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Leaders in Fintech: Embrace Change, It's Coming

August 19, 2022

Taking the leap to Fintech from traditional finance may seem like a no-brainer, but leaders from Sleek, Airwallex and StashAway give their insight on what to expect from agility of hypergrowth

Fintech has taken the financial industry by storm, and its potential has leaders from traditional banking rearing at the opportunity to shape the future of finance. Leaders like Mey Chyi Wong, who before she joined Stashaway as its Head of Client Experience, was already an active user of the company: "I really liked what they were doing - basically democratising finance and investment." 

"I've always been a huge advocate for financial literacy, and that's when I realised I should try this. I should give myself a chance to be part of that movement." 

Taking the leap from traditional finance to Fintech seems like a no-brainer because they share the same characteristics. That may be true, but leaders who shift into hypergrowth must change their social and emotional approaches to work and the workplace to succeed.

"It's a tough environment, and you take a lot of things for granted when you think back to an institution that's just more established," said Elizabeth (Liz) Liang, Brand & Communications Director of International Markets at Airwallex. Unlike working in traditional finance, Pauline Sim, Head of Fintech & Strategic Partnerships at Sleek shares: "Being in corporate is like being on a cruise ship where if the storms pass, you don't even know sometimes if there are thunderstorms because everything is quite buffered." 

In this edition of Middle Matters, we sat down with these three Leaders in FinTech as they share what they've learned by taking this leap and the teams they've built to adapt to the agility of hypergrowth. 

Driven By Purpose

Change is inevitable, and in Fintech, it happens fast. Staying for only one or two years in the industry is a norm, but it comes down to what you believe in and who you work for to achieve that. 

While the desire of wanting to experience something new is a valid one, Liz shares that finding longevity in FinTech means finding something more: "It goes back to how you feel about the whole purpose of the company. Do you believe in what we're trying to do?" 

Remembering your why will be crucial when times get tough and you're craving the stability you're used to. 

"'Today is terrible, but let's think back to the bigger picture. What is it we're trying to do here? Is this something that still drives me and motivates me?' For me - it is."  

"You have to remind yourself what the end goal is. Don't lose sight of that." 

Embrace Change 

Pauline graduated in English literature before moving into banking and finance, so she knows a thing or two about embracing change. 

When Pauline leapt to join Sleek, she likened the experience of moving from a steady cruise ship to jumping on a sailboat. "You feel every little wave! The buffer isn't there, but it really trains your muscles and helps you be super clear about where you want to go," she explains. "It's very responsive, but you have to face the elements." 

A structured environment has taught her that hypergrowth is similar but requires a hunger for adventure to face a changing world.

"If you don't have this flexible mindset and spirit for adventure, you might suffer when you're in freefall." 

Motherhood made her realise that a lot of things are beyond her control - and that's okay. "I had to learn not to sweat the small stuff and just focus on the essentials," she shares.

"When I applied motherhood to how I managed my team and gave them more space, I delegated better and communicated better because I realised it was all about the people."

Taking Care of Yourself = Taking Care of Your Team 

While the pace of hypergrowth is fast, Mey Chyi reminds us that it's essential to be in control of its rate and not the other way around. First-time managers often fall into the trap of overcompensating by stretching themselves thin in their efforts to show they deserve to be in this position. 

"I think the important thing is to realise that your team looks to you and will mirror your every movement," Mey Chyi says. "If you come in strong trying to take care of everyone and not taking breaks, your team might mimic that." 

She explains that leaders who wear themselves thin create a ripple effect that also wears the team down. It creates an unsustainable work environment that inevitably prioritises quantity over quality: "You don't have to do 20 projects to prove your worth - ultimately, what we want to see is quality." 

"It's okay to fail sometimes - You don't have to show that picture-perfect vision of yourself because ultimately, your team is human. They have feelings. They have emotions. As do you; you're human too." 

Leaders must be conscious and responsible for their influence over their teams. 

Reflection Questions 

"Everyone knows that we have KPIs to reach [and] that will never go away, but how you get there can be very different. I think what empathic leaders bring to the table is just understanding that. What's the best way to get to a number?" - Elizabeth (Liz) Liang

While Fintech is challenging traditional finance with dynamic changes, Liz, Pauline, and Mey Chyi remind us that certain things are here to stay: adaptability, curiosity and empathy. 

  • When was the last time you had the chance to reassess your priorities? 
  • In what ways can you build on your experience to prepare for your next role?
  • The next time you delegate something to your direct report, how might the challenge of this delegation help them overcome any fears or weaknesses?

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