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My Asian fintech start-up went from two to 2,800 staff in just four years. Here’s how

Starting with two staff

Starting with two staff

You quit your stable job to set up a fintech firm, you hire a few junior developers but you keep your headcount as low as possible as your costs mount.

It may be the traditional path for a fintech entrepreneur, but it’s not one that Kevin Guo, co-CEO of Dianrong.com, now one of China’s leading online finance companies, chose to follow.

Guo launched the peer-to-peer lender only four years ago with partner Soul Htite, co-founder of American P2P company Lending Club. Now he employs 2,800 people across 26 offices in China, and he’s still recruiting.

Back in 2012 Guo was a successful Shanghai lawyer, but says he’s “always been entrepreneurial”. “I’d founded businesses in advertising, consulting and early-learning, but it was too hard to properly focus on them when I was working full time, so for Dianrong I had to leave my job,” says Guo, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the FT Asia Banking Forum in Singapore.

Aided by crowd-funding finance from Silicon Valley, Guo and Htite started building a management team. “We didn’t have experience recruiting and managing hundreds of staff, so we hired senior people from the banking sector to help us expand step by step.”

Dianrong continues to attract banking talent and made three big hires earlier this year. Loh Long Hsiang, the former deputy head of China origination and client coverage at Standard Chartered, joined the firm as chief operating officer. Dianrong also poached Feng Ruibin from Ping An Puhui Finance as its chief credit officer, and HSBC China general counsel Zhou Lili became its new board secretary and general counsel.

“There’s a boom in fintech in China as there are lots of products that we can offer which banks can’t. So if you’re a banker, why not join a fintech firm? Careers in banking aren’t what they used to be – salaries are being cut, the golden days are over,” says Guo.

Dianrong and rival online lenders such as Alibaba’s Ant Financial and Tencent’s WeBank are tapping growing demand from consumers and corporates who would otherwise struggle to get finance from traditional banks.

Guo says the sector’s growth means it hasn’t been difficult to hire 2,800 people over the past four years. Of the current headcount, about 2,000 work in sales, 400 in technology, and the remainder in call centres and support roles.

“Sales recruitment went particularly well because we were able to recruit highly-qualified people who’d worked for the hundreds of other peer-to-peer platforms in China. They could see that we were expanding and they wanted to come to us,” says Guo.

This year, however, the Chinese government has introduced new rules to better regulate the country’s more than 2,000 peer-to-peer lenders in the wake of a series of fraud scandals.

“Recently P2P has received bad press in China and this will affect candidates’ opinions about some of the other players in the industry. I believe 90% of firms won’t make it,” says Guo. “But Dianrong is a big established organisation now – this won’t impact our ability to recruit.”

Guo says he’s “not bothered” what his employees studied at university. “I don’t care about how good your technical accounting skills are, for example. Curiosity is one of the key traits I see in my most successful staff – I want you to have an open mind as that makes you better able to work with data.”

“I also want people who are risk takers and innovators – even for compliance and legal jobs – and won’t automatically say no but will offer solutions,” he adds.

Guo’s taste in candidates can be traced back to his own career philosophy. “Taking risks and being successful makes me feel alive, but in China the education system doesn’t encourage entrepreneurship. Perhaps if I’d gone to Stanford I would have left my job in my 20s rather than my 30s.”

He says that moving from a bank to a fintech firm, even a large successful one, isn’t for everyone. “The people who join us from the banks do so once they get to know how the banking sector really works. Then they start to lose hope that they’ll ever get to change things at a bank – so their only hope is to join us. But if you want a stable life in China, go ahead and join a bank.”


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