Learn how to kick-start your career in fintech and what you can expect of different roles in this field.
Wondering what it takes to carve out a career in fintech? It’s an industry going from strength to strength with plenty of different opportunities. You can opt to work for a specialised firm, such as Revolut or Stripe, or as part of a fintech team in companies like Accenture or Aon.
And there are plenty of jobs up for grabs in the sector, too. Several fintech companies have recently announced expansion plans across the island of Ireland, including Transact’s new Limerick HQ, Overstock’s plans for a new tech team in Sligo and Lightyear’s expansion in Belfast.
If you’re hoping to take your own career down a fintech route, here is some advice from professionals in this industry.
Who can pursue a career in fintech?
As with many fields today, the world of fintech takes a village, bringing together people with different backgrounds, skills and experience.
Danny Buckley of EY, for example, started out in law before switching paths. He’s now a partner in the CFO advisory services team at EY Ireland. “The most rewarding part of working in financial services is the variety,” he told Siliconrepublic.com earlier this year, citing the different sectors and clients that you can work with.
And both experienced professionals and new talent are needed for this industry. Cleo Byrne was an intern at Fidelity Investments when she spoke to us last year. She discussed the training she did at the start of her internship and the work she was given researching different technologies and creating proof-of-concept apps.
Byrne, who is now an associate software engineer, added that you don’t need to know everything when starting your career in fintech. “In this line of work, you are consistently learning and developing your skills as technology is always changing and will continue to throughout your career. I’ve learned that you have to be able to adapt to change.”
If you can develop these skills, there may be opportunities for you around the world. Software engineer Ares Zhang told us about how he moved Fidelity’s office in Dalian, China, to its Galway base. In his role, he designs and develops services spanning big data, cloud and micro services.
What kinds of projects can you expect to work on?
Before you’ve stepped into a particular industry, it can be hard to know what exactly working in it would be like. Someone with fantastic insight here is Amy Neale, Mastercard Labs’ vice-president. Neale started out in computational linguistics but now helps scaling fintech and e-commerce start-ups through the company’s Start Path programme. She told Siliconrepublic.com earlier this year that it all comes down to “getting new technologies into people’s hands”.
The big fintech trends Neale is excited about include open banking, text and voice interfaces and data security. In all of these areas, she said, “it’s not about the technology – it’s about the problems it solves in the world”.
Payments practice lead at Accenture Mark Quigley has been in consulting since he was 18, but the projects he works on still surprise him on a daily basis. He told us that it’s “in the nature of the job to be solving problems” and that working in fintech offers an opportunity to “deliver impactful change to people’s lives” across real-time payments, digital wallets, cybersecurity and more.
Another exciting area in fintech is blockchain. This is something that Citi’s Innovation Lab in Dublin is looking at, and engineers like Amber Higgins are helping to push forward. A typical day in Higgins’ role, she told us, involves everything from market research to solution design.
Which skills are important?
Fintech obviously requires technical expertise but softer abilities are important, too. Matthew Beckingham, a data scientist at Citi, draws on both every day, programming mainly in Python and communicating his progress with wider groups.
Akarsh Sanghi, who has led tech teams at N26 and Zalando’s The Studio, is passionate about diversity in fintech – particularly when it comes to leadership. “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,” he told Siliconrepublic.com this summer.
According to Sanghi, achieving this requires a “good understanding of how technology is evolving in terms of payments, banking, investing and lending, among others”. Thorough observation skills and knowledge of consumer behaviours and trends are also key.
“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,” he explained. “Having a good understanding of consumers’ needs is a great skill to develop.”
How’s the work-life balance?
Work-life balance should be a priority no matter what field you work in. Brigid McKeown used to coordinate the Start Path programme at Mastercard, which saw her work with early-stage fintech firms. Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com in 2018, she described how this job gave her a front-row seat to trends like chatbots in payment tech, but work-life balance could be a challenge.
“I realised that by removing ‘life’ from the work-life balance, your standard of work can really suffer as you can burn yourself out,” she said. But her manager encouraged her to leave work on time to play sports and socialise.
What do you need to get started?
If you’re feeling inspired about a career in fintech, take some inspiration from Citi’s global head of digital consumer payments, treasury and trade solutions technology, Arlene Ennis. She believes that there is “something for everyone” in the industry. “You don’t need to be a genius to be successful,” she told Siliconrepublic.com last year.
Sanghi had further advice for newcomers. He is a firm believer in on-the-job learning for aspiring fintech professionals. “The best way to develop new skills is to work in the industry and gain valuable experience,” he said.
“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.”