Demand Growth for Fintech Talents in a Global Economic Slowdown


Amidst the brewing US-China trade war and global economic slowdown, there is quite an interesting trend that is fueling the rapid growth of the fintech sector in Southeast Asia.

Impact of US-China Trade War

In a 2019 report by Accenture, the heated trade war between global economic powers China and the United States has taken its toll on the fintech sector, particularly in Asia, as investments fell by 29% during the first half of 2019. There was a decline of $22 billion in fintech deals as compared to the $31.2 billion spent on the same period last year.

Despite the disappointing figures, fintech has grown into a very lucrative sector in Southeast Asia where the booming economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam has seen the rise of the middle class and more affluent sectors of society going hand-in-hand with the growing demand for more economic and financial freedom. In recent years, startups have grown to fill that need by forming a whole host of fintech services from digital wallets and payments to virtual banking and remittance platforms thereby democratizing personal finance to everyone in the region.

In order to keep up with the growth and avoid the impact of the economic slowdown, there is a need to invest good talents in the region that is something most countries are trying to fill in.

Regional Trends

According to a recent survey by the Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) and PwC Singapore, 94% of fintech companies have planned on growing their workforce over the next 12 months. While 28% of them expect to double their manpower by the next 36 months as well. In the ASEAN fintech sector, 40% of all firms are based in Singapore and estimated to employ about 6,500 to 10,000 people based on the extrapolated survey results. The SFA said that 21% of fintech firms surveyed reported a talent shortage of up to 25%.

Comparatively, Malaysia is also facing a labor shortage of top fintech talents as well. With a more conservative financial industry dominated by Islamic banking, the country recently became open to fintech developments thereby forcing up-and-coming startups to scramble for talent in a limited pool of suitable candidates. In Hays Malaysia’s 2019 Asia Salary Guide, there is a great demand for software developers, data scientists, project managers and cloud, network and cybersecurity engineers.

Interestingly, more Singaporean startups are trying to test their business models by doing “dry runs” in Indonesia due to its large market and diverse demography. As Indonesia builds its own startups at a much higher pace due to its large and talented workforce, Singaporean companies find it as an ideal testing ground.


The limited talent pool in both Singapore and Malaysia has forced their startups to outsource work elsewhere and hire more overseas talents from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines to keep pace with the growth. The situation is further complicated as the existing labor force can't keep up with the rapid growth of the fintech sector as the major transformation of job roles now require more specialist and technical skills.

As the sector requires prospective fintech employees with new skill-set coupled with good financial acumen and technical know-how, countries with a relatively larger, younger population have to prioritize skills training and upgrade. Introducing fintech-favorable policies could "future-proof" some jobs in the market, particularly the emerging roles like data analysts, AI and machine learning specialists, and designers.

According to data from the World Economic Forum, those involved in high-growth, innovative roles currently account for 15% of the financial services workforce and expected to reach 29% by 2022. 

On the other hand, the fintech sector is the bridge between the tech and banking industry so there is already an area where a fintech startup or a bank can tap good talents - each other. In an ideal scenario, both sectors can fill in each other's strengths and weaknesses. In Thailand, some of the country's largest banks are trying to forge beneficial partnerships with fintech companies in order to address their talent shortage in technology.

The Future

The figures showed a glaring indicator on the need for established fintech hubs like Singapore not just to develop local talents but also work on the attraction and retention of this valuable resource. It is simply not sustainable to just depend on foreign talents in the long run or outsourcing it overseas.

On the other hand, developing countries have to catch up with the pace of change in the fintech world. With its larger and younger population, Indonesia, Vietnam or the Philippines can leapfrog their more developed neighbors if they set their policies right - continuously training their emerging workforce with the right skills and mindset that will help the industry thrive in years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Despite the disappointing figures, fintech has grown into a very lucrative sector in Southeast Asia where the booming economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam has seen the rise of the middle class and more affluent sectors of society going hand-in-hand with growing demand for more economic and financial freedom. In recent years, startups have grown to fill that need by forming a whole host of fintech services from digital wallets and payments to virtual banking and remittance platforms thereby democratizing personal finance to everyone in the region.
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