ChapmanCG’s Steve Brown speaks about the impact of blockchain on future skill sets in this article in the South China Morning Post’s Management Trainee Career Guide 2018-19. For a full version of the Career Guide, click here.  

 

Although it’s a relatively new technology, students should start to consider a career involving blockchain, writes Chris Davis.

Underpinned by blockchain technologies, the financial world has been closely watching the prodigious rise and subsequent fluctuations surrounding cryptocurrencies. But blockchain technology has a lot more to offer than the framework on which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been built.

In layman’s terms, as the name implies, blockchain cryptographically connects algorithms, or “blocks”, to form a chain of digital records. This allows multiple stakeholders to have access to the same information at the same time. Because of its structure and versatility, blockchain offers transparency, almost tamper-proof security, and heightened efficiency for processing and recording transactions, while tracking assets across a business network using a secure database. Blockchain can only be updated by agreement between participants in the system, and when new data is entered, it can’t be erased.

Less than a decade ago, blockchain resided mainly in the world of finance. But its ability to retool processes cost effectively, and reduce or eliminate time friction pain-points, has seen blockchain technology gradually edging its way into a broad scope of industries. For example, a World Economic Forum survey predicts that by 2027, about 10 per cent of GDP will be stored on blockchain. The report, called “Deep Shift Technology: Tipping Points and Societal Impact” also highlights that blockchain technology is already being used to redefine the way that anything from property titles to organic vegetables are authenticated, tracked and traded. In the academic field, meanwhile, Sony Global Education has developed an educational platform in partnership with IBM that uses blockchain to secure and share student records.

As blockchain technology takes its place on the world stage, Henri Arslanian, PwC Fintech and Crypto Leader for Asia says while blockchain frameworks represent a cost-effective method for automating processes and exchanging data, he expectsadoption by mainstream companies to be gradual. “It is not so much a question of if, but rather a question of when,” says Arslanian. In spite of extensive proof of concept trials, due to a combination of time and cost factors, candidate organisations that could consider using blockchain applications to transform back-end data processes, are not rushing to facilitate changes, he says. “Their back-end systems may not be perfect, but they work,” says Arslanian who expects the fastest take-up of blockchain usage to be in the crypto asset space, which includes the broader universe of cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs).

But Arslanian stresses that now is the time that graduates and future graduates should be paying attention to blockchain related career opportunities. “As the blockchain and crypto pie continues to grow, there are so many possibilities,” he says. “We are only scratching the surface,” adds Arslanian, who believes that the scope of career options is ripe with opportunities for motivated individuals prepared to work hard. Due to the nascent evolution of blockchain technology, Arslanian notes that anyone with even just two years’ experience in the crypto asset space can be considered experienced although you should run away from anyone calling himself an expert due to the ever changing landscape. Importantly, he also makes the point that career opportunities exist beyond the blockchain design and technology space. For example, as crypto asset services become more commonplace, professionals with traditional accounting expertise are needed to develop the spectrum of skills needed to brindle the gap between traditional accounting principles and the new reality of cryptoassets.

While it is unnecessary for accountants to have detailed technical knowledge of how blockchain works, they do need to know how to advise clients on blockchain adoption, and consider the impact of blockchain on their businesses activities. Alongside blockchain engineers and developers, the embryonic sector also needs legal and marketing professionals. “What the blockchain industry needs is people who are continually developing their skills, and staying up to date with the industry’s advancement,” notes Arslanian.

The good news for those interested in pursuing a career in the blockchain environment is that online education platforms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer comprehensive business-scale blockchain and cryptocurrencies programmes. “There are steps anyone interested in blockchain can take to start developing their career without having to sign up to a traditional university programme,” says Arslanian, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), where he teaches graduate courses on entrepreneurship in finance as well as Asia’s first FinTech programme. Taught by a combination of academic and practitioners, as well as featuring prominent guest speakers to illustrate the content with practical business examples, HKU’s recently launched Fintech MOOC has already attracted more than 30,000 registered students from more than 190 countries.

As a globally recognised financial hub, Hong Kong is in a prime position to expand the use of blockchain, initially through applications in the finance and insurance sectors, according to Hui Kai-Lung, chair professor at the department of information systems, business statistics, and operations management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) School of Business and Management.

Blockchain technologies are tipped by some to have the same impact on the business world as the arrival of cloud technology did in the mid-2000s. Hui says even though blockchain technology is in its infancy as a skill set, now is the time to start building a toolbox of blockchain-related skills to prepare for career opportunities in the future. “As blockchain technology continues to evolve, so will the career opportunities it creates,” says Hui who cites examples of how blockchain technology provides a new and secure way to execute financial transactions.

Facilitated by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), in October HSBC successfully completed its first batch of live pilot trade finance transactions on eTradeConnect – a newly launched blockchain platform co-funded by seven banks. The digitised process means that application-to-approval times can be reduced from about one-and-a-half to roughly 4 hours, making trade simpler and swifter. Hui also believes that Hong Kong’s recently expanded Faster Payment System (FPS) System, which uses next-generation technology to provide a round-the-clock interbank real-time payment platform, will help to further boost the use of technologies including blockchain.

To help Hong Kong meet demand for the uptick for talent with blockchain technology skills, in September 2019, HKUST will launch a one-year full-time or two-year part-time Master of Science (MSc) Fintech programme, which will focus on blockchain, fintech, artificial intelligence (AI) and compliance and regulation. Offered through collaboration between the HKUST schools of engineering, science and business, Hui says it is the first time the three schools have worked in partnership to offer an MSc programme.

“With the need for blockchain education increasing, we decided to offer a more comprehensive view of the industry bybridging the science, engineering and business fundamentals that blockchain consist of,” explains Hui. While the students currently being recruited for the MSc programme tend to have a background in technology or finance, Hui says that once they have completed the programme, they will be able to apply their knowledge and skills anywhere within the blockchain and fintech sectors.

It’s the first time the HKUST schools of engineering, science and business have worked together to offer such a programme. Hui says the MSc will deliver the multi-disciplinary skills required to equip participants to pioneer blockchain solutions across the Hong Kong finance and business sectors. “With the need for blockchain education increasing, we decided to offer a comprehensive programme by bringing together the strengths and disciplines of the three schools, Hui says. While the students currently being recruited for the MSc programme tend to have a background in technology or finance, Hui says that once they have completed the programme, they will be able to apply their knowledge and skills anywhere within the blockchain and fintech sectors.

Acknowledging that blockchain technologies hold multi-application potential across a broad spectrum of business sectors, Steve Brown, managing director at global human resources firm ChapmanCG, says human resources (HR) practitioners are focusing on the skillsets their future workforces will need. These include those relating to blockchain and AI. With technologies including blockchain rapidly evolving, Brown says today’s graduates need to be agile, flexible, and creative, and have a global mindset to propel their career options and opportunities. “It’s the ability to innovate, quickly learn new skillsets and apply these to a deep understanding of business and consumer needs such as those involving blockchain that will be critical to future careers,” notes Brown.

As a serial entrepreneur, Ray Horan, CEO of Emotics, a regtech company that provides proprietary browser and facial recognition analytics to analyse employee behaviour during online compliance training, says blockchain and fintech technologies are creating opportunities for individuals who are prepared to take on a challenge. But Horan, stresses that graduates should not expect instant success without a commitment to hard work and perseverance. Like many entrepreneurs that have taken the initiative to setup startup companies, Horan believes a long-term career in one job or industry no longer exists. Instead, he says today’s graduates and postgraduates should be open to lifelong learning, and constantly keep an eye on market shifts as to where they should up-skill to stay relevant.

This way, every few years they can shift from one industry to another, or one career to another, embracing opportunities that emerging technologies such as blockchain are likely to offer. “The most important thing is making sure you are staying up-to-date with what is happening in the world of technology, society and culturally, and along the way, acquiring new skills that stay in touch with changing trends,” advises Horan. “The person who puts their neck on the line to hire you needs to know that the rest of the company is going to be impressed with you once you start your role, otherwise their job could be at risk,” he adds.

Originally skeptical about the aphorism, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, Horan says he has come to realise the cliché holds some truth. “It’s just the world we live in,” notes Horan. If you have the drive, the passion and single-minded determination to go to networking events week-in and week-out, then the opportunities present themselves, he says.