Professor S.M. Yiu (right) and Dr Allan Au is pleased with the highly positive feedback from students and collaborators for the new programmes and the establishment of the FinTech Academy.
From the use of contactless payment methods such as PayMe, Alipay to the increased range of automated banking services, financial technology (FinTech) has crept into our daily lives.
Not everyone might have noticed it, but FinTech is an unbeatable trend. Indeed, the banking and financial sectors are eyeing widespread adoption of smart tools in today’s technology-driven world.
And The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is taking the lead in nurturing talents to meet the rising needs. It launched the territory’s first multidisciplinary FinTech undergraduate programme (Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Financial Technology (BASc (FinTech)) last year with the goal of nurturing financial technologists and entrepreneurs with essential knowledge in both finance and technology. Furthermore, the enrollees are given trainings in leadership and regulatory technology knowledge to help them cope with future challenges.
The broad range of subjects offered under the programme, including law, linguistics and financial related courses, on top of computer science, cultivate a broad mindset among students and allow them to apply their knowledge and skills adaptively and creatively. Wide-ranging training characterizes the core FinTech elements, which cover distributed ledger and blockchain technology, big data and data mining, computational finance and algorithmic trading, e-payment and cryptocurrency.
The programme is among a series of efforts made by HKU’s Faculty of Engineering to step up FinTech training across the territory. Besides the new multidisciplinary Master’s Degree in FinTech to be launched in September 2021, the Faculty is also behind the The University of Hong Kong – Standard Chartered Hong Kong 150th Anniversary Community Foundation FinTech Academy (HKU-SCF FinTech Academy), established with a HK$60 million funding from the Standard Chartered Hong Kong 150th Anniversary Community Foundation.
Significant for Hong Kong
Professor Zhang Xiang, HKU President and Vice-Chancellor, sums up the Academy’s importance to the city, “With the continuous advancement of technology, the financial industry is evolving dynamically and the next wave of disruption is coming. HKU has first-class FinTech research teams across the Faculties of Engineering, Law, and Business and Economics, working synergistically in various areas including blockchain, cybersecurity, regulatory technology (Regtech), AI and big data analytics. The HKU-SCF FinTech Academy will be a center of innovation for nurturing talents to shape the FinTech industry across the region and strengthen Hong Kong’s position as a leading financial centre.”
Professor S.M. Yiu from the Department of Computer Science expects to see about 1,000 FinTech graduates in the next 5 years. That includes 400 graduates from the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, plus graduates of the existing computer science programme with a focus on either financial computing or the new stream of FinTech.
Multidisciplinary approach to learning
Our students are actively participating in local and regional FinTech competitions. They crowned Champion at the Chengdu 80 - FinTech Design and Development Competition in 2019.
He stressed that the uniqueness of the HKU BASc(FinTech) programme lies in its comprehensiveness, leveraging the strengths of the University’s law and business Faculties. His own department comprises experts in a number of vital fields, such as cyber security and cryptocurrency.
“The curriculum is flexible and our Department is going to open more new courses for the programme,” he said. “My colleagues and I have developed new courses in relevant areas. FinTech is a wide spectrum and full of exciting developments in different areas including open banking, virtual banking, e-payment, credit scoring.”
“If you look at the profile of our Faculty, we are proud that we have experts who have been working in research in the above areas for many years. For example, some professors have worked on security and cryptography for more than 20 years and have built up the technology foundation for FinTech.”
His colleague, Associate Professor Allan Au, noted the high demand for FinTech talents in Hong Kong. “Once we have launched the degree program, our collaborators have asked us when the first batch of graduates will be produced. They want to hire them as soon as possible,” he said, adding that some top firms including tech giants are keen to offer internships.
Several summer interns are already working on the R&D projects sponsored by the HKU-SCF FinTech Academy. This helps strike a good balance between students’ theoretical knowledge and practice, says Dr Au.
He is pleased with the highly positive feedback from the students who have completed their first year of the programme. “They are very willing to help with our promotional activities like JUPAS talk for the programme. Every time when we asked for volunteers, they are always happy to help and willing to share their experience with school students,” he said.
Growing importance of applications
The establishment of the University of Hong Kong - Standard Chartered Hong Kong 150th Anniversary Community Foundation FinTech Academy
The demand for fresh talents will certainly grow under the common thinking that the next wave of disruption will come from FinTech. Not just financial institutes and companies, but also other fields from logistics to construction, civil engineering are actively looking for new FinTech applications relying on the technology. “We are exploring many new emerging FinTech applications and have built strong foundations in six to seven areas,” said Professor Yiu.
In the insurance sector, he adds, artificial intelligence has been deployed to handle claims for compensation. “Nowadays, claims for a damage resulting from say a car accident could be made simply by sending an image of the scene online and payment will come in just a few days.”
Legal knowledge is crucial for ensuring compliance with existing laws. “Anyone trying to develop or use an app needs to make sure that he is abiding by the law, without breaking any regulations,” Professor Yiu explained. The rising field of RegTech aims to enhance the regulatory process by integrating law with technology through such functions as transaction monitoring and screening, and more logistics to construction, civil engineering.
Technology makes impossible business opportunities possible. That also means additional room for research. Professor Yiu said: “In FinTech, we are exploring new directions for banks to evaluate small and medium sized companies who may not have a good track record by, for example, looking up information about them on social media, their interactions with other companies, etc.”
The newly established Academy will play a key role in driving advanced, multi-faceted research. It will support at least 4 research projects per year; strengthen ongoing research at the FinTech and Blockchain Research Lab and the Center for Information Security and Cryptography under the Department of Computer Science, and facilitate interdisciplinary FinTech research among the Faculties of Engineering, Law, and Business and Economics.
Two of the four R&D projects currently supported by the Academy originate from the Computer Science Department and have gained support from the Government’s Research Matching Grant Scheme. Professor Yiu and Dr Au are principal investigators of the projects involving a new invention – cryptocurrency.
SHIELD is one of the latest technology developments in FinTech by HKU Department of Computer Science. It is a very unique cybersecurity technology developed by Dr K.P. Chow, Centre for Information Security and Cryptography (CISC), to perform intelligent packet filtering in order to protect clients against DDoS attack and ensure their business are not being impacted.
Dr Au is developing cryptocurrency that can withstand attacks from powerful quantum computers. The Academy is also funding research on developing tools to trace and identify suspicious transactions in cryptocurrency to stem money laundering.
Another related research looks at the technological support enabling effective regulatory control over the use of cryptocurrency. The lack of and difficulty in enforcing control has kept it from being used as a legal tender, says Professor Yiu. “We are developing technology to allow cryptocurrency to be regulated so that people and governments can feel comfortable using it.”
“In Hong Kong, we have started to work on regulatory control since last year in virtual banking regulations. But even if you have the regulation, it’s very difficult to implement the law if the technology cannot support it, if we don’t have an effective monitoring system. We have to do it step and step,” he said.
Bridging between Industry and Public
Professor Yiu is keen to bring the FinTech concept to the general public, from high school students to fresh graduates who want to enter the financial or banking industry.
While providing scholarships and internships for HKU students, the Academy will be a key bridge connecting FinTech leaders and professionals and the general public. Regional events such as Summits featuring leading figures are in the pipeline, alongside regular events such as seminars, workshops, breakfast meetings and executive roundtables.
To educate more people about the latest technology, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) will be open to everybody, not merely banking and financial industry professionals. Attendance in the MOOC courses is free and anyone interested can take several MOOC courses to be eligible for a certificate, says Professor Yiu.
Also targeting the school sector, the Academy plans to create MOOC courses suitable for high school students, as well as seminars, workshops, inter-school competitions for them, including youngsters from the Greater Bay Area. “The objective is to train talents at different levels,” said Professor Yiu. “We want to bring the FinTech concept to the general public, from high school students to fresh graduates who want to enter the financial or banking industry.”
“The Academy provides us with an opportunity to pool all resources of the University into one unit. On the one hand it will enrich the knowledge of the industries, professionals who don’t know much about FinTech while on the other hand it will strengthen collaborations between the academia and industry.”
Professor Yiu welcomes collaborations with organisations such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Securities and Futures Commission. Talks have already begun with Cyberport on setting up some R&D programmes there using the Academy as a bridge and support. Looking to the future, he said: “We need talents who not only know the technology well but also with good communication skills and can apply what they have learnt to provide innovative services.”