From training to trendsetting: how institutions reverse the fintech migration (By Sanjay Bhandari, Certificate in Finance and Technology)


Aspiration doesn’t look like it used to. The face of Eighties ambition was a power dresser, clad in a suit with shoulder pads as they rushed to Wall Street to earn as much as they could, whereas today’s bright young things are more likely to be found sipping lattes at a co-working space in Silicon Valley.

Indeed, between 2007 and 2013 the number of MBA graduates entering finance fell by nearly 20 per cent, whilst the percentage of those taking up careers in tech nearly doubled. It’s a similar story with those already working. In the last year alone, the media has covered numerous instances of high-profile finance professionals jumping ship to join the tech revolution.

Why? Financial firms have long been the original innovators, creating new and advanced financial products for many years. In fact, recent regulatory shifts after the crash mean they are becoming the ultimate tech firms. But the rise of fintech has created a cultural shift. Today’s top talent want more than just money. The best employees want the opportunity to innovate and to be part of an exciting movement – seeing their ideas change the world around them.

Financial services firms can do this too. While they have been investing in start-up hubs to gain an insight into the new tech that’s changing the industry, simply investing in incubators won’t stop people joining the new disruptors such as Square or TransferWise. If they want to plug the brain drain, they must also work to truly understand what motivates talented professionals to make the move.

These tech firms have a lot to offer prospective employees. From flexible working hours and a comfortable office to stock options for the best performers. But most important of all, start-ups offer staff the chance to make a real difference – be it to the culture of an often smaller company, or through seeing their solutions positively impact upon existing business models.

Sanjay Bhandari, CFT

Sanjay Bhandari, CFT

While working at financial institutions is rewarding in any number of ways, often tech employees spend much of their time fighting fires, with little left to innovate in favor of feeding back on and fixing issues as they arise. Compare this to the chance to transform an industry by building a new product then you can begin to see the start-ups’ appeal.

Financial institutions need to offer the same opportunity to create if they’re to stem the flow of talent away from the sector and ensure that their solutions are fit for purpose – this is paramount. After all, the vast majority of transactions are now automated, meaning banks can’t afford for their tech to miss a trick as it could cost billions in trading revenues.

However, even if the opportunity exists, it’s a lot to expect of an employee to develop a solution that genuinely helps move the industry forwards – especially if they don’t fully understand it in the first place. How can they predict the next step in a sector if they don’t really know where it stands right now?

Institutions need to offer training that goes beyond the basics of how the tech works and takes in the specifics of the sector. Because the financial world is complex, without an insight into the intricacies of the markets, even the best technologists will struggle to understand where their solutions fit into the big picture – and how to address broader industry issues by creating something new.

It’s this opportunity to innovate that the best tech professionals are looking for – the chance to understand the specifics of a sector and use these insights to not only better support their firms’ in-house operations, but to play a role in driving the next wave of development.

Whilst this progress may not be entirely led by in-house employees, properly trained professionals can – at the very least – play a part in ensuring that the next phases of the disruptor revolution are more informed by and tailored to the core needs of financial institutions.

By providing this opportunity, financial institutions can move their technology beyond mere tactical fixes and ensure that they are best equipped to compete in the difficult and disruptive post-crash environment.

There’s no reason why the talent trend can’t be reversed. After all, who would choose to do this at a precarious start-up when they could do it at a stable and prestigious institution?

It’s a little like fashion – some fads may come and go, but the truly stylish will always return to a well-made classic.

Sanjay Bhandari is co-founder and managing director at the Certificate in Finance and Technology, the only qualification to give technology professionals in financial services organizations a genuine understanding of the business context in which they operate.

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