The Armenian Hustle & Immigrant Mindset in Fintech

Henri Arslanian is the PwC FinTech & Crypto Leader for Asia, the Chairman of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong where he teaches the first FinTech university course in Asia.

I had the chance to meet him at ChainPoint19, the annual blockchain conference in Armenia, which brought together 50 speakers and 500 participants to discuss and debate on relevant challenges in the field.

Henri is one of the few people that come to mind when you hear the words Fintech in Asia. Outstandingly, lot of happenings and developments in the world have been accessible to the mass market due to Henri’s Linkedin page, making him one of the pioneers in crypto.

Ashot Khudgaryan – Henri, thank you for joining this meeting. 
You’re a Fintech and Crypto Leader for Asia in PWC, so it’s not a partner, it’s not a manager, what does the job of the leader imply?

Henri Arslanian – By the way,  I am also a partner at PWC. See – I lead a lot of our initiatives globally. When it comes to fintech and crypto, I put together the offering, what are we gonna do and implement, coordinate the processes in the country and become the face of the company, which is part of my job.

Ashot Khudgaryan So, you guys are the rockstars of the company?

Henri Arslanian – That too, but we are the people the company partners are happy to see and take on a leadership role.

Ashot Khudgaryan Does this give PWC an advantage over the other big 4 companies?

Henri Arslanian – I think a lot of them have leaders, but in crypto assets, PWC is very advanced, and one of the reasons is that we started a while ago, we were quite early. We were the first in Hong Kong, we supported the first publicly listed crypto company, we accept bitcoin as payment. 
We do a lot of activities, real activities.

Ashot KhudgaryanYou have Syrian-Armenian roots, grew up in Montreal, and I have noticed that Montreal has a lot of successful and talented Armenians in general. Has this helped you in your journey?

Henri Arslanian – As you mentioned, I grew up in Montreal (Canada) in a very traditional Armenian family and went to an Armenian school.

As a kid, I was a scout, I was in the Armenian hockey and basketball teams, staying close to the Armenian roots and super-involved with Armenians and still am, by the way.

I think the Armenian work ethics and hustling mentality made a difference. 

I believe that in life you should always sit at the edge of your seat and the day you sit comfortably on your chair, you’re screwed. You have to be ready to adapt continuously and I really believe it’s hard work. 

I don’t believe in work-life balance, I actually believe that when people focus on work-life balance early in their career, they make a mistake. Unless you are a prodigy and you invent something (I’m clearly not smart enough for that), you have to work really hard, every extra 10% effort you put will bring back 20, 30% output.

For 5 generations my family has lived in 4 different countries, so my great grandfather was in Anteb, he was extremely wealthy back in the days, we left everything with the Genocide and went to Syria. We became successful there, there is even a street called the Arslanian street in Aleppo, then we moved to Lebanon, then moved to Canada, then Hong Kong, my daughter and my son were born in Hong Kong. 

All this makes me reflect on the Armenian identity, which is very special. 

Ashot Khudgaryan   A great-grandson of a genocide survivor, I remember stories about how hard it was moving to a new place and starting life from scratch. 

You are from a generation of immigrants, moreover, a “double-immigrant”, because you moved from Canada to Hong Kong. I heard your speech about moving to China and how wild it was to do it back then. 
Has being this type of “double-immigrant” motivated you or held you back somehow?

Henri Arslanian – I always tell everybody – to be successful in life, you have to think like an immigrant, because you’re a hustler, you always go the extra step, you sit at the edge of the seat. I actually don’t feel like I’m an immigrant in Hong Kong, but technically we are. 

I’ve always had the feeling that I have to be the best. If you are the best in what you do, you will always have a seat at the table, because if you’re just average, nobody needs you anymore. 

And in everything I did in my life, I have always tried to be the best, starting from university, I wasn’t just the best in the class or course, I was the best in university. One of the awards I have is the Governor General of Canada Gold Medal for Academic Excellence. 

I don’t know another way of being successful, if you have a way, let me know.

Ashot Khudgaryan You didn’t build a technology, you didn’t go the startup way, you decided to use the Media as your influence tool to spread the word and values you found in fintech. You made a bet on Linkedin, which is quite strange for a Media influencer, how did that happen?

Henri Arslanian – Yeah, it’s a question I get a lot, I believe Linkedin is the most powerful tool in the business today. I personally refuse to communicate with people who are not on Linkedin today, because it shows that this person does not have the maturity and self-awareness about the importance of relationships.

A couple of years ago I decided that people need to learn more about fintech. I wrote the “Top 10 Fintech predictions”, had 2000-3000 followers maybe, but my rule is: if you deliver great content and you always keep your audience in mind, people will respect it. To this day, I spent a lot of money and a lot of time on producing content that I find my audience would appreciate. It took me time, it took me 2-3 years to build the first 30-40 thousand followers but from then it becomes way easier. Now I have more than half a million followers on LinkedIn. 

There are a couple of reasons why I believe in LinkedIn: it is a powerful tool to build your professional brand, your reputation matters a lot. I also believe that in this era your personal brand is important. Yes, we work for companies, but actually personal brand matters a lot.  Right now my personal brand arguably is as strong as the company that I work for. So what happens is that whether I work for PwC, EY, KPMG, etc and it doesn’t really matter, it’s my personal brand that is very strong. 

I believe everybody should aim for that, and in this day and age there is no excuse.

I give a lot of interviews to TV stations and the cost 10 years ago to film videos was exponentially high but now you can use an iPhone.  I film most of my videos on my iPhone, I have a little microphone, a tripod that I take in my carry-on and that’s it. Yes, you spend time on producing, putting it together, writing the script, but again people do not spend time thinking about their audience. 

If people think more about giving value to their network, you will see an immediate improvement on the followings and the impact they have. 

Ashot Khudgaryan Can’t agree more. You have built your personal brand that works for you in different ways, I am sure you know it better than me, and you have apparently received a lot of offers on how to do this and that, but have you ever thought of starting your own thing, maybe a fintech or a crypto project, or even a vineyard?

Henri Arslanian – Yes, I am an entrepreneur. Frankly, what people often don’t know is that when you are a partner & leader at Big Four you are actually kind of an entrepreneur. I basically built a crypto business from scratch and I run my own business at the firm. Yes, I work with many other people at the firm, but technically I run my own business within the platform that I leverage. 

And yes, I think about it everyday, you know I think it is the Armenian-entrepreneur-immigrant spirit that I always think about what’s next and you hustle. I don’t think that in this era people will stay at the same job for 10 years for example, like it was the case before. Some people may do that, great, but I am always an entrepreneur and I always think like one. I believe the skill that is more important than being an entrepreneur is being an intrepreneur. The way I see there is a gap right now in the business all this large powerful organizations if they run by bureaucrats or people think like robots, honestly their days are counted. I think what will be more powerful in the next couple of years is how the power of intrepreneurs, people who think and can actually shape organizations, be leaders. I think this is one of the topics we don’t talk about enough in today’s business world.

Ashot Khudgaryan A lot of organizations face stagnation during their growth and then they hire “fresh” people like Chief Entrepreneurs. 

Henri Arslanian – Which is b*****t, frankly, all these Chief Innovation Officers, I think it is great PR but I would not accept such a role. I think the problem with such a role is it’s great if you are happy doing one or two press releases, and if it makes you look good. But if you want to change your enterprise, you have to be a stakeholder and the business driver. 

Ashot Khudgaryan You are so passionate about fintech and how it is going to reshape the world, but if for some weird reason you had to quit fintech, what would you be doing?

Henri Arslanian – I get asked a lot about what other industries I would spend most of my time or I would have done if I had more time, if I was not into crypto currencies the two industries I would spend my time on, one is meat replacement, basically meatless burger, the whole plant-based diet, I believe there is a lot of money in there. Second is the e-gaming sector, you and I cannot become Ronaldo tomorrow but we can become Ronaldo in e-FIFA online. And also the marijuana business, I think there is a lot of potential in cannabis business. I find it unacceptable that marijuana is not decriminalized in most countries. Anybody can roll up  a bottle of vodka, but not a joint.

Honestly, I believe that our lives will have two changes: one of them is that driving by humans will be almost impossible, if not illegal. And that eating burgers will come to massive premium, like eating caviar, either the prices will be very high. 

Our way of eating is absolutely not sustainable.

Ashot Khudgaryan How was Chainpoint?

Henri Arslanian – For me, I really care about Armenia and the Armenian nation, and I really believe that we have a great potential with blockchain technology as a whole. One thing that is actually quite remarkable and is the biggest asset that we have as Armenians is obviously we have a strong, independent country, we have relatively good institutions like Central Bank and others, most importantly we have our brains, we have an attitude, we have the combination of Armenians and the Armenian Diaspora which is a 1+1=3 relationship. I really believe we have the ingredients to make Armenia great and we need to think forward of what’s coming up ahead. I think that’s really important. 

Ashot Khudgaryan What role will start-ups and VC’s play in fintech disruption of the world and Armenia? 

Henri Arslanian – Startups actually play a big role in fintech, because they catalyze the change. However, what we have to acknowledge is some of the big game-changing transformation in finance is not happening by fintech startups, it is happening through large technology firms, like Amazon, etc. 

These are the people who are generally driving the transformation in the financial sector, because they have the scale, the data, the trust, the resources.

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