Singapore, one of the gems of the global financial sector, is known for its rich startup ecosystem, progressive government, a highly advanced infrastructure, and more importantly, for its conducive environment, facilitating the appropriate development of the next generation of talent.
MEDICI Team had a pleasure to speak with Paul Griffin, Associate Professor of Information Systems (Practice) & Director of Financial Technology & Analytics at Singapore Management University (SMU), about the breadth of initiatives one of the leading educational institutions is involved in to nurture innovators and disruptors of the digital age.
Paul Griffin, Associate Professor of Information Systems (Practice), Director, Financial Technology & Analytics at Singapore Management University (SMU)
Currently teaching postgraduate and undergraduate students in IT and FinTech at SMU, Paul gained a Ph.D. at Imperial College London in 1997 on Quantum Well Solar Cells and Thermophotovoltaics, and is now researching disruptive technologies applications and their impact.
Prior to SMU, Paul was leading application development on global, regional and local projects for over 15 years in the UK and Asia in the financial services industry. During this time, as well as leading internal IT development teams, he worked on outsourcing, off-shoring projects, and IT support.
MEDICI Team: Singapore is driving FinTech innovation in the region. How is SMU going to be investing in FinTech education and getting organizations ready for the change?
Paul Griffin: SMU has been equipping our students to be future-ready by preparing them for a future where disruptive technologies are destroying old jobs, creating new ones, and transforming existing jobs. Our School of Information Systems has implemented its revised curriculum in August 2017 to nurture industry-ready graduates who are able to use emerging technologies to develop solutions for businesses and society. Our business and accountancy schools are offering analytics specialization to arm accountancy, finance, marketing, and operations management students with analytics skills.
In 2015, SMU introduced SMU-X courses to give our students real-world, hands-on experience through a structured pedagogical approach that involves working collaboratively in groups and solving actual, interdisciplinary problems faced by companies and organizations, under the guidance and mentorship of faculty and practitioners. Through SMU-X, we aim to train our undergraduates to ‘learn how to learn,’ and nurture skills set to prepare them for the volatile working world. ‘Learning how to learn’ is especially useful and important as workers of the future are unlikely to stay with a single employer for life, but will move through multiple employers and careers throughout one’s working life.
MEDICI Team: What is the FinTech ecosystem like at SMU? What is the mandate around FinTech research, innovation, and entrepreneurship?
Paul Griffin: First, at the undergraduate level, our School of Information Systems has rolled out a revised curriculum starting from August 2017 in response to changes in technologies, nature of jobs, and market demands. During the first two years of study, the focus is on creating business and social value by developing IT solutions using innovative methods and emerging technologies. Starting from their third year of study, students will specialize in career tracks based on their aspirations, and financial technology is one such track. Among the skills, which students will pick up, include evaluating digital banking architecture and strategy, and assessing the technology implications of large-scale change scenarios such as mergers.
Second, at the postgraduate level, the School of Information Systems launched the Master of IT in Business (Financial Services) in 2007 to train students in the processes, operations, technology solutions, and innovation strategies in the banking & financial services sector and continues to be enhanced.
Third would be through continuing education and training for adult learners. Two weeks ago, when announcing the new SkillsFuture Series of training programs, in eight priority and emerging skills areas at the launch of the Lifelong Learning Festival 2017, Mr. Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education & Skills), said that SMU will take the lead in the area of finance. SMU Academy, our lifelong learning unit, will be spearheading this effort. The SkillsFuture Series offered by the academy comprises 53 courses across the eight areas, all of which are subsidized by SkillsFuture Singapore for financial professionals and those in finance-related institutions. All the courses are open enrollment, modular, and practical to cater to the needs and schedule of the adult learner; some of these can also be ‘stacked’ towards graduate certifications. The courses cover the application of technologies in the design, delivery, and governance of financial services. These include the digitization of financial services and adoption of FinTech.
Fourth, in the area of research, our Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics is currently researching on the macroeconomic policy implications of digital currencies. It examines the implications of Central Bank Digital Currency from an international perspective, aiming to discover its impacts on exchange rate movements and capital flows. It also looks into the policy options that maximize the benefits of digital currencies while ensuring financial stability. Earlier in 2015, SKBI together with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin had created the Cryptocurrency Index which approximates the cryptocurrency market and can be used as a benchmark for the overall market. With the growing amount of cryptocurrencies and the diminishing domination of Bitcoin in the market, an index became necessary to track its development on the exchanges, just like what the S&P500 does for the US stock market.
Faculty from our School of Information Systems have conducted research with the SWIFT Institute in algorithmic and process innovations intended to speed up the availability of funds to individuals and to small and medium enterprises from funds transfers and card payments. The faculty members are also collaborating with researchers from the Monetary Authority of Singapore and R3, a blockchain company, to study the economic incentives of decentralized liquidity saving mechanisms based on distributed ledger technology. Research is also being conducted on how peer-to-peer lending platforms succeed, and how retail banking benefits from leveraging information from social networks on the internet.
Fifth would be through internships. In September 2017, SMU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sunday Finance HK Limited, the holding company of FinEx Asia, for SMU students who are keen to enter the FinTech space upon graduation to do an internship at FinEX Asia in Hong Kong for 10 to 12 weeks. Under this FinTech Head-Start Program, up to three SMU undergraduates and/or postgraduate students per year will have the opportunity to take up the internship, which aims to provide students with multidisciplinary, hands-on FinTech experience and a glimpse into the latest industry trends & techniques.
By being plugged into the FinTech ecosystem through education, collaboration, the SMU Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and research & training, SMU hopes to contribute to furthering and deepening the understanding of the influences and trends that are shaping the development of financial technology.
MEDICI Team: Could you tell us about the FinTech track at SMU’s MITB program (Master of IT in Business) and the SMU Academy? How different are these from the previous programs in financial services that SMU has had? What collaborations has SMU put in place with financial institutions and startups?
Paul Griffin: At the postgraduate level, the School of Information Systems launched the Master of IT in Business (Financial Services) in 2007 to train students in the processes, operations, technology solutions and innovation strategies in the banking and financial services sector. In August 2017, the Master of IT in Business (Financial Services) program was rebranded and enhanced. It is now called Master of IT in Business (Financial Technology), which blends traditional banking with disruptive financial technologies in the curriculum. Students taking the program are trained in blockchain, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, big data, and DevOps, which refers to the practice of unifying software development and software operation. Alongside the classes, they have opportunities for internships, capstone projects, and hands-on practice exercises with industry standard systems.
In August 2018, we are further enhancing the financial masters track by combining financial analytics with financial technology to provide the students a complete picture of how technology and analytics are used in finance. Furthermore, students will also be able to take courses on the new AI track being launched under the MITB program in August 2018.
There are many collaborations including, for courses, big data analytics in financial services – OCBC “Big Data Rockstars” prize (Aug. 2017); research e.g. Pinnacle and many companies, governments (e.g. with the US Commercial Service at the United States Embassy in Singapore) and organizations for round-table discussions, internships, and student projects.
MEDICI Team: While FinTech is a hot topic, the biggest challenge that organizations will face is talent. How does SMU plan to address it? Are we going to have new FinTech specialists who will enter or come from retraining of existing people? How will the question of domain vs. agility and new technology pan out?
Paul Griffin: With the increasing application of FinTech in all markets, job roles in companies and levels need an increasing awareness and skills in technology. This covers both having FinTech specialists and knowing about technology as well as business domains. This training can be done for graduates and for retraining current employees. The key factor is the person must be interested in technology and willing to learn new concepts and skills.
With the increasing speed of change, the traditional areas must become agiler but the new technology and businesses must learn from and leverage off the traditional.
MEDICI Team: Do you see that the technology for the FinTech industry will become a commodity? In what time-horizon do you see this happening?
Paul Griffin: In some ways and especially for the consumer, technology will blend into the background. For example, using cryptocurrency will become as invisible as using IP telephony is now.
However, technology is also directly interacting with people much more now than before such as with chatbots and, as that grows, technology will become more prevalent in everyone’s life and activities. We will need to understand and work with the advantages technology brings without falling into the pitfalls of misusing it.
The technology we are talking about now will be commoditized within a few years but as technical change accelerates, new technology will also keep coming and the need to keep learning will be paramount.