Heng Wui Liang is the Country Head of Singapore at BankBazaar International – a leading online financial services website offering instant access and quotes on loans, credit cards, savings and insurance products. He shares his experience working in a FinTech company and in particular how networking helped him in his transition from a corporate role.
Why did you leave your corporate job to work in FinTech startup?
At different stages of my career life, the reasons for switching differs. At this point, it is more about having a meaningful career and future-proofing myself. Banks globally are under a lot of regulatory and cost pressure since the GFC. On the other hand, there is a lot of innovation happening in the start-up space in recent years. That got me thinking: If I stick to whatever I have today and not change, will I be able to survive the next 15 years? My conclusion is no and now’s a good time to be part of the community that is spearheading industry change – before it’s too late.
In addition, I have also gathered some experience over the years of working. I am at a stage where I want to see my contribution more closely tied to the outcome/performance of an organisation. For a big company, it may be a bit more difficult. I feel that my experience would value add the most to a younger company.
What do you think is the primary motivator for others to join a FinTech startup?
I think Opportunity is the key motivator. Consumers’ behavior is changing and they are moving their activities, purchases and transactions online. The financial industry is seeing these trends as well. People joining a FinTech start-up see this opportunity for them to be the early adopters, to be at the forefront where they have an opportunity to influence and change an industry with lots of legacy.
This is also an opportunity for people to unlearn some of the old practices, learn new (digital) ways of doing business and set themselves up for the new economy.
How do you feel the FinTech industry is perceived by outsiders?
The industry players and regulators have done a really good job in creating buzz about the FinTech industry. Through my various conversations across different networks, I noticed that there are a lot of interest in wanting to find out more about FinTech and the opportunities that might be available to people who are currently not in this area.
That said, understanding about the different parts of this industry is pretty low. People tend to lump things together and have yet to appreciate the differences, for example, between a marketplace and a B2B solution provider.
How people coming from corporate can best transition to work in a startup?
One of the best way is to learn from others’ start-up experiences. I used LinkedIn to reach out to people in my professional network who worked in start-ups. Through this network, I got a realistic feel of life at a start-up before I made the switch to this role.
Start-up by nature tends to be very lean. You are likely not going to find the resources and processes in place in a typical corporate set-up. Hence, leveraging on your professional network becomes important. These connections may have the expertise that you looking for or have that business connection or opportunity that is critical to your initial success.
As with anyone joining a new work environment, it is good to keep an open mind and learn. I found that my Linkedin network is a good information source on industry trends and thought leadership.
How do you find the FinTech ecosystem in Singapore?
I think we have a very vibrant FinTech ecosystem in Singapore, with key stakeholders participating actively. MAS is very progressive in setting regulations that allow for innovation but at the same time, have the necessary controls in place. FIs are setting up innovation centres and accelerators in Singapore to collaborate with FinTech start-ups and I am seeing more entrepreneurs setting up their FinTech start-ups in Singapore.
That said, Singapore is a small market. FinTechs here need to have a regional or global mindset. While it is still early days, we will need to see more world class, made-in-Singapore FinTechs succeed to sustain and drive this ecosystem.
What are the top 3 skills and qualities needed to work in FinTech?
Winner mindset – the career path in FinTech is not always a straight line. Sometimes, there are detours and red lights. However, with the right mindset, we will always learn something from all your experiences, both successes or failures.
Be flexible/ adaptable – the challenges and opportunities of today will not be the same as tomorrow. A start-up may also need to pivot itself should its initial assumptions turn out to be wrong.
Grit – while this applies even to corporate jobs, it is more crucial for a young start-ups where you are trying to building something new and different. There will be naysayers with doubts and asking for compromises. You will need to push through hard to see your vision and goals come alive.
How is working in FinTech is impacting your way of life?
I am definitely a lot more focused these days. With limited resources, one have to stay focused and learn to say “NO” to interesting opportunities if they are not aligned to the company’s strategy.
One of the key advantages working in a smaller outfit is that there is less bureaucracy. I realized that I was able to deliver more, given that there are less paper-work. This played a big part in my job satisfaction.
What Shouldn’t one expect from working in FinTech?
You should not expect to just stick to your job scope. This is a new industry and things are evolving fast. Reach out, collaborate and learn. I believe you will get a lot out of it and find a rewarding career in FinTech.
What’s next for you?
Our focus last year for BankBazaar was to get the business up and running in Singapore. This year, we will continue to expand our business in Singapore. Concurrently, we will be expanding to our next market. I see my time being split between them.
This is one benefit working in a high growth company – your job scope this year can be quite different from the next. That, to me, is extremely exciting.
Hock Lai has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, having performed roles in both business and technology. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (Real Estate), Nanyang Technological University (Infocomm Technology) and Nanyang Polytechnic (Fund Management & Administration).
He is also a Fellow of the Singapore University of Social Science, advisor to FinTech Startups and mentor to student FinTech projects.
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