Part Two: Fin & Tonic - The Battle for Talent in Fintech

By Charlotte Gréant*, Business Manager of B-Hive New York

Did you miss part one of this two-part blog series? Check it out here!

After a loud applause, it was time for the panel, which consisted of a diverse foursome and a brilliant moderator from the startup and finance world. To make it digestible for our readers, I’ve summarized the debate in a couple of key questions and answers below: 

In your experience partnering with Universities and Citi Labs, what are you seeing as some of the most prevalent trends and skills sets that new entrants into the fintech world are increasingly needing in order to be successful? 

According to Nikhil, new recruits need to be able to: 

1.         Understand the big picture 

“Think about the pain point you’re trying to solve, rather than merely focusing on the technology behind it.”   

2.                  Connect the dots 

“Understand the process and be able to formulate a concise value proposition.”   

3.                  Implement ideas 

“Which requires a type of strategic thinking that goes beyond a pure banking or pure startup mindset. Make sure you have multiple avenues available to execute and identify the person(s) in the organization that can help you implement your vision.” 


In your experience as a business partner at SWIFT, a global cooperative with 3000 employees worldwide, how do you, and more broadly the big financial institutions in this world, retain talent? 

Ignace explains there are three important things to focus on: 

1.    Create the right company culture and growth paths 

“Today, a career path is less about well-calculated steps that can only be taken in a particular order and more about never-ending opportunities for growing knowledge through multiple experiences in different fields.” 

2.       Be innovative 

“Whether you own innovation projects in-house or work with external parties, make sure to invest in it. Not only your business will benefit from it but it attracts and retains talent.”  

3.       Create a great physical working environment 

“The era of the cubicles is over, make sure your employees feel good where they work.” 


In your experience as a recruiter at a top global executive search firm in the space of fintech, what are some of the emerging trends you see top companies searching for in a candidate when they are trying to hire from startups to the corporate world or vice versa? 

Since Kari is at the heart of the research around these fintech expectations she takes on the question:  

“It’s a big mess out there! The startups have an ever-growing need for candidates who have experience in a big traditional tech or finance company because of their skills and knowledge, but they aren’t always attracted to their profile because they fear the executives will not be able to adapt to a smaller, entrepreneurial environment with fewer resources. On the other side, traditional financial institutions look for the atypical hires, passionate starters, but then they don’t allow them to be as innovative and think outside the box.” 


In terms of real estate, we know that workplace/space and amenities are some of the most relevant factors in a candidate’s decision to join an organization especially in the fintech, corporate and startup spaces. What do you see as some of the trends or leading efforts to attract talent in this regard? 

Andrew comments: 

1. Recruitment and retention of talent go hand-in-hand with real estate and are the number one priority on the C-suite agenda. We usually talk to the c-suite, because recruiting and retaining talent is the very first thing on every leader's mind today.” 

2. Companies need a workplace strategy 

“Today’s built environment needs to have a current design, Newmark begins most real estate assignments with a comprehensive workplace strategy that focuses on people, on how space is utilized, what the functions of certain spaces are and how you see these spaces evolve in the future.” 

3. Demographics drive decision making around office locations 

“Demographics are now really starting to drive decision making around where a company locates, while companies in New York used to be close to a primary commuter rail and driving route - companies now realize that New York millennials prefer urban living. They come from Brooklyn by bike or take the subway from Queens or FiDi or PATH lines from Hoboken/Jersey City. So now companies choose to locate near major subway hubs such as Union Square, Fulton Center or PATH trains and are less reliant on proximity to Penn Station or Grand Central Station. JPMorgan's digital headquarters, for example, made its new home at 5 Manhattan West and not on Park Avenue, which they could’ve easily done. They didn’t want this new generation to sit next to investment banking culture in their suits and ties. They wanted the millennials to be in their own world, create their own culture and enable them to do what they need to do, to be creative.” 

4. Flexibility  

“Companies need to think through the correct ratios around how many collaboration spaces and conference room seats they’ll want, the headcount they’ll need in 2 or 3 years and prepare for hyper-growth or unexpected layoffs. And C-suites need to consider that millennials don’t always work a traditional nine to five workday, some of them come in early and leave early, others want to work 11 am to 11 pm. You need to put systems in place to make this work, and you’ll need technology to support it.” 


How can you nurture your existing employees for this new skill set you’ll need to go from a traditional to a more agile work environment? 

1.  “Use tools to measure intrinsic motivation and act on them” - Kari 

“We provide organizations with assessment tools that provide insight into an employee’s traits and drivers. This will enable a company to better understand how to position that employee for success and longer-term growth within the organization. Then you’ll want to make sure you have right processes in place to guide your employees towards that dream career.” 

2. “You just have to jump” - Ignace 


“I agree that you need to try to understand your people,” Ignace replies in response to Kari’s argument, “but if you have 3,000 employees and take into account the diversity per office and the cultural differences across your global offices, you’d need to have one hell of a questionnaire to get to the core of what your workforce really wants and needs. In my opinion, you just must take the plunge. Get your management team on board, be agile, take decisions. Regardless of what you try to do or what survey results guide you, there will always be a small percentage of people that will complain. My advice would be to not try to reinvent the wheel. Open your eyes and see what’s out there, try to copy those great ideas and see what works and doesn’t work for your company." 


How do you see the battle for talent in fintech evolving over the next 5 to 10 years?

Nikil points out three of the main trends he’s expecting: 

1. The Amazons of the world will soon start intervening with fintech 

“We’ve seen that the Amazons of the world are starting to snatch up great fintech talent, it’s happening quietly, under the radar but we’re now really starting to feel that companies who weren’t focusing on finance, tech and fintech before, are hiring in our space. So, we basically know in which direction their minds and strategies are headed. So, we’ll soon need to address the question: how do we prepare for the battle of talent against them?” 

2. Let startup talent grow into your core organization 

“From an HR point of view, we have a variety of innovation labs through which we have tons of talent entering the company, and we want to graduate this talent into our business. Make sure these bright minds evolve from our innovation arms, into the actual organization.” 

3. Provide a clear growth path 

“Thirdly I’d like to add to Ignace’s point that fintech talent, especially millennials, want to understand where they could take their career if they stay at your company. Nothing needs to be set in stone but the opportunities to advance are important factors for employees to take into account and employers should make a point of this when trying to recruit.” 

Then the others join in:

4. Let your employees work for multiples companies at the same time 

Ignace adds: “Literature states that the ideal is to be employed by one company, stay there, and figuratively die there. That’s obviously not correct anymore. Why would we stay at the same job, the same company for 40 years? Let’s even take it one step further. Why would we even work for only one company at the time? Have you ever considered the insights, knowledge and motivation you’d have if you work ten hours per week for one company, let’s say an Amazon, and 20 hours at a bank? I don’t want to claim this would be possible for all functions and businesses, but a majority of your employees and companies could benefit from such an approach." 

Kari intervenes: 

“Well I’m not sure, employees only get super effective after 12 to 18 months in a role.  They need to learn the business, how to work across functions or matrixes, and how internal decisions are made. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to get the full potential out. But I do agree it would be interesting to move from fin to tech and tech to fin throughout your career. It’s interesting when a bank hires a tech person when the tech person is not used to all the rules and regulations. When a former bank employee goes into tech they are amazed by all the possibilities. I believe it’s a great thing for people to move in between these roles. Ultimately, the employee will be more knowledgeable and the company will benefit.  

We’ll still need headhunters

Kari points out that: “there’s a big change happening in the dynamic of recruiting - up till 5 years ago, no one wanted to own recruiting, everyone outsourced it. Now many companies want to own this process internally, they want to be in full control and only come to us when they have trouble finding a certain profile. Then they think we always have that perfect hire sitting in our back pocket.”

However, Ignace states: “I believe we’ll even need to get more headhunters in the future because we can only automate so much. In the real war for talent, we will all fight for a couple of top-notch candidates out there. The candidates are going to give their conditions on which they want to work and employers are going to have to cede. Because you’ll need 5-star players to do the work that 100 mediocre employees used to do. The bad news is that we’ll all be looking for those 5 smart ones, and it will be a battle, for sure.” 

And with that, everyone started applauding and raising their glass - because yes - we’ve got some pretty exciting times ahead of us. 

Hope to see you at our next Fin & Tonic! 

*In close cooperation with Charlotte Driessen

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