The fintech sector has been one of the fatest growing and most innovation for over a decade. Compared to traditional finance companies, fintech have technology at their core - it's their lifeblood. Not surprisingly, this makes how you do engineering in a fintech a key focal point, one that could lead to both success and differentiation.
Leadership of your engineering team can put you ahead of the pack by a few months to a few years especially where the key factor is the implementation of existing technology. Any engineering managers have to be strong technically, but equally important need to be able to inspire their teams, motivate and guide them to a shared vision of success. As leaders they should roll with the punches, not get flustered, and act as a firewall so their team can do their jobs. More than that, they need to be forward thinking by knowing the latest emerging technologies and shifting market trends. That's a lot, but good managers have to be all rounders.
We'll dive into more detail on the art of engineering management, specifically in the fintech sector, covering challenges and opportunities first. We'll then look at some essential skills and best practices for leading high-performing teams and fostering innovation. Also, we'll bring in some real world examples of successful strategies so we can see what good looks like in practice. By the end you'll hopefully understand what the best practices are and how to implement them, so you can unlock your team's potential and move your company forward.
The Unique Challenges and Opportunities of Engineering Management in Fintech
Technology moves fast in fintech. We're in the artificial intelligence wave now, blockchain technologies are moving in to institutions and the digital banking wave is far from over. Understanding what these all mean in the context of the financial industry is key so that their teams are well prepared to do good work and having an approach to how you might integrate this into your company key for effecting change. Continuous learning and self-improvement should be your favourite hobby, and being able to discern which technology or trend is hype and which one is here to stay a key skill.
Depending on your particular fintech vertical, competition is either high or cut throat. Innovation is the lifeblood for any fintech company, large or small, and teams need to be equipped to be agile and innovate freely. Experimentation should be encouraged, failure should be embraced and the downside impact minimised. Feedback loops need to be kept as tight as possible so iterations can happen more quickly and innovation can move faster. This all has to be kept in mind on different time horizons: focus on the long term value for customers, and understand the potential of a particular new innovation in the short term onwards.
Essential Skills for Effective Engineering Management
No matter what, you cannot be an effective engineering manager if you don't have some level of technical capability. You need to understand why certain decisions are made, if any better options are available, and how they will impact roadmaps. It's also crucial to be able to take certain requirements and ensure they are being fulfilled technically. This bridge between business and technology can be difficult to navigate, especially when communicating both up and down, but if you manage to get it right it will allow the team operate at a far higher level.
Communicating is an art by itself. If you've come up the engineering ranks you'll likely understand how something should be delivered to the team: give the business context and impact, clearly show how this piece of works fits in, and describe where the lateral movement might come in (scope changes due to business requirements changing). Telling the story of the why and the impact is a great way to bring everyone along the journey as it gives a sense of ownership when building the product. Engineers shouldn't be cogs in a machine, they are key parts of the business and too often this is not how they are treated.
Technology moves quickly, especially in fintech, so a part of your job is to also foster new skills and understand the technology landscape. This is good for two reasons: knowing when not to introduce new cutting-edge technology, and having the reasoning for why, and knowing when to introduce new cutting-edge technology. There should be some level of maturity reached for any given tooling/language/architecture which is measured against the risk you are willing to take on as a company. In larger corporates, this means the technology has been used a few years in production, for startups it could be a few months.
Working well to a project plan and strategically understanding the changing landscape is key to a high performing engineering team. Removing blockers before they surface, knowing when a given process takes weeks or months and scheduling it in advance, and adequately moving work around as the project moves beneath you is all key to successful delivery.
Best Practices for Leading High-Performing Teams
As technology changes, new methodologies arise to to work with them and get the highest output. Many companies do this well already and all share some common traits:
Setting clear goals and expectations. Give your team something definitive to work towards and have a mutual understanding of what the desired output is, and what the specific expectations are for different individuals in the team.
Empowering team members and fostering autonomy. Enable your team to do their best work, which is normally through trusting them to do what they were hired to do at their level. Give support when needed and let them do their thing.
Encouraging open communication and feedback. Shortening the feedback cycle to any system increases output and managing teams is no exception. Have channels to do this, and encourage your team to speak up early and often.
Prioritizing professional development and growth. As far as possible align the work with what interests the team members. If the work is not directly aligned, provide additional opportunities to grow: 10% time on tutorials or certifications, funding certifications or training outside of working hours, discussions on the best path to move towards.
Recognizing and rewarding success. You need to acknowledge good work to create a positive feedback loop. Without this the work can feel meaningless even if all other boxes are ticked. This can be done in team meetings, on internal systems and even through direct benefits.
Real-Life Examples of Successful Engineering Management Strategies in Fintech
Revolut, a UK-based fintech company, has successfully implemented innovative engineering management practices to become one of the fastest-growing fintechs globally. The company has built a strong engineering team by focusing on hiring top talent, fostering a culture of innovation, and adopting agile methodologies.
Key practices contributing to their success include:
- Flat organisational structure: Revolut maintains a flat organizational structure, allowing for better communication, faster decision-making, and increased autonomy for its engineering teams.
- Data-driven approach: The company relies heavily on data and analytics to make informed decisions, driving innovation and continuous improvement in its products and services.
- Rapid prototyping and iteration: Revolut encourages its engineering teams to experiment, prototype, and iterate quickly, learning from failures and continuously refining their solutions.
Square, a US-based fintech company, has overcome challenges and achieved significant growth through effective leadership. The company has become a leader in the payment processing space by focusing on customer-centric solutions, strong engineering management, and a culture of collaboration and innovation.
Key strategies contributing to their success include:
- Customer-first mindset: Square's engineering teams prioritize customer needs, working closely with other departments to develop and refine products that address real-world pain points.
- Cross-functional collaboration: Square fosters a culture of collaboration across teams, breaking down silos and encouraging knowledge sharing and creative problem-solving.
- Investment in professional development: The company invests in its employees' growth and development, offering training opportunities, mentorship programs, and resources to help them advance in their careers.
Insights from Industry Leaders on What Sets Successful Engineering Managers Apart
These are the key takeaways from the top cohort of successful fintechs:
- Technical expertise: Successful engineering managers possess a deep understanding of the technologies and tools their teams work with, enabling them to make informed decisions and provide valuable guidance.
- Strong communication skills: Effective engineering managers can clearly articulate their vision, goals, and expectations to their teams, ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards the same objectives.
- Adaptability and continuous learning: The fintech landscape is constantly evolving, and successful engineering managers embrace change, continuously learning and adapting to stay ahead of the curve.
- Empathy and emotional intelligence: Great engineering managers understand the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence in managing their teams, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.
- Strategic thinking: Successful engineering managers have a strategic mindset, able to balance short-term goals with long-term objectives and navigate the complex challenges unique to the fintech industry.
Effective engineering management is at the heart of successful fintech companies. The challenges and opportunities within the fintech sector require a unique application of skills in order to be effective. There are several key focal points in becoming a better engineering manager, and systems like Agile are available to ensure these are implemented correctly. These results are clearly shown by both Revolut and Square.
By embracing the requirements and focusing on the points listed, you can ensure your engineering team continues to thrive as the landscape and market demands continually change. The impact of effective engineering can make a sizeable impact on your company, and in a lot of cases the difference between being first and last. There's always room for improvement, so apply some or all of these tools and help to ensure you're closer to first than to last.