FinTech success requires ‘Fin’ (domain expertise) and ‘Tech’ (technical chops) skills. This post is not about these skills. This post is about other critical skills that remain lost in the shadows of the ‘Fin’ and ‘Tech’ skills and do not receive their fair share of credit.
Our blog post from Dec 2015 called out three critical roles/ skill-sets for Financial Services (FinServ) success in 2016. Two of those roles – Data Scientist and Product Manager – have seen increased demand in recent past. The third role – Customer Experience Strategist – is yet to gain popularity, partly because it’s associated with a field that is still evolving and creating an identity beyond UX. So, Tech skills are very much needed for FinTech and FinServ success.
However, having interacted with several current and aspiring FinTech entrepreneurs over the past 15 months, I noticed that the discussion gravitated towards the next big ‘Fin’ domain (e.g., InsurTech, etc.) or use of next cutting edge ‘Tech’ (e.g., Blockchain, Biometrics for authentication, etc.). It seems like many are seeking a ‘silver bullet’ for their FinTech’s success.
Why ‘Fin’ and ‘Tech’ skills are not enough
Advisors and Influencers will tell that there is no such silver bullet for FinTech success, but that success requires several skillsets to come together. And guess what? ‘Fin’ and ‘Tech’ skills, though very important, are only two pieces of the puzzle.
Let’s take a few steps back.
Investors (VC, Angels, etc.) or Incubators or Accelerators mainly look at three things when deciding to back your startup: Product, Market (demand) and Team (Skillsets). But even three ultimately boils down to the team – since the right team gets the Product-Market mix right.
And in an early-stage startup, an incubator/ accelerator/ investor is looking for a dream team of ‘Hacker’, ‘Hustler’ and ‘Designer.’ Loosely speaking, this is how it translates in a FinTech startup. The ‘Hacker,’ the tech brain, is tasked with building the product/ platform and find tech hacks to increase adoption. The ‘Designer,’ though charged with designing for ideal Customer experience, in reality focuses on online/ mobile user experience. And then, the ‘Hustler’ is a catch-all for everything else including BD, Business Model and – in most cases – the Financial Services domain expertise.
While a team with just ‘Fin’ and ‘Tech’ skills can deliver a solid prototype, if you don’t have the right skill-set to complete the scaling puzzle, it gets challenging after this. And if startup teams cannot show that they can scale and execute on their idea, they’ll lose backers.
Skillsets to complement Fin and Tech skills
So, what are these other scaling puzzle pieces? Some skills are less obvious than others.
Here are the usual suspects, which are recognized by scaling startups. So, these skills are hired/ contract-hired by startups sooner rather than later, as evident by Angellist job postings.
Most FinTech startups need industry specific license, sometimes more than one, just to open shop. And with constantly changing regulatory environment, you need legal expertise guiding you on regulations relevant to your business. If your legal expert/team can work with regulatory bodies to support FinTech innovation, that icing on the cake.
Business Development (BD)/ Sales
This is a ‘do-or-die’ skillset especially for B2B Fintechs and they know it. While BD starts out being a primary responsibility of the “Hustler,” startups will soon realize they need more than one person focusing on BD when trying to scale. That’s because scaling may require you to tap into/ test different potential target audience segment to gain traction.
But here are some other critical scaling skills that often get ‘deferred’, impacting a startup’s success:
Though related, Legal and Compliance require different skillsets. Compliance is associated with satisfying regulatory requirements with operations. It involves ensuring that the startup’s processes and actions are adhering relevant rules and regulations.
And Compliance skillset is even more important when developing a B2B solution in an industry where compliance practices for the same regulation differ from financial institution to financial institution.
A common, and often costly, mistake startup founders do is confuse marketing with BD. Or worse, they think that ‘their product/ solution is so good that their audience will see the value immediately’. A FinTech entrepreneur once complained to me that he is “tired of dumbing down their product’s value proposition for (their) audience” (!!) If their team had a good marketer, he would not said those words.
That’s because marketing brings customer-centricity to your product/solution and helps maintain that focus through your multiple pivots.
(Application of) Behavioral Finance/ Behavioral Economics
In an era where retail Client Acquisition Cost (CAC) is high and brand loyalty is low, how do you gain traction for your B2C FinTech solution? You turn to a social science dedicated to understanding human behavior and how humans make financial decisions.
No wonder, several upcoming B2C Fintech startups (e.g., Lemonade) are focusing on Behavioral economics when developing their offering.
Finance/ Operations/ Risk Management
Finance functions in many FinTech sectors extend beyond accounting and cash flow management. Certain sectors can be capital-intensive due to risk related capital requirements, which relies on prudent risk management operations.
While Machine Learning (Tech skill) can help reduce and manage risk, expecting Data Scientists to manage Balance Sheets or handle client claims or other operations is a stretch.
Teams make or break a startup. But sometimes startup founders forget that building an effective team is more than recruiting or providing free food (in a funded startup).
It’s about helping the team members assimilate and contribute effectively as a team.
This starts with establishing common purpose and goals with regular communication as the team grows from 3 to 10+. It involves mentoring and/or managing team members to contribute their best. If founders are not skilled at this, they’ll need reinforcements.
Bridging the gap between skillset demand and supply
Some of the above skills are more relevant based on the FinTech sector, type (B2B vs B2C), stage, etc. They may be delivered by specific individuals or split among several team members. But to the extent relevant skills are missing in the startup team, scaling suffers.
Finding specialists in Marketing, Compliance, People Development, etc., areas should not be difficult for FinTech startups. These skills are available in the incumbent ‘Financial Services’ space and are transferrable if the specialists can adapt to the startup environment. Interestingly, many specialists are looking for opportunities to transition to the FinTech sector and are open to consulting. Fintech startups hiring these specialists could benefit from their experience and reduce time-to-market in many instances.
In the coming weeks, we will post interviews of Marketing, Compliance and other professionals who have successfully transitioned from traditional Financial Services to FinTech space. Their insights will help FinTech entrepreneurs looking to hire and experienced professionals looking to make such a transition. Feel free to subscribe to our newsletter to get notified of these posts.
(The author is the founder and CEO of S2E Consulting, LLC)