gradsingapore's Employer Soundbites aims to share quick thoughts from employers on current industry trends, hiring insights and useful tips for fresh graduates looking to kickstart their career on a high note.
About the Interviewee
Kai Shin is a freelance blockchain consultant specialising in the intersection between traditional finance and cryptocurrency. He brings with him 3.5 years of professional experience in the fintech space as a blockchain developer and technical consultant at IBM and DBS respectively. In order to increase awareness in the space, he lectures on blockchain with Smartcademy and regularly publishes thought pieces on Medium exploring the future of finance.
What interests or excites you the most about the application of blockchain technology to fintech?
Finance is deeply interwoven into every aspect of the modern economy and has the potential to greatly improve livelihoods through responsible and equitable financing. As a relatively new class of technology, blockchains enable very promising and novel solutions which could bring us closer to the goal of greater financial accessibility and outcomes. At the moment, there are hundreds of such potential solutions being tested in both the cryptocurrency and traditional finance space. Those that survive will redefine the social fabric between individuals and institutions.
More than just a distributed ledger, picking up the core concepts behind blockchain also provides the tools required to objectively make sense of many things which we take for granted. This includes why money has value and how trust powers the modern economy. Having this unique perspective empowers individuals to take charge of their own finances and relationships. Coupled with the inevitable maturity of cryptocurrencies, individuals will be better positioned to define financial freedom in their own terms.
What's your take on the current fintech industry in Singapore?
Given Singapore’s status as an international finance centre, the local fintech sector has matured significantly in the past 5 years. Specific to blockchains, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has always taken a more cautiously optimistic approach, largely due to the monetary value attached to cryptocurrencies, one of the implementations of blockchain technology. Initiatives such as Project Dunbar and Project Guardian highlight the potential value of the technology, which MAS recognises, while still managing the risks involved.
There's a fine balance between proactive regulation and reactive industry protection as evidenced by MAS’ warning on the Terra-LUNA collapse. Taking too hard a regulatory stance risks suppressing innovation. Many countries are trying to strike a fine balance, with some even going as far as banning cryptocurrencies outright. Given this backdrop, Singapore is still viewed favourably within the industry given its willingness to experiment with the technology via Government-led projects and regulatory sandboxes.
As adoption of blockchain technology grows, Singapore will continue to trailblaze the way for how the wild west of crypto innovation can be integrated into the traditional financial system.
What's your opinion on Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)? Is it worth the investment?
An NFT is a unique digital representation of an asset which can be easily transacted and transparently verified on a blockchain network. NFTs have recently entered the radar of mainstream media, and for good reason. With transaction volumes hitting USD25B, NFTS are slowly but surely setting the foundation for digital ownership.
While it has found an initial foothold in the digital art space via projects such as the trillion dollar BAYC ecosystem or the USD69M Beeple Auction, novel use cases are starting to gain traction. One such application is Stepn where users purchase a NFT to earn money by walking, jogging, or running. Stepn combines augmented reality with play-to-earn gaming powered by NFTs that can be resold on secondary markets or transferred to others. Another notable application is Chainsmokers’ sharing of album royalties via NFTs. Of note, these NFTs can be resold on marketplaces and each generate their own cash flow. Ultimately, whether NFTs actually generate a cash flow worthy of investment boils down to the actual value that such an NFT brings to the target community.
For fresh graduates with zero background in finance and blockchain tech, what are the skills they need to develop if they wish to enter the fintech industry?
Given the exponential growth of blockchain technology, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information required to stay abreast in the current industry. Looking back to the creation of Bitcoin in 2008, it might seem impossible to catch up on a decade of development, but it's important to take a step back and realise that the industry has matured to a point where there's now demand for a whole range of skills. Apart from pure development work, opportunities are starting to arise for business development, legal, marketing & sales, and of course education.
With the industry still in its infancy, the most valuable skill which you can bring to the industry is communication. As evidenced by Government-led initiatives such as Project Guardian or the explosion of community-sourced crypto education materials, the majority of people are still figuring their way around the technology. Having the ability to patiently listen and help them connect the dots will be key in allowing them to objectively discern for themselves the real value of the technology.
Of course, a solid understanding of blockchain concepts will be needed. Getting started in 2022, there's so much to learn but there are also plenty of valuable resources which have made learning so much easier. Having come from a non-fintech background myself, the availability of courses have saved me a tremendous amount of time and effort in conceptualising the core concepts behind the technology.
What are some challenges that you feel graduates here need to take note of when they start working in a fintech industry/role?
With blockchain specifically, there are two types of companies: traditional finance or the pseudo-regulated crypto space. Although both fall under the fintech umbrella, the culture and type of work differs significantly. Due to regulatory uncertainty, traditional finance companies have yet to participate in any meaningful manner in the crypto space. Moreover, given the strong culture of risk management, traditional companies will tend to lag developments in the cryptocurrency space.
While risk management is vital for consumer protection, it also means that a role in a traditional finance company will require more time navigating the domain rather than implementing tech solutions. This is especially so, given the amount of internal education and political willpower required to successfully implement such a disruptive technology. The extent of this will depend on whether the company was traditionally a finance company (fintech) or a technology company (techfin). However, working with such companies will provide valuable insight as to how and why such operations and practices developed in the first place.
Alternatively, a role in the pseudo-regulated crypto space will be faster-paced in terms of technological development. With the borderless nature of these companies, competition for such roles will tend to be tougher given the global candidate pool. Nonetheless, if you find being on the cutting edge of the most disruptive technology rewarding, there's nothing quite like working in the crypto space. However, while the space is in its infancy, job security in crypto firms are highly correlated with the market as evidenced by Coinbase and Crypto.com's 2022 hiring freeze. Crucially, this is not limited to crypto companies as even tech giants such as Google, Meta, and Twitter have also paused hiring in the same year, but it is important to note that crypto tends to be relatively more volatile.
What are some tips you would give to graduates to quickly excel in their first blockchain job in fintech?
Don’t be afraid to question if you're unable to make sense of a task. Progressive companies will be willing to take the time to explain or at least take your views into consideration. As the core principles of the crypto space will be in direct conflict with the traditional model, learn from people who are continuously willing to reframe their perspectives based on objective data.
Given blockchain’s short history, real experts are rare, hence don’t be afraid to speak out. This way, your team can learn together and correct any misunderstandings. From a personal angle, spending time outside work to continuously learn about the technology will likely make you the relative expert in the room, so don’t be afraid to guide the conversations. However, it is important to balance this with the wealth of experience from colleagues who have established themselves in the traditional finance space.
How would you encourage local talent to consider entering the fintech industry?
If the news on cryptocurrencies and blockchain has piqued your interest, take the time to scan through the wealth of online information. There are many content creators sharing about the subject, with each focusing on different areas. YouTube is a good place to start as there are informative channels which are able to cut through the complexity and summarise how the technology impacts the average user. Don’t worry about the technical side of things yet, and just focus on how the technology is impacting the world around you. Once you embark on this journey, every new nugget of knowledge will be as rewarding as the last.
If you’ve decided to take the dive and want to get equipped with the right tools, Smartcademy’s Intro To Blockchain course is a great place to start as it greatly simplifies complex technical concepts into a digestible form. Rather than diving deep into code, the focus of the course is to quickly build up a strong understanding of key blockchain concepts, which can then be easily transferred to your preferred domain. This includes understanding the difference between blockchain and cryptocurrency, how blockchain is being applied in both the traditional and alternative economy, as well as the varied use cases of different cryptocurrencies which leads to their respective valuations.