November 5, 2020

Alumni Stories: A chat on lifelong learning with Stéphane Alex

*This interview has been edited to fit.

Last week we Zoomed in with CFTE alumnus Stéphane Alex, Head of Global Customer Marketing Group at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). Stéphane has worked in the Foreign Exchange for over two decades but what is truly remarkable about him is that despite all of this experience, Stéphane is still an eager learner. Two of his more recent learning additions were CFTE’s own AI in Finance Specialization and Extrapreneurship programme. This is his journey in lifelong learning.

Stéphane Alex, Head of Global Customer Marketing Group at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG)

Stéphane’s career in Foreign Exchange

Stéphane Alex started his career some twenty years ago. Most of that time he has spent in foreign exchange sales, where he gradually acquired more and more responsibility, culminating with his most recent tenure as manager of a large team. During his career, he has worked at Société Générale, Dresdner Bank, and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch before joining MUFG.

In 2016, he made the move to Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) where he runs the foreign exchange corporate sales in Europe as the Head of Global Customer Marketing Group. This transition in his career proved to be extremely important for Stéphane. It was then when he realised that working in only one area of finance can make it hard to step back and understand what is the big picture of what is going on in the industry. After a year in MUFG, Stéphane created an innovation lab at MUFG EMEA where now over 25 people are working on driving innovation.

Shifting towards a more innovative way of working

Foreign exchange (FX) has been digital for quite some time now, with people trading through platforms instead of through voice traders for well over a decade. But the transition has been increased substantially in the recent years. Today, the industry is more than executing simple trades. Data analytics, algorithm trading, and many other things are now embedded in the space and driving a second revolution. So with all these changes, how does Stéphane stay motivated? Well it is actually quite simple, he is driven by a deep desire to do better, and embracing digitalisation has become Stéphane’s obsession.

CFTE: How do you ensure that you and your team transform with the industry?

S: It is quite challenging. When you are managing a team you have different profiles. From early adopters to some people naturally attracted by digital and even people who don’t really pay too much attention to all the changes and are inclined to work in the same way as they did before. 

As a leader, you need to spend a lot of time both outside and inside your market. Outside is critical as you learn a lot from other industries and the big digital companies. The exploration is extremely important. As a leader you cannot just stick to the internal processes anymore, you have to explore externally, find something that you think will work in your markets and then bring it back internally. Then you can explain, challenge and transform your team. 

And how do you motivate people? Paying them more doesn’t work anymore, the stick and carrot is not working.

For me I draw a lot of inspiration from Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE. He does a great job at highlighting three critical values and motivations to perform at work: 

  • Autonomy: “Management is not about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices, it’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work” and autonomy is definitely one of them. 
  • Mastery, i.e. the desire to get better and better at something that matters. The more you are expert on something, the better you are. 
  • Purpose: “Autonomous people working toward mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective and purpose can achieve even more”, as Daniel also mentioned, purpose provides activation, energy for living. 

As a leader, those are the three characteristics you need to give to your people. That’s where learning is the next step: providing expertise to people. 

Technological innovation transforms the finance industry rapidly, but acquiring technological skills with no previous background is complicated. How did the CFTE’s AI in Finance online specialisation help you comprehend technology in finance?

 S: I am here to do business, not to understand the deep root of how AI works. We are living in a world where there is a big gap between people who are doing business and people who develop technology. The big challenge is to bring this gap closer to each other. The day when the engineer works alongside with the business, that’s when we will be extremely efficient in the way we do the things.

For me, I first have to catch up with my own knowledge gap, with how AI works and at least understand what AI is about. That’s the first step CFTE helped me with. This step is particularly important as we need a common language in order to get the best out of the tech team and deliver great results.

Stephane Alex (centre) with members of the Innovation Lab he founded at MUFG

You also took our Extrapreneurship programme. How has that helped you and your team?

S: It was an interesting programme to be part of as I am a big believer that big corporations like MUFG could benefit greatly by acting more like start-ups: with small teams, agility, a design thinking mindset and a lot of creativity… This two-month experience was fascinating, as it pushed us to think out-of-the-box and pitch something more creatively and in a way which I have never done before. It is definitely this kind of attitude I would love to see replicated in a large organisation as MUFG.

Another takeaway from the Extrapreneurship programme is the way large organisations pitch their business. We tend to be way too much product rather than client service focused. I have to be honest with you, I totally re-worked my pitch deck afterwards. The WHY is way more important than the WHAT.

On those lines, you are now considering taking our newest course on Intrapreneurship. What is your motivation to enrol in it?

S: I am a big Jeff Bezos “two-pizza rule” fan with a small group of people running at the same time individual and collective responsibilities. But everything is about having the right mind-set and it is actually something I can find when talking with Entrepreneurs. The question is can we have entrepreneurs in a large company, that’s it, or intrapreneurs? I am convinced we can. It is the reason why not only I registered for this course but I asked all my team to do it. I am particularly interested in the Intrapreneur structure and Methodology François Blanc will teach us. 

How has CFTE helped innovation at MUFG?

S: In one word, it will be “awareness”. You learn from the others, from people in the industry. CFTE is able to bring in experts on very specific topics, who are able to articulate what they are doing well and help bring energy and awareness to the area. 

Technology is the center point about this innovation, in finance and many other worlds, and CFTE perfectly understood that: they provide the learning, the awareness, the expertise, the knowledge. And that’s what we all need. 

The need for constant learning is pressing

In light of the latest World Economic Forum Report on the Future of Job, Stéphane’s drive for learning and innovating with his team is a solid statement. This report highlights that, by 2025, 1 in 2 workers will need reskilling and those remaining in their current roles will need to update 40% of their skillset to adapt to the changing labour market.

“Learning is critical, especially at the moment where the world is moving so fast that if you don’t learn you are dragging behind and you don’t step up in your career. As an individual and collective point of view you need to learn and be aware of what’s going on”, notes Stéphan. 

At CFTE, we have for long known the urgent need there is for upskilling, in order to prepare the workforce for the digitalisation of finance and other industries. In a tech world, we bet on people, and so we love to share stories from our alumni like Stéphan’s.


Start your transformation journey today

You too can accomplish great things. Start your transformation journey today the way Stéphane did: learning about AI in Finance.


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