Software is still eating the world. Finance is no exception. You’ve probably heard a lot about fintech, but it isn’t a separate, new industry. It’s a natural extension of finance, and it’s how we’ll all manage more of our personal financial lives over time – in the same way we use technology to manage many other aspects of our lives.
Airbnb isn’t a hotel company; it’s a tech company that solves a problem around accommodation. Deliveroo isn’t a catering company; it’s a tech company that solves a problem around dinner. Spotify isn’t a music company; it’s a tech company that solves a problem around listening to songs.
Fintech is where technology companies solve problems that exist around your money – like Monzo, Transferwise, GoCardless, Stripe, Nutmeg, Xero and many more.
Technology is a tool that we use to do things better – more efficiently, more personalised, faster. To offer better services and products. The companies of the future will become tech companies by default, and those financial institutions that don’t leverage technology will fall behind.
What can I do in fintech?
In fintech companies all the usual functions exist: marketing, HR, customer support, finance, design, legal… You’ll also generally find the functions that you’d expect in a traditional finance company: risk, compliance, underwriting and so on.
You’ll also find a product team: in fintech companies these are generally made up of software engineers, data scientists, business analysts, product managers and web or mobile developers. If the company solves a problem for businesses, there’s likely a sales or business development team and some account managers.
You won’t find an ‘innovation’, ‘strategy’ or ‘digital’ team. The new generation of banks, finance, insurance companies – the ones that will succeed, anyway – have a culture of innovation embedded. ‘Innovation’ is part of the job requirements – it is business as usual. Doing is innovating. It’s your responsibility to improve and develop processes, not just to follow what everyone else in the industry does.And why no digital team? Imagine a traditional company having a paper team that handles everything that relates to paper! It’s not a useful way to organise a digital business. That said, you’ll often find software engineers either in a technology function or embedded in every cross-functional team in the business.
Why work in fintech?
Fintech companies offer innovation through their products and this is reflected in the work environment.
Fintech companies tend to be smaller and less rigid than the incumbent financial services companies, which has some drawbacks (e.g. the company is likely to be less stable and have a higher risk of failing). However, there are also a lot of advantages!
- Autonomy – you will often join a fintech company in a role that is relatively loosely defined. You’ll quickly become the expert in a particular area of the business, and you’re much more likely to have autonomy over how you spend your time and the decisions that are made.
- Complexity – in a tech-enabled company, the straightforward repeatable tasks get automated quickly. This means the work that people spend their time doing tends to be complex, intellectually stimulating and have an impact on the business.
- Connection between effort and reward – in a fintech company, you’ll generally be one of a few people doing a role – so your hard work will clearly be attributable to you. Most fintech companies also offer stock options, so if the company’s successful then there’s a genuine financial payoff for your contribution to its growth!
What skills and qualifications do I need?
Each job will have its own required skills or experience, but there are some attributes that will equip you well in the fintech world regardless of the specific role you’re applying for:
- An interest in technology – not necessarily coding skills, but an interest in the way that people interact with the services and products that they need, and an understanding of the ways in which we can use technology to deliver a better experience to the people using this product.
- Empathy – both for your team, and the people who use the product or service your company provides. If you understand and empathise with the people that you work with, and the people that you’re working for, you will contribute to creating something better.
- Intellectual flexibility – software is eating the world because it’s faster. Being able to think quickly and adjust your approach when the situation changes is crucially important in a fast-moving culture. There’s often ambiguity, so if you have the intellectual flexibility to handle this by resolving it or making decisions based on incomplete data you’re
well-equipped to work in the industry.
You don’t necessarily need a degree, or a background in finance. At Monzo, many of our team have never worked in a financial institution before. Many have no prior experience working in technology, either. Coming from a non-traditional background is something we value deeply at Monzo – we actively seek people who bring a new perspective. Our best work comes from combining deep industry knowledge of how things are done with a creative approach unencumbered by legacy thinking. Succeeding is about the skills you have – of collaborating, reasoning, executing, making sensible decisions, digesting and summarising information – combined with a few core attributes like those listed above.
Maria Campbell is Head of People at Monzo. She has 5+ years developing people strategy at successful fintech startups, and has grown high–performing teams from 20 people to 80. Maria has degrees in Philosophy and American Literature.