September 9, 2020

The 2 things you need to succeed in an AI-led finance if you are not a tech geek

The adoption of AI in finance is expansive and undeniable: it is transforming the industry with no turn back. As with any major transformation, the adoption of Artificial Intelligence in the financial services industry will create opportunities for some, and pose threats to others.

When it comes to jobs and where everyone will fit, there is no question needed for just about anyone holding an engineering degree. But what happens with all the experienced professionals who didn’t study technical degrees back in university? Is it all lost for them?

We have made ourselves this question, and in an attempt to solve it we have come to these conclusions. (Just a heads-up, if you are in finance and shaking in fear due to having no hard skills, you will want to keep reading).

While engineering backgrounds are predominant, we are taking this lightly

Trying to understand the role of experienced finance practitioners in shaping an AI-led finance industry, we have done some reverse engineering and looked at the educational background of digital leaders in some of the world’s largest banks currently implementing AI. 

Before sharing our results, we must warn you: do not jump into conclusions.

Here is what we’ve found:

9 out of the 10 digital leaders in our study have STEM backgrounds. This is what we could all expect from someone leading the digital strategy and implementation of some of the world’s largest banks. However, we are pleased to note that not all of them are hardcoded on technical skills. In fact, most of them have complimented their hard skills with business ones. As you can see in the chart, out of the 9 leaders with hard skills educational backgrounds, 5 also have an MBA.

As we said: do not jump into conclusions. Why? Firstly, because we acknowledge that our study is not the most exhaustive one. Secondly, because many roads lead to Rome – you do not need to do as these successful people to end up in their positions – and there are many more positions in between these that need to be fulfilled in finance for the implementation of AI where you can succeed. And thirdly, because of the reasons that follow suit.

On top of hard skills, what finance needs now are soft skills to implement AI

We are not the first to wonder what will happen when technology takes over some of the jobs we now know and what skills will be in demand when that happens; and, certainly, we are not the experts conducting serious research into this area. So we will let the masters be the ones guiding in this search.

Here is what the World Economic Forum has highlighted as the top skills you will need to thrive in 2020. Just a note: they are all soft skills.

These are the skills you need in 2020:

  • Complex problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • People Management
  • Coordination with others
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Judgement and decision making
  • Service orientation
  • Negotiation
  • Cognitive flexibility

Just as the article states, “In short, for those looking to future proof their careers, building competencies in areas that machines will be unlikely to tackle effectively (i.e. complex problem solving, creativity) is likely the best recipe for success”.

Tram Anh Nguyen, co-founder of CFTE and experienced finance professional, agrees on the relevance of soft skills in the AI-led finance revolution. As she argued in an article she published in 2018, “hard skills or technical skills, such as data analysis, mobile development, APIs and risk management, although important, will play less of a role compared to soft skills and the right mindset”. “Soft skills, such as collaboration and adaptability, which is often overlooked, will now play a much more significant role in this AI-first world.”

Senior professionals will be the bridge between AI and finance as well as the team leaders

So what do finance professionals looking to fit into the AI revolution of their industry make of this? Will there be a place for them in the reconstruction of finance?

The answer is a categorical yes. Finance professionals have a unique positioning in the implementation of AI in the industry, even without technical expertise. They will serve as the bridge connecting finance and technology, and they will lead the teams leading the transformation.

Let us break this for you. Technology on its own does not serve a purpose. It needs to be thought carefully to understand how its deployment will help finance solving current pain points. For this, we need minds that understand technology and what it can do for us, as well as finance, so an area of deployment can be spotted. Finance needs people to bridge the gap between the industry and the solutions AI can offer it.

This is where current finance professionals hold an advantage. Due to their knowledge of the industry, finance practitioners can help navigate this gap and help connect the dots, as well as lead the teams.

Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao in an interview with CNBC Make It mentioned the following: “We’re also seeing job openings for workers who can help navigate the AI landscape, including consultants and researchers. As companies establish the foundations for their AI functions, we’re seeing employers hire more senior candidates to lead these new teams.”

As a finance professional, you should gain soft skills and understand the AI landscape

Of course, ensuring your role in the AI transformation of the industry requires two things: firstly, for finance professionals to master the soft skills we mentioned earlier. A good team leader should have people’s skills, managing and coordinating the different team members. But should also have great critical thinking and problem-solving skills to successfully direct the implementation of artificial intelligence.

Secondly, practitioners should have an understanding of the AI landscape. There is no magic trick to succeeding in this field but to know what one is talking about. For this reason, in order to ensure your place in the new finance, you must understand AI. 

By understanding AI we don’t imply professionals should master this technology and be able to personally implement it. Rather we mean that knowing what this technology allows you to do, the different use cases it has in the industry and the different impact AI is already having in different corporations will be key. In essence, they must be able to navigate the AI landscape.

With these two requisites, you can ensure your contribution to the development of the industry with AI as a finance professional with no technical background.

Navigate the AI landscape with CFTE’s specialisation

At CFTE, our mission is to help professionals bridge the gap in digital skills. With this aim in mind, our AI in Finance Specialisation is designed to help you to do just that: bridge the gap preventing you from thriving in an AI-led finance so that you can become the bridge that will unite the industry and technology.

In words of our co-founder Tram Anh, “At CFTE, we are creating frameworks and tracks for individuals and corporates to seize the opportunities brought by technological disruption. This transformation of the industry is not a soft one. This transformation is global, profound, and will impact a lot of jobs”.

We have designed our specialisation with the top industry experts so that you can navigate the artificial intelligence landscape and start leading the transformation – because there is room for finance professionals with no technical background, too.


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For information about our sources and analysis please click here.

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