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Bringing innovative legal to fintechs

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Joii Goh, a banking and finance and M&A lawyer has spent half of her career in magic circle and international firms in Singapore, London and Hong Kong (including Allen & Overy), and the latter half in international banking and high-growth fintech businesses. Below, she gives us an insight into her prior work as head of legal for a high-growth fintech business.

 

What do you find most interesting about working for a fintech business?

Technology has disrupted many traditional industries, including the financial services sector. To me, fintechs are somewhat akin to when financial institutions started up and how the global financial services organisations we see today once may have evolved. By being involved at an early stage, I can contribute to shaping the business, whether that’s its strategic direction, its documentation and procedures or policies.

The use of technology is neither unique, nor exclusive to fintechs. Banks and financial institutions are quickly evolving to catch up and we’re seeing digital banking, crowdfunding platforms and various fintech initiatives being funded by financial institutions. My first exposure to a fintech was with one of Singapore’s first crowdfunding platform joint ventures via the bank I worked at.

To be successful, a fintech business needs to identify a gap in the financial services industry that can be plugged, assisted or facilitated by technology, and then run, or shall I say, fly with it!

In addition, there’s an element of uncertainty with any start-up and one’s career trajectory is dependent not only on hard work, but investors' confidence in the company and the business’ growth. These factors are magnified in fintechs, and the interests of middle management are more aligned with its long-term growth.
 

You’ve worked in-house at a large bank as well as a high-growth fintech – what are the key differences in terms of the work and culture?

Regulators have in recent years taken a keener approach with large banks. Having a more established history usually also means things will be more structured, with policies and processes in place. While I can’t say that regulators are relaxed as far as fintechs are concerned, there are plenty of areas of regulation that are still developing and at consultation stages.

By the fast paced nature of technological development, there’s a requirement for legal to address aspects of legal risks the technological change presents, and to learn about the new technology, which can be challenging.

Whereas bank employees relate better to bonuses, in fintechs the long-term view often translates to stock options or shares. The two sectors offer very different benefits and downsides, the only commonalities are the dedication, time and effort required.
 

What challenges do high-growth fintechs face and how can legal teams support them?

The key challenges for high-growth fintechs include budgetary and manpower constraints. However, getting things right from the outset is very important, not least because unwinding set processes and documentation is inefficient and more costly in the long term.

Addressing the balance between legal risks and the business’ appetite for speedy growth is often a point of contention, so innovative routes to explore strategies that can help accommodate both is always important.

Legal teams are also helping by combining technological advancements with law and moving away from traditional physical documentation to easy access and enforceable platforms.
 

What skills do you think are most important for consultants working in fintechs and/or high-growth companies?

I would say discipline, the ability to work effectively with stakeholders at varied levels, and humility in learning the goals of the fintech, the technology and new areas of law.

As fintechs seek to find a gap in the financial services industry that can be plugged, assisted or facilitated by technology with the right expertise, an experienced and ‘out-of-the-box’ lawyer brings more than just legal skills to the table. With a good mix of financial, commercial, procedural and technological know-how alongside creative solutions, yet at the same time ensuring a strong guard against legal risks, the lawyer can help to navigate the firm to the next growth level.

 

What are the benefits of legal consultancy for you?

Consulting roles allow me time outside work for my young family and to focus on the legal work I enjoy, without being concerned about corporate ladders, designations and extracurricular corporate activities. Through Peerpoint, I can benefit from excellent clientele exposure, and the Allen & Overy relationship gives clients added confidence in my delivery as a consultant – when I’m working for a client, they are assured of not only my support but that of the global network and knowledge of the firm.
 

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I have a four year old who zaps up most of my time and energy outside of work. I’ve recently restarted tae kwon do and when there’s time, I try to surprise my family with my creative (but not always successful) peranakan kueh (cake) recipes or decorate our home with my ‘abstract’ paintings.

I’m also an invited law lecturer in the business school of a Singapore tertiary institution.
 

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