Skip to content

How to win the fintech talent war

Kelvin Lee
Kelvin Lee
Director, Social Media for Financial & Risk

A fintech talent war is pitching corporations against startups in pursuit of the AI skills required for the digital transformation of financial services. Our #RefinitivSocial100 thought leaders discuss hiring, retaining and educating data science talent.

  1. Thought leaders from the #RefinitivSocial100 discuss the skills challenges surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) and innovation in financial services.
  2. Xavier Gomez, co-founder of INVYO, says the fintech talent war is exacerbated by the education system, which is unable to produce enough students with AI skills.
  3. Corporate governance expert David Doughty highlights the disconnect between the c-suite and data scientists in their perceptions of AI.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have made hiring and retaining the best fintech talent one of the most pressing challenges facing the financial services sector today.

This race to attract the right skills is exacerbated because corporates and startups search for the same profile within a limited pool of fintech talent. It’s also apparent that the education system is not geared to producing thousands of students with the required AI skills.

And to make matters worse, there’s often a disconnect between the AI perceptions of the c-suite and those within the data science workforce.

How to win the fintech talent war. At the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast
Ben Shepherd, Chief Strategy Officer, Refinitiv, introduces the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast

Who better to ask about some of these challenges than members of our #RefinitivSocial100?

The #RefinitivSocial100 are thinkers, conversation starters and connection-makers who create insightful content, share up-to-the-minute news and drive topical debate on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Their number includes CEOs, startup founders, keynote speakers, technologists, practitioners, and change-makers.

Here is what they’ve had to say about the fintech talent war:

JC Gaillard, founder and MD of London-based cyber security firm Corix Partners, highlighted that the current problem is not about hiring talent but retaining talent, as well as how the business operates as a whole.

He said: “Acquiring talent to build AI is only one aspect of the problem, retaining it is equally important and that revolves around leadership.

Personal leadership (i.e. the quality and nature of the interaction with the leaders; people leave if they feel ignored or undervalued) and thought-leadership (i.e. the cutting edge nature of the work and the tangible nature of the value it creates; people leave if the job is boring or feels useless).

To me, a lot of this relates to the way you build the data-driven (AI-driven) organization.

Do you build the data skills and the data talent pool within the business units? (agile and close to the coal face, but with the risk of duplicating efforts) or do you draw from a centralized pool? (more cost-effective but bigger and mechanically more rigid).

My gut feeling goes with business alignment.”

Developing the fintech skills

Xavier Gomez, co-founder of Paris-based INVYO, which develops cutting-edge business intelligence tools, agreed that the struggle was in retaining talent (both new and current employees), but also pointed out that the education system needs changing:

“The corporates and startups are facing a double challenge ahead with digital transformation.

First, corporates and startups must attract the best talent and keep them, and in the meantime, they must sharpen the skills of current employees to adopt digital transformation and artificial intelligence.

Moreover, all sectors are concerned by the digital transformation that increases the pressure to develop a real corporate policy for the talent from HR departments.

We must adapt our educational system to provide the right skills concerning our students.

Our educational system was not prepared to face a skill you can learn by yourself, by Coursera or by developer community (geek community) on the web. How therefore can companies select the right people when they don’t have the skills themselves?” 

Competing for fintech talent

Xavier also pointed out that competition between companies is impacted by them all looking for the same skills.

He said: “We should not forget that competition to attract talent is exacerbated because corporates and startups search the same profile. Our educational system was not prepared to produce thousands of student with AI skills. 

Corporates promise good salary and perspectives, but the reality is different.

Most of the students are disappointed by their jobs after a few months. They are given tasks asking for use of VBA [a programming language] or Excel, but nothing regarding their quality of coding or data science knowledge, because their bosses are old fashioned. 

The main reason is due to the top management, who wish to carry out policies of digital transformation but who have forgotten to form management which executes the orders of the top management (creation of Datacenter, innovation, and transformation departments).

The fact that fintech hubs are competing against each other is the best guarantee to have a healthy development of this young and innovative industry, but the regulator has to protect the individual customers using fintech services.”

How to win the fintech talent war. At the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast
David Doughty (@daviddoughty), Susanne Chishti, (@SusanneChishti) and Neira Jones (@neirajones) at the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast

Different perceptions of AI

Corporate governance expert David Doughty suggests that the war for talent has been exacerbated by the limited amount of people who understand AI and the amount of true AI being done by big banks vs. startups:

He said: The Refinitiv AI report highlighted the disconnect between c-suite and data scientist perceptions of AI.

We have talked about the propensity for executives to buy into the latest buzzwords such as ‘blockchain’ and ‘AI’, leaving the people down in the engine room to do the more mundane tasks of implementing this new shiny stuff – which in the case of AI is more likely to be the automation of manual processes rather than anything more advanced such as machine learning or AI.

And the advanced stuff is more likely to be done in the fintech and regtech startups rather than in-house in the banks and other financial institutions.

So what that means is that there will be a bidding war for anyone with remotely any AI experience/qualifications at similar eye-watering salary levels to quants, but recruits will find that there is either no or very little cutting-edge AI being done in the big behemoths.

It’s all happening in the startups and challenger banks — so being millennials they will leave and go where the action is even if this means taking a significant pay-cut — thus exacerbating the shortage of AI people wanting to work for the big boys.”

How to win the fintech talent war. At the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast
JC Gaillard (@Corix_JC) and Amanda West, Global Head of Innovation Enablement, Refinitiv in discussion at the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast

Managing the fintech talent war

During the #RefinitivSocial100 London breakfast, we asked fintech speaker Liz Lumley the same question and she shared how her business is managing this challenge.

To summarize, our experts noted that while a fintech talent war was apparent thanks to the advances in AI and its impact on finserv companies, a number of other issues have also arisen such as retaining and educating future talent.

How is machine learning impacting the financial services industry? Download our report.