Faisal talks FinTech

Faisal Shariff, UK

Faisal Shariff, Executive, FinTech Strategy, talks about why he enjoys working in a tech role, the work his team is doing to help us disrupt our business and how he often gets mistaken for a C-Suite executive.

Tell us about your role.

My official title is FinTech executive — a lot of external people think that I’m C-suite executive level, so I get targeted by companies trying to pitch me private jets, personal shoppers and all. But actually, I am a senior associate in our Global FinTech team. As a team, our job is to help FinTechs to scale up, either through collaborations with our traditional clients (usually involving our Advisory practice) or by selling them our services (TAS, Assurance and Tax). My role within the team, however, is more aligned to strategy and research — producing a lot of the thought leadership our team gets involved with, such as the recently released UK FinTech Census 2017 with HM Treasury and the China and UK FinTech: Unlocking Opportunity report, or getting involved with strategic market scans for financial institutions wishing to invest in or acquire FinTechs.

How did you end up in a FinTech role? Is technology a passion of yours?

I’ve been at EY for just under two years. I was previously on the advisory graduate scheme at another Big Four firm, where I got involved with a lot of projects around innovation for both financial services and nonfinancial services. A lot of the work was external facing, looking at how companies across different industries use technology to improve the customer experience. The natural move for me was into FinTech — at a time, when the industry had become — and still is — the hottest buzzword in the city. I have always been intrigued by technology as an enabler for improving the customer experience, especially as my generation — the millennials (or Generation Y) — are the biggest adopters of FinTech and wider tech offerings. We’re also notoriously demanding when it comes to speed and ease of solutions.

Is there a FinTech project you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m currently working on a great project that looks at the convergence of nonfinancial services with financial services — specifically FinTech — looking at the likes of Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Facebook and what they’re doing, in particular, with payments. These are the kinds of brands that have captured the essence of a seamless user experience – and are already changing financial services for the better.

What are you doing to help you develop your skills and knowledge?

I am getting out there and meeting the pioneers of the industry! Earlier last year, I was fortunate enough to attend MoneyConf, a FinTech conference in Madrid that brings together investors, incumbents, FinTechs and the entire ecosystem really, with some great speakers and networking opportunities. And, I’m the lead author for our weekly FinTech newsletter, which helps me (and hopefully a lot more people) to keep up with the latest industry news and trends.

Driving demand and supplying talent

FinTech is a buzzword that’s mentioned by every bank, asset manager and insurer around the world, but what is it? How did it all begin? And, what does it mean for EY and the financial services sector? Faisal Shariff explains all. The earliest use of the term ”FinTech” is believed to be in the early 1990s, when Citigroup initiated a global initiative to better collaborate with technology firms. However, it wasn’t until the 2007 financial crisis that “FinTech” — which is shorthand for ”financial technology — really started gaining traction.” FinTechs were seen as innovative businesses and alternatives to traditional financial institutions that were “too big to fail.”

The EY FinTech team defines FinTech as “organizations combining innovative business models and technology to enable, enhance and disrupt financial services.” The technology has a major part to play, yet, it’s using this technology to create new business models that really define the sector. FinTechs can bring about lower costs, greater efficiency and a better user experience. The best-known and most-established FinTech worldwide is PayPal. Founded in 1998 by Elon Musk, PayPal operates a global online payments service to support money transfers. Although payments businesses have the largest share of the FinTech market, the sector’s offerings include regtech, insurtech, peer-to-peer lending, robo advisory, digital banking and blockchain solutions, to name a few.

The revolution will be digitized

Technology has been the biggest driver behind rapid growth in numerous sectors. Among the biggest and best-known success stories are Uber, Netflix and Airbnb, which between them have changed the way many of us take taxis, watch movies and book accommodation. And then, we have the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram transforming social interactions through mobile technology. It’s clear that the financial services revolution is upon us. FinTech has grown rapidly since 2007 — our own EY research estimates global investment in the sector to date to be US$50b, with just under half of this being invested in 2016. Our recent EY FinTech Adoption Index revealed that 33% of digitally active consumers worldwide have used two or more FinTech products in the past six months. This rises to 52% in India and 69% in China.

Talking about my generation

Traditional financial services, such as lending, can be notoriously slow for consumers. Peer-to-peer lenders, such as Funding Circle, on the other hand, have fully digital 10-minute applications that enable financing within a week.

Such offerings are particularly appealing to Gen Y – the generation born in the 1980s and 90s, many of whom are hitting the workforce right now.

Decreasing trust in traditional financial services firms as a result of the 2007 financial crisis has meant that Gen Y has looked for new alternatives. Just as Gen Y consumers favor clean, fresh and innovative FinTech offerings, employees of this generation are also drawn to the flexibility and informality that FinTechs offer over the prestige and history of traditional brands.

Disrupting the dress code

Modern ways of working are having a significant impact on both our business and our clients, with financial institutions starting to embrace the FinTech culture. A leading banking institution, for example, has changed its dress code to ”business casual” attire all year round to replace the suit and tie.

So, what does all this change mean for us and our clients? As this new wave of FinTech becomes more prominent, these businesses become more relevant to our business and our traditional clients. As well as FinTechs being our clients of the future, our existing clients have realized the importance of collaborating with this new wave of innovators. As a firm, we too should look to tap into the new ways of thinking and working that FinTechs offer and integrate them our own corporate fiber. By doing so, we can become more effective as a firm and more relevant to our clients.