Our team of consultants at T+O+M Executive has noticed a significant uptick in chatter concerning fintech. A growing number of candidates are contemplating moves into this growing area, having spent their whole career in corporate life – the grass is always greener, right?
We decided to leverage our network across both the corporate and fintech sectors, and put the power of our LinkedIn Premium recruiter license to full use (we’re recruiters, did you expect anything else?) to uncover the key things anyone thinking about making the leap ought to consider:
Little vs big
Making the switch from corporate to fintech is a harder prospect due to the significant discrepency in size and headcount of the respective sectors. Our LinkedIn list of the major Australian financial institutions and fintechs told us this, concerning headcount in Australia (Note: we are not claiming this data represents a complete and highly accurate picture of reality but we are confident these results paint a broad picture):
Seventy-nine percent of fintechs in Australia have less than 20 employees located here. The reason? There are many early-stage startups, plus a few smaller regional offices of international fintechs, and perhaps some offshoring of technical teams that further depresses Australian headcounts.
Enterprise scale businesses are constructed and organised by hierachy, separation of duty, and a system of control and governance. Politics and bureaucracy play a big role, while smaller organisations do not have the same pressures. But just as large corporations can have too much constraint, start ups can be susceptible to having too little. Either way, different working environments will suit different people, and the level of autonomy will vary from fintech to fintech.
There are three camps of financial technology businesses: early-stage startups, established fintechs and enterprise-scale corporations. This variation among fintechs is important to acknowledge, because it would be imprudent to assume that all share the same features. In fact, you could argue that established fintechs actually have more in common with the corporates, than their early-stage counterparts.
“That’s not my responsibiity” just won’t fly in a smaller fintech, particularly in early-stage startups where it’s all hands on deck. Corporations (and established fintechs to perhaps a lesser extent) generally have siloed positions where responsibilities are more clearly defined.
Do your due diligence before accepting a position. As you’d expect from startups and tech businesses, they tend to be less corporate. But clearly, culture will differ from business to business. Meet the team, and really take the time to get to know them – if you don’t, you risk leaving your corporate life for a poor fit that is doomed to fail.
Resilience, adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to work hard are a must for early-stage fintechs. Whatever sector you are in, working hours will vary depending on the nature of your role. But if you have a great work-life balance that you don’t want to give up, or perhaps you even get away with putting in minimal effort in your current role, remember there isn’t anywhere to hide in a smaller business.
If climbing the ladder is what motivates you, an early-stage fintech is probably not for you. With fewer people, there isn’t really a ladder to climb, unless the business grows rapidly.
No one wants to take a pay cut, but there are trade-offs involved in joining a startup. If you join a well-funded and established fintech, the pay is likely to be higher than an early-stage, but stock options will be less, or not offered at all. In Australia, there is not a huge number of heavily funded fintechs, so the most likely scenario is that you will have to take a pay cut, and hope to back a winner, should you get equity.
Every move in life involves a certain amount of risk, and yes, moving to an early-stage start-up has a higher element of risk. But joining a fintech will not make you any less employable.
Gaining initial experience in the growing fintech market potentially opens up a whole avenue of opportunity with other businesses in the sector. Secondly, all the major financial institutions are investing heavily into corporate innovation and digital ventures — and existing start ups — plus there are a whole host of consultancies attempting to assist corporates in spinning out their own technology startups. We have even just filled the position of ‘head of innovation and entrepreneur-in-residence’ at Westpac.
If your appetite for risk is lower, you can always look at later-stage fintechs.
Finance experience not necessary
Australian fintechs don’t seem to value corporate financial services experience that highly. We estimate that only 14% of the total Australian fintech population have previous experience working for a major Australian financial institution. It appears that fintechs are focusing on more on the ‘tech’, than the ‘fin’. Our industry insiders told us that having a digital product mindset, focus on customer experience and thinking about scalability are strong capabilities in fintech.
That said, the degree to which financial services experience is valuable probably depends on your area of expertise. Perhaps the relatively low numbers of people with financial services experience is not because fintechs aren’t interested, but because corporate workers aren’t drawn, especially if it involves a potential pay cut.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal motivation. Are you seeking a complete change, and to challenge yourself with an early-stage startup, despite the probable pay drop and longer hours? If you’re doubting your conviction but still interested in fintech, perhaps it is the established businesses that deserve your attention.
Our research suggests it isn’t an easy move, due to the disparity in size of the respective sectors. But then again, who knows how fintech will grow, and whether the expected growth will precipitate more corporate employees making the transition.
As with most things in life, time holds all the answers.
Grant Movsowitz is the co-founder and director at financial services recruitment firm T+O+M Executive.