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Here's How An MBA In Hong Kong Helped Me Kick-Start My Career In FinTech

Eike Willms discovered his passion for financial technology during an MBA at Hong Kong's CUHK Business School, landing a top job at EY after graduation


Tue Oct 9 2018

If you’re a prospective MBA with your sights set on fintech, it’s unlikely that you haven’t considered programs in Asia.

Particularly in the ‘gateway to China’, Hong Kong, fintech is a fast-growing area of industry that’s attracting mammoth investments from private benefactors.

According to Lattice80, private investments in Hong Kong fintech firms reached $546 million in 2017—more than double their 2016 total. As for government investment, that looks set to total a $60 million over the next five years according to their 2018 budget.

But for MBA students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, fintech activity in Hong Kong itself is just the tip of the iceberg.

The school offers a Finance and Technology concentration in its MBA program, versing students in everything from the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in finance, to analytics, to portfolio management.

For Eike Willms, a 2017 graduate of the CUHK MBA, the program inspired a growing interest in finance technology.

“I was working in a bank as a chief executive assistant and was mainly dealing with board activities and customer complaint management,” Eike recalls. “I wanted to get a proper business education, and I wanted to see something [new]—a different continent—so that led me very quickly to the MBA in Asia.”

Eike chose Hong Kong because of its status as a former British colony: on the cusp of mainland China, but with enough independence that it could act as a gateway to the rest of the world.

“The tech hub of Shenzhen is also right next door,” Eike adds. “I was really amazed at what’s going on there, and [how] the fintech scene is becoming much more popular in Hong Kong itself—usually [people think of] Singapore, but I think Hong Kong is gaining back some ground on that point.”

Though Eike had been interested in fintech before his studies, it was at CUHK Business School that his intrigue in the subject flourished.

“I knew that banks needed restructuring, and then when I worked on the MBA I [discovered that] what I want to do is help banks to process services and implement fintech,” he says. “It’s still the case that startups have great ideas but limited funding. The banks have enough resources to fund those activities, and they need the fintech, so I think it’s a good combination.

“Now I’m in the transaction department [at EY in Germany], and we still do traditional transactions with banks when it comes to mergers, acquisitions, cost restrictions, but at the same time we deal with a lot of startups—I think that makes a difference.”

One thing that stands out to Eike from his time on the MBA at CUHK is his trip to the Innovasia fintech summit in Hong Kong, an annual showcase of the latest fintech developments in the region.

“Most of the fintechs that were presenting there were actually from the mainland,” Eike says. “That gave you a very good idea of what’s going on [in the Chinese fintech scene], and I was amazed by what was possible—especially because here in Europe we have so many data restrictions, and [the things they were showing us] were already in the market, not just a concept.

“It had really been proven that it worked in the mainland environment, and now I see it here for my job at EY. We’re the fintech lead in Germany, and we’re talking with clients about [things] I saw in China two years ago, so that was really impressive.”

The Innovasia summit trip is just one example of how CUHK Business School is pushing for fintech education even beyond the curriculum—indeed, their efforts extend even beyond the bounds of Hong Kong.

This year, students embarked on a field trip, which included visiting the tech hub Singapore. While there, they heard about the latest trends in fintech ventures during field visits to Cyberport, Block 71, DBS Innovation Group, and Finlab.

They also received practical lectures, for instance one delivered by Mr. Raymond Cheng, COO of HSBC Group Asia Pacific, on the development of fintech in Hong Kong and Singapore.

For Eike, the experience he gained through the specialized modules on the MBA and the field trips that are offered as part of the course helped him stand out to employers—not just in Asia, but around the world.

“I think with a degree like that, you become [more than] the standard applicant,” he says. “That makes [your application] interesting—you always have something to talk about and the concentration [I chose], finance and strategy, was also a door-opener in this field.”

So—would Eike recommend the MBA at CUHK Business School to fintech enthusiasts like himself?

“Definitely,” he says. “Without any doubt—and I would recommend that they visit Shenzhen from the very beginning. It’s amazing what you can see over there, and it’s just a train ride away from campus.”
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