Finance is changing at a dramatic pace – from robo-advisors to Artificial Intelligence, from big data to blockchain -, but many universities have barely adapted their finance courses, and include no reference to technology or innovation. As a Managing Director in a US bank, I saw many young graduates who felt very lost because their jobs were dramatically different from what they had learnt at school – and might even disappear in the next few years. On the other hand, I also saw some graduates who embraced technology and innovation, and were very keen to be part of the profound transformation happening in finance.
This was the theme of the interview that took place a few months ago at Fintech Revolution, a major event in Paris organised by France Fintech and that welcomed Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister. Sophie Viger, the head of the Coding Academy, asked my views about education in finance and Fintech, and I answered with my various hats of MD in a bank, mentor of young Fintech entrepreneurs, and also Resident Expert at Oxford.
I hope you’ll find the 10-minute video interesting (it’s in French, with English subtitles).
Don’t hesitate to share if you think – like me – that much needs to change in that space…
Transcript: EDUCATION AND FINTECH
Sophie Viger: Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Sophie Viger, director of the Web Academy, and I’m going to ask a few questions. I’m happy to be with Huy Nguyen Trieu, Managing Director of Citi and also working at Oxford, if I’m not mistaken.
Huy Nguyen Trieu: Yes, indeed.
Sophie: Can you tell us a little about it?
Huy: Thanks a lot. Would you mind if I do something first?
Huy:Because it’s the first time I see 500 people in fintech in Paris.
Sophie: I think you will have a little image rights issue.
Huy:I’ll send it to you.
Sophie: Dedicated by everyone!
Huy: So, let’s say I have many jobs indeed. I have a job in the morning at Citi, in London, in an investment bank, and I also have a job in the evening or at night, in which I work with fintech entrepreneurs, and for today’s discussion, I’m a Resident Expert at Oxford, where I help young students willing to launch finance projects, and I also help Oxford with their finance and innovation programs.
Sophie: Alright. Of course it’s a topic you are familiar with… So first question: according to you, why has fintech become a popular academic subject?
Huy: Well, indeed when you are in the fintech ecosystem, you have the feeling that there is a lot going on, in terms of education actually. There has been fintech classes at MIT recently, there has been classes at Wharton, lectures at Stanford. In Asia, Hong Kong University started fintech classes. At Oxford, we will start our first lectures this week. So all this makes you feel that there’s a lot going on. I think the reality is very different though, and I will give you my point of view as a banker because I see many young students joining our Graduate Programs, I see many juniors with 2, 3, 5 years of experience when mentoring entrepreneurs who did finance studies. I think the education is clearly insufficient today in terms of fintech. Let me give you an example… Sorry if the transition isn’t that great. So to prepare this talk, yesterday I did a research on the best master in finance in France, which is the HEC’s Master of International Finance*. And when you visit the HEC website and check the Master of Finance, you have in the program Asset Management, Asset Pricing Theory, etc. Thirty classes, and none of these classes involves either technology or innovation. Actually, you could have had exactly the same classes 10 or 20 years ago. When you look at the company visits, students visit firms like BNP, Goldman Sachs, very, very good institutions, but there’s nothing like Lendix, Kantox, Finexkap or any firm of this kind. So education in finance has changed very little in the last 10 or 20 years, while the world did change a lot.
* it is of course a bit unfair to single out HEC since it would be the same for many other universities…
Sophie: OK. I was about to ask you how universities, business schools and engineering schools address the new needs of startup founders in terms of education. You think that they don’t address those needs properly. Do you think they should create degree trainings dedicated to fintech?
Huy: No, I don’t think they should. In the same way, I don’t think there should be finance classes, and fintech classes. For example, if you want to work in media today, you won’t have classic, offline media and online media classes. Today, if you don’t understand online media, you don’t understand media in general. I think it’s exactly the same for finance. In finance, I think that there are many possible options. The first option, speaking about HEC again, I think that all finance classes today should have a technology and innovation layer and DNA. For instance, the first class at HEC is Asset Management. We all know that asset management is hugely impacted by technology and innovation today, so in the Asset Management class itself, there should be a solid technology and innovation proportion. The second thing is there should be specific technology and innovation classes for finance, and the third thing that is quite interesting: I met students at Vlerick, which is an MBA in Belgium. In this MBA in Belgium, students have 3 weeks of total immersion in fintech. It means that for 3 weeks they visit companies, startups, entrepreneurs, innovation leaders in banks, accelerators, which allows them to have a certain understanding of the world of fintech. They won’t become experts in 3 weeks, but what matters is… I think for anyone in finance, the most important thing is having this sensibility to technology and innovation.
Sophie: Which justifies the needs for projects and immersion to truly live the thing. OK. We can easily notice that most fintech startup founders also worked in finance, in a bank or somewhere else, and most of them are in their 40’s. Do you think it would be possible today for someone in their 20’s to become a successful startuper in this area?
Huy: I think there’s no age factor in fintech. I think one can be in fintech no matter how old they are. You’re right, there are examples of entrepreneurs who made a big career in finance and being very successful in fintech. For instance, Hugues Le Bret for Compte Nickel, Stu Taylor for Algomi have been very, very successful and they had a finance background. Today, we see people in their 30’s as well, who have been working for 3, 5, 10 years in finance or other industries, jump in and become very, very successful too. Take for example Samir Desai, head of Funding Circle, or Tom Blomfield who created GoCardless and is now the head of Mondo. These are people who have been working for 3-5 years previously, then started working in fintech. By the way, for the young people in the room, what’s interesting is that most of them have been consultants in the past. I don’t know if consulting helps launching startups or if they just got sick of it and started their own startups, but they’ve been consultants in the past. We also see people launching their fintech startups right after they graduate. That’s the case with the Collison brothers who launched Stripe, which is a huge success in fintech. There is Ollie Purdue who launched Loot, which is also working very well. I think that there is definitely no age factor and there are of course upsides and downsides for every age. However, if you are young and want to jump in, I think you definitely should. Because if we take a look at what is going on or what is going to happen in fintech, we can take as an example what happened with the internet. The companies which have been very revolutionary, as it’s today’s topic, we’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Instagram and Snapchat, have been created by young people. They haven’t been created by people my age. I think we’ll see the same thing in fintech. We’ll see companies being very successful at all levels. I think the most revolutionary companies will be led by young people freshly graduated, just because they are starting from scratch. For people of my generation, we have already learned a lot and it’s very hard to forget this knowledge. For young people, it’s a lot easier.
Sophie: Speaking of which, what would you advise to young people who would like to start working in fintech or build a startup, in terms of education? As this ecosystem is changing, should they follow a more conventional education, then have a specialty, or could they just start specific trainings dedicated to fintech?
Huy: It’s a very good question. Not easy to answer, I think. Ideally, you have to be very good in coding, in business, in marketing, etc. In artificial intelligence too. I think it’s important to understand that today’s world is totally different from mine, the world 20 years ago, meaning you make good studies, you join an industry, an organization and you spend 20-30 years in the same industry or organization, and you can have a very good career. Today, it’s a lot more complicated because we don’t know what will be the jobs of the next 10 or 20 years. So it’s a lot harder to be passive, and I think you have to be a lot more active. As a piece of advice, if I were 20, there are two things I would do. The first thing, from an education standpoint, you have to learn something, but you have to learn something you like. Just because you want to learn fintech doesn’t mean you have to code. So you really have to learn what you like on the education standpoint, and the second thing, I think it’s about the mindset. It means that to avoid being passive but be very active, for me the best quality to have today is being able to think like an entrepreneur. You don’t necessarily need to be an entrepreneur, you may work for a big company, but you have to think like an entrepreneur. And to think like an entrepreneur, you must jump in, you must try new things, launch small projects, make an internship in a startup, create your own startup, etc. There are many things to do, but you have to start. I see many people with a lot of ideas, but never start, and starting in is the hardest part.
Sophie: Alright, you might need the qualities of an entrepreneur in a more fundamental way, then follow your sensibility, whether you prefer finance or the technical side, and finally add in the missing bricks to have a full experience.
Sophie: OK. Thank you a lot. Thank you Huy for all this information. I hope you will come to my school soon to talk about fintech. I’m interested.
Huy: It would be my pleasure. Thank you, Sophie.
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