Akarsh Sanghi is standing on stage delivering a speech at the Design Matters conference.
Akarsh Sanghi. Image: Publicize

What every aspiring fintech leader needs to know

20 Jul 2020

Which skills should you focus on if you want to become a fintech leader? Engineer and designer Akarsh Sanghi shares his thoughts.

Many people aspire to become leaders at some point in their careers, whether it’s setting up a new company, becoming a CEO or heading up a particular team. In a rapidly evolving industry such as fintech, keeping your finger on the pulse is critical if you’re hoping to climb the ladder, according to engineer and designer Akarsh Sanghi.

Sanghi’s career has seen him lead product teams at Berlin-based neobank N26 and The Studio, an innovation hub set up by IDEO and Zalando. He holds a master’s degree from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

I spoke to him about what it takes to lead engineering and product teams in fintech, from empathy and observation skills to cultivating diversity and responding to market dynamics.

‘Being responsible for other people’s money is a challenging task and being a person with a lot of integrity and empathy is of the essence’

Is being a leader in fintech different from leading in other industries?

Financial services businesses have undergone more change in the last three years than in the last three decades. It’s very important for people leading engineering and product teams within financial institutions to respond quickly to market dynamics, underlying technical changes and improvements to their services.

Leaders also have to show a lot of empathy towards customers and their needs, which has become one of the most important factors in the success of new financial services companies. Overall, being responsible for other people’s money is a challenging task and being a person with a lot of integrity and empathy is of the essence.

What are the most important skills for fintech leaders and teams?

Leaders come in different shapes and sizes and people from different backgrounds and experiences tend to bring in unique perspectives on things. As the fintech landscape is evolving rapidly, we need people with more and more diverse ideas on how to make financial tools universally available to empower people towards their individual progress.

This requires a good understanding of how technology is evolving in terms of payments, banking, investing and lending, among others. At the same time, one also needs good observation skills toward consumer behaviour and trends.

The current generation of people coming into the banking system for the first time ever is experiencing services in a completely different way than all prior generations. Having a good understanding of consumers’ needs is a great skill to develop.

What advice would you give someone in fintech hoping to become a leader one day?

Focus on developing a strong team of engineers, designers, product managers, operational experts and customer success people. Having a strong and diverse team allows a leader to execute on multiple different ideas extremely fast and iterate on the fly.

How can people develop their skills in fintech?

The best way to develop new skills is to work in the industry and gain valuable experience. But instead of working at the traditional big bank, maybe try working at a fast-paced, high-growth start-up that is in the early stages and still trying to figure its way out. It will almost be like a crash course on multiple different subjects.

Are there any online tools or other resources you’d recommend?

There are many resources on how to learn more about fintech. My personal favourites are newsletters from Andreessen Horowitz’s fintech investment team, which are very insightful. There are a few videos from their partners Angela Strange and Alex Rampell that describe the landscape quite well.

Following the progress of companies like Stripe and Plaid via their blogs and their product launches is useful to understand the direction in which the industry is headed as well. FinTech Today also has a good newsletter that provides regular updates on all the new things happening in the fintech space.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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