FINTECH LAWYERS – LAWYERS OF TOMORROW
Fintechs globally have disrupted the financial services industry in more ways than we can probably imagine. With all the positive disruptions and buzz that Fintech has created, it has cemented its position as one of the most attractive industries for a lawyer to be in, where one be directly involved in influencing the new economy.
How is it actually like, working in a Fintech? And what does it take for one to join the industry? The Fintech industry is known to be fast-paced with unpredictable changes. As we are still dealing with relatively unchartered territories, lawyers have no playbooks or past precedents to be guided by. It is the true epitome of operating in a VUCA work environment, and it takes more than just sound technical legal skills to succeed and thrive.
Kerry Consulting‘s Legal Practice, Cynthia Teo and Daniel Chay spoke to rising Fintech lawyers across payments, cryptocurrency and investment platforms to share what it takes to be a Lawyer of Tomorrow.
DAY-TO-DAY LEGAL WORK IN A FINTECH
It’s not all glitz and glamor working in a Fintech. As a Legal Counsel, there is considerable grunt work in legal research, to understand and interpret the licensing requirements in each of the new jurisdiction that the business intends to go into.
As a Fintech Counsel, the need to be a business partner and to be commercially savvy is even more important as compared to an international MNC. The business is often breaking new ground and rolling out new products into the market, and counsels often have to play a role in educating external stakeholders and government authorities and in fact, actively shaping the regulatory landscape.
CHALLENGES FACED AS A LEGAL COUNSEL
Fintechs are disruptive because of how quickly they respond to the demands of their users. As such, the business is reconstructed almost every other day. It is paramount for counsels to possess an agile and curious mindset – to embrace learning on the job, and not be deterred by frequent changes in the initial business plan.
Rules & regulations in the APAC region can also be very different as compared to the EU region as mentioned by Pav Gill, Chief Legal Officer of Zipmex. As a legal counsel, one would have to understand the cultural differences in each country to have a better understanding of how the regulators operate.
“As a legal counsel, one would have to understand the cultural differences in each country to have a better understanding of how the regulators operate.”
Another common challenge faced by fintech counsels is the need to instill a robust corporate governance culture. Some founders of Fintechs may not fully grasp the implications of being non-compliant to a developing regulatory landscape, and therefore it is a constant effort by the counsels to educate and pre-empt the business on how to best operate within the regulatory remit.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A FINTECH COUNSEL
Most Fintechs appreciate lawyers with training from financial services regulatory, technology or corporate commercial practices in law firms. It provides them with the comfort that they have a good foundation on legal drafting and some exposure to the industry.
As Sue-Anne Kong , Head of Legal for Coda Payments puts it, in order to be a good fintech counsel, young lawyers should bring about a good attitude and the ability to ask the right questions. Legal work in a Fintech goes beyond the usual drafting. One should question on why an agreement is structured in a certain manner and what is the impact to the business.
“In order to be a good Fintech counsel, young lawyers should bring about a good attitude and the ability to ask the right questions. Legal work in a Fintech goes beyond the usual drafting. One should question on why an agreement is structured in a certain manner and what is the impact to the business.”
Last but not least, a passion and understanding for technology will definitely help as one can then bridge the gap between technology know-how and achieving business objectives. Lanx Goh, Head of International Privacy and Global Data Protection Officer for Ant Group suggests for Fintech Counsels to constantly upgrade your own knowledge in technology and finance related matters to stay relevant to the industry.
“Fintech Counsels should constantly upgrade your own knowledge in technology and finance related matters to stay relevant to the industry.”
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN JOINING A FINTECH
Having a good understanding of the culture of the Fintech has been a common advice given by senior lawyers who are currently in the Fintech industry. It is critical to understand what role the legal counsel plays in the organization. A legal counsel’s work is truly valuable only when he/she is a business partner, and not someone who merely sits behind a screen, and rubber stamps on contracts.
Another key consideration which Elaine Ho, APAC Head of Legal for LiquidX suggests is to also conduct your own due diligence on the funding origin and investors of the company, who the founders are, their credentials as well as their past track records. This will provide insights into the financial stability of the organization and the viability of the business plan.
“Conduct due diligence on the investors of the company, as well as the founders and senior management, including their credentials, track records and their mission and values. This will provide insights into the financial stability of the organization and the viability of the business plan.”