Meet CFTE alumni, Socheat Chhay, on his journey into Fintech

CFTE is travelling all around the world to meet with their alumni to talk about how learning about Fintech impacted their careers. In this second episode, we would like to introduce Socheat Chhay, Head of Digital Transformation at Bpifrance who shares his story on his journey into Fintech.

What is your background? And what is your current job title and missions?

I have 13 years of Capital Markets and Asset Management experience among which I had the opportunity to be an early employee and Executive Director of an ETF and ETC startup which became a US$1.2bn UK unicorn.  

Further to this success, I spent an extra four years as Co-Founder of a cleantech startup in South America, raising ~€14mln in the process which would be handed over to a green fund upon the return to Europe.

I would later spend 2 years achieving an Executive MBA from the University of Oxford and have recently joined Bpifrance with a double role as Head of Digital Transformation and as Intrapreneur, leading an internal Fintech working on Open banking. 

My role is to initiate and support the transition of Bpifrance from a traditional investment bank into a “phygital” fintech through open innovation. In the continuation of my years of entrepreneurship, I also volunteer as a mentor to various tech start-ups accelerated within Techstar Paris and Tech4good. 

– What was the turning point that made you want to change your job functions?

There were 2 major hints which urged me to act proactively on my professional journey:

First, in an earlier function as Head of Trading and Sales of Delta 1, I was lucky to witness beforehand that algorithms and automations were taking over repetitive operational tasks of a trader and a market maker. I also caught a glimpse of what might come when the new generation of traders whom I happened to recruit could not only originate strategies but also simulate them and automate order flows just through computer codes. By 2011, I was becoming the “old school” trader and this sudden “realisation” confirmed my choice to pursue my dreams and make my first step as an entrepreneur in renewable energies.  

Second, as I was travelling across different continents (China, South Africa, India, US) and ecosystems (VC, Startups, Government, Incubators) during my Executive MBA, I had a chance to meet good people who had for ambition to revolutionise social impact with technology. These allowed to not only transform traditional processes but also shape their ecosystem through the innovation of different business models. This conscious call made me want to expand my universe of possibilities starting with transforming the French financial world through Bpifrance.    

– What did you learn the most during your job transition in terms of skills, knowledge, methods, etc. ?

Throughout my career transition, I learned that everyone needs to take its time to reflect on personal questions and not hesitate to change direction in order to readjust priorities, define own individual vision in the function of its own experiences.   

In some cases, these questioning imply a deep personal transformation, a gamble, reformatting by learning new skills and a new definition of life journey to undertake.    

Oxford improved me by teaching me to learn consciously again, by upskilling and giving me intellectual depth on subjects which I had only perceived in a superficial way in my past work. 

Further to this, I benefited from the consolidation of my knowledge through two courses: Fintech Foundation and AI in Finance via CFTE. These courses gave me a clear vision of the definition and the existing real-life applications of business models, AI, Machine learning, blockchain, and more in all areas of finance.

After all my multiple professional and personal transformations, my own observations on the world of finance are very clear: it is highly inefficient as traditional finance sustain complex and heavy processes. It must improve and transform itself to allow all jobs to automate low value-added tasks to focus on higher value-added missions.          

– Beyond the popular media image of fintech, what was its most surprising aspect for you?

Fintech was a very simplistic idea in my view. It reflected a sector just offering incremental innovation with an only vision to improve core banking processes to better serve economic actors. 

It still true in overall, however, my perception has positively evolved after meeting people in “Tech4Good” who use Finance to create real positive inclusive impact: intended at lower-income population, social or environmental causes, new economic models bound with fintech to deliver loans, investments, insurance and support to unbanked, underserved.        

– What is the best advice you would give to someone who wants to change his / her job in finance and who wants to develop his / her own career?

To question ourselves always, approach technology by being humble, curious, researching people who are willing to share their experiences and look into the Fintech ecosystem and its participants.   

Learn to acknowledge one’s explicit strengths and weaknesses to find the best training to reduce the knowledge gap matching individual objectives. Training, upskilling does not mean to master everything such as learning to code, becoming a data scientist or a quant but to have a good understanding of Tech functions and psychology to be able to connect with them correctly.

Tomorrow’s finance professional could be the link between traditional jobs and technology. He will need to understand both the environment and translate it into economic reality.

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The interview was originally published in Finance Mag – read in French here.

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