If you’re looking for a job after you leave university, Matt Cheung, a serial entrepreneur in the financial services sector, says you should broaden your search. Don’t just look for graduate jobs in the big banks when a faster-growing and more exciting alternative is on offer.
“A lot of young people go through the milkround and meet people working in traditional finance,” says Cheung. “When I mentor students, I notice that they’re often very fixated on getting into particularly very, very competitive roles at big firms like Goldman Sachs, but there’s a whole range of different opportunities out there.”
Those opportunities are in the fast-growing fintech sector, which includes names like Revolut, Klarna, Coinbase, Checkout.com or Stripe. Combining finance and technology, some are already very large (Revolut is valued at $33bn) but are still seen as upstarts, and there are plenty of smaller and newer players coming up behind them.
“Fintech is a really exciting place to be,” says Cheung. “Traditional finance is not growing very fast, but the fintech sector has a huge amount of expansion ahead of it and has enormous opportunities on offer. You’re also working with young founders who have a much more liberal mindset than in traditional banks.”
Cheung himself started out in traditional finance. He studied a Masters in Finance at Imperial before joining Royal Bank of Canada as a risk analyst and then becoming a trader at Refco. However, he left and set up newssquawk, a real time news provider, in 2005. He later founded iPushPull, a data platform for financial services firms in 2015. He also runs WorkinFintech, a platform designed to inform young people about the opportunities in the fintech sector.
Even many of the big fintech firms have yet to launch graduate recruitment programmes, says Cheung. But this doesn’t mean they don’t need graduates. It’s just that they’re only beginning to catch their breath enough to put graduate programmes together (the same applies in the crypto subsector).
If you want to get a graduate job in fintech, you might therefore need to look beyond the standard milkround and to do some research yourself. The internet is awash with lists of top fintech companies and Cheung says that even if many don’t offer full time graduate places, they usually offer internships and work experience. “If you can get even a few weeks of work experience on your CV, it makes a huge difference,” he says.
Cheung is working with Ying Cao, a former digital strategist at Barclays in New York and co-founder of Work in Fintech. Cao says the fintech sector is more open to hiring people from all backgrounds. “Fintech creates a level playing field for less privileged candidates to make their mark,” she says. “I come from China and I studied economics at Yale but during my time in banking I noticed that it takes a long time to progress and that if helps if you have a lot of connections.
“In fintech, you see young kids who start in a small blockchain firm and who are a VP of marketing or sales three years later,” says Cao. “They’re interacting with people on Wall Street who have 20 years’ experience, and they’re exposed to exponential growth in pay and experience. You’re in a smaller company in a fast moving industry and there’s much more fluidity.”
Cheung says young people from all backgrounds need to understand the opportunities on offer in fintech. “There’s a massive pool of jobs on offer outside the traditional graduate programmes,” he says. “We want to help diverse students and students from underprivileged backgrounds to access them.” Cheung himself came from what he describes as a “rubbish state school,” and now mentors students who want fintech jobs. – “Both my parents were immigrants, I had no network. I’ve built my career the old-fashioned way with blood, sweat and tears and I want to give something back.”
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