Bankers in Singapore don’t realise how tough it is to work in fintech, and start-ups should think twice before hiring them, says the boss of a local technology company.
“Unfortunately, fintech is incorrectly perceived as glamorous in Singapore, so a lot of bankers are attracted to the industry for the wrong reasons,” says Olivier Berthier, CEO at Moneythor, a firm which develops digital banking and analytics software.
“The reality is that you don’t travel business class, or have a PA, or have a stable specialist job function to perform every day. Fintech firms, like most small companies, are a stressful roller-coaster pretty much all the time,” adds Berthier, who held senior roles at software giant Misys Banking Systems before co-founding Moneythor in Singapore four years ago. “It’s not a good career choice for bored bankers seeking more excitement.”
Berthier instead likes to hire people with a software engineering background. “We’re in the enterprise software space. Even our business developers have Masters degrees in this area,” he says. “I want great engineers who can also look past the coding and understand the big picture of the customer experience we want to create.”
While Berthier worked for BNP Paribas as an IT project manager at the start of his career, he doesn’t think developers at fintech firms necessarily need banking experience.
“Technologists can get burnt out at banks. Despite many laudable initiatives in banks’ IT departments focusing on agile transformation, technologists are used to having 60 hours of meetings before they build a new feature and emailing dozens of people to get anything done,” says Berthier. “So they’re not used to being accountable for their decisions, like you have to be at a start-up.”
But if fintech firms in Singapore don’t poach from banks, where can they get their engineers from?
“It’s tough. The fintech industry faces a technical talent shortage here, although we’ve been fortunate because our business model means we haven’t needed to rapidly add lots of people,” says Berthier.
“NUS, SMU and NTU produce just a few hundred computer science grads a year. Some of the best ones go overseas, while most of the others join large companies in Singapore. Not many are interested in start-ups,” he says.
Although many fintech founders in Singapore are from overseas, it can be hard to secure employment passes for rank-and-file foreign staff, says Frenchman Berthier.
Moneythor employs about 12 people, in Singapore and in satellite offices in Paris and London.
“At the start we were just three guys who could code and who could sell to banks, so unlike a company founded by a front-office banker, we didn’t need any developers to implement our initial ideas,” says Berthier. “In six months we had something real and relatively polished to show banks.”
Berthier says this helped Moneythor start turning a profit quickly. The company is now partnering with financial services firms in Asia and Europe, including DBS.
“Success in our flavour of fintech means being a jack of all trades. You do more than one role and you often have to drop everything and focus on something more urgent,” says Berthier. “I’m the CEO and I still love to code, so I often jump in when there’s something which needs fixing or enhancing in the product, while doing sales, marketing and administrative tasks at the same time.”