Tram Anh Nguyen, co-founder of the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CFTE), talks to Lilian Poilpot, sharing her passion for how the global finance industry is building the workforce of the future with the help of new FinTech developments, Artificial Intelligence and, most importantly, both education and diversity.

First thoughts

  • There’s a skills revolution in finance to upskill and reskill a multitude of stakeholders and people from totally different backgrounds.
  • If we don’t work with AI, understand the use cases, and look at all the opportunities it can create, the next generation workforce will be lost.
  • The more advanced technology is, the wider the knowledge gap becomes among all those individuals who don’t understand emerging tech, such as Gen AI.
  • Those in leadership roles must consider the quality, accuracy, reliability and source of the data informing their AI, which is not so easy.
  • While women are now increasingly visible in the tech industry, they remain under-represented at senior leadership level.
  • It is really important to me that we can mentor and reach many more women leaders in this new world of technology and AI.
  • A good leader should encourage their team to be more curious, open minded, and willing to experiment with AI.


In conversation

What is your background in finance and business?

Prior to co-founding CFTE, the world’s first FinTech online learning platform, I had navigated between the corporate and the entrepreneurial worlds. I spent 18 years in traditional finance (as opposed to the world of digital finance), being one of the few female capital markets traders at Standard Chartered Bank in New York back in the early 2000s. I then moved to London and became a wealth manager for UBS private banking. Today I’m an entrepreneur, working with a lot of different stakeholders in finance and FinTech across the world.

How did your finance background lead to the foundation of CFTE?

When I started to build CFTE back in 2017, it was because I’d spotted a big knowledge gap in the financial industry. Traditional finance professionals like myself were performing really well at what they did but had little understanding of technology. The gap I spotted was in the provision of education on that technology – or rather the lack of it. We couldn’t find anywhere to acquire the right knowledge and skills and that’s why we decided to launch and build CFTE. Its aim from the outset was to support and aid finance professionals in adapting to the rapid industry shift in its use of new and emerging FinTech.

How has CFTE grown since its foundation?

CFTE today is supported by senior leaders from the largest institutions, start-ups, entrepreneurs, universities and governments. It offers a vehicle for these organisations and finance individuals to learn, to upskill, and to find opportunities in their own countries, especially now that we are global. We have a large alumni community of 160,000 professionals around the world. Importantly, we continue to build the CFTE platform by drawing on this global network of people within the industry. In fact, we have more than 500 industry practitioners engaged as instructors and teachers.

Can you tell us more about the people delivering CFTE’s learning?

They are industry experts, all of whom are doing jobs in this sector. So, everything we do is led by the industry. They might be heads of innovation in a bank, or CEOs of challenger banks, FinTechs or VCs. They could be in the US, Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, because we aim to be diverse in terms of the way we teach. While our HQ is based in London, we also have offices in Singapore, and recently launched our Abu Dhabi office. We can be inclusive by representing the voice of those people who are building finance around the world today, whether their background is in finance, tech startups, government, or in a regulatory capacity.

How much do you feel CFTE has achieved to date?

My view is that we have only achieved 1% of what’s needed. That leaves 99% still to be done. Why? Because the more advanced technology is with, for example, the accelerating pace of Generative AI, the wider the knowledge gap becomes across countries, within organisations, and among all those individuals who don’t understand the technology. So, while yes, we have made progress, for me it is not enough. We need to make people aware that there’s this big technology impacting our industry and we are living in a world that is transforming fast – and it’s not easy.

There’s a skills revolution in finance to only not transform our industry but to upskill and reskill a multitude of stakeholders and people from totally different background and walks of life who want to enter the world of finance. We need to provide all of these people with education on FinTech. That’s why I say our work is only 1% done – because there’s a massive need for upscaling education at scale.

How can CFTE (and you) help organisations to bridge the skills gap?

A culture of change is needed, with change management a priority, which is where CFTE can help. CFTE is very much focused on providing life-long learning solutions, working with governments, policy makers, industry, leaders and academia. We’re helping them to adapt to the changes afoot and really push initiatives in education for the new world of finance as it transforms to a digital workforce. In my capacity as CFTE’s co-founder, I have been bringing my skills in developing strong networks between policy makers and public and private sectors around the world to invite them to share expertise in developing frameworks and policies. A key aspect of this is that my role is allowing me to contribute to creating a diverse and inclusive ecosystem of innovation and talent in FinTech and digital finance.

How do you feel about being voted one of the top 10 women transforming tech in the industry?

It is really important to me that we can mentor and reach many more women leaders in this new world of technology and AI. I spend a lot of time with other female senior leaders around the world, trying to find ways to support more women at board level, or to encourage more women to get into our industry. Education will be crucial, of course. And I love education. As well as my role at CFTE, I’m an entrepreneurship expert at Said Business School, an industry fellow at Imperial College and board member of EDHEC’s Masters in Finance programme.

At the recent CFTE Future Skills Forum in Dubai, we ran a round table on female leadership in a tech world. Why? Because while women are now increasingly visible in the tech industry, they remain under-represented at senior leadership level and this is something I am keen to address – we need more female board members in finance and FinTech!

Can you expand on the lack of women in leadership positions?

The significant lack of a female presence in top executive positions raises questions about the barriers women face. In broader tech leadership, women hold around 24% of CEO roles, 37% of CFO roles and similar percentages in other senior position. Of course, these figures can vary significantly by region. In the fast-moving world of AI and tech, women leaders are essential both for representing female IT users and to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. And with AI’s potential contribution to the global economy by 2030 estimated at 15.7 trillion dollars, this is a priority. But where are the women?

What leadership challenges does AI present for the whole industry?

Beyond the need to attract and empower more women leaders, learning and education is a constant challenge for senior leaders and their teams generally. There’s a lack of lifelong learning and upskilling, and we’re seeing an inability to make use of the AI tools available due to a lack of creativity. People don’t know how to use the AI tools. They’re not curious, enough. So, an important leadership goal should be to be curious in order to understand how AI tools are being used. It’s not about taking a coding course, but about how people are (and will be) using AI to be more effective.

Another challenge concerns courage. Leaders and their teams need the bravery to fail fast and to learn from those failures. I’ve noticed that many people don’t even try, but all that’s needed is the courage to give AI a shot. A good leader should instil these qualities in their teams, encouraging them to be more curious, open minded, and willing to experiment. On a positive note, I have worked with some CEOs and senior leaders in Asia where the culture of learning and failing was rewarded. That’s what’s needed more broadly – to allow your team to learn about AI and have the curiosity to build an idea.

What do you say to people who worry about AI – and leaders’ role in this?

I understand that some people worry AI may take their jobs, but I believe it creates opportunities for those who are skilled in the latest technologies. So, leaders must ensure that their teams are consciously improving their skills to perform effectively with AI and make better decisions. Of course, better decision making also depends on having the right data. So, as well as ensuring they have the right tools and the right expertise, people also need the right information. This means that those in leadership roles must consider the quality, accuracy, reliability and source of the data informing their AI, which is not so easy.

How do leaders mitigate the ethical concerns about AI use?

We know that AI will be integrated in every aspect of business, so we need to make sure that ethical considerations are part of this picture. Leaders cannot trust AI. What do I mean by that? As a leader you first need to understand the fundamentals of using AI tools. You must exercise judgement and use your instincts, especially with regards the challenge of bias and ethics. When looking at AI, you need to know what’s right and what’s wrong – you cannot trust the robot to know this. You need to utilise the AI tool so that it enhances your work, but not blindly trusting it. Education is essential in this because ethical leadership involves understanding and mitigating AI risk, while self-awareness can help align AI use with personal and organisation values, fostering trust and integrity in AI initiatives.

What skills do business leaders look for in the new world of AI and next-gen technology?

Interestingly, in our conversations with CEOs and other leaders, we’ve discovered that it’s not necessarily the hard skills that they look for when hiring leaders – these are things that you can learn. Rather, when it comes to AI and next-gen technology, they’re looking to develop soft skills, such as teamwork, communications, collaboration and, something I’ve already mentioned, curiosity. In response to this, at CFTE we’ve developed our own framework for upskilling and reskilling, which embraces both hard and soft skills. We call it the SHIME skills framework, which stands for Soft skills. Hard skills. Industry knowledge. Mindset. Experience. These are the five key pillars for leaders in any industry today, whether finance or not.

Does the need for soft skills play to women’s strengths?

Yes, very much so. As I’ve already mentioned, women are increasingly visible in the industry, yet remain under-represented at senior level. Now, AI has created an opportunity to transform this imbalance. Why? Because the innovative thinking and emotional intelligence exhibited by women make them valuable assets in both tech and business environments. AI is fostering more diversity and inclusion within the tech industry as organisations seek out people with the soft skills to embrace the changes it brings.

Women know how to navigate change. Our life is about changes, so I would say that AI opens opportunities for upskilling, allowing women to become more competitive in the job market. And with AI-driven education, along with strong support from governments and the private sector, I expect to see a growth in the number of women in technology and leadership positions. The key is to learn and move very fast as the technology itself changes rapidly. It’s about educating yourself so that you have the ability to embrace and excel in AI technology, and then implement these new skillsets to give you an edge.

What needs to be done to help more women seize the opportunities of AI?

Education is clearly one aspect of this. And it’s great to know that among the 160,000 professionals engaged with and upskilling with CFTE, 60% of them are women. So, women are educating themselves. But the next step is how we support them to lead and take on senior level roles. Governments, as well as the private sector, need to step up here.

I’ve had the chance to work with many regulators and government bodies, talking about the need to provide women with the opportunity to learn about AI and the emerging trends in finance. In fact, CFTE has worked tirelessly to bridge the skills gap by cooperating with governments (as well as corporates and universities) because without the voice of government, it will be hard to accelerate the greater uptake of women in FinTech.

How is CFTE helping to accelerate a change in governments’ approach to AI skills?

As I’ve said, we work a lot with regulators and governments, and we have developed a programme specifically to upskill women in finance and technology that we want these organisations to utilise. It’s the only way we’re going to really deliver education in AI at scale. More broadly, to build a diverse AI user base, we need alignment – between government, regulators, central banks, universities and financial institutions. We need a top-down strategy from government and regulators through all the different players in the FinTech ecosystem to the end user. Without that alignment, it will be really difficult for us to make an impact as we look to build the workforce of the future.

How do you get everybody together in an industry to educate at scale?

It’s not an easy job. But there are a few specific ingredients to achieving scale. First, you need a strong industry understanding of what’s really happening. That’s why all our practitioners at CFTE are industry experts. So, it’s education by the industry for the industry. This brings me to the second ingredient in being able to scale upskilling and reskilling in AI – an ecosystem.

Education is part of that ecosystem and needs support from the wider industry, whether that’s CEOs from startups sharing their case studies, or governments participating in CFTE’s education programmes or regulating and telling industry players what needs to be on their curricula. CFTE works within this ecosystem, surveying the finance industry, understanding use cases, and finding the senior leaders who can help to create content for programmes that can be scaled across the whole industry.

What next for you and CFTE?

After six years, I think our work actually starts now! We’ve just launched the Future Skills Forum, where we had 800 policy makers, regulators, technologists, entrepreneurs and a huge amount of industry prayers from 60 countries coming to share their views about how we tackle change and transform for the workforce of the future. We have a lot of work to do, starting with the current workforce, many of whom don’t have the right knowledge and skills to transform with AI and other FinTech.

I’d also love to find many more partners for CFTE, so that we have more ways to create a big impact together. And I want to encourage greater change, with forward thinking regulators, governments, organisations and industry players working together, for example to bring more women into senior roles, which would be awesome.

Finally, ‘what next’ in the broader finance and technology context is that we are creating the jobs of the future with AI. We need to do this right now because if we don’t work with AI, understand the use cases, and look at all the opportunities it can create, the next generation workforce will be lost.

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Lilian Poilpot, Partner

Specialisms: CEO succession planning, GTM, Tech & Product across Europe & MEA

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