Amid the meteoric rise of the UK tech industry, two areas have seen an enormous boost in both popularity and investment: fintech and crypto. Now, the two are increasingly competing for the same talent.
The UK has become a major leader in the financial technology sector, claiming the top spot in Europe for fintech investment with more than £8.5bn raised in 2021.
Investors have also been pouring cash into UK cryptocurrency startups such as Bitstamp, Elliptic and Blockchain.com as they bet on the growing adoption of digital currencies like Bitcoin and digital assets such as NFTs.
In some respects, the worlds of cryptocurrency and fintech are directly competing. Both fintech startups and cryptocurrency firms are aiming to disrupt the world of traditional finance – albeit with different approaches.
The overlap in skills required to build these companies and their underlying technology has created a “war for talent” between them, with an emerging trend of fintech executives jumping ship to the uncharted waters of the blockchain.
One particularly high-profile example happened in March of this year when Revolut’s chief revenue officer Alan Chang left the fintech unicorn to seek investments for a new crypto venture.
Another example came from the challenger bank Monzo, which lost former CFO Alwyn Jones to the executive team at UK-based crypto exchange Luno.
A significant number of leading figures in crypto in the UK and beyond are coming from a background of fintech, but what exactly is luring finance executives away?
‘Crypto is winning this war for talent’
James Neave, the head of data science at job search engine Adzuna, described the situation to UKTN as “a war for talent for finance professionals”.
Neave added that this talent war has “already been intensified by a reduced pool of overseas talent in the UK as fewer workers have moved abroad for jobs during the pandemic”.
And according to Neave: “Crypto is winning this war for talent, with many workers making the switch from traditional finance roles into jobs specialising in crypto and blockchain technology, following booming interest in the sector.”
Neave said the reason the two areas must compete for recruitment is down to the “sharp rise in demand for crypto experts”.
This means “companies are being forced to fish in wider finance pools for talent, drawing upon candidates with experience in fintech and wider financial services roles to fill these emerging positions”.
Giuseppe Caltabiano, a former banking professional who has now moved into the world of crypto, told UKTN: “As it becomes more evident that the crypto industry will be the key driver of change and innovation in the financial services and fintech industries, more traditional finance and fintech executives are open to and comfortable with considering a move to a blockchain and crypto company.”
Caltabiano believes that crypto is the “fastest-moving industry where decision-making tends to be faster, less layered and less hierarchical, so you can have an impact and you also learn quickly and keep innovating, reinventing products and experimenting”.
As the crypto industry is still in its youth, the consistent opinion is that there is more space to innovate and challenge, which for fintech executives, appears to be an attractive prospect.
“Moving into crypto gives you the chance to work at the cutting edge of finance, to do work that is genuinely pioneering, has a deep social purpose and means you can get stuck into new challenges that you may not have encountered in other industries,” said Kelly Jackson, CPO at cryptocurrency exchange Luno.
“The crypto industry is also at the tipping point of moving into mainstream adoption and it’s one that moves at a fast pace. This makes the opportunities for development constant as you are continually working on new and exciting challenges and get to solve complex problems, which you know will have a huge impact on society as a whole,” Jackson added.
‘Crypto has been treated like the black sheep of UK fintech’
With so many leading figures in the UK crypto space coming from fintech, the question must be asked how the industry can be expected to be different.
According to Katherine Wooller from crypto wealth platform Dacxi: “Those in crypto are frustrated by the old world and seek to better it. I cannot think of any function in a crypto business be it marketing, hiring, compliance that a cookie-cutter approach from traditional financial services/banking would work. We are all about bettering the old ways.”
It’s difficult to tell at this juncture if the industries should be considered competitive or even cooperative. There are certainly market needs that both meet in contrasting ways, such as the international transfer of funds.
However, Wooller, among others, maintains that as crypto develops, it can work alongside the rest of fintech, in part as a result of the massive crossover in recruitment.
“Crypto has too long been treated like the black sheep of the UK fintech family, it is good to see it now being recognised as a serious subsect of what is a thriving industry,” Wooller said.
“Those who feel crypto can exist in a vacuum are mistaken; it needs to interact with the current financial infrastructure – it is my view that it needs to be complimentary not seek to replace the old systems. For that reason, it is helpful to have those, like me, who have worked in traditional banking or finance to ease that integration.”