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Fintechs seek graduates who can straddle specialisms

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Technological innovation has been shaking up finance for so much of the past decade that financial technology (fintech) firms — once the upstarts of the industry — are becoming part of the establishment. Fintech venture funding doubled globally to $210bn in 2021.

As a result, fintech job opportunities — at online-only neobanks, payments companies, and “invest-tech” robo-advice providers — are springing up in financial and tech capitals around the world, from Silicon Valley to London, Beijing, Stockholm, and São Paulo. And it seems that innovators such as Revolut, Stripe and Nubank are proving as attractive to jobseekers as they are to venture capitalists.

“We received more than 250,000 applications in the first quarter of this year [for 576 positions], which makes getting a job at Revolut more competitive than [gaining a place at] Harvard,” says Alexandra Loi, global head of human resources at the neobank. “We seek graduates who are top of their class at the top universities in each of the 30-plus countries where we operate.”

This enthusiasm for fintech has left universities and business schools racing to keep up with the knowledge, skills and competencies required. Some are rolling out specialist fintech degrees. One of the first schools to offer fintech education in 2014, New York University’s Stern School of Business, will run a one-year, part-time Master of Science in Fintech course next May. It aims to cover topics ranging from programming for data to platform strategy, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, machine learning in finance, and leadership in fintech.

“We’ve designed the curriculum to ensure executives are prepared with the most relevant knowledge and tools to immediately become disrupters in the field,” says Kathleen DeRose, director of NYU’s Stern Fubon Center Fintech Initiative.

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However, Alex Duffy, recruitment director at cloud-based banking software group Thought Machine, says the company does not actively search for, or recruit, candidates with fintech degrees or masters. “As a product-led business, we tend to recruit people with technical backgrounds, or technical qualifications,” she explains. “For our non-technical roles, people have joined us with a wide range of degree qualifications, including humanities, arts, science and social sciences.”

On the technical side, the skills needed by fintech employers are evolving quickly, says Erik Spade, co-founder of online careers platform Highered. “However, a solid understanding of blockchain still sets you apart, along with skills in data science and cyber security certifications,” he notes.

Specific programming skills, such as Python, R, VBA and “classics” such as Java and C++ are always valuable too, Spade says. “My advice is to focus on continual learning and explore different ways of keeping up to date with the latest developments.”

Fintech employers are also looking for tech talent in other areas, such as payments technology, back-end and front-end to data analytics, and UX (user experience). But Eloi Noya, academic director of the Innovation in Finance programme at Esade business school in Barcelona, says knowledge of the financial industry is important, too.

“The fintech employers are looking for professionals with experience in the traditional financial industry, of risk analysis and business development, but who are very adaptable to an entrepreneurial environment and with the ability to learn online skills,” he says.

Business schools could help to meet fintech needs by plugging an “obvious gap”, suggests Noya.

“I think there is an opportunity to help people from technological backgrounds better understand the financial environment with something like a ‘fintech for technologists’ programme,” he says.

Few people in fintech excel in both the financial and technological areas, agrees Jack Rogers, programme director of the MSc in Fintech at University of Exeter Business School.

“The ultimate graduate is someone that understands both business and technology, and this is rare,” he says. “There is a lot of demand for students that can programme in popular languages. But, at the same time, graduates who have a firm grasp of economics in terms of how incentives drive behaviour are also important. The challenge is to produce rounded graduates that are conversant with all of these areas.”

Jérémy Celsé — economics professor at ESSCA School of Management in Bordeaux, which offers an online masters in finance and fintech — says fintech employers tell him they want people with good methodological skills, who know how to analyse complex situations, and develop and test different solutions prior to implementation.

“They’re also looking for graduates with strong communication skills so they can work confidently with different professionals, whether that it is someone in finance or a technical engineer,” Celsé says.

In fact, technical or financial skills and knowledge are not always the deciding factor. “The single shared attribute that we look for in all of our people is to be extremely good at problem-solving,” says Loi at Revolut.

Tara Ryan, director of people experience at challenger bank Monzo, says she is also looking for candidates who can “demonstrate critical thinking and a talent for problem-solving”.

At Thought Machine, being a “good team fit” is perhaps the most important competency, says Duffy. “A candidate can be technically gifted and very experienced, but might be difficult to manage, or not be willing to work hard,” she says. “We try to make sure throughout the hiring process that a candidate is a good fit for our culture.”

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