Techies don’t always want to work in Hong Kong banking. Here’s why they should

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Techies don’t always want to work in Hong Kong banking. Here’s why they should

Employers in the finance sector in Hong Kong increasingly need to hire more technologists. But getting the right tech talent on board is far from straightforward.

This year financial institutions in Hong Kong are repeatedly asking me: “Are the technologists we need even available?” My answer tends to be: “Yes, but many of your competitors also want to recruit them”.

As blockchain, AI and other emerging technologies become ever more prevalent in Hong Kong finance, demand for specialist tech candidates is heating up and firms have to offer more – both financially and in terms of career development – to prospective employees.

Even though Hong Kong is a large city and financial centre, its technology skills shortages feel like they are getting worse – at least for financial services firms.

In technology, in contrast to many other job functions, financial institutions in Hong Kong are competing globally for talent. For starters, they face competition from traditional rivals such as London and New York. But now they are also trying to hire similar people as the Chinese tech firms – led by of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – who are routinely hoovering up experienced techies and top students from domestic universities.

Meanwhile, as in other global cities, there is much work to be done to encourage women, in particular, to enter the financial technology industry in Hong Kong. And as in other parts of Asia, parents often need to be convinced that technology is a viable job for their children. ‘Tiger-moms’ still have a lot of influence over the career choices of their children, and many of them favour professionals like law, medicine and front-office investment banking.

In short, we need to build a larger financial technology talent base in Hong Kong – not just developers and engineers, but also fintech entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.

So, what are the positives that we can emphasise to candidates to bolster their interest in being part of Hong Kong’s financial technology scene?

The government and private sectors in Hong Kong have already made massive strides in making the city an innovation hub for both large banks and fintech start-ups. Incubation and accelerator facilities are encouraging new firms to establish themselves here and test new ideas.

The establishment of alternative financial services – such as peer-to-peer lending, equity crowd-funding and innovative ways of making loans and investment available to small businesses – are creating a viable fintech ecosystem across the city.

This ecosystem is expected to grow significantly in the next five years. Financial services companies in Hong Kong will be able to capitalise on what innovative fintech startups will develop in the regulatory sandbox and the fintech innovation hub, two initiatives being jointly driven by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute.

Significantly, Hong Kong is already the leading asset management and private equity centre in Asia. And as China liberalises its financial markets, Hong Kong-based financial institutions are well placed to take advantage. Growth across the wider financial sector will increase the amount of innovative financial technology jobs available here in Hong Kong and will make the city more attractive to candidates.

What kind of technology jobs are likely to be more in demand in the near future? For starters, there’s data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, algorithms and quantitative finance, regtech, wealthtech, payments, blockchain, insurtech, and crypto-currencies, particularly for remittances.

There will also be continued appetite for professionals within digital development, marketing, analytics, cyber security, access management, telecommunications, connectivity, and technology risk and compliance. And it’s not just buy-side and sell-side firms that are recruiting – consulting companies are also strengthening their expertise across all the above functions.

A crucial next step in Hong Kong’s development as a financial technology centre will be adjusting the regulatory framework here to give greater clarity to businesses looking to set up in the city and to bring rules into line with new business practices, while continuing to offer strong investor and consumer protection.

Hong Kong is perfectly situated, geographically and in terms of market and infrastructure maturity, to capitalise on the opportunities that emerging technologies are generating in the finance sector. The future for fintech here is bright, as long as we can nurture and attract the talent.

Warwick Pearmund is the co-chair of the talent and diversity committee of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong. He is also associate director, financial and emerging technologies APAC, at Pure Search.

Image credit: lesleywang2015, Getty

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