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Fintech 2021 | Building Diversity with HSBC’s Nik Bobb

Michael Behr

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Diversity Nik Bobb
A diverse population needs a wide variety of products, and those need a diverse range of skills and insight to create.

For the finance industry, reflecting changes in the UK’s population is essential to maintaining its customer base. And as demographics evolve, this means embracing diversity.

Fintechs are at the cutting edge of this trend. By offering a greater variety of products, many of which are more flexible or individualised than traditional offerings, they can make inroads with a broader range of customers.

However, creating these products needs a wide variety of skills, along with insights into the people they target. As such, building a diverse workforce, one that reflects a range of skills and backgrounds, is essential for fintechs – and the wider financial services industry – to maintain their position.

To better understand the importance of diversity, and how companies can embrace it, DIGIT spoke with Nicholas ‘Nik’ Bobb, Senior Project Manager at HSBC.

Despite its importance, finance has long struggled with diversity. While inroads have been made in recent years, women and people from ethnic minorities are still under-represented at high level positions.

For Nik, the move towards greater diversity is an improving story. “It is on a journey,” he says.

However, while things are improving, there are still gaps and the pace of change has also been slow. To accelerate this change, companies need to take actions to promote diversity.

“It’s going to take time. The skills involved will need help to bring them forward.”


Creativity

The financial services industry thrives on a diverse skill base. Most people think of maths and computer sciences as being the core skills needed for a fintech career.

However, there are many soft skills that the industry needs – social skills for HR or management, creative arts to create and design websites and products, for example.

This makes it important, Nik notes, to help young people understand the wide variety of skills the industry needs. “Young people may not think creative arts are important but that’s how websites with programmers or UX designers behind them are made.”

In short, Nik notes, finance is built on a foundation of creativity.

“And if young adults have a skill and they’re unaware that skill is needed in our industry, they might take it somewhere else.”

Therefore, building diversity means promoting the industry as a welcoming destination for talented individuals, no matter their skill set or identity.

“If there are individuals from varied backgrounds, we want to give them a platform to speak, because you can be what you can see.”

That means creating and advertising an education pipeline to help people of all skills and backgrounds into the industry.

“It’s about giving people information upfront as early as possible so they can make an informed decision to come into the industry.

“And it is for us as industry experts to go out and say that we need programmers, we need mathematicians, but we also need the creative arts, we need a large pool of creative minds who can lead projects, people who have coordination skills, organisational skills. These people succeed in our industry because we need them.

“The pipeline of talent is helping the industry grow, and the wider we cast that net, the greater diversity you’re going to get,” Nik says.


Diversity

There are many reasons for companies to ensure greater diversity – improved collaboration, innovation, employee satisfaction, better product offerings, winning new business and attracting talent. Studies have pointed to increased profit for more diverse workforces.

But one important benefit is a diverse workforce’s ability to understand an increasingly diverse customer base.

“Companies are seeing the benefit of making products that help all parts of society,” Nik says.

But the question then is how do companies attract diverse talent?

“It’s about having opportunities,” Nik notes. “The way I’ve seen that work best is by opening doors to young adults so they can explore your industry.

“And for young adults who show willingness or keenness to get in, it is to break down the barriers that could get in their way.”

He also points to the importance of having multi-channel entry into organisations. “What you have is entry level roles for when people coming in straight from school, or an apprenticeship, or graduate apprenticeships that allow you to move through working within an organisation.

“…Take away barriers, either financial barriers or social demographic barriers.”

In addition to getting young people started in the finance industry, fintechs need to help people with established careers transfer from the outside. This involves creating pathways for them to transfer, bringing old skills with them, and helping them learn new skills.

“I’m also a big fan of mentoring. I’m a mentor myself, it’s great for the mentee. What they get out of it is an experience, the understanding, and a sounding board,” Nik says.

“There’s also that network – the mentor can share the network, which helps with diversity. The mentor also learns what are the entry barriers and can take that back to the industry.”


Literacy

The ability to tailor products specifically to their customers is a major advantage for fintechs.

Open banking, where users volunteer to share their data, has allowed the creation of more individualised products and services.

However, this diversity increases complexity. For an industry that needs visibility and understanding to attract talent, financial literacy is a key skill.

“The modern world is moving on from cash in hand into a whole diverse world, and we need financial literacy to help people understand the list of options,” Nik says.

“As fintech evolves, some options are going to go in and out of favour. Options need to be there – it is about educating but also allowing people to make informed decisions.

“It’s for industry to make it simpler to understand.”


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This provides an opportunity for fintechs, Nik notes. They can create simpler, more easily understood products. They can create portals and services designed with accessibility in mind. All this requires people with diverse skills.

Another key driver of diversity is collaboration. The greater finance ecosystem can support a range of products and services, and as the talent pool becomes more diverse, skills and solutions will diffuse throughout it.

“The fintech industry has this amazing way of organising itself and rewarding people who have an idea and develop a solution,” he said. “And that solution and that collaborative spirit is shared between fintechs, which is one of the reasons more and more people are moving into the financial services industry.”


Recovery

Like with every industry, the coronavirus brought challenges and opportunities to finance. Digital financial solutions were key to keeping many companies working throughout the pandemic.

And as the world aims to move past the pandemic, this ability to solve problems and challenges will define the social role played by the fintech industry.

“As an industry, we need to work together to help individuals who have been directly and indirectly impacted by the pandemic to get back on their feet,” Nik says.

Fintech especially will be in a good position. Post-pandemic, more people will be familiar with using digital tools, the kind that many fintechs are creating.

“Through this customer base, fintechs will drive innovation. Innovation will then lead to sustainable growth,” Nik says.

With greater collaboration across the fintech ecosystem and connections to the larger finance and tech sectors, new solutions will help drive inclusivity.

“It’s about letting the right community help, lead, and support solutions. In some areas, finance is on the cutting edge. That’s where the fintechs can come in and bring that creativity,” he adds.

“Once you understand what the problem is, our industry is one of the best at going in and trying to figure out a solution, because of that creativity, because of that collaboration, because of that willingness to learn.”

“We need to be creative with our product, creative with the way we educate and engage younger adults in that pipeline, the way we think about our entry into the industry, creative across other industries to solve problems that may need our skill set.

“Creativity in how we help individuals, families, and the economy at large coming out of the crisis and moving into, hopefully, a more prosperous time.”


Join the conversation: Fintech Summit 2021

Now in its eighth year, the Fintech Summit is the largest annual gathering of technology leaders in Scottish fintech.

Following one of the most turbulent periods in modern history, the 2021 Summit will consider how financial innovation can help the socio-economic recovery and will feature talks from a range of industry leaders.

For more details and information on how to register for the 2021 Fintech Summit, please visit: www.fintech-summit.co.uk

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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