In Episode 142 of the Fintech Chatter podcast, Dexter Cousins chats to Bianca Bates, Chief Client Officer and Deputy CEO of Cuscal about their recent acquisition of Basiq.
Bianca Bates is one of the most respected leaders in Fintech. Tune in as Bianca shares Cuscal's rich history of innovation from opening Australia's first ATM to building a digital bank from scratch.
Dexter and Bianca discuss Cuscal's push into CDR with the acquisition of Basiq. And they also talk about Cuscal's continued support for the Fintech ecosystem.
In the second part Bianca shares her leadership tips. They discuss the challenges of leading remote workforces, how to manage mental health and how to keep relevant in a rapidly changing environment.
0:00:01 Intro - About Cuscal
0:03:05 Cuscal's Proud Firsts in the Payment Industry
0:05:19 Exploring Payment Innovation
0:07:39 The Benefits of Building a NeoBank
0:09:11 Supporting innnovation and the Fintech Ecosystem
0:18:40 Position on Digital Assets, Blockchain Technology, and Crypto
0:21:04 Leadership and Purpose
0:23:34 Driving innovation and collaboration in the Age of Remote Work
0:28:14 Flexible Work, Hybrid models and Productivity
0:30:18 Conversation on Finding Motivation and Passion in a Career
0:32:12 Bianca's career journey in Fintech
0:39:34 Mental Health Strategies for Business Leaders
0:44:35 What does the future hold for Cuscal
In this episode of Fintech Chatter, host Dexter Cousins is joined by Bianca Bates, the Chief Client Officer of Cuscal. Cuscal is an end-to-end provider of all payment services in the Australian market, with over 100 clients including mutuals, banks, Fintechs, and corporate acquirers. Bianca explains that her role as chief client officer entails leading Cuscal’s product and service teams. With 700 people, Cuscal is a sizable organization with a rich history of innovation and plays an important role in the Fintech startup ecosystem.
Cuscal is known for its proud firsts in the payments industry, including the first ATM in Australia in the 1970s and the first contactless payment in Australia. They were also the first to launch multiple brands on the same day with Apple Pay and the other Pays in the Australian market. Bianca explains Cuscal is not looking to compete with the Big Four banks, instead they are focused on solving problems with connectivity and capacity. By having the necessary connectivity and capacity, they enable anyone, including new entrants and fintechs, to compete in the market. This allows Fintech's to focus on the front end, while Cuscal takes care of the back end.
Bianca Bates was appointed to the role of Chief Client Officer & Deputy CEO in December 2020. As well as leading Cuscal’s Product, Client Services and Operations teams, Bianca is CEO, Craig Kennedy’s delegate, and is involved in Cuscal’s engagement with industry bodies, regulators and shareholders.
Prior to this Bianca held the role of Chief Client Officer since April 2018. Since joining Cuscal in July 2014, Bianca has held a number of other senior roles including Acting General Manager, Product & Service, General Counsel & Company Secretary, Acting General Manager Shared Services and Head of Client Services.
Bianca has over 20 years’ experience in financial services with large and complex US and Australian companies, both public and private. Prior to Cuscal she worked in senior legal and compliance company secretariat roles with Genworth, GE Capital and DLA Phillips Fox.
Cuscal is Australia’s leading provider of payment solutions, partnering with mutuals, banks (large and small), fintechs, and corporates who provide payment services to their customers.
For over 50 years, Cuscal has championed competition in banking and payments in Australia. Today Cuscal is focused on enabling the future for clients, bringing to life the platforms and tools needed to compete and succeed in Australia’s rapidly evolving digital economy.
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0:00:01] Dexter Cousins: Fintech chatter. Brought to you by tier one people leaders in Fintech executive search. Welcome to Fintech Chatter, the show where I connect with Fintech leaders for a bit of a chat. I'm your host, Deck Dexter Cousins, and in today's show, I'm joined by a really special guest, Bianca Bates, chief client officer of Cuscal. Bianca was last on the show almost three years ago, and she did just such an amazing job of explaining Cuscal that I thought rather than me doing the introduction, I'd get Bianca to do it.
[0:00:45] Bianca Bates: Thanks, Dexter. So, yeah, Cuscal, we are an end to end provider of all payment services in the Australian market. We have all of the licensing and connectivity of the major banks. So there's the major banks and Cuscal who can effectively enable all payment channels in the Australian market. Our clients, there's just over 100 of them, and they are made up of the mutual sector who were the founders of Cuscal many, many years ago, actually over about 50, 60 years ago.
[0:01:21] Bianca Bates: And then we have other banking clients such as Ing and Bendigo, as well as Fintechs corporate acquirers, Paytex. So we have a really sort of broad segment of clients.
[0:01:35] Dexter Cousins: Awesome. Now, we're going to be talking today a lot, Bianca, about the role that Costcal has been playing in the Fintech startup ecosystem, been a real enabler of the ecosystem, particularly over the last five years or so. But before we kind of talk about that, your role as Cuscal chief client officer, what does that entail?
[0:01:57] Bianca Bates: Yeah, so chief client officer, I lead our product and service teams. So we have five product domains. So we have our issuing switching domain fraud payments, which includes MPP, as well as CDR and acquiring. So I lead the product domains as well as all of our client facing teams. So all of our relationship management, partnership management teams, contact centers, operations and sales.
[0:02:29] Dexter Cousins: And how big is Cuscal in terms of people?
[0:02:31] Bianca Bates: We've got about 700 people.
[0:02:33] Dexter Cousins: Wow. So it's a pretty sizable organization.
[0:02:36] Bianca Bates: It is.
[0:02:37] Dexter Cousins: And talking about, I guess, what we've seen within Fintech, there's a lot of kind of a really rich history of innovation from Cuscal. That when I first had you on the show. That's still one of my favorite shows, right? Because my mind was blown by the first that the organization is responsible for. Can you talk through some of those? Because not everybody watching might have listened to that podcast.
[0:03:05] Bianca Bates: We do have a lot of proud firsts at Cuscal starting back in the 1970s, where we introduced the first ATM to Australia, which was pretty cool, really. Before that, people were having to go to a branch to get cash out Monday to Friday, whatever hours the bank was open. So it started there back in the 70s. Fast forward. We were the first to do a contactless payment in Australia, visa, Pay Wave, first to launch anywhere in the world. In fact, with over 30 brands going live with Apple Pay and the other Pays in the Australian market.
[0:03:44] Bianca Bates: Pretty close to first in the Australian market, but the world first was so many brands on one day, then MPP Pay to going live first. Yeah, so a lot of proud firsts that we've achieved.
[0:04:01] Dexter Cousins: It's kind of such a great story as well because Cuscal is kind of like the original challenger to the Big Four banks, right?
[0:04:12] Bianca Bates: Yeah. We don't see ourselves competing to the Big Four. In fact, we're happy to enable anyone.
[0:04:18] Dexter Cousins: Right?
[0:04:19] Bianca Bates: Really the problem that we're looking to solve is connectivity and capacity. So we do have the connectivity to all payment rails and can enable anyone. So I think that's kind of the big enabler that we do have. So new Entrants coming to the Australian market that are looking to compete, whether they're a bank or an acquirer PayTech, we can enable them. So I think the connectivity is the first problem to be solved. Capacity is probably the other big one. So with our connectivity and capacity, we're dealing with all of the back end connectivity and enabling our clients to focus on the front end, which is exactly what the fintechs are excellent at doing. Like that connectivity layer that's dealing directly with their customers, whether that be consumers or whether it be businesses. So we're managing the back end, giving you capacity to work on the front end customer experience.
[0:05:19] Bianca Bates: They're the really big things. I think the other thing that we've worked really hard on over the last probably three years as a big focus is time and cost to market. We know as business cases get approved, as capital is released into fintechs, they're looking to get to market as soon as possible, not wait years for connectivity. So that's another problem that we're looking to solve, is being able to get to market as soon as possible with the most advanced, innovative payment products available.
[0:05:54] Dexter Cousins: And so you mentioned Pay2 before. It's obviously been a whole deal, not only in the media, but obviously within the industry around how slow the uptake has been on. That what's Cuscal been doing to kind of drive that and encourage that.
[0:06:09] Bianca Bates: Yeah, we haven't been going slowly dexter so we were really proud to launch to go first with Pay2 in the Australian market. And so we've enabled all of our banking clients, Payers, to go live. I think with the exception of maybe a few, we've also proudly launched payment initiator clients, fintechs Paytex, who are going to bring some really amazing, I think, innovation to market as all of the participants and all of the accounts are available.
[0:06:44] Bianca Bates: As you know, there's one major bank, Live now we're expecting all of the others to be live by March, April, so really looking forward to seeing some great innovation later in the year.
[0:06:57] Dexter Cousins: Now, talking about innovation, it's such a fast moving industry that we've seen just over the last five years, a number of ideas that have kind of been tried, executed and maybe haven't worked out. And I think a really great example is neo banks and Cuscal went down the path of building their own neo bank, 86 400. Could you tell us a little bit about the kind of thinking behind that and what you learned through that process and how it's kind of helped evolve? Because we're going to talk about another area CDR in a moment, but how that process kind of evolved the thinking to where you are now.
[0:07:39] Bianca Bates: Yeah, and I think learning is probably a great way to start that conversation. The reason we built 86 400 was for us to learn as a payment provider what putting our capability in a digital bank's hands could bring to market. So enabled with real time payments all of our digital capability as well as end to end payments, we wanted to see what a digital bank could look like, what great looks like, enabled by our solution. So we really did approach that as a learning what we did learn, and also 86 400 brought a lot of data and analytics to that solution. So really putting customers first, thinking about how they could utilize data to play experiences to consumers that were going to make them more financially healthy and help them live their lives every second of every day.
[0:08:39] Bianca Bates: So it was a huge, big learning. I think the things that we learned was that as a digital experience, putting everything together that we had delivered to them was pretty remarkable. Within minutes you could be on boarded as a customer, have a digital card issued and be transacting pretty much within six minutes. And so we were really proud of looking at all the capability we built and how that could be played up.
[0:09:11] Bianca Bates: So I think that was a great learning experience for us. I think one of the big learnings out of 86 400 was getting the simple things right for consumers was really what they were looking for. And I think that applies to Cuscal as well. Like getting the basics right is what's important to our clients. But also from a banking perspective, same goes for that.
[0:09:39] Dexter Cousins: What really amazed me was the kind of the reaction to the sale to NAB because what you've talked about there is possibly, if the HBR heard about it, a kind of standout use case of internal innovation being successful and actually returning on investment for shareholders turned into this kind of abject failure of banks, they don't work and all this other stuff. It's kind of amazing, right, that it gets turned up.
[0:10:17] Bianca Bates: Yeah. And then I think that story even continues when you think major banks dealing with legacy tech platforms, purchasing a digital bank that had already been live and now migrating customers onto that. So I think that story actually continues and we're really proudly still supporting you bank and those customers on the platform with all of our capabilities. So I think you're right and that story is going to continue.
[0:10:45] Bianca Bates: Yeah.
[0:10:46] Dexter Cousins: So, continuing the theme of innovation, you made a big announcement just a couple of weeks back, another really good friend of the show, Basic, and big news that you'd acquired them.
[0:11:00] Bianca Bates: We've for many, many years now believed that the intersection of payments, data and digital ID all coming together are the enablers of a truly remarkable bespoke customer experience. We've thought that for some time. We did a study tour to India pre COVID, where we could see that coming to life in the Indian market with a lot of super apps mainly. But generally speaking, amazing customer experiences. Helping people live their lives in a much easier, more efficient, healthy way, both financially and all aspects of your life. So for many years we've believed that the intersection of payments, data, digital ID could bring something really special to market.
[0:11:52] Bianca Bates: And so, as you know, we're very heavily focused on payments and have invested in innovation, are now the leaders. I think we're second behind CBA with volumes for MPP and connect half of the participants in the Australian market. So really heavily invested in payments. We have gone live with a CDR solution that brings some of our clients live for compliance activities for CDR. But the kind of capabilities from a CDR perspective that are going to bring great experience, customer experiences to life is something that we thought would probably take maybe two years for us to build and then obviously attract clients. And so we went to market looking for the best solution that had been built.
[0:12:42] Bianca Bates: And I think there's no doubt that Demir and Basic have delivered Australia's leading data solution. So putting together Cuscal and Basic we think is a really magical combination. I should say that whilst we have proceeded with that acquisition, demi did choose Cuscal as well. So he had probably many suitors and I think he saw the same magic that could be brought to life with payments and data. So I think it's a really great match.
[0:13:16] Bianca Bates: It's just started, but really excited to see what we can bring together.
[0:13:22] Dexter Cousins: So another thing that when it happened, I thought, yeah, this is like a marriage made in heaven is both Cuscal and Basic are so committed to supporting the fintech startup ecosystem and enabling those early ideas to actually get off the ground. So Basic with free access to their API and anybody with an idea and a business can go and plug in. Costcal has been really helping plug in the fintech startup ecosystem into the payments, rails and landscape.
[0:13:59] Dexter Cousins: We're at a point where I've been in this space for quite some time and it's the most nervous I've ever been about what the future holds. There's some real headwinds that have been going on for at least twelve months now and look like they're going to continue happening. What's the view of Costcal as to how they can support this next wave and the current kind of fintech ecosystem and make sure that we continue to innovate despite there being challenges around funding and all of those other things.
[0:14:31] Bianca Bates: Yeah, so I think certainly with this acquisition, we see both organizations being able to provide a more holistic solution. So rather than needing to go to two different partners to get payments and data solutions, basic will be enabled with Cuscal's capability and vice versa, I should say. Actually, Basic will continue to operate under Demea's leadership in their premises as their sort of team and Cuscal do the same. But we're obviously working on some really strong alignment between the two organizations.
[0:15:09] Bianca Bates: So I think we'll be able to utilize access to the data solutions that Basic have and vice versa in relation to payment access to the Basic clients. So I see it as really bolstering and strengthening the support that we can provide to fintechs and providing access in a way that they may have struggled either way to get those capabilities.
[0:15:37] Dexter Cousins: Now, your clients as well, which are mutuals, et cetera, we've seen in the US. There's been some really concerning kind of developments which I don't think will impact the Australian ecosystem, particularly with the kind of upper regulations. But nonetheless, it does highlight that there's this kind of David and Goliath kind of chasm that we have here in Australia of the big four banks and then all of these smaller competitors.
[0:16:07] Dexter Cousins: How do you see that start to play out now? And do you think that as you continue to innovate, are you seeing any kind of not leveling the playing field but closing the gap on smaller banks being able to compete now with the bigger banks on a digital kind of experience level?
[0:16:27] Bianca Bates: Yeah, I think that I agree with you about the stability of the Australian market. Thanks to our regulatory regime that we have in place, I think that there are all the tools available in Australia to compete. I think all of the banks have been completely overwhelmed with a whole slate of compliance obligations over the last few years. Whether that be MPP, whether it be CDR compliance, general tech, cyber, privacy, all of these things they're focusing on.
[0:17:04] Bianca Bates: I think that now we've done that hard work, all the tools are there to enable organizations to compete, whether you be small, medium or large. I think that, like I said earlier, we are creating the capacity for any organization to be able to compete by dealing with all of the back end connectivity to all of those rails. So I think that in the UK it took about three years before we started seeing a lot of innovation come through from a true customer experience perspective through the use of open banking and open banking payments. I think the way that we've rolled that out in Australia is done in a much we've. We've applied all of the learnings of things that went poorly in the UK and Europe markets.
[0:17:55] Bianca Bates: So I think that we could expect to start seeing innovation, but we're just at that tipping point, not seeing anything immediately. But one of the whole reasons for us to proceed with that basic acquisition was to really accelerate how we can bring those to market. I mean, Demi is already delivering basics, already delivering some really cool experiences for his clients, whether they be automating back end processes such as onboarding or credit, decisioning making, things really fast for consumers or small businesses, but also laying up sort of data aggregation.
[0:18:33] Bianca Bates: The kind of things that you saw in the 86 400 app are kind of now available and accessible to everyone.
[0:18:40] Dexter Cousins: What's kind of koscal's position on digital assets blockchain technology, crypto? And is it a space that you see yourselves playing in or is it just too risky?
[0:18:51] Bianca Bates: Yeah, so we're already playing in this space through some of our PayTech clients. So funding and defunding crypto wallets for the right organizations because there is quite a big risk component to this. So we see it as a real thing. Australians are involved in crypto transactions, so it's here, it's happening. So I think you'd be foolish as a payments organization to sort of turn a blind eye and say it's too risky. We're not doing anything.
[0:19:24] Bianca Bates: I think there's a whole regulatory regime that needs to happen before it becomes mainstream. And so we're involved in one of the RBA pilots, the CBDC pilots with a few organizations. I'm not sure, I think our reserve bank are probably going slower, which is a wise thing than other reserve banks. I think we've got sufficient payment channels in Australia to solve most, if not all use cases that it's been introduced in other markets.
[0:19:54] Bianca Bates: But we are keeping an eye on that. 100% agree with you. The technology, I think, is probably the key to focus on, and that's why we wanted to be involved in some of those pilots that the RBA are doing, insofar as our banking clients are concerned. We watched closely the CBA launch and then pulling away from that kind of wallet within a wallet, that's something that we could explore. But I think there's probably a bit of risk assessment management and moving out of Crypto Winter before anyone's really interested in pursuing that.
[0:20:32] Dexter Cousins: As I mentioned, going to have a chat with Bianca now a little bit about her experience as a leader. Bianca, the feedback that I got from that first podcast interview that we did, I think was still remains one of our most ever popular shows that we've ever done. My wife, Johanne, I think it was podcast number 15, so we were kind of learning as well. But as we were editing it, I remember my wife John saying, wow, she is so impressive.
[0:21:04] Dexter Cousins: And look, the feedback that I get from anybody in the market is just how good an operator you actually are the way in which you conduct yourself, the way in which you present yourself, but also the way in which you've dealt with, particularly the fintech ecosystem. And so I wanted to have a chat with you really about your approach to leadership because I think it's such a shining example for everybody as to particularly in difficult and stressful times that we're going through.
[0:21:36] Dexter Cousins: This is the time where all of us have the opportunity. There's a saying that I've got for times like this, which is stars shine brightest in the dark and we are on some pretty tough times, I guess. Look, the first question that I've got for you is as a leader, what do you consider to be your purpose in an organization?
[0:22:02] Bianca Bates: Well, first of all, thank you so much. You didn't blush as well, right? Very humbled by that. I do feel very uncomfortable talking about myself, but thank you very much. That's very kind of you and your wife to have said that. So my purpose as a leader, I think, is really to bring the best out of my team at Cuscal. I mean, the only reason we've been able to achieve our success is through our people.
[0:22:31] Bianca Bates: So finding the right people, nurturing their talent is kind of my bread and butter. That's what my role is at Cuscal. I think in order to get the right outcomes, you need to have people understanding exactly what it is that you're looking to do. And so we've been really clear at Cuscal that our purpose, our vision, is to enable the future, like I said, to deliver the connectivity and take the heavy lifting away from our clients. And so really getting our teams to focus on delivering the kind of solutions that are going to take that heavy lifting and are going to be really critical to enabling success. So I think that's kind of the sort of basics, I think, when you have superstars in your organization and we've got quite a few of them really understanding what makes them tick and supporting them in their development as well as supporting their families sometimes when they're having to work really hard.
[0:23:34] Bianca Bates: So yeah, looking after our people is probably number one job and I really enjoy doing that too.
[0:23:41] Dexter Cousins: It's been really tough for leaders over the last few years. I think it doesn't get spoken about enough. In fact, if anything, I think there's been this real kind of almost angst against leaders who have been thrown in exactly the same situation as all of their employees. No training, no support as to how to lead teams remotely. And yet it's just expected and there have been significant challenges for everybody and being able to do that and still there are still, I think, still issues for a lot of businesses and a lot of leaders around. How do you manage particularly larger teams remotely?
[0:24:20] Dexter Cousins: You talk a lot about connectivity and the purpose of Kuscal for its clients. How have you got that connectivity within the workforce to be able to go through this period and you smash in all these goals, right? All these innovation first?
[0:24:36] Bianca Bates: Well, I think it hasn't been easy. As you said, no one was given a handbook of how to deal with the pandemic, how to manage a big team. I think in the middle of the Pandemic we were working on four of the biggest projects we've ever worked on, namely open banking pay to upgrading our switch and moving our fraud system to the cloud. So as well as our 700 people we had the teams involved in that. So at one point we were over 1000 people.
[0:25:11] Bianca Bates: So to sort of get to the end of that successfully came with a lot of hard work. I think communication was probably is really the key to it. No one has the silver bullet to it but making sure that people understood exactly what was going on in the business that people knew that you were there for them from a sort of individual perspective. Upping the ante on Comms was I would say it was almost a 30% overlay of what we were doing as a business and that's kind of the general people comms as well as individual projects as well as just check ins.
[0:25:52] Bianca Bates: I think that's what got us through it. But it wasn't easy and it wasn't always successful. There were some hard times. The connectivity piece and the culture piece is something we're struggling with to be honest. I think everybody is. I speak to all of our clients and no one's got the answer to it. I think we're all muddling through. I really do believe though that there has to be a good balance of in person as well as remote.
[0:26:23] Bianca Bates: We've adopted a moments that Matter approach at Cuscal so there's no set days to come into the office. But we do ask people to come in for moments that matter. And we have some corporate ones of those where you have to come in for our all staff town halls as well as other events that we have during the year. And then it's up to the teams and the leaders to pick what their moments that Matter are. So for my team we generally come in a few days a week where we can work together.
[0:26:55] Bianca Bates: That conversation of hearing what's going on around you is priceless from my perspective, but it's a real balancing act and I don't think anyone has really solved for it.
[0:27:06] Dexter Cousins: You've probably seen I'm pretty vocal about this on LinkedIn. I meet with so much resistance from people who believe that their individual productivity somehow translates to organization wide productivity or a team's productivity translates to organization wide productivity. Why do you think there's such a kind of resistance and disconnect between what business leaders are seeing and experiencing and the workforce who seem to think that everything's going to plan?
[0:27:37] Bianca Bates: Yeah, that's another really great question. There is definitely quite a big shift from the employer dictating terms. I mean, no one would want to go back to that point in, like, you know, I've got two children. Yeah, I've always worked for really, really great leaders who supported me, and I worked part time or I worked weird hours, but it's always been that kind of two way street where so long as you're getting the outcomes that you've agreed, when you work how you work, it's not a problem.
[0:28:14] Bianca Bates: No one would want to go back to the point where people had to ask permission to work flexibly. That just didn't work. The pendulum has shifted to a whole other space. My challenge with that is that flexible work needs to be two ways and it feels with some people, not everyone, but some people feel it's. Now one way I'll take terms and that's how it will be. And that's not what flexibility is about. Never has been and it probably never should be.
[0:28:43] Dexter Cousins: And the feedback that I've been given from pretty much every one of my network and the research that I've done has been that in the first three to six months of lockdown there were big productivity gains and then they dropped off kind of fairly significantly. And I kind of feel that one of the challenges that people have, and it's kind of a lead into the next question, is they're often doing jobs that don't give them energy, that they're not driven by, they're not passionate about.
[0:29:17] Dexter Cousins: And it feels like, hey, it's just this, I'm trading my time for money and then you get this task oriented, hey, well, I've done what's expected of me today. We even had what, twelve months ago? The phenomenon of doing absolutely the bare minimum and this quiet quitting thing and everybody thinking, well, that's perfectly acceptable. To me, that doesn't seem from a personal perspective because I know how bad that would make me feel. I know how much it would impact my mental health.
[0:29:48] Dexter Cousins: What are the things that you as a leader have found kind of give you the energy and as you've gone through your career and you've managed being a mum and being a leader and being a wife and all the other stuff that you've got to do and the soccer drop offs and the shopping and everything else. How have you kind of found energy in your job to make sure that you're driven, but also that you've kind of been able to deliver as well?
[0:30:18] Bianca Bates: I think probably one of my worst and best traits is my determination. So I can't let things just be that I have to get things done. If I'm going to do something, it has to be done properly. So my determination, I think, is probably the start of it, and resilience probably, particularly through the pandemic and lockdown where it did feel a lot like you were on kind of a treadmill every day doing the same things. I think for me, the things that keep me motivated are learning.
[0:30:53] Bianca Bates: So learning from people, learning from reading, learning from new experiences, which thankfully in payments that's kind of every day, which is really good, and working on things that you can see are going to make a difference, which again we do on the daily at Cuscal. So I think that the challenge, the learning, making a difference are the things that sort of keep me going. There has to be a purpose at the end of it or why bother?
[0:31:22] Bianca Bates: And so that's for me personally, and then sort of bringing my team on that journey. I think our team at Cuscal are also very motivated to push all of the great things we're doing forward.
[0:31:37] Dexter Cousins: You'd think we'd scripted this right? Because my next question is I kind of fell into Fintech and became passionate about it. I fell into recruitment and became passionate about it. I don't think my observation of people in their careers, I've very rarely seen somebody who went, yeah, I passionately wanted to be a lawyer, or passionately wanted to be this. I was passionate about the health, maybe it's the healthcare industry they're passionate about, but certainly Fintech, it's not something you wake up, right, and go one morning, hey, I'm going to be in Fintech.
[0:32:12] Dexter Cousins: How did the Fintech kind of journey start for you and what was it that kind of drew you to the industry?
[0:32:19] Bianca Bates: Yeah, I definitely stumbled upon it. There's no doubt about that. When I left school, I was passionate about being a chiropractor, then didn't enjoy that, became passionate about being a lawyer, fell out of that and in fact started Cuscal as the GC COSEC and quickly became really energized by what might be possible.
[0:32:43] Dexter Cousins: I'm smirking here, right? You listen on the podcast. The reason why I'm smirking is my daughter, who's eleven, wants to be a lawyer. And the reason why she wants to be a lawyer is she's heard guests and heard me talk about guests on the podcast and she's asked me about, well, how did they get that job? And pretty much everyone said tickly females as are they were a lawyer. I'm not sorry Stem, I'm not doing much for Stem here.
[0:33:16] Bianca Bates: There's no doubt about it. As much as we bug people, us lawyers, the analytical skills that you get from being a lawyer as well as litigators like me, the ability to present arguments and facts in a really clear way, I think it's a pretty good grounding for most careers in leadership that involve communication and analytics, which is every job. I don't see that study as being wasted and really good grounding that I bring to my role every day.
[0:33:57] Bianca Bates: And so why Fintech and why Cuscal? Well, this is my first role in Fintech and the reasons that I joined Cuscal were I was looking for a growth organization that had ambitions and also. A history of execution, of growth. I was looking for something innovative. I'd worked for a number of insurance organizations before that and I guess innovation.
[0:34:24] Dexter Cousins: Yeah, I'm smirking again. I used to recruit a lot for insurers, and originally when I started this business, I was going to focus on insurer tech. And after a year, I had to just accept that there wasn't going to be any innovation happening in insurance for a long, long time.
[0:34:40] Bianca Bates: No, I'm hoping with CDR, maybe CDR and insurance will bring some innovation. But yeah, so I was looking for growth, I was looking for innovation. I'd also worked for a number of overseas owned organizations where Australia was a subsidiary, so not much autonomy. So I was also looking for a company that had its own autonomy, was in control of its strategy and execution. So they were kind of the reasons that I joined. Not necessarily because it was payments and fintech. That just was an absolute sort of hidden bonus that learning all about payments when I started was fascinating and sort of really fed my love of learning.
[0:35:25] Bianca Bates: And then I think the enabling, the underdog as well as enabling now we enable some really big organizations, but just enabling. And one of the things I absolutely love about my job is understanding where our clients are looking to go, what they're looking to execute to make them really successful, and how we can plug into that sort of supercharge it. So not just learning about our business, but learning about all of our client segments, what they're doing, what's important to them, and then how we can be better to enable it. So, yeah, the learning is incredible.
[0:36:03] Dexter Cousins: Again, leads perfectly to my next question. One of the fantastic things that I've taken from doing this podcast now for over three years is that how it's become almost an archive and a kind of learning resource for the fintech ecosystem here in Australia. Whereas previously we didn't have anything like this, now founders can go and get firsthand examples of things that work here, things that don't. The differences and the nuances between, say, the UK market, the US market, what's happening in Asia, there's a lot that people can kind of derive from this.
[0:36:45] Dexter Cousins: But from your side, where do you go to learn? What are some of the podcasts that you listen to?
[0:36:50] Bianca Bates: Well, obviously your podcast Dexter, but I think my learning you're right, you can kind of get it anywhere. I subscribe to a lot of email lists as well as looking at videos, podcasts. I think it's really important to have a look at the global context. I've been very fortunate. I mentioned the study tour to India recently, done a study tour to Asia, learn about super apps and data, UK open banking, and then Stockholm to learn about digital ID.
[0:37:27] Bianca Bates: I think learning, whether that's you have the opportunity to go to a conference globally or just listen to podcasts that are readily available. I think looking at what's happened in different markets and why it's happened, and then thinking about what's the problem to be solved in Australia and what learnings can you take from that is absolutely critical. I think particularly for an organization like Cuscal, where we're looking to make the right bets in innovation, like we just talked about digital currency, there's so many different things happening that you could invest in and go hard and deep in.
[0:38:05] Bianca Bates: Picking the right things is really important. So I think assessing what's worked and what hasn't worked in other markets and sometimes those things won't work here, and understanding why is really critical. But yeah, learning is really important. Reading, listening, traveling, I think. Yeah.
[0:38:25] Dexter Cousins: And when you think, right, when we were early in our careers, our options for learning were going and doing a night course, you didn't have the information, access the information that you do now, even though we had the Internet and the web just wasn't populated with. And I think that's one of the things that absolutely blows my mind, is the quality of content and insights. Now that you've got access to 24/7 on any subject, it's incredible.
[0:38:59] Dexter Cousins: Another question for you. So mental health is something that's a real kind of challenge for all of us. It's something we don't speak about, I haven't spoken a lot about on the podcast, but the times that we're coming into and just going through my own experiences of getting older in life and more and more challenges and putting on the COVID weight and all of that stuff and trying to get fit again. What are some of the things that you do for your mental health to kind of keep you sharp and on your game and be the leader that you are?
[0:39:34] Bianca Bates: Yeah, so I think my daily dose of medicine is exercise. So if I get up, it doesn't matter what time my meetings are starting, I try and get up and do some exercise in the morning. I do F 45, so it's pretty intense. Intense, but very efficient. 45 minutes, boom, done. And I find that that moderates stress incredibly for me, so that's kind of a daily thing. I also try and squeeze in ten minutes of meditation at least three or four times a week.
[0:40:12] Bianca Bates: And that can be done during the day, at the beginning of the day, end of the day, it's kind of not. Hard, but also something that, regardless of the crazy that can be going on around you, is quite moderating and sort of helps bring back some perspective in the day. I think balance is really important as well. So there's times when you're working on a big deal or a big project where the intensity is incredible, but it's critical.
[0:40:42] Bianca Bates: You can't really take time out. But what's important is then to balance that at the end of that, celebrate your success and take the time out. So I'm not going to say I'm great at that, but usually body or your mind tells you when you have to do it and you just have to listen to it. So they're kind of some basic things. I also think when I've had to deal with some sort of difficult challenges, speaking to a counselor, I found to be quite incredible.
[0:41:15] Bianca Bates: In fact. Talk about efficiency, like something that you can carry around with you for a whole year in your mind thinking, how am I going to get through this issue and how do I deal with that can be dealt with in a month.
[0:41:27] Dexter Cousins: Yeah, absolutely.
[0:41:30] Bianca Bates: I think speaking, getting the right assistance from the right people, whether that's a gym, personal trainer, nutritionist, counselor, especially when you are really busy getting people who know what they're doing to help you with whatever the thing is you're looking for help with, it's really important.
[0:41:48] Dexter Cousins: Yeah. Look, as a business owner, I've seen the really negative impact of not doing those things and the super positive impact on the balance sheet in the business of having a personal trainer, having a brain coach or a counselor, somebody that can go and talk to regularly, putting in routines around mental health, exercise, diet. They're so critical. And I think we kind of tend not to talk about them.
[0:42:19] Dexter Cousins: The other thing has just been for me, stop drinking alcohol. Right. Life seems to be a lot more easy. Life is a lot easier to deal with when you haven't got anxiety. But I think it's such an important topic and it's a one that we don't really kind of discuss openly enough. Right. It's not a taboo, right. It's like, look, there's just some changes in your team that can have some really good impact.
[0:42:43] Bianca Bates: Yeah, you're right. I think it has been a taboo historically to talk about any sort of insecurities or weaknesses, but I think if you don't talk about them and deal with them, they end up coming to bite you.
[0:42:56] Dexter Cousins: Oh, look, I mean, it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy, right? That the thing that you fear the most. You kind of focus on it that much that it inevitably comes true. So this is a podcast that's optimistic in tone, regardless of what's going on out there and whatever the news is, and I think we're actually in a pretty good spot for me. I've always found that when it seems the worst, it's usually the point.
[0:43:25] Dexter Cousins: The ball hits the ground before it has to bounce back up. I'm really optimistic about the opportunities that we've got here in Australia. What's your view and what's got you excited about Fintech and Australia right now?
[0:43:40] Bianca Bates: So I think that I talked a little bit about that intersection of payments, data and digital ID. I see the Fintechs and Paytex as the kind of organizations that are really going to make that come to life. And I think we've got all the tools in our kit bag now to make that happen. Digital ID is sort of still under development, but coming very soon. So I'm with you. I see it as a really positive time that there has been challenges for organizations to raise capital and that will probably still remain. But I think the kind of organizations that are delivering actual solutions to actual problems and are getting runs on the board and succeeding will continue to grow and be able to attract capital.
[0:44:35] Bianca Bates: But I think that the innovation that fintechs have always delivered and will continue to deliver are other things that will really drive. And I also think that the fintechs are able to, first of all, push bigger organizations to be better, but also able to provide services to bigger organization who uplift revenue. And so I see it as being a really positive cycle, but there's a bit of work to do to bring that innovation to life. But yeah, I'm like you. I feel really positive about it.
[0:45:10] Dexter Cousins: 20 years ago, startups were funded with a personal credit card, and we've fallen into this trap and mindset that you have to go out and raise millions of millions of dollars of capital to get an idea off the ground. Which seems crazy, right? When you think that back then you had no AWS, you had to have your own servers, you had to spend all this money on infrastructure that you don't have to spend now.
[0:45:32] Dexter Cousins: I'm really hopeful that this kind of rebalancing focuses minds, right?
[0:45:40] Bianca Bates: Yeah.
[0:45:40] Dexter Cousins: Difficult periods typically see the most innovation, whereas when we're comfortable and things are easy, it tends not to result that way.
[0:45:52] Bianca Bates: Yeah, and you're 100% right. That legacy that fintechs don't have is one of their competitive advantages. So I think a couple of things, the tech, but also their operating model, like, they're born working agile, they're born working in a pretty flat, fast, dynamic way, whereas bigger, more traditional organizations will move at a much slower pace. So I think there's a real competitive advantage that fintechs have from a tech as well as people and process perspective.
[0:46:25] Dexter Cousins: We're going to wrap up now. Bianca, it's been great to chat with you and do it in person because the last time I think so good. Yeah, exactly. Through necessity because we were in lockdown. But we get lots of founders listening to this show if they're interested in potentially how they could partner with Cuscal, what Cuscal can do to help them, what's the best way for them to find out more?
[0:46:47] Bianca Bates: Yeah, please connect with me. I've got an amazing team of people from New Business Solution consultants as well as all of our product domains who absolute SMEs. So reach out to me on LinkedIn and I can connect to the right people at Cuscal because yeah, we're absolutely looking to enable the future through amazing organizations.
[0:47:11] Dexter Cousins: Great. And we also get some fantastic talent listening to the show. Most of them are driven by a kind of burning desire to be part of something that is impacting the future in a positive way. If they're listening to this and they like the story of Koscal, what's the best way for them to find about careers?
[0:47:32] Bianca Bates: Yeah, well, our website or again, me, I'm happy to deal with that, but our website has all of our upcoming roles as we are rolling out all of our new products and services and also looking at uplifting our resilience and basically tech stack. We are looking for people who are really keen to come and work on modern tech, modern payment channels. So yeah, that would be great if that came out of these dexter.
[0:48:03] Dexter Cousins: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining me folks. As always, you can connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you're watching us on YouTube, make sure to give us a like and a subscribe. It really helps for the algorithm. And if you're listening on the podcast, make sure to follow us so you don't miss an episode. If you're coming back, thanks so much for your support and until the next episode, keep well.
[0:48:33] Dexter Cousins: Fintech Chatter is presented by tier one people leaders. In Fintech executive search. We'll help you find world class Fintech leadership talent to build world class Fintech Ventures and you can find out more at TierOnepeople.com.