Fintech Needs Help—And Fast; Here's How Banking Giants And Startups Alike Can Build Teams On The Fly
BY KATE ROCKWOOD
The disruptive marriage of finance and technology is reshaping how consumers and banks interact. Financial technology (fintech) projects are delivering innovative conveniences—from an instant messaging chatbot that can check bank balances and tally expenses to an app that lets users transfer funds with a wave of the hand.
As organizations roll out new tools and apps, global fintech spending skyrocketed to US$22.3 billion, according to a 2016 Accenture report. Despite this influx of funding, the fintech uptick is straining the talent supply, says Stephen Findley, relationship manager at fintech software developer GigaParse Technologies, London, England.
“The difficulty of finding good employees and the dizzying pace of the fintech field has project owners scrambling to identify and build their project teams,” he says. “And I've heard all sorts of industry horror stories about the talent crunch hampering initiatives.”
Leaning on the usual talent tactics can endanger the pace and delivery of fintech projects. But there are ways to bridge the talent gap. Teaching new skills to current team members and marketing the sector's casual culture can help build fintech teams—and give organizations the first-mover advantage.
“The best candidates for our fintech projects understand how banks work and what they care about.”
—Mariona Prat Vila, Samsung Pay, Seoul, South Korea
Finding project talent with the right blend of IT and financial experience can be like looking for a rare coin in a pile of pennies. That's largely because fintech is still a new field with an immature talent pipeline, says Mariona Prat Vila, project manager, Samsung Pay, Seoul, South Korea.
“We know there's a long learning curve around financial knowledge.”
—María José Romo Cotera, GBM Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, Mexico City, Mexico
Rather than risk delaying strategic initiatives by holding out for exactly the right type of talent, she and other project managers are taking steps to develop expertise in-house. Ms. Prat Vila says fintech companies usually identify individuals who have banking know-how and then develop their tech skills to close the gap.
“The best candidates for our fintech projects understand how banks work and what they care about,” she says. “Sometimes, a candidate might have some experience with a bank's mobile app or the bank's digital strategy, but even if they haven't, I've found it quite easy to get them up to speed with tech.”
At Samsung Pay, every new employee attends a brief training session on the basics of the payments industry and the technical components involved. But employees might also have a lengthier onboarding session to allow for deeper technical training or on-the-job shadowing with a more experienced team member depending on their individual needs.
Other organizations upskill from the opposite direction: indoctrinating those with strong IT skills to the world of finance. “For a product development project, for instance, we look for specific technical profiles for front-end, back-end and mobile developers and user experience and user interface designers,” says María José Romo Cotera, program manager, GBM Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, Mexico City, Mexico. “But we know there's a long learning curve around financial knowledge, from financial principles to legislation to market opportunities.”
“The difficulty of finding good employees and the dizzying pace of the fintech field has project owners scrambling.”
—Stephen Findley, GigaParse Technologies, London, England
To ensure candidates have the stamina to make the leap, Ms. José Romo Cotera screens for people with passion and curiosity. She's also upfront about the intensive training required, including seminars and workshops on sophisticated subjects, such as capital markets and investment funds. Once they're integrated, she encourages team members to attend fintech meetups and industry events with other team members for ongoing education.
“We want them to be a part of the culture and sharing fintech news,” she says.
The financial sector has a reputation for rigid work environments—and that can scare off external tech prospects. So organizations must market the freedoms associated with fintech project teams, Ms. Prat Vila says.
“Financial institutions are very regulated, traditional and hierarchical, but fintech companies tend to be much more fresh, young and flexible,” she says.
Startups and traditional banks are going head-to-head for fintech talent. But finance giants must be both nimble and strategic at once to outpace their leaner peers, according to a 2016 McKinsey report. Three primary factors are limiting fintech project performance:
1 Static Mindset: Conventional banks are poised to lose up to 35 percent of their revenues to fintech startups focused on individual segments of the value chain. If banks focus on digital transformation, they can shield—and perhaps increase—those revenues. But that will require a fundamental shift in how financial institutions think, including how they launch and implement strategic initiatives.
2 Legacy Architecture: Unlike conventional banks, startups don't have to worry about integrating legacy architecture with new fintech offerings. For startups, that can offer advantages that range from shorter project schedules to more innovative, start-from-scratch offerings.
3 Massive Overhead: Deep pockets, massive payrolls and huge customer bases might seem like assets, but size can be a fintech detriment. Many banks have been hesitant to cannibalize their existing product offerings with newer innovations, and high overhead costs place greater pressure on new projects to deliver.
“We want [team members] to be a part of the culture and sharing fintech news.”
—María José Romo Cotera
This more casual culture also can be a strong recruitment tool for professionals already in the finance world. For instance, to fill project roles, organizations might first recruit individuals with strong financial backgrounds.
“Selling bank employees the idea of working for fintech and having exciting new challenges that they'd never get at their current job was very simple,” she says. Recruiters emphasized the flat organizational structure, the flexible work schedule and the bleeding-edge innovations the team was pursuing. “Most of them decided to make the move.”
Showcasing the disruptive potential of fintech projects to new talent should be a nonstop endeavor, says Casey Minshew, director at EnergyFunders, a fintech platform in the oil and gas sector, Houston, Texas, USA. He makes it a point to keep an eye out for new talent, even when there's not a specific opening in mind, and to talk about both fintech and his organization's culture when asking for referrals.
“You always have to be on the lookout for talent,” he says. “And people whom you know and trust have others that they also know and trust who might have thought about fintech before.” PM
Getting Up to Speed
To make the most of their hard-won talent, many fintech project managers are embracing agile. Barclays, for example, launched an 18-month program to adopt enterprise-wide agile approaches after fintech competitors started to apply pressure. The global bank moved more than 800 teams to agile since the program's inception in July 2016. Barclays’ move represents a global financial sector trend.
“Because of the uncertainty of scope and technical feasibility, we opted for agile methodologies on our fintech teams,” says María José Romo Cotera, program manager, GBM Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, Mexico City, Mexico. “That approach lets us better respond to change.”
But daily stand-ups and weekly sprints aren't the only ways for fintech teams to stay nimble. Ms. José Romo Cotera and the leadership team have organized her people into product teams, each with an integrated user-experience expert.
“We wanted to always include that user perspective in every conversation and feature decision, right from the start,” she says.