We’re heading into stormy times. And when the economy takes a downturn there’s always a tendency to look at education and ask one key question: what will help me secure a good job?
Joan McNaboe, who heads up the skills and labour market research team at Solas, the further education and training agency, says there has been a continuous growth in the ICT and financial sectors, with a high demand for skilled workers.
At the intersection between finance and technology is the growing area of “fintech” — innovation in financial services through technology — and there is no shortage of courses to help people develop a career in the area.
Dr Alessia Paccagnini, assistant professor at UCD’s Smurfit School, says the fintech sector continues to grow.
“New tools imply new solutions and new products,” Paccagnini says. “Just think of non-fungible tokens [NFTs] and the metaverse: new spaces, new jobs and new opportunities.
“Fintech has to address data security and privacy concerns, compliance with regulations and a lack of technical expertise. For this reason, the future fintech expert should be a multidisciplinary job with competencies in finance, technology and law. UCD students are exposed to several quantitative and coding courses that [ensure they have the flexibility] to deal with the evolution of technology and of the programming languages.”
UCD, the National College of Ireland and Dublin Business School are among the third-levels providing master’s courses in fintech, although broad business or computer science degrees may also address the topic at undergraduate level.
“UCD Smurfit offers a new master’s in financial data science that [covers] the fintech area, such as banking and finance in the digital age, machine learning for finance, financial data science, and programming for financial data science,” says Paccagnini.
“However, other master’s in finance courses at UCD Smurfit — such as the master’s in finance and master’s in quantitative finance, where I am the academic director — also teach fintech. These include courses in quantitative methods and an optional course in financial technology.
“For undergraduate students, including those enrolled in the bachelor of economics and finance, fintech is taught in the final year of some advanced courses with, to give one example, a module on machine learning for finance.
“Moreover, UCD also offers the professional diploma in fintech, where the programme includes a focus on digital payments and cryptocurrencies, in addition to regulation and regtech,” says Paccagnini.
Outside the third-level sector, however, the further education and training sector offers a number of courses for those interested in breaking into the fintech sector.
Among these is a QQI level five certificate in business studies at Ballsbridge College of Further Education, where students will learn about financial services, mobile technologies, spreadsheet methods, statistics, marketing, entrepreneurial skills, applied economics and communications. Students who perform well on this course may be eligible for entry into business, finance or accounting courses at TU Dublin, DCU, Maynooth University, NUI Galway and the new South East Technological University.
ICT Skillnet, which is co-funded by technology companies and, through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Skillnet Ireland, also offers an MSc in fintech innovation. Delivered online on a two-year, part-time basis, the course is delivered by specialist lecturers at Munster Technological University and is complemented by expert guest speakers from industry and academia. Like many courses in fintech, it is designed to equip graduates with everything they need to know about finance, innovation and technology, with a particular focus on being ready for the constant stream of new innovations and digital developments that will come their way.
UCD has been at the cutting edge of research in this area, with Paccagnini pointing to a project currently being developed with European partners, which will focus on creating novel networks among academic and public sector researchers in economics and finance, computer sciences, quantitative topics and banking.
Paccagnini says UCD is preparing students for careers in private banking, credit systems, digital finance institutions, analysts in the public sector — particularly in central banks and economic ministries — as well as consultants for cryptocurrencies and the blockchain industry.
“In addition, all traditional jobs in finance can also be pursued by students who attended UCD courses. UCD courses combine finance, quantitative [approaches], and programming languages, making students suitable candidates for ambitious positions in fintech and digital finance.”