Picture of a bitcoinThe rapidly developing area of Fintech has been hard to miss in the news and top company rankings over the past few years. Whilst this is seen by many as the buzzword within financial services, many lawyers I have spoken to are unsure as to; what the sector covers, how to get into it and what it’s actually like to work in such an innovative new sector.

So what exactly is covered under Fintech and how does it differ from traditional Financial Services?

Fintech simply is new technologies and innovations that aim to change/ compete with traditional financial services offerings

Seems simple enough right…. But when you delve deeper you will come across different specialisms within the sector (much like the traditional financial services model).

Along with new technology comes, of course, new terminology for lawyers and other professionals to wrap their heads around. This includes; cryptocurrency, insurtech, regtech, P2P, open banking, crowdfunding, mobile-only based banking and many more.

Key definitions:

  • Cryptocurrency = this is a form of digital currency for use as an asset within an exchange. Unlike traditional banking this does not require physical or traditional currency for trading.
    Famous examples include Bitcoin.
  • Blockchain = A method of recording transactions (used in Bitcoin trading) in an open and unmodifiable way.
    Leading Companies in this space include; R3, Consensys , Blockchain and Ripple.
  • Crowdfunding = Raising money through a large number of individuals donating small amounts each. This bypasses traditional business lenders/loans and is a growing way to invest in start-ups.
    Leading companies include; Funding Circle, Crowdcube and Seedrs.
  • Mobile-only Banking = potentially one of the largest financial services changes, consumer banking institutions which operate purely via an App without a physical branch presence.
    Leading Companies include; Monzo and Revolut.
  • Insurtech/Regtech = Similar to Fintech but covering the insurance and regulation markets.
  • Open Banking = Regulations that allow a consumer to share their personal transaction data with third-parties.

What does all this mean for banking/Financial Services lawyers and lawyers in general?

The emergence of Fintech as a stand-alone sector has broadened the scope of roles for both banking and generalist lawyers. Demand in the market for a financial services renewal means that these companies continue to grow at an accelerated rate and as such so does their need for legal advice.

Whilst some companies have established legal teams, others are taking on their first counsel/General Counsel to cover all areas during growth. Skillsets such as; commercial, technology and financial regulation/ transactions will always be in demand in this growing industry, but as important (if not more so) for these companies is the personality that comes with the skillset. Adaptability, an interest in technology and a relaxed outlook are all key for lawyers in these institutions.

Advice for joining a Fintech

Fintech as a sector is not going to be right for all lawyers -the same can be said for more traditional banking institutions. By their nature they are disruptive and as such are finding their footing within the market. The risks associated with this may make joining a Fintech seem too uncertain for some. For others who wish to take on the challenge it can be rewarding and very exciting.

In general, companies within this sector are looking for a solid technical training with some experience having worked In-House or within a business. For Private Practice lawyers, secondments show that you are not going to be worried about working in an open plan office with the CFO around the corner and a less red-tape approach to legal issues.

If the idea of a rapidly changing, technology focused flexible environment with standing/treadmill desks , unlimited snacks, smart-casual clothes and having an array of legal issues raised to your attention (even if it is the first time you have seen the document!) seems like a nightmare to you then Fintech may not be the place…

However, if the above sounds like your ideal company then exploring a career within Fintech or opening up that discussion could be the right move.

Look out for follow-up blogs in the New Year which will cover market trends, product areas and questions in more depth.

October 2018