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Ex-HSBC banker says Asian fintech start-ups shouldn’t hire millennials

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Asia fintech entrepreneurs shouldn’t try too hard to lure young banking professionals into their firms, says a former HSBC and Citi banker who now runs a Hong Kong start-up.

“Everyone thinks that once you open a fintech business in Hong Kong you instantly have access to this huge pool of millennial talent because so many young people here want to work in the sector. But this just isn’t the case,” says Ovidiu Olea, founder of Valoot Technologies, an FX company which launched earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the 20-somethings that apply for fintech jobs often just do so on a whim.

“I recently interviewed seven people in Hong Kong for an internship and asked them about their career plans. Incredibly, they all said they wanted to work for a big bank – that was an obvious turn-off and proved they had no real interest in the start-up world,” says Olea.

“I eventually hired a fantastic person who was prepared to ditch an internship at a large company to work for us. Now that shows commitment,” adds Olea, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of this week’s FST Media Future of Banking conference in Hong Kong.

At all levels, Olea says it’s important that fintech firms hire people who are “making a sacrifice” to work for them. “If there’s a sizable opportunity cost – like leaving a senior well-paid job – they’ll feel they have a true stake in the company.”

In September, for example, Valoot poached UBS director Bei Zhou as its chief operating officer.

“When I interview I look at what the person is giving up to be on my side of the table. It’s more important than technical skills because it shows they’ll give 100% on the job.”

Still, Olea says the fintech sector in Hong Kong will soon reach a point where people will “job hop” between start-ups about every two years.

“I don’t have a problem with that – if people work hard and achieve their goals within that time frame, it’s good to move on. The whole notion of ‘employment’ in financial services is on the decline anyway, and fintech is no exception.”

Olea also advises fintech companies to “staff up wisely but quickly”. The three-month notice periods that are common in the Hong Kong banking industry can be costly when early-stage start-ups need to plug urgent skills gaps.

“I initially thought I’d have more time to hire but we unexpectedly landed good pilot clients in our first four months in business and it was just me and the intern working at the time,” he says.

“You need to identify the areas you’re not strong in early on, and get staff in to help you as soon as you reasonably can. Never think you can rely on recruiting a former colleague or people from your age group – I paid for a headhunter to get me the best people, even my intern.”

Olea enjoys the master-of-own-destiny aspects of working in fintech himself.

“By contrast, in banking there are a lot of externalities – your bonus could be affected by a colleague in Panama having a bad year. And even when you finish a deal and crack the champagne, you’re never really that close to the success – it’s the cumulative product of 600 people working behind the scenes.”


Image credit: DragonImages, Getty

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