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“I was an outsider who made MD at Citigroup before quitting for fintech. This is how to survive in banking now”

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I spent 13 years in an investment bank, but never totally felt like a banker. I didn’t come through the usual graduate recruitment programme, or join an associate after an MBA, but instead switched into banking after five years as a technology entrepreneur.

I’ve therefore always had a different view about the trading floor than most of my peers, and what skills I’d need to survive in the long-term. Since joining in 2003, I’ve held many different roles – starting out at Societe Generale, then Royal Bank of Scotland and finally spending around five years as a managing director and head of insurance structuring at Citigroup in London.

That was my day job. But I also spent my evenings getting involved with fintech start-ups, mentoring entrepreneurs and lecturing at universities including Oxford Saïd Business School and Imperial College. I always wondered if I’d leave to go it alone again, and last year I quit to help build the Googles in finance, through my firm the Disruptive Group.

I’m a nerd at heart, and I love the beating heart of the financial system – from collateral management to asset liability management – but I’ve always been drawn to the disruptive elements of finance and love being an entrepreneur. Therefore, I might have a more objective view on how banking is changing and what you need to learn in order to survive. This is not a guide on how to switch into fintech, but instead the skills you’ll need in order to stay relevant and find exciting opportunities as banking transforms.

1. Resilience

It wasn’t so long ago that investment banks were subjecting their employees to resilience training. There’s a good reason for this – investment banking, whether you’re in IBD or on the trading floor, is a cut-throat industry and the job has a massive amount of stress attached to it. Around 1% of people make it to MD, so clearly there’s a lot of pressure. I spent five years running my own business, and my first impression of the trading floor was how easy it was! There’s constant pressure as an entrepreneur – fear of not being able to pay employees, no resources, the fear of going under. In finance, it’s different, there’s always the pressure to “perform” – learn to handle it.

2. Seize the initiative

This is the biggest change over the past 15 years. Careers used to be linear, as long as you performed – analyst to associate, VP, director and MD for the lucky few. This is not the case anymore, and it’s not because banks have stopped promoting people.

The industry is changing so quickly that the whole idea of simply climbing the ladder just doesn’t work any more. A friend of mine runs trading for a major bank. In 2010, there were 140 traders on his team. Today, his team of four algorithmic traders manages 70% of the global business. Even being an outstanding trader in that team didn’t help anyone’s career. You need to anticipate how the industry is changing and adapt.

Since 2008, two main changes are profoundly impacting the industry: regulation and technology. When you take charge of your career, you need to understand this. For example, what role do you want to have as a research analyst in light of MIFID? How do you want to be positioned in compliance when regulators are focusing on Regtech?

3. Understand the impact of technology

Technology is the main reason why your job will be disrupted over the next five years. This means taking responsibility for your career, viewing technology not as a threat but something that can enhance your knowledge of financial services. For example, the trend for automated trading will not stop, why not take that as an opportunity and help design the next trading systems? Banks will continue using more and more data – just like J.P. Morgan rolling out Mosaic. This is a great opportunity to combine your understanding of finance and technology, help your organisation be more efficient, and work on exciting projects.

ICOs have raised more money than Venture Capital in 2017, Goldman Sachs is redesigning its model around APIs, UBS is automating tasks in middle office with Machine Learning. If you don’t understand what is behind Blockchain, ICO, Machine Learning or APIs, you need to start learning now.

Huy Nguyen Trieu is CEO of the Disruptive Group and co-founder of the CFTE (Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship) and the former head of macro structuring at Citigroup in London. His firm has just launched Around Fintech in 8 hours: an online course of 16 modules with video lectures and readings from 20 Fintech CEOs and heads of innovation from the US, Europe and Asia. 

Contact for news, tips and comments: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

Image: Getty Images

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