As with other industries, technology has transformed the financial sector, disrupting age-old ways of conducting business and offering new value and innovation.
“With your cell phone, you can do any financial transaction that you want — banking, investing, all your insurance, all of your payments, get a loan,” said Eric Zivot, professor and chair of the UW Department of Economics.
Financial technology, or fintech, includes innovations like mobile banking, cryptocurrency, robo-advising (automated financial advising) and payment apps. And the fintech market is booming. For example, in September 2020, CNBC reported that payment companies Square, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard were collectively valued at over $1 trillion — that’s more than the biggest six banks combined.
If this line of work sounds appealing, you’ll need knowledge in three distinct areas: data science, programming and finance — particularly finance, says Tim Leung, director of the Computational Finance & Risk Management (CFRM) programs at the University of Washington, which include a master’s degree and certificate options in computational finance and financial data analytics.
Here’s a look at three jobs in fintech — and what you need to know to join the industry.
Financial Data Analyst
Financial data analysts are experts in statistics and programming. They prepare reports that businesses can use to model data and make financial calculations.
To retrieve and manipulate data, these analysts need to know how to use programming languages within Excel, including VBA and SQL, as well as data visualization tools, such as Tableau. They may also build machine learning models, Leung said.
These analysts, sometimes called financial data researchers or financial data strategists, are expected to know how to work with all sorts of data across the industry, such as equity value, mortgage risk and interest rates, Leung said.
The job market for data analysts in general is robust. Jobs are projected to increase by 33% in the United States and 31% in Washington state through 2028. Leung said graduates of UW CFRM programs are building careers with a number of Seattle-area firms, including Russell Investments, Parametric Portfolio Associates, and the treasury departments at Microsoft and Amazon. He said there are also jobs in emerging areas, such as cryptocurrency exchanges or alternative data firms.
Quantitative analysts — or “quants,” for short — work in every corner of the financial sector, from equities and fixed income, to foreign exchange and credit risk, Leung said.
“Quant is a kind of code name for all the financial quantitative research that’s done in the industry right now,” Leung said.
projected job growth
Data Analysts: 33%
Quantitative Analysts: 14%
Data Scientists: 34%
Figures are for Washington state.
With their expertise in finance, quantitative analysts are researchers who analyze existing data, design models and implement tech solutions. When a quant job includes hands-on software engineering, a candidate will need sharp skills in Python and R programming.
These quantitative roles may also have job titles like quantitative strategist, quantitative researcher, or, more rarely, financial engineer. The field known as financial engineering took a reputational hit in the 2008 financial crisis, so the latter title is less common now, Leung said.
Financial quantitative analyst jobs are on the rise. Through 2029, the number of jobs is projected to grow 6% nationally, and 14% in Washington state. Many of those jobs may be in trading and the buy-side of asset management, such as hedge funds and pension funds, said Leung.
Economic Data Scientist
Economic data scientists help evaluate business decisions for organizations, such as government agencies, tech companies and research enterprises. Fintech companies are hiring economists trained in data science to drive automated, data-driven decision-making.
“With an economics background, you’re trained to understand how markets work,” Zivot said. “An economist can help formulate the right problem a business needs to optimize and solve with data.”
Economic data scientists use econometrics tools and machine learning methods, such as predictive analysis, forecasting and market design. They need to know Python and R programming to manage, model and visually represent big data. Programming skills also help data scientists in fintech interact with software developers, engineers and UX designers, Zivot said.
There’s big demand for these experts. In Washington state, by 2028, jobs for economists are projected to grow 29%, and jobs for data scientists are projected to grow by 34%. Locally, economists are working in data science at tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. In the United States, with fewer regulations to follow, fintech is still led by innovative, small enterprises, where job opportunities abound, Zivot said.
Fintech Jobs of the Future
As fintech spins out of startups, investment firms and big banks are acquiring many of these financial solutions, even as they hire staff to develop fintech in-house, Leung said.
He also predicts more jobs in areas like customizable pricing, such as personalized car loans, as well as in money transfer and payments, like the work of the Seattle-area firm Remitly.
It’s crucial to recognize that new technology brings new ethical issues, Leung said. That’s why the Master of Science in Computational Finance & Risk Management includes study of ethics — another essential skill for anyone working in fintech, he said.
“Trust is built on competence and ethics,” Leung said. “From robo-advisors, to mortgage and loan products from retail banks, there might be ethical issues,” Leung said. “We have to understand those. For a lot of people, in terms of investment or getting loans, this is the biggest financial decision they’ll ever make.”
Get Started or Ahead in Fintech
Interested in starting or advancing your career in fintech? These UW certificates and degrees can help.
Need help choosing a program? Compare our computational finance programs.