Faces of FintechTechnology

Academia looks to solve fintech talent gap

Fintech has a problem: there just isn’t enough talent to go around.

Its a market-wide problem that affects everyone from disruptive startups to established financial institutions to government authorities.

Multiple reports state that in order for the supply of labor to meet the demands of fintech, skills need to be elastic, constantly changing and dependent on innovations and changing practice, according to a 2020 Coventry University paper, “The Digital Skills Gaps in the Fintech Industry.”

But there is a solution to the problem, and it’s one John Wilson, the Academic Director of the MS – FinTech program at University of Connecticut, believes he can start solving.

Finding talent and fixing fintech

Wilson is now set to lead UConn’s newest graduate program “designed to be the best FinTech master’s program in the country,” according to the program’s website. The program is launching in Hartford in Spring 2022 and Stamford in Fall 2022. And unlike most finance master’s programs, Wilson isn’t yearning for student who focus just on the quantitative.

“Fintech isn’t a thing. It’s a way of thinking, and I want students to sort of embrace that, not just learning the ABCs,” Wilson said about the skills he wanted the program to provide.

“You have to learn how all these dots connect, because that’s what disruption is all about. It’s people seeing things that other people don’t see, connecting the dots and then saying, ‘Okay, we have a solution for that,’ or, ‘We need to develop a solution for that,’” Wilson told FinLedger. “That’s what I think resonates with a lot of the companies because that’s what they do, especially the startups.”

According to Wilson, however, there were early obstacles when UConn began to put together the program. There were doubts that finance students would be interested in technology, or that technology students would be interested in finance. But according to Wilson, these students do exist, and more importantly, these programs already existed.

“There’s other students that do want to embrace both of them, and that’s the students I want,” Wilson said, adding that it was important to expand the ways they evaluated potential students.

“Those students won’t necessarily come from a quantitative background, which is what we always seek for our business analytics program. I am looking for students who want to talk about entrepreneurship and innovation. I want students who have an entrepreneurial mindset, that gives them the freedom to consider academia in a different way.” 

When UConn’s MS of Fintech launches in Spring 2022, it will become one of only five schools offering Tier 1 fintech programs in the US, according to Wilson. Other schools on that list include Duke, University of Texas-Dallas, University of California-Santa Barbara and Brandeis University.

The first semester

As UConn’s December 15th application deadline draws closer, Wilson says there are a number of questions he hopes the program’s inaugural semester will answer.

“Is our curriculum relevent? That’s the biggest one,” he said, adding that open dialogue with fintech companies allows the program to meet market demands and ensure jobs for outgoing students.

While there is no crystal ball to see what innovations will come, Wilson believes that UConn has created a foundation and infrastructure that will allow the program to quickly adapt to new technology.

“It’s been very intentional in the way that we looked to start the program, and it’s with an eye towards the need to move forward.”

With financial technology companies continuously making news with massive funding rounds, incredible revenue figures and public listings, what is preventing other universities from developing their own programs?

According to Wilson, “a lot of schools are probably playing with the idea.” However, “it’s expensive” to launch a master’s program, and “It takes a firm commitment from the institution and the people that are driving it.”

Overall, Wilson believes that university education is going through a transformation at the moment. Creating a high-level graduate program, according to Wilson, requires thinking outside of traditional education models.

“To build a successful entrepreneurial program, you have to think entrepreneurially. And that requires a huge culture shift,” he said. “The easier path is just to take three, four or five courses, and say let’s create a concentration or track. The problem with that, in my opinion, is that concentrations don’t resonate with companies.”

That’s why Wilson was against positioning it as a spin-off on the MBA program.

“I thought there was enough meat there. We have a good track record building specialized degrees, so let’s build a specialized MS degree,” Wilson told UConn School of Business Dean John A. Elliott. “We can leverage some stuff we already have, but we can really make a program that is going to be notable.”

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