Is a Fintech Career Right for You?

Fintech—short for financial technology—refers to using technology to improve how the financial industry works. It’s a dynamic field that includes everything from crowdfunding to mobile payments to fraud detection, and it’s full of opportunities. At the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Chicago, a panel of MBA alumnae and company representatives provided an inside look at what it’s like to work in fintech.

Liz Arnold, associate director of high tech, entrepreneurship, and venture capital at Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, moderated the discussion between:

  • Tara Fung, vice president of enterprise business at CommonBond
  • Beverly Rah, project manager of the strategy leadership program at Discover Financial Services
  • Jessica Harmon, director of consumer lending – market strategy at TransUnion

What Is Fintech All About?

As new technologies are developed, fintech will continue to evolve, but for now, there are two main components to it. Jessica Harmon said, “The first one is in the name. It’s using technology to enable financial transactions.” She offered the example of people using Venmo or PayPal to give money to a friend instead of going to an ATM.

“The other aspect of financial technology, which is more where we play at TransUnion, is the data aspect of it,” she said, explaining that data can be used to cross-sell or to mitigate risk.

When people think of financial services, they tend to think about making money, but Beverly Rah pointed out that finance also helps people have an amazing life. She said, “What I think is super cool about fintech is its ability to shape society for good.”

She mentioned a program in Africa where farmers use blockchain technology to track their transactions, and financial service providers and their suppliers use that blockchain information to evaluate the farmers’ creditworthiness.

Preparing for a Fintech Career

A fintech career may seem intimidating if you don’t have a strong background in tech and/or finance, but don’t let self-doubt hold you back. Harmon mentioned that she had studied history—not technology or finance—as an undergrad, and said, “You just need to be aware of what’s going on in the market.”

If someone is interested in working with startups, she recommended learning about how investors think and what they do. She advised women considering product management to take a service operations class and a design thinking class.

Tara Fung told the audience of MBA students that whether or not they come from a technology background, their business acumen is valuable. She said, “I have been sitting in rooms with engineers where I was afraid to speak at times because I thought, ‘Is this a valuable comment?’ And then when I did, they said, ‘Oh, we didn’t realize that we were thinking of it through this very specific lens of how we’ve been trained, and you have a different perspective.’ So just feel confident in your voice and the value you bring.”

Since the fintech field is changing so fast, it’s essential to stay up to date. Harmon suggested reading American Banker’s daily rundown of everything going on in financial services, checking the website for ecommerce and fintech information, and setting up Google Alerts for individual companies that you want to follow.

She also mentioned a few conferences that focus on the fintech space, including Money 2020, LendIt, and the American Banker conferences.

Being a Woman in Fintech

When an MBA student in the audience asked the panelists about their experiences as women in the fintech industry, Fung emphasized that each company is different. She said, “Really do your research on the company and the leadership. The entire culture comes from the top. Within our industry, there have been very public stories of leaders who have not treated women in the same way, and there have been huge business implications because of this.”

Fung said the culture at CommonBond was a factor in her decision to work there, noting that the CEO created a Diversity and Inclusion Council, because he thought it was important to listen to different voices in the company—not just people of different genders, but different sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and affiliations.

At Discover, Rah works to stop fraud. She said the justice aspect of the job appeals to her, and that she gets cool points with her son because she “fights bank robbers.”

She finds working in fintech to be both fun and challenging, and said, “I think it’s exciting because you get to build the future. We’re thinking today about what’s the world is going to be like five years from now. What technology will there be? How will people be using it? How will it be impacting people’s lives?”

Learn more about how to make the most of your MBA, and network with business leaders at the Forté Financial Services FAST Track Conference and MBA Women’s Leadership Conference.

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