With forecasts, on the one hand, pointing towards the creation of 30,000 new jobs by 2030, and uncertainty around the UK’s immigration policy post-Brexit on the other, it’s little wonder that a talent drought could be on the horizon for the UK FinTech sector. Founder and CEO of Find.Exchange, Ricky Lee shares his top tips on how startups can futureproof themselves in the race for top talent acquisition and retention.

According to a global fintech survey by London Stock Exchange and TheCityUK, UK-based FinTech companies are anticipating 88% growth in the next three years – higher than the average of the eight countries surveyed. Furthermore, the UK is being identified as a top-three market for businesses seeking cross-border expansion. And yet, as an industry that relies heavily on global talent – to the tune of 42% – these positive growth forecasts are being marred by the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s approach to immigration in a post-Brexit scenario. With this in mind, according to recent findings from Innovate Finance, the already challenging task of attracting overseas talent is on course for an uphill struggle that could cost the sector £361m.

While a shortage of skills on the FinTech scene is undeniable, especially in terms of design and development, the many inferences to a ‘talent war’ between the startups and traditional heavyweights are not yet fully founded. The reason for this is that there will always be two types of candidate in this market: those who are guided by stability and money, and those who are motivated by the ability to disrupt.

For those candidates driven by financial rewards and a sense of permanency, the corporates are, and always will be, a natural choice.  With personal commitments and a fear of taking the next step forward, there are few who will risk diving into a startup experience. And that’s understandable. However, the startup-life is the most palpable option for candidates who crave excitement and agility and whose ambition is fuelled by the possibilities of delivering speedy transformation.

Tremors of a talent war

And yet, while the two sides of the FinTech ecosystem can find some security in their respective appeal, there’s no room for complacency. The looming skills gap is real, and as such, the heavyweight financial institutions are upping their game, leaving startups under the threat of either being by-passed by potential talent or swallowed up in their entirety. Indeed, recognising the agility of startups to help develop end-to-end solutions, some of the major banks are setting up initiatives that will feather their own future nests. After all, what better way to acquire exciting new products, customer bases and talent than buying up the whole package?

One such initiative is J.P. Morgan’s In-Residence programme – unlike a typical lab or accelerator – which invites startups to sit side-by-side with its businesses to develop innovations that could revolutionise the sector. Emerging FinTech companies that become residents join the bank for 6 months, gaining access to its facilities and systems. They retain control of their innovations and have the opportunity to receive more support even after the residency period ends. This is particularly attractive for talent that seeks both stability and disruption, which has traditionally been an ‘either startup or large corporate’ option.

Flexing its own talent appeal, Lloyds Banking Group launched its state-of-the-art flagship branch last year, which blended a hi-tech approach with personalised service against the backdrop of a relaxed café environment, capturing the attention of both potential talent and customers alike.

Initiatives like these clearly demonstrate how the traditional financial intuitions are taking massive strides to retain their place in the ecosystem. Combined with the hefty remuneration packages they can offer, these major players are becoming ever more attractive to both classes of candidate, which could pose real danger for startups.

So what cards should startups play to secure a winning hand in the game of talent? Here’s my top ten suggestions:

1. It’s all about the workplace

The workplace environment is possibly the ace in the pack – cool offices are always a big plus. If you’re located in a dull setting with few ‘extracurricular’ experiences around you, especially in the capital, you’re likely to lose out, even if you’ve got a fantastic product.

The Google office trend set a massive benchmark which you can see others trying to emulate – from unlimited food to flexible hours, quiet pods and gaming areas. The idea of creating an environment that people can enjoy changes the dynamic of going to work. Rather than being something your employees dread or can’t wait to leave, they look forward to it.

Don’t be afraid to change it up every couple of years too. Reinvent the office space. Change the décor. Not only will the office feel refreshed but your team will too. But it’s also important not to fall into the gimmick trap as too many distractions or not enough ‘guidelines’ can be counter-productive.

The popularity of shared working spaces are on the rise for FinTechs too, not only because of the cost-savings that all startups benefit from: due to the supportive and side-by-side nature of the co-working space, there are increased opportunities for networking and developing meaningful connections in this specialist field. Having a concentration of FinTech professionals gathered under one roof is a natural catalyst for the flow of ideas, innovation and energy.

2. Big cogs, little cogs

Take advantage of your big-cog-small-machine offering. Candidates who are fresh into the industry and hungry to see their ideas brought to life make a perfect match for startup culture. Rather than spending years working their way through the hierarchy of corporates, proving themselves time and again before their idea is considered, they can take their concepts straight to the top in a startup. And if it’s a good fit, it could be designed and developed within months. The promise of being listened to, of turning something around in double-quick time, of being part of a growing company is a major appeal for ambitious talent in this sector.

3. Chemistry matters

Don’t underestimate the power of charisma, particularly across your senior management team. If you have one bad apple who greys the skies, then you stand to lose any talent you’ve acquired. Entrepreneurs in the FinTech space often have great vision and approach in terms of product, but not with personnel – so this is something that needs to be front of mind.

Because of the nature of the startup beast, teams will spend more time at work than at home – it’s the same across industries – so it’s important to give your team a positive working environment; a home-from-home. Young FinTech professionals within a startup environment often have a fresh, energetic interest in the industry along with a passion to learn, so the working space needs to feed their appetite for knowledge and give them the means to learn, from each other or from targeted training. Nurturing the right team chemistry and maintaining momentum is key to retaining top talent. This is an important advantage startups have over largescale companies as chemistry is difficult to control in a corporate environment and is easily diluted. In an intimate startup setting, it’s easier to keep the chemistry spark alive.

4. Rewards and recognition

Startups can’t afford to compete with the financial packages offered by the corporates, but there are other ways to incentivise talent to keep them hungry and interested. Consider giving shares as a form of reward. Having a slice of the company will give them a sense of ownership and pride, encouraging them to consistently deliver the best. It is also possible to attract talent with influence, power and experience – not just the fresh-out-of university pedigrees – by giving them the opportunity to own a part of the venture. Down-sizing salaries and up-sizing share ownership is becoming an attractive option as so many startups are now starting to hit big.

5. Credibility goals

To attract real talent, you need credibility. Here, the corporates have the upper hand, so it’s important for startups to achieve this as quickly as possible. Through PR and marketing initiatives, you can get your business in the news, in front of the right influencers and emerging talent in targeted FinTech publications. The more traction you get in this marketplace, the more appealing you’ll become to new talent.

6. Be transparent

Once you’ve found the right match, it’s important to be transparent. They need to know what they’re coming into. There’s a time and place for 9 to 5 employees who are only in it for the pay check. However, that time and place is not with a startup. You need a dedicated team who will go above and beyond to succeed.

7. Talent breeds talent

If you have created the right environment, your existing talent will act as ambassadors, sharing their excitement and positive stories with peers. Considering the tight-knit FinTech community, word of mouth will work to elevate your culture. Enthusiasm is infectious, and talent will soon breed talent. Consider referral programmes to encourage this behaviour.

8. Access to training

With top FinTech talent hailing from all corners of the world, especially with strong emergence from countries such as Estonia, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, startups in the FinTech scene are invariably a melting pot of cultures, and what motivates one, doesn’t necessarily motivate all. That said, access to ongoing training is something that should be incorporated where possible. Real talent doesn’t like to stagnate, so keep them stimulated, give them opportunity to grow and progress. Investing in people engenders the risk that they may use you as a springboard and take flight, but it’s a risk not to invest in them too. Acquisition of talent is one thing, but retention is a whole other game, so futureproof yourself as far as possible by setting up the right environment in which they can thrive. You’ll have a far better chance at retaining them.

9. Leverage the energy

The next generation of talent is bursting with energy and a sense of competition. Larger corporations can compress this and slow them down, which is a turn-off for talent. Don’t drain the ambition, leverage it. If you’re looking to hire someone that has come from the larger corporates then choose carefully, as they may have come from a workplace that has quashed their creativity and led them into unfavourable habits for a startup. You need speed, agility and dynamism in a startup. So as well as demonstrating their talent, they need to tick these boxes too.

10. Shared passion

It’s not just about on-boarding talent: it’s about finding the right fit too. In a startup, the employee has to be as passionate about the vision as the owner. In a large corporate environment, it’s not as easy to articulate the vision, nor is it easy to identify passion in an employee. But within the close surrounds of a startup team, the vision and passion are tangible. Finding talent that matches your own DNA is not only possible, but it’s crucial for success.