are these skills that financial institutions are now beginning to value?

We touched upon some of David’s recommendations earlier, but Tram Anh was able to drill down to the specifics.

Essentially her recommendations can be split into two distinct areas, hard skills and soft skills.

 

Hard Skills

In terms of the classic tangible skillset, she noted the following as a must have for anyone thinking about a career in Fintech:

  • Data
  • API
  • Risk management
  • Coding

Why these hard skills?

  • The level of data available for analysis is growing at an exponential rate and startups and incumbents alike need to make sense of it to make smarter decisions
  • As technology becomes more integrated at all levels of the banking value chain, professionals who understand how to leverage it for front, middle and back office processes will give companies a strategic advantage

 

Soft Skills

For Tram Anh those skills that are less quantifiable will be just as key, here are her top 3:

  • Agile Mindset
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability

Why these soft skills?

  • The new world of finance is being built on an open and collaborative ecosystem. Signs of this are already well evident. For example, incumbents are now working with disruptors to develop new and innovative solutions that they can start implementing.
  • This kind of collaboration requires people who can transcend multiple disciples and build effective relationships
  • The growth of Fintech is attracting people from a diverse background such as technologists, law, sciences and consulting. This was correlated, in a study, we undertook of learners from our Around Fintech in 8 Hours, with only 40% of the coming from a finance background.
  • In such a fluid environment, candidates that can demonstrate a strong and agile mindset will be at the top of the queue.

 

The conversation continues 

Both David and Tram Anh’s talks hit a note with the students. The Q&A was testament to that. Many passionate students exhibited keenness in understanding the changes afoot in banking and finance.

Being most students were studying law, it was no surprise that RegTech was a hot topic.

Regtech is one area where we’ve predicted big things in 2018, particularly with Open Banking coming into force and PSD2 around the corner.

It has many implications for the finance industry as David noted, “Any regulator or bank CEO who thinks that the context is going to adapt to them, is too naïve. The company who created Siri are now a hedge fund and they only have 2 people for compliance even in a very regulated area”.

His remarks allude to the fact that the competitive nature of banking has changed. By leveraging technology, upstarts can accomplish more with less. Whereas banks, for the majority, are still coming to terms with an altering landscape.

Tram Anh echoed as much when asked about some of the challenges banks face: “It will take time for banks to adapt, because of their legacy systems but especially their culture. However, we have now started to see some very examples of banks that are making their transformation.” 

Both David’s and Tram Anh’s messages highlight that it will be no easy feat for financial institutions to shift from analogue to digital. It will take investment and a change of attitudes, hence why mindset is such an important skill.

 

Talent is the answer

If one thing is for sure, it’s that developments like Open Banking, PSD2, Blockchain, AI, automation will continue to accelerate the need for incumbents and startups to find the right talent to fuel their transformation and growth.

It’s why we were delighted to be invited to speak at Oxford and share our insights gleaned from talking to and working with both Fintech startups and incumbents. 

It is our mission to translate the needs of industry and match them with the aspirations of all those professionals who want to work in finance. 

 

And our message is clear: ADAPT or DIE.

 

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