Recently, I came across an online comment: “Who’s driving digital transformation in your company – the CEO, CTO, or COVID-19?” This question indeed provides much food for thought. Amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, people have experienced all sorts of changes to the way they live, work and play. Video-conferencing, remote teaching and learning, and online shopping have become part and parcel of our daily routine. The numerous online transactions have driven up usage of the Faster Payment System (FPS) significantly by 60% in the previous quarter. Although the technologies involved are not new, the outbreak has served as a catalyst spurring the growth of their popularity.
This outbreak has made us realise how closely connected the application and development of technology are to our everyday lives. Not only does it make the public more receptive to changes resulting from digitalisation in future, but also creates favourable conditions for fintech development in Hong Kong. However, we must first build up the local fintech talent pool and enhance our soft power so that we will be ready when the opportunities arise.
According to the Report on Fintech Adoption and Innovation in the Hong Kong Banking Industry released today, more than 85% of the surveyed banks have adopted, or planned to adopt, fintech solutions across all types of financial services. However, the banks also expressed concerns about fintech talent shortages, citing difficulties in both recruiting talent and training existing practitioners. The HKMA, as the banking regulator, not only promotes fintech development through its policies (such as on virtual banking) and financial infrastructure (such as FPS), but also joins forces with the banking, technology and academic sectors to strengthen talent development in the fintech arena.
The shortage of fintech talent is not unique to Hong Kong, but is also experienced by other places around the world in the course of promoting fintech development. Therefore, to meet Hong Kong’s long-term needs, we cannot rely solely on attracting overseas talent, we must also cultivate sufficient local talent. Currently, universities in Hong Kong are offering a variety of degree programmes related to finance and computer technology. Yet, fintech degree programmes specially designed to combine these two fields of expertise are still at an infant stage with only a total of 300 places offered by the local universities, far from meeting the huge market demand. In the light of this, the HKMA will conduct an in-depth study this year on the demand of the local financial industry for different types of fintech talent, the mobility of such people locally and internationally, and the prospects of these professions. We will then share the findings of our study with the universities and related government bureaux and departments to inform their curriculum development.
Of course, curriculum development is a long-term task. To address the talent shortage issue in the short term, the HKMA has launched the Fintech Career Accelerator Scheme (FCAS) in collaboration with the banking and technology sectors. The FCAS targets students who are now pursuing degrees in finance, computer engineering and other relevant fields in universities. It offers internships of six months to a year in financial institutions and tech companies, where students can gain hands-on experience in fintech projects. Training is also arranged at the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute and the Science Park to enhance their knowledge in various aspects of fintech, including artificial intelligence, big data analysis, cloud computing and blockchain technology. In the past four years, more than 500 tertiary students have participated in the FCAS, with some of them joining the fintech industry after graduation.
A pleasant surprise is that, although the briefing for this year's internship scheme was held online for the first time due to the outbreak, it has proved more popular than ever among university students, with the attendance doubling to over 400 compared with last year. The students also engaged more actively with representatives from more than 10 traditional and virtual banks via the internet. More than 1,400 FCAS applications have been received since the briefing, almost tripling that of last year. This clearly shows that many young people aspire to join the fintech industry. We also hope to see more financial institutions joining the scheme in future to help grow the supply of fintech talent in Hong Kong and foster the development of the local fintech ecosystem.
A comprehensive talent development strategy calls for more than just cultivating new blood to enlarge the talent pool. We are mindful to also take care of the retraining needs of existing bank practitioners. This is why we are working with relevant professional bodies to develop a Fintech Competency Framework for banks, which we aim to launch in the first quarter of 2021. Suitable training bodies will be engaged to provide relevant courses for banking practitioners to help them meet the competency standards under the Framework. Meanwhile, the HKMA Fintech Facilitation Office is also working with major tech firms to hold a series of training seminars that introduce bank practitioners to the technologies and cases on the application of artificial intelligence, big data analysis and cybersecurity. The first such training seminar, held online in March amid the outbreak, was very well-received, with more than 900 bank practitioners attending. In view of the enthusiastic response, we plan to conduct these online seminars regularly in future so as to benefit more industry practitioners.
The current coronavirus outbreak is indeed a good juncture to embark on a new journey for self-improvement. Let those who are interested to pursue a career in fintech start to equip themselves and work together to take Hong Kong’s fintech development to new heights.
Senior Executive Director
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
20 May 2020