A leap of faith? How to make it in Fintech
If the career switches of prominent Fintech CEOs are believed, there’s a fairly simple equation to getting into the sector – quit your banking job, use your own savings to get the new business off the ground. Sit back and let the seed money flow in.
And yet, moving across to an inherently risky sector where inevitably some firms will fall by the wayside or be consumed by a larger rival is something of a leap of faith. What’s the best approach for launching a Fintech career? Should you gain financial services experience initially and then gravitate across, or launch straight into Fintech? This is what prominent start-up CEOs advise.
Alastair Paterson, CEO, Digital Shadows
“Go straight to Fintech. Both myself and my co-founder James Chappell are from security technology backgrounds where we became interested in the digital footprints that individuals and organisations leave on the internet and their security implications. However, we have spent a large part of our careers working with banks helping them solve complex security challenges.”
David Rutter, founder and CEO, R3 CEV
“I don’t believe there’s only one right approach. Successful Fintech firms require experts on both the financial and technology sides, and I would counsel anyone considering a career in the area to play to your strengths and to find where you’re the happiest. Each day I come into work and am challenged by people of diverse backgrounds, and because they push me so hard, R3 benefits as a whole.”
Rishi Nangalia, CEO, REDI
“I’m not sure there’s a single answer to this question, as both routes have their pros and cons. I think that Fintech firms like ours, by virtue of a lean organizational structure, offer employees a tremendous opportunity to step up and take on new challenges. But going the route of a traditional institution first has its advantages as well, given the formal training and structured development programs that are typically provided. Alternatively, let’s not dismiss those who choose to pursue a path from outside the financial industry, as we’ve had great success attracting talent from technology companies like Amazon, Google, MongoDB, RedHat and TravelClick. These talented folks have brought extremely quantitative approaches to the R&D process and in many ways have helped lead a cultural shift in our organization.”
David Gurle, CEO, Symphony
“It depends, if a graduate wants to start their career in banking to have a general sense of the industry – that would make sense. Now if they are more interested in technology, they can go straight to Fintech, but I would say that starting on either side is very complimentary. Quite a few of my employees have started their career in banking and are now working for Symphony, their experience in banking has been complimentary and lends itself well for their career path.”
Leigh Drogen, CEO, Estimize
“I took a little bit of a different route than many to fintech, I actually started my career on the buy side at a quantitative hedge fund as an analyst before I graduated college. It was a chance run in with someone I grew up with who was 45-years-old and saw something in me that I certainly didn't see in myself at the time. I ended up falling in love with behavioural finance and learning how humans make decisions in financial markets, it was one big awesome puzzle to me that could be solved by running regressions and writing algorithms to express arbitraging those behaviours.
“Similarly, my jump into the fintech world was pretty random, I cold called the founder of StockTwits right after he launched the initial beta and ended up in that world a few weeks later working on product. I just knew there were major changes about to take place in this world and wanted to be a part of building interesting things.”
Andrew White, CEO, FundApps
“For new hires an understanding of portfolio management and asset classes is useful but not always necessary. We find that attitude and motivation beats experience any day. Not being encumbered with years of doing things a certain way leads to innovation.”
Feng Yue, CEO, Stockradar
“Go straight into Fintech, of course. It’s better than traditional banking, and it’s not difficult to understand why if you take a look at the market value or scale of assets.”
Bert-Jan van Essen, founder and CEO at Dragon Wealth Asia
“I have always moved between Fintech and banking. I was one of the first employees of E-LOAN Europe in 1999, when they launched their successful fintech business (at that time called a dotcom) in Europe. It was backed by Softbank and I learned a lot about how to build and scale a tech company. After that I have joined Credit Suisse - in my last role before starting Dragon Wealth as the CIO for Asia.”
Huy Nguyen Trieu, author of the blog Disruptive Finance and an MD at Citi
“I was a CEO at 27, experienced the internet bubble on the way up and on the way down, grew the team to 50 people then scaled it down to 25. It was a very exciting experience, but being an entrepreneur was much harder than what people tell you. I would recommend to anyone to launch their start-ups early though – you don’t have much to lose and can always surround yourself with more experienced people.”