Monash don concerned about disconnect in fintech talent development in Malaysia

  • Newly launched Financial Sector Blueprint makes no mention of fintech
  • With no talent pipeline digital banks will drive demand & salaries higher

Monash don concerned about disconnect in fintech talent development in Malaysia

Monash don concerned about disconnect in fintech talent development in MalaysiaProfessor Nafis Alam (pic), Head of the School of Business, Monash University Malaysia, considered a pioneer in driving fintech education in the country, is concerned about the disconnect in Malaysia’s Financial Sector Blueprint that was launched on 24 Jan during the MyFintech Week 2022 hosted by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).

Specifically, Nafis refers to the lack of a strong focus on talent development, especially in the emerging field of fintech.

While the blueprint has a section on talent under a “Futureproofing the financial sector workforce” with emphasis on digital skills, reskilling and upskilling, there was not a single mention of fintech.

“The blueprint in Malaysia does not mention anything about education and fintech awareness,” said Nafis with one of the glaring omissions being the lack of engagement with the education sector. There was no commentary and feedback sought from the education sector, with a cursory mention of the role of institutions of higher education.

Nor was there any alignment with higher education institutions role of producing fresh graduates, training the existing banking talent pool, or in addressing entry level diploma/certificate skills for fintech jobs that do not need degree level training, he adds.


Fintech gap in financial sector blueprint

Monash don concerned about disconnect in fintech talent development in MalaysiaNoting the unique requirements of fintech, ie executives with knowledge of banking, finance and technology, a cross-skill ideally best supplied by education institutions but ignored by the blueprint, spells trouble, Nafis suggests.

He has seen this play out before in the early 2000s when Malaysia started its big push into Islamic banking without a talent programmed mapped out in tandem. The market reacted to the situation by taking the two practical steps available. Immediately creating Islamic banking programs at the diploma and degree level and offering intensive short courses to existing banking talent to reskill.

While this offers a template to deal with the fintech talent gap, it is little relief to Nafis whose concern is amplified by the recent announcement by BNM of the five parties who have received a digital bank licence.

To Nafis, this means the demand for fintech talent has just skyrocketed, especially for middle level talent. Already one of the licensees, the Grab Technologies-SingTel consortium has announced its intentions to hire over 200 executives as it builds out the company.

With patience not likely to be a virtue exhibited by any of the five licenses, who will be in a race to roll out their services, the obvious worry is that this will lead to aggressive talent poaching and driving up salaries of existing talent without an infusion of new talent being trained in this in-demand and fast moving area.

“We must ask ourselves how we can cover the gaps between supply and demand and what are the initiatives needed,” he said.

The most obvious is to produce a new stream of fresh graduates who are going to supplement the demand in the fintech market in Malaysia, which is what Nafis is doing in his Monash role where the business school will the Bachelor of Business and Commerce majoring in Financial Technology  with a fintech minor offered next year, converted to a major in 2024.

Nafis is also quick to dispel the notion that one has to be a programmer or coder to understand fintech.

Learning Python software in the curriculum is enough for one’s understanding and going into fintech, because it is easy to write and deploy and very user friendly.

“We are looking for those who understand the architecture; like how the algorithm works to give a solution. For example when I talk or teach about fintech, I am more interested in the application of AI in financial decision making; application of machine learning to give me a predictive analysis to make sure that the customer that is coming onboard is good or bad customer.”

In the Monash programme to be offered, students will take between 8 to 10 learning modules for their fintech minor, learning about the applications and regulations related to fintech.


Targeting the low hanging fruit

Embedding fintech into the finance degree is not something new to him. He pioneered the approach in 2018 while at Asia Pacific University delivering both undergrad and Masters level finance programes with a fintech focus. He augmented the value of the programmes in 2020 by partnering with the Fintech Association of Malaysia (FAOM) for internship placements and industry relevant curriculum development.

Pointing to the unavoidable two to three year lag when fintech ready talent will hit the market, this is where Nafis points to the low hanging fruit of the available banking workforce. “There are a lot of bankers out there but are not being trained to be fintech ready at a faster rate,” he observes. Filling the gap are professional fintech focused programmes such as the 6-month Fintech Bootcamp offered in the market to meet the short term needs.

The Financial Sector Blueprint puts the onus on the financial institutions themselves and training providers in the market.


A consortium approach

Describing fintech as a very fast moving industry where the pace of demand is rising much quicker than the supply of talents, Nafis feels more needs to be done and it needs to be done in a concerted manner and led by higher education which has the ability to produce talent at scale.

“I have suggested an initiative involving five to six universities that are working together with Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to try and identify what certificate programmes or training programmes that can be provided.” Although MDEC cannot certify these programmes, they can endorse them as being crucial for the fintech aspirations of Malaysia.

Nafis is hopeful that such an approach can materialise, sooner rather than later. It should be noted that the Financial Sector Blueprint will delve into a holistic review of talent needs that will go into the Staff Training Expenditure policy in 2022 and longer term, the 2026 Staff Training Fund. BNM plans to engage with the financial ecosystem to  ensure more effective collaboration around developing a deeper talent pool. No doubt Nafis is hoping they will also reach out to the higher education sector.

Brian Lee and Henry Chang contributed to the article.


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