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How to solve Hong Kong’s big tech skill shortage, by Stan Chart CIO

Paul Wan CIO Hong Kong Standard Chartered

Hong Kong banks can attract more techies to their ranks by pointing to the “exciting” senior jobs they could land if they stay in the banking sector, says Standard Chartered’s chief information officer for Hong Kong.

Technologists could one day be running different departments throughout large banks in the city, says Paul Wan, speaking to eFinancialCareers on the sidelines of the FST Media Future of Banking conference in Hong Kong.

“It’s become common to talk about the shortage of talent in banking technology in Hong Kong and I’d echo that,” says Wan. “But it’s not that we’re short of smart people, it’s that the smart people are spread across many sectors.”

Top graduates in Hong Kong traditionally chose industries such as medicine, law and investment banking, which offered high pay and instant parental approval. “Tech jobs weren’t really on the radar, and the problem was compounded by the big tech companies not doing much development work in Hong Kong,” says Wan.

He says young people’s attitudes towards IT careers are now changing, but it might take another five years before Hong Kong universities start producing enough technology and computer science graduates. “We can always tap talent from outside Hong Kong until then – the government recognises the importance of allowing these people to move here.”

The need for banks to maintain and replace vast legacy systems makes it “difficult for us to compete with pure IT firms that only use new technology”, say Wan. “But we can attract techies who also have an interest in finance, which is one of Hong Kong’s most dynamic sectors.”

To tackle skill shortages and competition from technology companies, banks in Hong Kong need to better promote the “exciting career options” open to technologists in their sector.

“You can carry on in banking-tech jobs long term, but you can also move into business roles at the bank,” he explains. “These tech-to-business moves will become increasingly common. We could see more senior leaders in banking coming from a tech background – even CEOs could be former CIOs.”

Having a grounding in technology will open more doors in banking in the near future. “I’m not sure the percentage of staff working directly in tech at banks will increase, but more people throughout the business will definitely need tech skills within their jobs. Business and technology skills should no longer be in silos,” says Wan.

The challenge facing his and other large banks is to educate employees, including senior management, to be “tech bilingual”, he adds.

“We must equip management with enough knowledge about emerging technologies – like blockchain, for example – so they can discuss it with a client and give us a business case for it,” says Wan. “It shouldn’t be ‘we have blockchain, so let’s use it on this project’. The business case for using it must come first.”

Standard Chartered is pushing more tech education for its staff and held a blockchain training event in Hong Kong last month.

“While Singapore is our largest centre for fintech innovation, we have our Supercharger fintech accelerator programme in Hong Kong. This lets us try out ideas for markets in North Asia, especially Hong Kong,” says Wan. “We’re encouraging employees to participate as mentors for the finalists of the Supercharger – not just technical programmers, but also people from the business.”

Most of Stan Chart’s developers and other IT staff are centralised in locations like Singapore (where the firm is recruiting 300 techies this year), Malaysia, China and India. “But we’re hiring locally in Hong Kong too – in particular in compliance and cyber-security related tech jobs.”

Wan is also confident about Hong Kong’s future as a base for fintech companies. “Hong Kong is a comparatively small consumer market, but it has significant advantages for start-ups and scale-ups wanting to seize the opportunities in this dynamic region.”

“For example, our regulatory framework is very close to Western models, so it’s a good springboard and test-bed for start-ups – both local and foreign – that eventually want to go into and out of China,” he says. “There’s also the size of the financial sector – Hong Kong has about 150 banks that fintech firms can potentially work with.”

Image credit: Standard Chartered

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