Is a career in FinTech for you?
The FinTech industry is growing rapidly worldwide, and Australia is in a great position to continue capitalising on this. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 6 months, which would be understandable given the recent Covid situation, you will have noticed a few Australian companies making huge waves; Afterpay, AirWallex, Openpay, Zip etc… the list goes on.
And, if you look at how the tech and digital industry has been growing over the last decade, it’s huge. There are several reasons for this, not least the relative ease at which you can now start a software company. You don’t need an office, or many staff, a physical server, or infrastructure of any sort, you don’t even need to be able to code. You can buy all of these ‘as a service’ and spin something up within days, not months or years. Clearly, there have been many ideas that have failed, some miserably, and the reality is that many of the more obvious innovations have been done to death. Some of the simplest ideas have been the best. Buy Now, Pay Later firms reinventing the layby concept is a prime example.
The next target sector has been the more heavily regulated and license dependant areas of finance and insurance. Even RegTech is disrupting how we measure, control, and ultimately enhance regulations. It has never been easier to tackle complexity and apply technology in such a way that we compartmentalise and simplify what was traditionally very cumbersome processes. Some may say, made more complex and foreboding on purpose, to protect the ‘professionals’ who knew best, and who could charge for their expertise.
These days, FinTechs can even get around much of the complexity by partnering with existing solution providers who have already done the hard yards and who can offer services ‘as a service’. They are not reinventing the wheel each time, but iterating and making things simpler by using existing know-how.
So, would you want to work for a FinTech?
Many people say that working for 1 year in a growing FinTech is the equivalent of working for 3 years in a traditional finance organisation. Things move far quicker; you have to adapt and pivot frequently, the need to think laterally and make decisions and execute faster is paramount. The learning curve can be incredibly steep, and incredibly rewarding. The lean structures usually provide the opportunity to work on things you’re not an expert in which is great for personal growth and building a diversified set of skills. The variety can also give you a better sense of what you might want to specialise in and the chance to try something different. For example, I know plenty of traditional technologists who have been able to move into product roles, and it seems far easier for CIOs to become CEOs in this area, but I’ll leave that topic for another time.
Often getting hired becomes more about a mindset than a particular set of skills or knowledge of specific technology. Working at a FinTech, or any other start-up/scale-up, is normally about finding the best solution to a complex problem, and making solid decisions, quickly. Failing fast is acceptable and learning from your mistakes becomes part and parcel of daily life. Not all good decisions result in a good outcome, but nearly all bad decisions will result in a bad outcome.
But is it for everyone?
Of course, you still have to do the usual due diligence; Is there adequate funding in place, are the leaders experienced in the area (not mandatory for success, but it helps) and if it is a completely new product or service, stop and have a think – would you buy it, what is the size of the potential market? Is it a sustainable business model?
You must also consider the predominantly flatter structure in most FinTechs. The old hierarchy and layers of management don’t usually exist so if you loved to climb the corporate ladder, you may find yourself disappointed at the lack of rungs. That said, great ideas and individual contribution tend to be recognised and rewarded, so progression can be faster, and taking on more responsibility is possible without having to move up a grade, a huge positive for self-starters. You’ll also be measured more on innovation and customer outcomes than old school KPI’s and how many soy lattes you’ve bought your boss over the last year. You also don’t tend to get silos or be told ‘that’s how it’s always been done’. Hallelujah!
However, fast-paced, ever-changing environments are not for everyone. You may prefer more structured learning and development pathways, which aren’t usually as clear in smaller companies, and there is often more ambiguity about your exact responsibilities and tasks. Bear in mind that smaller teams also often means doing more with less and the boundaries of roles blurring far more than normal, at least while the company grows. This can provide an excellent environment to enhance your breadth of experience and improve your resourcefulness, but it can also be exhausting.
Is that for you?