Bitcoin initially operated under a cloud of suspicion and distrust it never meant to create and never anticipated earning.
When Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first Bitcoin in 2009, thus establishing the world's first blockchain, the system was meant to be as open, secure and democratic as possible. Conducting financial transactions away from any established financial institution was also supposed to represent the epitome of privacy; nobody could scrutinize anyone's records or decline to conduct a financial operation.
Unfortunately, all of those features played well into the criminal underworld's business models. Nearly as soon as the genesis block was mined, those who avoid scrutiny as a matter of practice made Bitcoin their currency.
It took about four years for anyone else to take blockchain and cryptocurrency seriously. Bitcoin remained a fringe concept - for some, a folly but, overall, a concept that nobody in the finance industry gave much credence to. That was until Vitalik Buterin and his cohorts recognized blockchains' potential. They set about unlocking it, bringing their product, Ethereum, online in 2015.
Many of Ethereum's features - but particularly their smart contracts bathed FinTech in a new light. Suddenly, everyone could see what Satoshi had intuited.
|Facts about FinTech:|
|1. FinTech developed across three eras - the first was building the infrastructure, the second was the change from analogue to digital and the third came post-2008.|
|2. As FinTech becomes ever more mainstream, world-class universities are developing curricula to teach FinTech.|
|3. Some aspects of FinTech are already integrated in existing financial systems while others show great potential to revolutionize the financial industry.|
|4. As the finance industry evolves to meet today's economic needs, FinTech is fast becoming one of the hottest career fields.|
Superprofs specialising in finance, technology and FinTech are keen to present their perspectives on this industry; let's hear what they have to say.
Why Is FinTech Important?
Today, we take one-click shopping, Venmo-ing mates a few quid and popping 'round the cash machine before a night out for granted. And, in these COVID times, being encouraged to pay by card is par for the course.
All of these and more fall under the umbrella of financial technology.
Simply put, financial technology is the marriage of those two industries; together, they gave rise to a redefined global economic landscape, one that's not limited to just the cards in your wallet and apps/services you subscribe to.
In many ways, FinTech levels the economic playing field. Picture a tech-connected population that has never had access to - or the financial means to justify a banking relationship. You might imagine migrant workers could fit in this category, or indigenous populations in developing economies.
Whereas before, wiring money home to their families entailed visiting a Western Union or MoneyGram outlet, today's itinerant workforce can transfer funds from their digital wallet to their family members', often without having to pay any middleman a fee.
We can see the dramatic effects of such practices in China, where most of the population, even the elderly and rural folk use digital wallets to pay for everything from their vegetables to their utility bills. And the statistics bear this phenomenon out: over the past five years, China has virtually eradicated abject poverty. Technology and FinTech played a role in accomplishing that feat.
Ending poverty is a worthy aim that FinTech could help attain but it's not the only reason financial technology is important.
When Did FinTech Start?
We kicked off this article with an analysis of Bitcoin's early tribulations for a reason: most people believe that launching the world's first cryptocurrency ushered in the Age of FinTech.
In fact, it only ushered in the latest era. FinTech's history goes much further back than the dozen years it's credited with; to the second Industrial Revolution, to be precise.
It wasn't too long after the first telegraph lines were strung that bankers realised they could transmit financial information over long distances. That practice proved to be a lucrative addition to the roster of services those institutions could provide.
In 1851, American entrepreneur Samuel Selden, along with his business partners, launched Western Union. Not content to rest on those laurels and let the money roll in, with every new technical development - the telex and, later, computers, they expanded their reach worldwide. Today, Western Union is the second-largest money transfer service in the world.
Building the infrastructure to make FinTech possible took about 100 years; it wasn't until those analogue systems started going digital, in 1967, that FinTech entered its second era - and what an explosive time that was!
It saw the rise of the stock markets and the debut of cash machines, the introduction of personal computing and, regrettably, the rollback of financial guardrails meant to protect consumers from predatory financial tactics in the aftermath of the Great Depression.
Banks, now allowed to speculate with private monies - retirement funds and investment portfolios, engaged in ever-more-risky financial gambles that, for a while, raked in enormous profits. Left unchecked and unregulated, they devised new financial vehicles; the speculations grew wilder. Soon, those Wall Street gamblers were betting on what was, essentially, thin air.
In 2008, that financial house of cards crumbled under its own weight. The ensuing global economic downturn signalled the end of FinTech's second era.
As the world clamoured for stability and economies fought to right themselves, a mysterious coder proposed a new way to 'do' money and finance.
Working in FinTech
Historically, people went into finance for one of three reasons: it was a family business, it was a stable, secure profession, or because it was lucrative, especially after the aforementioned consumer protections were dismantled.
Today, people want to work in FinTech because it represents cutting edge technology. It demands the brightest, most creative minds; people for whom critical thinking and problem-solving is as natural as breathing.
And also because it is a stable, secure profession.
Indeed, statistics point toward an ever-growing need for coders with a thorough understanding of finance. As more businesses go global and, inversely, the world gets smaller and more connected, they will need more comprehensive systems to keep track of their financial dealings.
But, as any first-year economics student could tell you: demand is only one half of the law; there has to be a supply to balance things out. Finding reasons to work in an industry as young as FinTech is in its current incarnation - giving prospective employees good reasons to choose a career in FinTech is altogether a different proposition.
Still, you wouldn't have to look very hard to find good reasons to work in FinTech.
The typical FinTech enterprise is about as far away as you can get from dull, humdrum, mind-numbing, routine work as you can get. Don't misunderstand, FinTech is work and those businesses have offices; they're just not rows of cubicles that workers can't wait to leave behind at the end of their workday.
Much of FinTech (and coding, in general) is a collaborative effort. To foster a work environment that encourages collaboration and cooperation, often, offices are open-plan and the traditional company hierarchy is less a part of the culture.
In this and other ways, FinTech is transformative; it re-imagines a workday that people spend loving what they do and striving for the best results together.
FinTech can also be a stepping stone to your future as an entrepreneur. Is that a goal you've set for yourself? Read more about how to reach it.
Considering all of the trauma of the 2008 global economic downturn and how blockchain technology premiered while everyone was still reeling from that shock, it's little wonder that few seriously embraced cryptocurrency and FinTech concepts, at first. It took several years for any authority to even speculate on the whole idea.
The coding community wasn't unhappy about that. In fact, they revelled in their domain remaining out of the limelight; it gave them time to crystallize their ideas and put them to work. If anyone was interested in FinTech, they studied finance and took coding classes, joined coding communities and participated in hackathons.
Perhaps it was Ethereum's potential that woke the academic world to the possibilities inherent in FinTech. Maybe those worthies had had enough time to observe and monitor Bitcoin and blockchain in action. Or perhaps university students started asking why there were no FinTech courses available.
Whatever the reason, in 2016, one of the US's elite technical universities, MIT, put together a full course of study on FinTech. It covers everything from finance and the global economy to the needed computer and coding skills. Shortly afterwards, the dam burst. Institutes of higher learning all over the world put similar courses together and started teaching on the subject.
Today, those working towards a career in FinTech can learn all they need to know at:
- Stanford University (US) offers a FinTech Master's degree programme
- New Jersey Institute of Technology (US) enrols students in their undergraduate FinTech course of study
- The University of Birmingham (UK) lists an excellent postgraduate course in FinTech
- Oxford University - Saïd Business School: one of UK's best FinTech programmes
- IILM University, Gurgaon, India: learn how to foster growth in the FinTech industry
- Vrije University, the Netherlands: their Amsterdam campus offers FinTech courses in English
Admittedly, it is still hard to find FinTech degree programmes; most of the teaching in the subject is geared towards business leaders hoping to incorporate financial technology into their businesses. Often, MBA courses devote an entire module to FinTech; it's not taught as a single subject.
That doesn't mean there aren't any FinTech courses within your reach. You just need to know about more schools offering such courses.
Won't you let us know which ones you found?
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