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Teens should focus on data and cyber careers, says fintech expert

CEO and founder of Streets Consulting, Julia Streets, claims teenagers should look towards data scientists and cyber security roles to ensure a job for life

Teenagers should be looking to gain skills in data science and cyber security to ensure a job in the near future, according to Julia Streets, founder and CEO of Streets Consulting.

Speaking about the shifts technology has caused in the financial services industry, Streets told attendees of the WeAreTheCity 2016 technology conference that data science and cyber security are currently sensible careers for young people, and especially young women, to aim for.

“I suggest people look to become a data scientist or get into cyber crime [prevention]. If you can understand how best to control, manage, extract and enrich data, you will have a competitive edge [in the job market],” said Streets.

“If you’re thinking about retraining, that is a smart area to do it in. There is a huge demand, it’s not going anywhere and it’s quite well paid.

“We have a huge opportunity, particularly with women in tech, because we need more data scientists and people in cyber security. We need more people who are strong in technology. The next generation can bring new energy, talent, life and vitality into the industry.”

The number of women in the financial technology (fintech) sector usually sits at around 17%, which is 3% more than the number of women who hold CIO positions.

Streets said women should embrace the fintech industry and take the growing innovation in the space as an opportunity to join in and help shape the future.

Regardless of whether women are choosing financial services roles, the industry is seeing a lot of disruption as a result of technology adoption.

Fintech’s impact on the industry

When electronic trading was introduced, the transparency surrounding trading increased, and trades no longer just went to the person who shouted the loudest when trying to broker a deal on a trading floor,” said Streets.

Banks are becoming more confident about introducing technology into their organisations, and investment in fintech grew by 75% to $22.3bn in 2015.

But this has a huge potential impact on the industry, including what form high street banks will take in the future, customer behaviour, transparency and efficiency.

Before the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union, investment in fintech dropped by 33%. Streets said people should consider how much of an impact outside influences can have on finance, and pointed out that it was something to consider when making technology choices.

The advancement of payments, blockchain and banks

Most of the shift in the financial services industry has been led by customer behaviour and expectations. Running an “entirely virtual company” in the fintech space herself, Streets admits she no longer wants to visit high street banks.

“If I’m going to invest in something, I’ll look at my peer group,” she said. “It all happens across platforms now.”

With customers increasingly looking to digital ways to communicate with their financial services providers, many high street banks are closing their doors and finding new ways to offer their services.

Where banks and financial services firms used to be very secretive, they are beginning to recruit the help of fintech startups and open source software, as well as learn from each other to protect the industry as a whole.

“If I’m going to build or implement a new way of doing things, I don’t want to start from scratch,” said Streets.

“We work in a knowledge economy. Everyone wants to have information all the time.”

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The most obvious technology shift in the financial industry can be seen in payments technology, including paying by smartphone, fingerprint, handprint and selfie.

Contactless payments are the most popular of these, and this technology can underpin behavioural changes on a wide scale, such as the changes seen in London’s transport network.

Blockchain technologies are also increasingly talked about. Streets claims what started as a “maverick” movement is now something that has a potential use case in every industry and company.

But these technologies need to “grow up”, said Streets, and regulators are playing a big part in making them more accessible to encourage future adoption.

“The underling tech needs to be built, managed and run in a way that protects the market,” said Streets.

The dangers surrounding fintech innovation

There have been instances where Bitcoin technologies have been targeted by hackers or used to purchase sinister goods. Streets said there is a dark side to any technology adoption.

“You can’t operate in the world without taking some of that stuff into account, because it impacts consumer protection,” she said.

Retail databases are “creaking” under the weight of customer data insights, especially in retail banks where legacy systems were not designed to cope with the regular collection and movement of such data.

Where customer data is involved, so is cyber security, and organisations are constantly trying to protect themselves from a barrage of cyber attacks.

Streets suggested rewarding people for any precautions they take against common forms of cyber attack.

As a whole, technology innovation in the financial services industry is growing rapidly, and shows no sign of slowing down in the future.

“Anyone who looks at fintech and says, ‘well it can’t be that hard, surely’ is delusional,” said Streets. “If you think about that journey we’re on, it’s actually an acceleration.”

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