From the illicit (Chinese citizens have started using blockchain to share information the government doesn’t want to be made public) to the lucrative (a large Chinese bank recently used blockchain to loan $300,000), the manifold applications of this new technology are making it a site of rapid innovation.
According to Dr Seen-Meng Chew, an associate professor of practice in finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, students need to wake up to the opportunities that China offers for tech-ready MBAs.
“China has recently hosted many blockchain, FinTech, and AI-related conferences, for example the International Big Data Industry Expo in Guiyang, and the Chinese government has identified blockchain as a key economic driver in its 13th five-year plan,” he says.
“The Chinese government is supportive of investing in it—I would think that China could potentially be a global leader in blockchain technology.”
Despite these huge leaps forward, Dr Chew doesn’t think that enough MBA students are aware of the opportunities that are out there for them in the FinTech landscape in China.
“I think business school students today are more aware of blockchain, and they’re keen to learn more about it,” he says, “but the majority of them still prefer to begin their career in traditional sectors like investment banking or management consulting, because they’re unsure of how to apply blockchain in their career.”
The finance and technology sectors are merging
This kind of caution isn’t necessary with the right MBA, as there are more opportunities in this area than many may realize.
To begin with, blockchain’s manifold applications mean that it has far-reaching potential even outside of the financial sector, and Dr Chew argues that this adaptability is what is helping to expand the boundaries of modern financial services.
“The difference between the tech sector and the financial sector is becoming more vague,” he says. “If you look at the three tech giants in China—Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent—they’re all developing capabilities in financial services using mobile technology.”
He cites Alibaba’s DAMO Academy as an example, which has a laboratory dedicated specifically to financial technology and blockchain innovation.
“These tech firms are so powerful now that they’re establishing their own research institutes in high-tech business areas, and I strongly believe that this will help to generate more interesting jobs for the economy in the future,” says Dr Chew.
A business-centric approach
MBAs at CUHK Business School will be well-prepared for these changes. The MBA offers a dedicated finance and technology concentration, which takes students through everything from the application of AI and machine learning in finance, to FinTech analytics, to capital markets.
It’s a complex area, but there is much to be energized about for those looking for a career in technology and finance.
“The challenge of teaching blockchain is that it’s an abstract concept,” Dr Chew admits. “It’s an intangible infrastructure—you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you have to imagine it. It’s difficult to explain how it works in real life and make people fully appreciate this technology as it doesn’t really have a physical structure that we can see..
“I try to use a lot of case studies on blockchain, FinTech, and AI, to explain to students how new technologies are being applied in business today.”
Hong Kong FinTech Week
This business-centric approach is complemented by CUHK’s location as a gateway to mainland China, less than an hour’s journey from tech hub Shenzhen.
For example, just this month Dr Chew was involved in Hong Kong FinTech Week, where he sat on a panel of industry experts from companies including Google, SenseTime, FinFabrik, and Hong Kong Express to discuss career opportunities in the digital economy.
The panel took place at CUHK Business School itself, and Dr Chew believes that this, and events like it, help to broaden the horizons of MBAs who might be interested in technology but don’t consider themselves to be specialists.
“We’re encouraging students to look beyond traditional industries,” he says. “There are a lot of new jobs in the technology sector as a result of technological advancement.”
Indeed, many believe that blockchain’s effect on business will reach, or is already reaching, far beyond Bitcoin and FinTech applications. Author and business school lecturer Rachel Botsman argued in a recent TED Talk that blockchain is contributing to a shift in public trust: away from centralized agencies and toward de-centralized collectives.
With these kinds of big-picture changes in mind, an understanding of blockchain won’t only prepare you for the future of tech, but the future of business as a whole.