Hiring in a hot tech industry: BC Technology Group's COO Phillip Pon
Industries whose business is to enable digitalization, or that provide digital-compatible services, have been doing well amid the pandemic. And fintech is one of those: the sudden need for digital services of all stripe has made for a surprisingly competitive industry despite the downturn.
People Matters asked Phillip Pon, Group COO of Hong Kong-based fintech and digital asset company BC Technology Group, what it's like to hire and train in such a fast-growing industry. BC Group provides a platform for digital asset capital markets, a sector that is now seeing increased regulation in markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore. The financial industry being a heavily regulated one, fintech firms tend to have a fair number of considerations to address, which spills over to the kind of talent they need. Here's what he shared.
Based on your recent announcements, you're growing quite fast. But the competition for tech talent in Hong Kong is stiff. Are you able to find the people you need?
The war for talent is always a challenge, in good times and bad. The best people always have opportunities. However, as a leading player in a fast-growing space, our company is fortunate to be attractive to people with an interest in technology and innovation. With digital assets, we also have the benefit of being in an industry that talent is looking to enter. Furthermore, our team has done a lot of hard work to comply with emerging regulations for digital asset financial services, and we have received the first-ever in-principle approval from the SFC regulator in Hong Kong for digital assets Type 1 (dealing in securities) and Type 7 (automated trading systems).
As a result, we’re seeing an influx of inquiries from people that want to join us. And we're constantly in the process of screening talent and ensuring that we have the right fit. In this situation, it's really important to find individuals who have the right attributes—not just in terms of subject matter expertise, but also where they are in their career, and their resilience and ability to adapt in an industry that moves at a very fast pace.
Could you share a bit more about what you're looking for right now?
The most critical talents we look for in a fintech company are technologists and developers, and I'm actively looking to add talent to our technology team.
Additionally, we want to make sure that we have the right array of skills to operate in licensed environments. Risk, legal, and compliance are very much top of the mind for us, and we're looking for top talent in these areas to buttress our existing teams. The work we are doing with the regulators here is very much about crafting the future of this industry, and we seek out people who are innovators, who are willing to engage in a dialogue and shape an industry.
By definition, many of these folks are quite rare and unique in the market. But again, in an ever changing and new industry such as digital assets, we see many talents come to us because they want the best of both worlds: a legal or compliance career in a new and emerging sector of the financial services space. And we look for individuals who seek a challenge as we evaluate talent.
What are your thoughts on bringing in people who might not have the specific knowledge you need, but who can be trained up?
The advantage for us is that our most senior management team members have been in the digital assets space since 2013, so their subject matter expertise in the digital asset industry is world class. We can therefore bring folks into the organization who may not have that specific native knowledge of digital assets, but who bring those traditional skills that are relevant to us and help them to upskill to the necessary level.
There is a lot of coaching, development and training available to incoming talent on both the digital asset space and the legal compliance and regulatory knowledge front. For example, we use role rotation to help people learn new skills. We also actively look at external coaching and development for multiple levels of our organization. Not just the hard skills, but the soft skills, such as how to become better communicators and better managers, especially in these quite trying times. As long as people want to learn, we have the time and resources to teach them.
You mentioned other attributes alongside subject matter expertise; what do you look for on that front?
Number one is absolutely curiosity. This industry is evolving on a day to day basis. And if you're not curious and wanting to learn very quickly, what you know will become outdated much more quickly than in almost any industry that I've participated in. So curiosity is a really critical attribute.
The second is resilience. This is a highly volatile space, and measurements such as price fluctuate quite significantly and very quickly. At BC Group and our digital platform OSL, we look for people who understand that the industry will continue to be dynamic over time. Our view is that digital assets are currently going through an adoption phase by institutional participants. This means that in the short term, there will be highs and lows, and times where an individual may doubt whether this industry is the right place for themselves - and this is why we really seek out people that are highly resilient and adaptive.
The third attribute that we place enormous value on is comfort with ambiguity. There is no playbook in this space. Everyone here is a pioneer, building and exploring and establishing new ways of doing things. As a result, we look for people who are comfortable with that ambiguity and can manage through situations with imperfect information.
With your expansion underway, do you find yourself having to redeploy people and move teams around to accommodate the business's growth?
The practical reality is that we have to de-risk a little bit from being centralized in one market or location, and expand in other marketplaces where we see future opportunity. And as part of that, we will redeploy some staff and give them the flexibility of working abroad or working in different jurisdictions. This operational flexibility has also allowed us to tap into new talent pools that we initially didn't consider.
We are also evolving our business model to be much more progressive. The work from home experiment has turned out really, really well, and it allows us to look beyond our normal borders for talent. We're fortunate that our industry is relatively young and our company is relatively new, so we're not burdened by legacy infrastructure that some of the more traditional firms possess. That has allowed us to be much more flexible in how we think about hiring and where we staff our talent.
In fact, hiring remote staff wasn't really on our minds before the pandemic, but now that people's movements are so limited, we’ve had to become more open to remote working and hiring people—even in locations where we don't have physical presence.