Fintech Game Changers

Marie Steinthaler Truelayer
Marie Steinthaler -TrueLayer

I would define open banking as a manifestation of the belief that the data that you create when you bank is yours. So the information that you create, every time you pay for something, you send a payment, you use your banking services, that is your data, and you should be able to use that data to your benefit.

Marie Steinthaler – TrueLayer

Dexter Cousins speaks with Marie Steinthaler, VP Asia with Truelayer about Australia’s 1st July launch of CDR and open banking.

Marie can you tell us more about TrueLayer?

TrueLayer is a platform that provides global access to open banking. And what I mean by that is essentially a way for our clients to securely access their end users bank data, and payment capability through one normalised platform. And we do that by going out and finding the best banking API’s out there. We then normalise across many different countries, use cases, API protocols, you name it, and then package it up in a platform that our clients can build on top of and innovate on top of by using their customers banking data or payment rails.

For those that don’t know what open banking is, Could you give a brief overview for an everyday customer?

I would define open banking as a manifestation of the belief that the data that you create when you bank is yours. So the information that you create, every time you pay for something, you send a payment, you use your banking services, that is your data, and you should be able to use that data to your benefit. Whether that be better pricing, better access to products, verify certain things about your person that may otherwise be hard to verify. And to just make it very easy for you to be in control of how that data gets shared and how it gets used. 

The empowerment of the customer is very much at the heart of open banking. Beyond that, at an industry level, it’s about making the collaboration between financial institutions and fintechs more open and more focused around the customer. That’s at the heart of it. And TrueLayer was born to enable such a collaboration.

You recently partnered with Revolut. How’s that going?

Yeah, going great. And we love working with Revolut and other internationally minded high growth, tech forward businesses. I like to call them an execution machine. They’re so good at putting new products out there and listening to their customers. They make it very easy for customers to adopt new things like open banking. And we’re excited about some of the new things they’re working on as well.

You are about to launch in Australia? What is it about Australia that’s attractive to TrueLayer?

We are building a global platform. So while we started in the UK and expanded to Europe, when we looked at the rest of the world, it was really a case of looking for markets where a few things are in place. One is a growing and well supported FinTech ecosystem. The second is regulators who are conducive and supportive of open banking, and want it to happen quickly. The third is our existing customers and if they want to expand to a region. 

Australia scores well for TrueLayer on all three criteria. And, as I’m sure you know, FinTech Australia, and organisations like that are testament to the growing ecosystem in the market. There’s also a huge amount of room for disruption. When you when you look at how profitable Australia is, as a market for financial services, as the saying goes your margin is my opportunity

Australia has had some very well documented trust issues with banks and a royal commission. What have you learned from open banking in the UK that you think Australia can action to really help push ahead?

One narrative I’ve heard in a lot of conversations with potential clients or people in the Australian ecosystem is sometimes a bit of impatience or disappointment with the speed of the development in Australia.

If the CDR API is launched in July, it’s still going to be faster than PSD2 was launched in the UK and in Europe. Fundamentally, I think for such a complex industry spanning project, Australia is  doing a decent job at speed. 

Obviously, that’s no reason to slow down and I think we all want it to happen. ASAP. 

I would focus on thinking about use cases and not being afraid to give use cases a try. The big questions and the most important aspect of CDR is Will people actually use this? Are they going to be willing to share their data?

When CDR launches I expect to see a rolling start. I don’t expect a switch to flick on July 1st and CDR will be all functional and ready. But the success of CDR does require some early adopters, innovators and thought leaders to take the plunge and use the infrastructure. It’s the only way to improve, because it’s not going to get better if no one uses it. 

That is a risk. Luckily in the UK, we work with companies who were willing to take that leap with us. I’m pretty optimistic that there will be companies in Australia who want to do this, don’t want to give anyone an excuse to shut CDR down. It’s up to all of us as an industry to say let’s make this useful. And let’s make it happen.

Matt Baxby Revolut CEO
Matt Baxby Revolut CEO

Revolut Appoint Matt Baxby CEO for Australia.

Revolut partnered exclusively with Tier One People to conduct the search and appointment of Matt Baxby as Australia Country CEO. Matt brings the perfect blend of Banking expertise and entrepreneurship, having worked under Sir Richard Branson at Virgin. We’ve known Matt since 2010 when he relaunched the Virgin Money Australia business, helping him build out the team back then.

The announcement came on the same day Revolut revealed their latest investment round of US $500m at a valuation of US $5.5bn.

When we first began talking to Revolut in May 2019, the business had 4 million accounts and 700 employees. Today the business has 10 million accounts and 2000 employees, almost trebling in size during the search and onboarding process!

You can read all about the plans for Australia and Revolut globally in this transparent interview with Tom Hambrett and Matt in the AFR

We would like to thank the team at Revolut for being an absolute dream to partner with. The Tier One People team were remotely embedded within the Revolut recruitment team based in Singapore throughout the whole process.

The transparency, collaboration and open communication channels made what could have easily been a highly complex search process run very smoothly.

The team at Tier One People wish Matt and Revolut every success and look forward to continuing the partnership.

David M Brear 11FS
David M Brear 11:FS

“Good leaders really understand that it’s not about them. It’s about what they can do to get the best out of everybody else around them. “

 

David M Brear 11:FS

Exclusive Interview. Dexter Cousins chats to David M Brear CEO of 11:FS, the globally renowned Fintech and digital banking consultancy. Find out David’s secrets on leadership, attracting the very best talent and how to bootstrap a global business.

11:FS is much more than a Podcast. Can you explain the business model?

David: We’ve been up to a few things other than just hanging out with microphones and doing podcasts.

Over the last three and a bit years, we’ve built Mettle, a SME challenger bank with NatWest in the UK. In Hong Kong we’ve worked with WeLab and Standard Chartered and in Singapore we’ve worked with our good friends Grab. We’ve also worked with a number of different companies in South Africa and we are midway through building out a consumer bank in the US.

From an 11:FS perspective, we live by the mantra that digital financial services are only 1% finished. Our mission is to change the fabric of financial services. And we do that in many different ways.

On one side we have a consulting services business working with people around the planet, whether it’s regulators or banks or tech players or whoever wants to build out new green field propositions. We help to define strategy and move the ideas forward. 

On the other side, it’s about building products that actually solve problems we’ve had ourselves, whether it’s things like Pulse, a global benchmarking tool, or the blockers we’ve come up against for delivering truly digital services at speed and scale.

That directly led us to establish 11:FS Foundry, which is a digitally native approach to core banking with a full stack architecture.

What prompted you to start 11:FS?

David: Four years back we struck on a thesis that we are so early in the cycle of change. The promise of everything the Internet brings to an industry that fundamentally hasn’t changed for 300 years was nowhere near being realised.

Digital is really about using the power of data to create an ultra personalised experience with much better services and products. 

Unfortunately the way in which big banking organisations have implemented digital is more about taking people and paper out of the process. That’s digitisation, not digital.

The justification of every bank’s digital transformation had been cost driven. It has only been in the last few years where banks have realised they need to revolutionise their approach and provide better services and products. 

The change has predominantly been led through major changes globally, in the regulatory space and through competition. New players have come into the space, whether that be Fintech startups or Big Tech companies like Apple, and they are showing the banks that people just want better services.

We are just at the beginning of fundamental shifts in banking and financial services. 

How Did You Get the Business off the ground?

David: We’ve taken no money. From month three of founding the organisation we were profitable. This pre revenue nonsense is definitely not for me. I don’t think you can call it a business unless it makes profit and makes revenue. Call me old fashioned on that one. But for me, it’s all about creating something of value for people. And if you do that then you should be able to monetise it.  

There have been key moments where we have been very lucky and times when we have been ballsy. Episode One of Fintech Insider is an example. We had no listeners and no idea how we were editing the show, but managed to get a sponsor because they believed in what we were doing.

The first client of 11:FS Pulse was brought in as a partner before the product even existed. DNB invested in Foundry when it was no more than 11 slides.

We’ve been lucky to find people who believe in what we are doing, are probably as crazy as us and share the same vision, which is awesome. But ultimately our success comes down to creating things that are of great value to our clients.

You have an incredible line up of talent in the business, how have you attracted them to 11:FS? 

David: I’m 39 years old now. Entrepreneurs my age can attract the right talent more effectively than people who are starting out a lot younger.  You build up a network of people over your career where you think I don’t know when, but we’re gonna work together again.

I met Jason Bates (11:FS cofounder) back when he was at Starling, I was still at Gartner. I knew with Jason we’d work together at some point. Similar to Ryan Wareham, our COO. We worked really well together when I was at Lloyds Banking. 

You get a feel for people in terms of their unique strengths. If there is a pre existing relationship you already have an understanding of each other. From there you build a founding team.

Beyond that, I honestly think success is fundamentally about momentum. One success leads to another success, which over time creates a magnetic pull where you attract the right people. 

 

Have you found the Fintech Insider podcast is a good tool for talent attraction and bringing in new business?

David: Yeah, 100%. It’s crazy, we get hundreds of emails from people interested in working with us either as employees, partners or clients. At the beginning of the company you’re five people sitting around a table trying to figure out how you can compete with Accenture and McKinsey.

We couldn’t outspend them from a marketing perspective. So, we decided to out play them with brutal authenticity and a level of distribution that would create a fundamentally different way of engaging with our customer base. 

We set out asking;

‘How can we be authentic? How can we be provocative? How can we really establish human connections with the brand? ‘

David M. Brear 11:FS

Even now we could not reach the amount of people that we do with the level of content marketing that we put out using our competitors marketing approach. We have focused so much on brand narrative, it’s not about the products or services we offer. Our brand narrative is fundamentally about what we believe in and our values. 

When you align with people on your belief system or your aspiration about what the industry could be, then you find a higher level of connectivity that you can never achieve by sending out a bullshit brochure. 

 

What kind of team and culture are you building?

David: 11:FS is my first CEO role. I have worked for some really good CEOs and one or two really bad ones in the past. But I’ve probably learned more from the really bad CEOs, especially on what not to do when it comes building a winning culture!

The 11:FS culture is based on servant leadership. We are not a hierarchical company and believe bad and good ideas can come from anywhere. Whether it’s bad ideas coming from the very top or good ideas coming from anybody across the organisation.

Trust is a huge thing from my perspective as a leader. If you have 360 degree trust of your people in the business then there is a positive intent running through the whole company. 

When it comes to leadership I don’t consider myself a businessman. I’m more of a sports guy. So, I always look to bring the same mentality of a very successful sports team into the 11:FS team culture.

I think there’s an honesty to sports that is often very much missing within the business world. Transparency and accountability are key to a sports team.

If somebody’s playing badly on the team, they know and you know really quickly. There is nowhere to hide, but as a sports team you’ll do everything you can to increase the productivity of the team and increase the impact you can make from an individual perspective.

With sports teams it is as much about psychology as it is physiology. And I think that is missing in the business world. 

How do you motivate the team?

Good leaders really understand that it’s not really about them. It’s about what they can do to get the best out of everybody else around them.

Whether it’s creating a sense of urgency, whether it’s creating a vision and reinforcing it until the goal is reached, whether it’s giving people a level of motivation to run through walls they wouldn’t have tried to do before. 

In big organisations leadership stops being about getting the best out of the people and focuses on managing the board or managing a group of shareholders.

And that’s where I think you start to see a significant drop in the productivity of people within an organisation. And unfortunately, it’s where you start to see an almost unrecoverable position from a cultural perspective.

 

 

Anthony Nantes – Wisr

“In Fintech, we’re supposed to be creating the future and building the companies of the future. But there seems to be a deafening silence from the Fintech community around social purpose. And I think this is where we will see the next big change.”

Anthony Nantes – CEO of Wisr.

 

Anthony Nantes is CEO of Wisr an ASX listed company and Australia’s first Neo-lender. Tier One People Founder, Dexter Cousins caught up with Anthony to discuss Neo Lending, Fintech 2.0 and how to build a high performing team.


What is a Neo Lender?

AN: If you Google what is a Neo-lender, Google will give the answer as Wisr. Neo-lending is a brand new category that we’ve built, it’s really about completely reinventing what a consumer lending company can be. 

Unlike the more traditional lenders and banks who are geared to have customers borrow money from them and once the transaction is done, the relationship ends. We’re building a purpose-led company that genuinely focuses on a customer’s financial wellness. 

If someone borrows $30,000 to go and renovate their home with Wisr we go on that journey with the customer. We’re not going to charge monthly fees. We’re not going to charge early repayment fees. In fact, we’re going to provide tools, apps, products, and services to actually help customers pay their loan down faster. 

Wisr will potentially make less margin than the traditional model by helping our customers pay their loans off quicker. But we think by doing that we’re actually going to build a much, much bigger business as a result.

You recently announced a partnership with NAB where they have invested $200,000,000. Why are NAB investing in a potential competitor?

AN: There’s a few reasons. First and foremost NAB are really attracted to the purpose-led nature of what Wisr is doing. 

Everyone talks about the big four banks as if they’re one thing. But all of the Big 4 banks are competing against each other for the number one position in the market. And if you are not number one then you have to start thinking outside of the box.

I think NAB are looking at Wisr and saying, how else can we get to scale and provide customers with more value? 

At Wisr we are focused on the things we can become the best in Australia or even the best in the world at.

Capital market management and treasury isn’t realistically something that Wisr can be the best at. But Australia’s Big 4 Banks are some of the best in the world at that. 

Where Wisr does have the edge is at the very front end with customers, providing them an amazing and beautiful experience and helping consumers completely rethink how borrowing money can be.

That’s a very different experience and if we couple that with the capital management of NAB than we have a very powerful proposition for our customers.

 

Listen To The Full Interview.

https://tieronepeople.com/podcast/

You presented at Intersekt recently – Can you explain what Fintech 2.0 is and how it ties into the Wisr vision?

AN: The focus of that particular talk was looking at building social purpose-led companies and why it’s so important. And there’s a whole range of reasons why it’s good for society. But being purpose-driven is also good from a commercial perspective. Those companies who are purpose-led tend to outperform 2x or 3x over companies which don’t have a social purpose culture.

Not only do shareholders see better returns, we see greater engagement right across all stakeholders. And the improvements in performance are mainly driven by the fact that employees have a really clear sense of purpose. They become strong advocates for the company, finding fulfilment and meaning in their work.

Being a social purpose-led business then turns customers into real brand champions as they also connect to the company’s purpose and what you’re delivering for them. 

Being purpose-led is a really important part of what we’re building at Wisr. And globally we’re seeing a movement as companies become more purpose-led. Larry Fink wrote a famous letter last year explaining why he only invests into purpose-led companies. He is the second most influential investor in the world behind Warren Buffet.

In Fintech, we’re supposed to be creating the future and building the companies of the future. But there seems to be a deafening silence from the Fintech community around social purpose. And I think this is where we will see the next big change. 

The first wave of fintechs were cleaning up the low hanging fruit, but not really disrupting and not really changing anything. Just doing it faster, better with a slightly better UX maybe. The Fintech who will make it through this next wave are the ones who are social purpose-led and will genuinely change the customer’s experience of finance. And that’s what we’re aiming to do at Wisr.

Wisr seem to be scaling at a rapid rate. How are you hiring the right people as you’re scaling? 

AN: It’s always a hard question to find the answer to. If I go back 18 months it was a lot harder to attract the right talent. But now lots of people want to work at Wisr. Everybody wants and actually deserves meaning in their work. To be doing something that has a genuine purpose behind it is rare to find. 

It’s very hard to get a job here. We intentionally make it hard to get a job here because we really focus on hiring high performing talent.

What do we think high-performance means? For us it’s two things. It’s making your colleagues great. So, being an amazing colleague yourself, but also helping your colleagues to be amazing. Secondly, we absolutely must hire people who take responsibility. Unfortunately it’s difficult to find people who genuinely want to take responsibility. Those who do, we find are self motivated, they measure themselves, they set goals, they welcome feedback because feedback helps them become better. They’re not defensive when people point out things that could’ve been done better.

So, we take our time to hire first and foremost the right characteristics.Throughout our hiring process, we are looking for these qualities in potential hires. We set challenges for potential candidates and observe how they react and respond. It gives us a greater insight into how someone might perform in the working environment at Wisr.

The vibe in the office at Wisr, it seems like incredible fun. How do you keep the sense of fun going along with a high-performance culture?

AN: Why I believe Wisr is such a great place to work is we encourage everyone to have ideas. Some of our greatest innovations often happen over a beer on a Friday or over a coffee one morning. Someone will have a cool idea and five days later the thing appears somehow, someone’s executed on it.

The custom Wisr Chuck Taylors every employee gets at their 6 month mark is a fun example. Someone suggested the idea and two weeks later 40 boxes of Chucks turn up. 

Our custom pale ale and lager. That was a conversation over a beer one night and three weeks later I look in the fridge and there’s Wisr branded beers. And so we have this amazing culture of people taking on responsibility and just doing the cool stuff in every aspect of the business. It’s not just the product team who gets to innovate, it’s every single person in the business.

By having fun and not feeling constrained by processes and control, our people can be creative and come up with innovative products for customers. And there’s lots of people in Wisr who’ve got no finance experience whatsoever. They bring a fresh perspective and don’t come with preconceived notions on how things should be done. 

Wisr is a great place for people with super high potential, who have been denied the opportunity to show some of that potential before. We provide an environment which gives people the freedom and encouragement to go and achieve outstanding things. 

Discover Your Next Challenge.

https://tieronepeople.com/fintech-jobs/
Robert Bell 86 400
Robert Bell 86 400

“Our core company value is to help Australian’s take control of their money. So the 86 400 team have designed and built a smartbank that helps Australian’s take control of their money.”

Robert Bell, CEO, 86 400.

Robert, how did you get to build Australia’s first smartbank?

I am a banker by background, I spent 15 years with one of Australia’s Big 4 banks and was given the opportunity to run banks in the Pacific and Japan. I came back to Australia to run a mid- sized mutual bank, and immediately before starting 86 400, worked for Cuscal (100% shareholder of 86 400).

Cuscal has an impressive track record of enabling competition through innovation and technology. They are an early adopter and one of the key founders of the new payments platform. While the big  four banks are going very slow rolling out NPP, Cuscal quietly launched more than 40 financial institutions on day one, and did the same with Apple Pay.

Cuscal could see the trends overseas in terms of digital banks and spent a couple years researching international markets. We looked at bringing some of those models to Australia and decided to build a digital bank ourselves. I was involved in the original business case and then moved into the CEO role once Cuscal decided to move ahead with 86 400.

What has the journey been like so far?

Crazy busy!

But there is no other job I’d want, anywhere else in the world than the one I have right now. Building a full bank from scratch is incredibly challenging and exciting. We’ve gone through the process of getting a full banking license and now we are live. It has been an incredible journey so far and an amazing two years. 

Working with our Chairman, Anthony Thomson is an unbeatable learning experience and I am supported by an amazing group of people. We’ve gone from 8 people on day one to now just over 90 people. 

You spent two years building the bank. Now that you are live does it feel like a different business?

The reality is that the build will never be finished. The big difference between 86 400 and incumbent bank is the build. We have daily live releases and new updates to the App every four or five days at the moment. So the product is never going to be finished, we are constantly building. 

But it is very exciting to be live with the product and finally putting it into customers hands. We think 86 400 is a really strong day one offering to customers, but we intend to improve. We have made it our mission to help Australian’s take control of their finances.

Australian’s seem spoilt for choice with new NeoBanks. What distinguishes 86 400 from other NeoBanks? 

I think that’s perhaps the wrong question to ask. The big four banks currently own 85% of the market so we are entirely focused on providing a product that offers a better experience, service and value than the big four banks.

That is the market we want to go after. We see the Big Four as the competition not NeoBanks. 

8 million Australian’s currently bank using their smartphone. Of that 8 million 86 400 is focused on the 25 to 45 year age group (4.6 million) but our youngest customer is 16 and our oldest is 88!

We are giving customers something entirely different, smart banking.

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What is a smartbank?

Before launching 86 400 an enormous amount of research was conducted over two years to unearth and understand the real problem in banking.
People naturally point to the Royal Commission and highlight trust as the problem. Trust is massively important but the real problem we see is this;

Money and our finances are becoming very difficult to manage.

More than 65% of Australians have a relationship with multiple banks. Today we have more money coming in and out of our bank accounts than ever before, which we never see, subscriptions, direct debits and we tap our card or phone more than ever.

It is like money has become invisible. People feel like they are not in control of their spending, making them increasingly anxious about money. 

Our core company value is to help Australian’s take control of their money. So the 86 400 team have designed and built a smartbank that helps Australians take control of their money.

A smartbank is a very different premise and value proposition to the large incumbent banks. 100% cloud based technology, purpose built for people who use their smartphone for everything, banking, payments, applying for a loan etc. 

One of 86 400’s unique features is the ability to link up to 150 other different banks to the App and view your credit card, transaction accounts, savings accounts, personal loans etc. You can see all your finances in one place. It gives customers immediate value when they join 86 400.

That’s what we think will help us compete against the big four banks.

We are extremely happy with the early feedback. There are two measures we are focused on right now and the initial response is very encouraging;

Are customers happy with the product?

And are customers happy to tell other people about the product?

Robert Bell 86 400 Tier One People Interview

Will Open Banking give 86 400 a competitive edge?

We believe that customers should own their data and if a company does hold data it should be used to the customers advantage, not just to sell more products.

Banking has always been focused on the past. A bank statement records what you have already spent, it is too late to do anything about it once you get the statement.  Even with today’s banking apps customers see their statement now, but they are still looking backwards.

Once a customer links all of their bank accounts with 86 400, smart algorithms predict what bills are coming up in each separate account. That’s a massive difference to what we see anyone else is offering in the market and the feature is resonating extremely well with our early customers.

It takes 120 seconds to open an account. You sign up and get immediate value. This is just a small example of what customers can expect from us when open banking really gets going. 

86 400 is one of only two banks to be chosen for the Open Banking pilot program. We are very excited and consider it a huge privilege to play such an important role influencing the future of Australia’s banking industry for the betterment of customers.

But we are not naive, there is a long road ahead and there will be challenges along the way. Not everyone has bought into the benefits of open banking and we are already seeing some resistance as Cuscal witnessed when rolling out NPP.

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How is the team structured?

In total there over 90 staff. Roughly 50% of the team are tech people. Developers, Engineers, Designers, UX and Data Scientists. As a fully licensed bank we have risk, finance and credit functions. The homeloans business is about to go live to the public so we have a full team in that business unit.

The entire team is a mix of highly experienced bankers and highly experienced tech people. We only employ people who are digital natives and passionate about technology. We don’t expect a 30 year banking veteran to become a developer, but you have to be comfortable using technology and be passionate about what technology can do to revolutionise the banking industry. 

What qualities do you look for in people?

Our core company value is to help Australian’s take control of their money. And that principle determines not only the product we are building but the culture we are creating too. Thousands of people reach out to me and the team asking about career opportunities with 86 400.

The first thing we look for are people who can actually do the work themselves. There isn’t the luxury of hiring people whose unique skill is to run a team or focus solely on strategy. We need leaders who can be strategic and actually do the work required to deliver. I appreciate we are looking for a very unique person and skillset.

86 400 operates an Agile environment with a fortnightly showcase where our people stand up and share what they have delivered in the last two weeks. That can be frightening to some people coming straight from a big bank environment. But it’s highly exhilarating for the people we seek to employ, because they get to build stuff without the blockers you get in large organisations.

How have you hired and retained the right talent?

We have a dedicated HR team which is a big help. It’s a very exciting time to be in the industry. Our people are genuinely passionate about changing banking for the good of customers. 86 400 is small, we have a very flat structure so there is much greater ability to influence outcomes for those who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and Get Things Done.

We are a technology business first. But right now we don’t have the room for bean bags and a table tennis table. We don’t see the need for an innovation hub because if the innovation isn’t happening around the boardroom, then 86 400 has a BIG problem.

It is reassuring for me as CEO to see the team stay here because they feel the work they are doing is important and has meaning. And not stay here because we have beer pumps and table tennis. The whole team shows enormous pride in the work they are doing. 

Success is celebrated as a team. When the first home loan was finalised, when we got our license, when we went live with the core banking system, when the first card transaction with an ATM happened. All of these milestones have been celebrated as a team. 

There will be lots more to celebrate over the next few months. The homeloans product goes live to the public soon. The biggest celebration for me is the feedback we get from customers every day. It’s so rewarding to know that 86 400 is truly delivering on our core principle of helping Australian’s take control of their money.

Dom Pym – Up Bank

“The Up website has the word banking crossed out on the home page, and we’ve replaced it with living. Banking is really just an invisible utility, something in the background supporting your life and not getting in the way.”

Dominic Pym. Co-Founder, UP Bank.

Dom is an entrepreneur and technologist who recently launched Up (up.com.au), a next-generation Australian digital bank delivering super powered banking. Up is a clever way to organise your money and simplify your life, giving you the freedom to do the things you love. Dom’s been involved in software, web and mobile development for over 20 years from start-ups to global enterprises in Australia, the UK, the USA and throughout Asia.

Tier One People CEO, Dexter Cousins spent the afternoon at UP Bank HQ in May 2019. The interview with Dom is the longest one we have ever published but filled with amazing insights and strategies. It is almost like a playbook for building a digital bank. Enjoy!

 


 

How Did Up Start?

 

The idea for Up was born out of frustration. We’re essentially a team of designers and engineers, so we approach problem solving with software solutions. I was also a software developer years ago and, as an entrepreneur, I generally try to solve everyday problems for me personally, for my family, for my mates, etc. Sometimes the solutions turn into businesses. The story of Up goes back about 5 years. Actually, probably even before that. My business partner, Grant Thomas and I run a software company called Ferocia. About 8 years ago we were looking for our next business opportunity and were thinking about raising some capital. We met a few people, and one day we got talking to the CEO of Bendigo Bank at the time. He asked if we could apply our technology expertise to banking, and we thought “why not?”.

They were looking for a new mobile banking platform, so we did a proof of concept which went really well, and then we ended up building the mobile and desktop banking platform that Bendigo customers use today. That’s how the relationship with Bendigo got started.

The platform was actually a huge success. We won multiple awards, pretty much #1 or #2 mobile banking platform in Australia every year for the last 4 years. But nobody knew it was built by Ferocia, people just assumed Bendigo built the platform themselves. The success of the Bendigo mobile banking platform led to work with one of the four major Australian banks.

 

 


 

 


 

Why Go With Bendigo For UP? Why Not A Big 4 Bank?

We worked on a project in Asia with a Big 4 Bank, to build a digital bank across 10 countries. From the time we first met them, to the time we finished up on the project we spent about two and a half years and it never got into a customers’ hands.

We worked with people from San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore, and spent a lot of time traveling. Then a new CEO arrived at the bank, and the strategy changed so their Asian business was dialled back, and the digital banking project was scrapped. I remember it was a Friday when we found out, because we had an important meeting with the banks head of International Business the following Monday, but the whole thing was shut down and the meeting never happened.

It’s a shame because Ferocia had dedicated about two and a half years of time, people, and energy into it. It could have been one of the earliest digital banks in the world, which would have been awesome.

What happened next was a reshuffle of the executives we worked with on the Asian digital bank. Some of them moved to the other Big Four banks. One of them, who was originally the sponsor of the project, called us up and asked if we wanted to work with them on a new digital bank for Australia.

So, Ferocia spent about 18 months working on that project in Sydney. Again, the product never got into customer’s hands, which was pretty disappointing. They decided to fund their internal core systems upgrade instead.

By this stage we’d spent about four years or so building digital banking technology and had developed a deep understanding of the banking sector, particularly in Australia, along the way but we never got to see any of our products in customers hands. As you can imagine, being a team of over achievers, we were deeply frustrated.

 

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Building A Digital Bank Isn’t Easy.

It seems to me like Australians generally have an aptitude for innovation, coupled with a deep-seeded frustration with banking. I think that’s why the first digital bank in the world, Simple, was started by an Aussie (Joshua Reich). Back in those days, another Aussie Brett King was also working on a digital bank called Moven (also in the US).

We were pretty inspired by what Josh had built, and a little disappointed Simple sold out to BBVA (a large Spanish bank). We actually met with Shamir (one of the Simple co-founders) and Brett King in Boston around mid-2014 and chatted with them about their experiences. At the time I remember thinking we should just build our own digital bank here in Australia.

Eventually we said, “Stuff it. Let’s do it.” There was just a few small problems like raising $100+ million, getting a core banking system up-and-running, and having a banking license! Not impossible, but pretty unlikely. Back in 2016, the Restricted Authorised Deposit-taking Institution banking licenses (RADIs) did not yet exist.

So we decided to go down a different path, and try to find the right relationship with an existing bank. Originally we’d thought that one of the majors might be interested, but we were pretty jaded by our previous experiences working with them. Bendigo bank was an easier conversation, since we had worked with them for more than 5 years and developed a lot of trust between us.

We learnt pretty quickly that you can’t just borrow a banking license! We spent about 12 months putting the legal structures and contracts in place, and in October 2017 Up went into production, as Australia’s first cloud hosted retail bank, on the Google Cloud Platform.

We ran Up for a year, initially trialling the platform with Ferocia staff, then we added Bendigo staff. Next, we extended the trial to family and friends, and then a small beta testing group. We ran a private invitation-only beta, and then a public beta with about 2,500 people in total. During that year we worked closely with Bendigo (and other stakeholders) to address regulation, compliance, risk, security, cloud hosting, etc before the official public launch of Up in October 2018.

 


 

 


 

How Successful Has Up Been Since Launching?

By February 2019 Up announced we had over 50,000 accounts and over 30,000 customers (some people open multiple accounts). At the time we were growing at between 500-1000 new customers per day.

We had anticipated decent traction, being the first to market and having the power of Bendigo behind Up, but the growth was still pretty amazing. It sort of went up from there…by May, just 8 months from public launch, we announced over 100,000 customers and were signing up over 1,000 customers per day.

It has been a pretty amazing ride so far. Up was top 10 in the App Store and Google Play store for finance apps in Australia for around 6 months. In early 2019 we did some benchmarking against other Australia’s banks, using publicly available information, and the data indicated Up was Australia’s second fastest growing bank at the time, behind CBA.

Which is pretty amazing, and meant we had overtaken the likes of ANZ, NAB, Westpac, ING, and Macquarie in terms of new customer acquisitions. This is around the time of year when ING announced record numbers in customer acquisitions, something like a 47% increase over the prior year.

So, you could say it’s going ok. Very well in fact!

 


 

What Is Your Secret To Such Rapid Growth?

That’s the secret sauce everyone is looking for. How do you get rapid growth and brand recognition, without spending a truck load on marketing, advertising, and promotion?

The broad growth strategy for new market entrants in banking has been proven with other digital banks around the world. Word of mouth, a strong referral network, and happy customers are the key channels for growth. Excellence in everything we do should not be underestimated.

Up delivers an awesome customer experience (both digital and physical), has great banking products in marketing that are competitively priced, we’re moving very fast with excellent technology and security, we provide almost instant in-app customer support with excellent customer service, and we have great branding and marketing. It’s the combination of all these things that makes Up a success. Not just one thing.

 

Twitter in particular is an amazing tool for growth and we’ve hardly spent a cent on advertising on the platform. ”

Dominic Pym. Co-Founder, UP Bank.

 

The Up Playbook – Growth Hacking For Digital Banks.

 

There’s been minimal paid digital promotion on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google and so on. Social media is a very successful channel for us. It’s not so much that we are just spending money on advertising to potential customers.

That simply doesn’t work, especially for banks. We use social to communicate with customers, and then when they see a recommendation from one of their friends, or some advertising we’re running, it hits home. In our experience, that combination is much better than advertising alone.

Twitter is a fantastic tool to communicate with our customers. Not just me, but also our Head of Product, Head of Technology, Head of Design and the rest of the team are active on Twitter and other social media platforms.

But we certainly use it to respond to our customers and engage with them almost instantly every day. Having direct conversations with customers is amazing. It’s an education in itself, and worth more than any survey or focus group could ever hope to deliver. A tight feedback loop with customers is critical for any successful technology company.

With Facebook, we did spend some money, and we were able to acquire customers. You wouldn’t think a bank could acquire customers through Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. Well. Up does. It’s amazing that someone can get a message from their friend or see an Up ad on Facebook, then download the Up app and be set up in less than 3 minutes.

Sure, it sounds surreal, but it’s happening every day, hundreds and hundreds of times. We ran some pretty basic digital promotions, and combined with the high level of engagement and excellent design it kind of created a viral effect.

It‘s also been fascinating to watch people engage differently on each social media channel. On Facebook, for example, tens of thousands of people write about Up to their mates. They simply tag their friends in a post, and it’s like an endorsement that goes viral. With social media, we’ve been able to acquire a thousand customers a day, through a single social channel without doing anything much, simply because of the strength of the Up brand.

People love it. How many people in the world wear t-shirts, hats, badges, stickers, and merchandise for their bank? You don’t really see that too often in banking. But we get Up customers asking us every single day for merch through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

 


 

How To Nail Experiential Marketing.

Experiential promotion and marketing has worked really well for us too. We’ll do industry events of course, like the Fintech Summit and Intersekt, where we might do a panel or a keynote or whatever. But we’ve actually had the most success with specific niche events.

For example, we’ve participated in university events, the Australian Graphic Design Association industry awards, and Pause (business and design) Festival in Melbourne. Probably our most successful event was PAX, which is a computer gaming event where they have 100,000 or so people attend over 3 days. We missed Sibos, because we were too busy doing PAX!

We decided rather than attend another industry event like Money 2020 or Sibos we would try a gaming event. PAX is actually the world’s biggest gaming conference. People dress up as their favourite video game character and play video games.

You wouldn’t think a bank would be there, but we were signing new accounts on the spot, giving away t-shirts, hats, and other merchandise. One of the things at PAX that really drove new customer sign-ups was challenging people to a game of Mario Kart!

 


 

The Up Team Challenging Customers To A Game Of Mario Kart!

 


The Up dev team built software to track each Mario Kart game and display the results on a real-time leader board. We love it, and obviously so do the people attending PAX. They could compete against the Up development team, and also each other. It was a big hit. We even had the Mario Kart world champion come and take part in the challenge. Two of our developers actually snuck in a couple of wins, but he beat them overall of course.

It was a fantastic event just to be part of, and winning new customers for Up was a bonus. Within a few days some of the those 100,000 passionate gamers not only knew about Up, they had played a game of Mario Kart with a co-founder, or our Head of Design, our Head of Technology, or one of the other developers from our team who built Up and Kartalytics. They became advocates, and recommended Up to their friends.

In my view, everyone at PAX who met us now thinks of Up as a totally different digital bank that lives in their world, in their community, not just a brand sponsoring an event.

We met one guy at PAX who used Up’s round-up feature to save up for his PAX ticket. It’s such a beautiful story. Here was someone passionate about gaming, using Up to realise their dream of attending the world’s biggest gaming event, and then meeting the Up team at PAX and challenging us to a game of Mario Kart while he was there.

It was kind of surreal, and we were so proud to have helped him, even in this small way.

 


 

Discover The Latest Opportunities In Fintech.

 


 

Tell Me More About The Team At Up.

When we launched Up we had just 29 people working full-time at Ferocia.

It’s always been a goal of ours to remain small and agile. Up is designed and developed by Ferocia, which is a nimble team of like-minded people headquartered in South Melbourne. We’re more like a family than a team. We set out to be the first in the world to launch a fully licensed and functional digital bank with less than 30 people. It’s amazing what the team has achieved, and of course we’ve had a great deal of help from our mates at Bendigo. We simply couldn’t have done it without them.

Compared to other overseas digital banks (like Monzo, Revolut, N26, Starling, and Simple for example), we’ve managed to remain quite small, while these companies all have hundreds of staff. Up was built on the hypothesis we could leverage technology and automation to deliver a digital bank with less than 30 people.

Of course, we can’t remain less than 30 people forever, but if we could, that would be awesome. Right now it’s about 10 months since Up’s public launch and we have added 6 people to our customer support crew and a few more engineers, so we’re now 37 people at Ferocia. Not too shabby. Especially considering we’re still building Australia’s fifth largest banking platform, and Australia’s first and largest mobile-only digital bank at the same time!

 


 

How Do You Describe The Culture Of Up?

People really are the secret to the success of Up. The culture, the family that we’ve created, the way that we bounce off each other, the way we work together, the way we collaborate and help each other, it’s the reason for the success of Up. And that extends to the relationship with Bendigo. They’ve been amazing. Just think about it for a minute. Bendigo is the fifth largest bank in Australia and they had the bravery to back Ferocia, to partner with us to deliver Up.

It’s a pretty incredible move for a major Australian bank to collaborate with a fintech and actually make it work. Nearly 2 years later, since we started the Up journey together, we’re still the only neobank that’s actually launched in Australia with licensed banking products and we now have over 100,000 customers. Turns out the collaboration was a great way to kick things off for Up, and a much better way to get to market quickly, compared to getting our own banking license.

 


 

Up Bank Launch
Anson Parker, Head Of Product is just one of the amazingly talented team at UP Bank.

 


 

How Do You Attract The Right Talent?

I think success in terms of our people can be distilled down to culture and recruitment. The way we hire people and the calibre of people we hire is key. We place a huge emphasis on skills within the team. Everybody is multi-talented. No-one is just doing a single specific role (like is often the case in larger teams).

We look for people with an inherent ability to learn on the job, and we aim to have several people who can perform each role. So when people are sick, or on leave, or when we lose a staff member, we can still deliver. This is mostly an engineering outcome (since we are mostly engineers) but it needs to apply equally across marketing, risk, security, compliance, technology, operations, cloud hosting, etc. for the team to remain small and succeed.

Every outcome we need to deliver for our customers should be able to be met by not just one or two or three people, but by as many people in the team as possible. I’m not saying that’s easy to achieve, but it’s certainly a hallmark of high performance teams.

Most of the team currently has one degree of separation. Generally speaking, most everyone that works here has worked with at least one team member before. We’ve got 10 people who’ve worked at Ferocia for more than five years, and five people who’ve worked with us at Ferocia and in other companies beforehand for more than 10 years.

Then there’s also the people we’ve worked with in the past who keep in touch. One person recently came back to work with us. He left our team almost 10 years ago to join Square in San Francisco. He’s been working there since then, and worked his way up to be Director of Payments Engineering . He recently moved back to Australia and came back on-board with our team (now at Ferocia obviously), which is awesome.

I’d like to think this speaks to the culture we’ve developed at Ferocia (and for Up more broadly), and says a lot about the calibre of the engineering team for someone like him to want to come back to Melbourne and work with us all again.

 

“It pays to treat people with mutual respect and help them throughout their life, not just because they are employees but because it’s the decent thing to do.”

Dominic Pym. Co-Founder, UP Bank.

 

You Won “Best Bank Collaboration” At This Year’s Finnies. What Do You Think Is The Best Approach To Building A Digital Bank?

Up is delivered through a collaboration between our technology company (Ferocia) and a licensed Australian bank (Bendigo and Adelaide Bank). Working with an existing bank to develop new financial products is not generally an easy process, but it has worked a few times before.

For example, when we looked at other digital banks like Simple in the US, they launched quickly through a partnership with BankCorp. But when BBVA bought Simple they spent the next couple of years transitioning core banking systems and didn’t really appear (from the outside) to be able to innovate or create new product.

Monzo also partnered with Wirecard when they first started, then when they received their own banking license they built their own core banking system. This seems like a smart move (again from the outside looking in). Certainly they were able to exert more control over system reliability, capability and upgrades by bringing the core system in-house. This is quite a different strategy than buying or licensing a core banking system. Building one in-house affords many advantages, and also many challenges.

 


 

What would you do differently next time around?

We believe Up has a strategic and competitive advantage by not having to build our own core banking system in the first instance, and certainly we were able to get to market quicker than anyone else in Australia has been able to, due to the collaboration between Bendigo and Ferocia.

That said, if we had our time again, we’d still partner with Bendigo for access to the licensed financial products, but we might want to build our own core banking system too. And that’s purely because of the amount of effort involved in building product in a legacy core banking system. In our view, a core banking system should essentially be a database of debits and credits. If you treat it in that way, innovation is possible outside of the core system, and the core system can be used solely as a regulatory ledger.

We also move a lot faster than anyone (other than us) thought was possible. We currently average more than 5 customer deployments (software updates) per day. That’s incredible for any technology company, and even more so for a bank. Nonetheless, I think we would still seriously consider building a core banking system if we had to start all over again.

 

We often hear people in the banking industry (including our competitors) saying, “you can’t build a digital bank on top of legacy systems”. Well you can, and we’ve done it.

Dominic Pym – Co-Founder UP Bank

 

Is Your Model Similar To That Of Apple And Goldman Sachs?

 

People have commented that the Apple Card app has similar functionality to Up. I find it quite flattering that the greatest technology and innovation company ever is following in our footsteps! I say that a little tongue in cheek. We obviously work closely with Apple here in Australia and have done a lot of first-mover stuff with them here, including instant in-app issuance of Apple Pay, proximity set up for Apple Watch, push notifications with merchant identification, Siri voice control, and more.

I would say the model Apple has chosen, in partnering with Goldman Sachs, is similar to the Up model where Ferocia (a tech company) partnered with Bendigo (a bank) to deliver Up. Apple is certainly a technology company delivering a superior customer experience, and from what I can tell they seem pretty happy leaving the utility banking stuff to Goldmans.

It’s all about the customer experience and excellence in the delivery of customer service, and we all know that Apple leads the world in doing just that. Even if the interest rate is not attractive (which it’s not), it doesn’t really matter, it’s going to be the easiest card in the world to use and that’s what matters.

Neobanks all over the world are selling financial services in pretty much the same way every bank has done for over 100 years. Create a financial product, price it, then sell it to consumers through “channels” (digital or otherwise). What consumers really want, in our view, are products to power their lives. They don’t want to be sold more banking products, that’s the last thing anyone wants.

Let’s say you want to buy a car, for example. Do customers care if there’s a savings product, an insurance product, a loan product, and a transaction account all powering that service? Or do they care about the experience? Apple will totally nail the customer experience.

 

I’m happy to go on record saying that Apple has the platform and the ability to acquire more customers than any bank in history, ever.

Dominic Pym. Co-Founder, UP Bank.

The interest rate on the Apple Card may be high, but customers might not even pay interest, if the service helps them pay off the debt within the interest free period. Anyone in banking who thinks that Apple Card won’t make an impact because it’s “just a credit card geared to millennials” is perhaps naive and missing the point.

The experience Apple delivers is the real threat to the way people bank, which in essence is banking reimagined. That will most certainly have an impact on the banking sector and consumer expectations from banks, particularly the quality of their digital experience.

 


 

Do You Class Up As A Bank Or A Technology Firm?

From day one Up has positioned itself as delivering technology-led banking versus banking-led technology. I don’t know whether there will be other banks around the world positioning themselves as a technology company. But that’s what Ferocia is. It’s what we do, and it’s what we’re good at.

For example, prior to launch we set ourselves the goal of five software updates (deployments) for customers per day. In November last year we hit our peak of 10 times per day and we’re currently averaging 6 times per day.

Our entire cloud-hosted banking platform can be deployed in 45 seconds. A full regression test of every single device, every single operating system, every single-use case in the entire application is completed within 26 minutes.

We can do that twice in an hour, which is around 50 times every day. Of the 50 possible customer deployments we can do in a day, we currently get five or more of them out to customers who then get an iterative, improving Up app every single day. I’m not certain of many other tech companies in any industry in the world that can talk about that level of iteration and innovation.

Some of our other technology innovations and security are second to none. We pride ourselves on outage-less deploys so our customers experience less down-time, we have a completely different security model to most other banks we know where we encrypt every transmission end-to-end and have done away with the need for a traditional username and password. Up simply works, is secure and uses on-device capabilities such as biometrics and the secure enclave to ensure customer data is protected.

 

“From day one Up has positioned itself as delivering technology-led banking versus banking-led technology.”

Dom Pym. Co-Founder, UP Bank.

 

Transparency Is Key To Customer Experience.

We communicate openly and transparently with our customers about what we’re building and when we’ll deliver it. In fact, the Up roadmap is available publicly. We call it the “Tree of Up” and it helps our customers to self-serve when it comes to asking us when we’ll deliver new features, and it also holds us accountable for delivery.

Being customer-centric and design-led are also hallmarks of the great technology companies disrupting other industries (such as Skype in telecoms, Netflix in entertainment, Uber in taxis, Amazon in retail, and AirBnB in hotels, for example). We don’t see any reason why banking would be any different.

A technology-led approach has significant advantages over traditional banking-led incumbents and ex-bankers now running neobanks. The thinking and approach to solving problems and delivering excellence in digital products and services to customers is completely different. Being technology-led is a way of thinking, and it means a whole deal more than simply excellence in engineering, that is just one component (albeit an essential one).

 


 

What Plans Are There For Up Over The Next 12 Months?

Right now Up has focused on spending and savings products. We wanted to get to market relatively quickly and deliver the highest quality products in Australia. We’ve pretty much done that, and now we are looking at some product breadth and additional partnership announcements coming soon. The most popular requests from customers are mostly “table stakes” type of features (things like BPay and joint accounts).
You can see all these kinds of features on our public roadmap.

Because Up operates under a full banking license it’s possible for us to continually expand and improve Up’s product breadth over time. Eventually we’d also like for Up to offer other financial products customers want and use (like credit cards, mortgages, insurance, superannuation, share trading, and more). But the way we offer those type of services is likely to be different, more innovative and better than what is currently available.

The products announced by the likes of major international players like Transferwise, Square, Apple, and others, are similar in nature to the digital products we’ve had in development at Up for some time now. But we’d expect to launch products in Australia before they do.

We’ve experienced rapid growth in terms of customer numbers, deposits and transaction volumes, but at the same time we’ve also been developing our product roadmap. We get hundreds of inquiries from customers every day with product ideas through social media, and through our in-app support channel (Talk to Us). Many of these feature requests find their way onto the Tree of Up.

 

UP Bank
View The “Tree Of Up” https://up.com.au/blog/the-tree-of-up/
Follow UP Bank @up_banking and #upyeah

Speaking of the Tree of Up, we think it’s quite unique, certainly in banking, and even in technology circles more broadly. Pretty much the next 6 to 12 months of Up’s product development is publicly available. Customers can click on the different branches and see what we’re currently working on. The roadmap is our best way of communicating to customers who we are, what it is we do, and why.

We believe doing is the best way we can delight our customers, rather than talking about what we’re gonna do. Consistent delivery demonstrates our commitment to our customers, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Simply because we’re delivering improvements every single day, customers are always tweeting, posting. instagramming, and otherwise sharing new Up features – which is awesome and helps to maintain momentum and expand awareness. In effect, engagement is part of our product.

We also have a bunch of new innovations we like to keep rolling out. As an example, we recently launched our unique “Pull-to-Save” feature. Some people have said it’s like the gamification of saving for a whole new generation of Australians, which has been nailed by that one feature. Which is an amazing compliment. Internally, there were originally some reservations about launching the “Pull-to-Save” feature.

How would customers react? Should we be focussed on delivering traditional products, like BPay and joint accounts, credit cards, and home loans? Fair question. But for the team at Up, being able to change the decision-making and savings habits of an entire generation is a loftier goal.

 


 

 

 

Will Mahon-Heap – Revolut
When I joined the Revolut team was just 60 people based in Europe. We are now over 1000 with offices in Australia, the United States, Singapore and over 15 other countries.

We’re looking for Australia’s top talent.

Big News! Revolut launched in Australia this week. Tier One People is super proud to have been chosen by Revolut to support their recruitment drive.

Dexter Cousins caught up with Will Mahon-Heap who heads up global expansion at Revolut to talk about their plans. And understand what it is like to work with the worlds fastest growing Fintech.

 

For those who are not aware of Revolut it is a phenomenal growth story. Launching in 2015 Revolut has over 5 million customers in Europe, and another 350,000 joining each month. June 12th 2019 saw the launch of a public beta in Australia. Find out more about Revolut

 

Will, give us a brief introduction to Revolut.

Will: Revolut launched in July 2015 as a solution to hefty bank fees and bad exchange rates when sending and spending money abroad. Our founders, Nik and Vlad, are no strangers to the worlds of finance and tech, so it was clear from the start what needed to be done.

 

 

What makes Revolut different to the big banks?

I should start by saying that Revolut isn’t a bank in Australia right now, although we were recently granted a banking licence by the European Central Bank.

What differentiates us from traditional banks and systems, are unprecedented levels of freedom and control for our users. Customers can open an account from their phone in minutes, then spend and transfer money around the globe at the real exchange rate, hold and exchange up to 15 currencies in the app, and manage their money better with built-in budgeting and spending analytics. European customers can also receive their salaries with Revolut, and use Apple Pay.

 

 

Tell us about you and your work with Revolut.

Before joining Revolut, I was a lawyer at a firm called Russell McVeagh, then spent three years building a crowdfunding Fintech startup, Equitise, with a couple of co-founders. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot, but I heard about Revolut and thought it had unique potential to go global from day one. They had a small team solving a real problem that affects billions of people around the world.

When I joined the Revolut team was just 60 people based in Europe. We are now over 1000 with offices in Australia, the United States, Singapore and over 15 other countries.

My team is responsible for taking Revolut global. From Australia to the United States, we take the company from zero to one in new jurisdictions. We get to learn about every aspect of the business; it’s essentially like setting up a startup within a startup, but with the support of a large and experienced team.

 

 

What makes joining Revolut Australia a smart move?

For Australians who frequently spend and transfer money overseas, Revolut has a core proposition for this market. Revolut customers can spend and transfer money abroad using the real interbank exchange rate, which means that Australians won’t be forced to accept hidden fees and hefty exchange rate markups from the big banks.

There’s also been turbulence in the finance sector in recent months, with incumbent banks making headlines and being hit with huge fines for maximising their profits at the expense of their customers. Australian financial services are in desperate need of disruption, which makes it an ideal time for Revolut to deliver a new, transparent, industry leading product that will put Australians back in control of their finances.

 

 

Who are you looking for?

If I were to describe the culture at Revolut in three words, they’d be aspirational, motivating, and electric. The truth is, all kinds of people thrive at Revolut. What they all have in common, though, is their tremendous energy, intelligence, and obsession to solve a genuine pain point. We don’t want to build a good product; we want it to be the best, ideal solution, for our customers.

We’re looking for people who are humble, entrepreneurial, and can get stuck in. We believe that you should come to work with the attitude that we’re here to learn and grow together. There’s also a great deal of autonomy to our roles. Revolut empowers you to thrive and solve real problems, without the micro management.

At the moment, I am in Australia assembling an all-star founding team, who will help scale up our operations and grow the business in the APAC region. We’re looking for experienced people, ideally with a Fintech background, who will be based in our Australia HQ in Melbourne.

This is an incredible opportunity to make a real difference for thousands, then millions of Australians. If you think you’re up for it, then get in touch with the team at Tier One People. And if you can make it please come and meet some of the Revolut team at our Melbourne #RevRally on 16th June.

 

Steve Weston – Volt Bank

People warned me that building a bank would be very difficult. But it is much, much harder than that!

Steve Weston. CEO, Volt Bank.

Steve Weston is CEO of Volt Bank, the first fully licensed Neobank in Australia. Tier One People CEO Dexter Cousins caught up with Steve at Volt Banks HQ in Sydney to talk everything digital banking.


What is the story behind why you started Volt Bank?

Steve: I started my banking career at the age of fifteen in a small town in North Queensland. It was a great introduction to banking and the important role banks play in the community. Fast forward 30 years and I found myself in the UK as part of the senior leadership team at Barclays in a very similar environment the banks in Australia are facing post the Royal Commission. Somehow banks today have lost their purpose for existing, which is to serve customers.

At Barclays, I experienced first hand what happens when banks don’t do the right thing by their customers. I also experienced the challenges incumbent banks face when attempting to adapt to the digital and data driven world we now live in.

When I came back to Australia in the beginning of 2016, I spoke with boards and executives of at least a dozen banks on two topics. Firstly the change in regulation; I was confident that they could see what had transpired in the UK post-GFC was likely to happen in Australia. Secondly, the need for digital transformation; Barclays is recognised as a leader in digital transformation amongst incumbent banks globally.

The banks found my insights interesting but also too challenging to action. I think if I had joined a major Australian bank I might have only lasted a couple of weeks. My opinions were strong on what was likely to happen and what needed to be done, I would most likely have been considered too much trouble! Instead I decided to take a different route – I joined the board of a peer-to-peer lender and invested in a few Fintech startups.

Then one day I bumped into an old St George colleague of mine, Luke Bunbury, who is now my Co-Founder of Volt Bank. Like most businesses, the Volt Bank idea started by putting the world to rights over a bottle of red and a pizza!

Luke and I both agreed that the future of banking was digital with clear examples of new entrants in the UK market such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut. The barriers to entry in Australia were incredibly high, even if we had the significant capital required, the chance of ever getting a banking licence was remote. So, we just parked the idea and got on with life.

A day I vividly remember is May the 9th 2017. I was watching the federal budget on TV, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the Treasurer at the time, announced key changes to the Australian banking regulations. He called for an open banking review, announced the BEAR (Bank Executive Accountability Regime) act, the Banking Levy and most importantly for us, the restricted banking licence approach. A similar approach to phased licencing in the UK made it possible for Monzo, Starling and the UK neo bank revolution to get off the ground.

I didn’t sleep that night and wrote what was to become a business plan. I met with Luke the next morning and we agreed to commit to a six-week feasibility study to assess the viability of building a neobank in Australia. We reached out to nine other colleagues to ask if they could help. By June 2017 we made the decision to form Volt Bank and all nine are still members of the team.

 

Discover your next challenge – https://tieronepeople.com/jobs-in-fintech/

 

How difficult has it been to become a fully licensed bank? And do you have any advice?

People warned me that building a bank would be very difficult. But it is much, much harder than that!

We applied for a restricted banking licence in October 2017, were granted that licence 7 months later in May 2018 and consequently granted a full banking license in January 2019. We are unaware of any bank; even multinational banks being granted a full Australian banking licence in less than that time. Whilst it has been challenging, it has been an amazingly rewarding experience.

 

Being awarded a banking licence is an extremely difficult and rigorous process, and so it should be.”

Steve Weston – Volt Bank

First you need a deeply experienced board and management team in place. I am regularly asked for advice on how to start a neobank and get a licence. Most of the people who are thinking about building a bank I meet come from technology or M&A backgrounds. The harsh reality is they will struggle to get a banking licence and will likely burn through any capital they raise unless they have all the ingredients in place.

We have met with people who have started the process of a restricted license and then pulled out because of how difficult it is. Before anyone starts, I would encourage them to speak with people at Xinja, 86:400 and Judo Bank.

The execution risk of any startup is high, but in building a digital bank, the risk is extremely high. Without a banking licence, you can’t conduct business. You need all your technology in place, an experienced board and significant amounts of capital. It is a huge investment before you can even sell a product or service.

 

What is your secret to raising capital?

There’s no secret. We have worn out a lot of shoe leather! I think our proposition is compelling. The UK is a comparable banking market to Australia and if we look at the digital banking scene there, 1 in 4 millennials has an account with a neobank, all in the space of approximately three years. Awareness and growth is increasing at an exponential rate with people looking for a genuine alternative to the incumbent banks.

Cloud Technology and data analytics enable pure digital banks to provide a superior service at a much lower cost, which is obviously an attraction to customers and investors.

The Royal Commission has helped raise awareness that the traditional banking model isn’t working for many customers, and alternative solutions are required. We don’t expect customers will simply switch banks because of the Royal Commission. However, research shows that Australian millennials are the most likely millennial group on the planet to switch and the most worried about their financial future. While mum and dad may have grumbled about their bank, they seldom changed. Millennials think and act differently, loyalty is no longer a key element in the decision process.

Investors hear our story and it makes sense to even the most skeptical of fund managers. Now, some might want to see runs on the board before investing. But many have invested on the strength of our story, the strategy we have in place and the background and experience of our management team and board. The fact we have delivered on timelines, especially getting a banking licence, has instilled a lot of confidence in the investor community.

 

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What influence has your UK experience had on Volt Bank’s customer proposition?

It has had some influence, but we have looked at many neo-banks all across the world to see what they have done well and what we can do better. We have opened accounts with them and spoken to founders where we can.

For 600 years banking largely has been done the same way. You go to a bank branch, get a deposit account or loan product and once the exchange happens you are left to get on with life. Our customer research indicates people want a bank that understands what they are trying to achieve in their lives and help them along the way. We call these ‘journeys.’ Customers want a bank to assist them in achieving outcomes in a more effective way than has been possible in the past.

Rather than just providing a savings account, Volt Bank seeks to understand what it is a customer is saving for and helps them budget, save and develop habits to get there. The Volt app will analyse spending habits and monthly living costs and provide real time prompts when a customer is over spending.

Customers are telling us that they want even more than this. If we can in some way save them money or provide access to a better deal, then they want to hear about it. Customers today expect banks to provide them with suggestions on how to save. A way would be to offer a better deal on non-bank products like utilities, insurance and mobile phone plans. Volt Bank’s key point of differentiation is to help customers in this more holistic way.

 

Who do you see as being the biggest threats to the Australian banking industry?

It would be naive of Volt Bank to think we can compete against multi-billion-dollar corporations. The major Australian banks have 80% market share, so there is plenty of opportunity for Volt to capture some of that market with direct customer acquisition.

People immediately assume Amazon, Facebook, Google etc. will be the biggest threat, and we recognise that the tech firms may potentially want to offer banking products to their customer bases. However, while large tech firms may have the capital required to become a bank, it is also comes with a lot of pain and regulatory scrutiny, and detracts from their core business. More often they look to partnerships as we have seen with Apple and Goldman Sachs.

Volt Bank has three partnerships announced to date, one of which is PayPal that has over 7 million Australian users. In the coming months we expect to announce other partnerships with businesses with highly engaged customer bases, which are looking to expand their services. We have put in place a business model, technology and experienced people to provide a platform for partner banking. It is a different approach, but we think the market globally and particularly in Australia, is ready for it.

 

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How many employees work at Volt Bank?

Currently there are 120 full time and contract staff. In 12 months’ time, we expect to have around 200 people. Volt Bank will never employ the number of people a major bank does. By adopting a scalable model with the help of automation and technology we will be able to keep our head count low. However, machines can’t do everything and when it comes to customer contact, we feel it is essential customers deal with humans when they need to. This is why customers of Volt Bank will get to deal with highly skilled customer service representatives.

 

Does Volt Bank require the same skills, disciplines and expertise as a traditional bank?

Yes, and no. We have roles that you would find in any other bank; treasury, risk, cyber security, compliance and so forth. Then we have the creative and tech teams. Designers, engineers and creatives are all on one floor and it is a different environment. There is also a startup hub which is essentially our lab area.

There is a balance between being a bank and tech startup, with a lot of respect between the different teams. Everyone in the business knows that without the banking and risk discipline, we wouldn’t have a banking licence, however that we’re not going to become successful by operating and thinking like a traditional bank.

And that’s why we have recruited people from different industries and from different countries, people at the top of their game who have a burning desire to transform the way banking is done.

 

How does the culture of Volt Bank differ from other banks you have worked in?

The culture of any organisation is formed from the top of the business. I am fortunate that I love people, love customers and I am a bit of a sticky beak. I try to say good morning to everyone I see each day, and goodbye when I’m leaving to those still in the office.

I know everyone by name, I get to know a bit about them, and I want people to feel comfortable so they can speak with anyone in the business about anything, positive or negative. We get together regularly as a complete team and discuss challenges and achievements, communicate which decisions have been made and why we prioritised those decisions. It is a very open and collaborative environment.

It is critical we invest in our people. We work hard to ensure everyone at Volt Bank understands our purpose and why we go to work every day. We set clear expectations as to what is expected from each team member,and we talk regularly about any mistakes that may have been made to learn from them. We want our people to feel they can be their true self when they come to work.

Coming to work every day is a lot of fun. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t hard and it doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect. But we are building something unique, the culture feels more like an elite sports team trying to win the championship than a business at times. That level of commitment, character, drive, determination and skill is the kind of culture we want at Volt Bank.

 

How have you attracted Game Changing talent without having a banking license?

The original nine people who helped bring the idea of Volt Bank to life with Luke and myself have been the key. Almost all of our hires to date have come from our networks. When we formed Volt Bank, we had founding members in the UK, Singapore and the USA. We have been able to tap into some of the best talent in the world.

We get a lot of interest from people approaching us direct. We assess talent on a combination of technical skills, attitude and cultural fit. Typically, highly talented people will come into an organisation and they want to do a diagnostic for a few months, see what’s going on, and then make decisions on what needs to happen.

Because we were growing so quickly and because there is so much to do, we can’t afford that luxury. We need people who can fly the plane as we are building it. What do I mean by that? We value talent and expertise, but our people have to adopt the lean startup mentality of building, learning and fixing along the way. And that is a very different way of working to traditional banks and corporates. Even highly talented people can find a new environment challenging so it is about finding a balance while people get used to our way of working. But not everyone can or wants to work this way. So, we are very particular about who we hire and why.

 

Final question, when can we expect to see Volt Bank launch?

We are currently in the final stages of product design. We also have what we call Volt Labs where we ask customers for insights and feedback. There’s currently 15,000 customers on the waitlist, and we expect to launch our initial savings products in August 2019.

Building products together and co-creating with a test group of customers not only ensures the products have market fit. In the process we are also building a customer base who become advocates. People want to deal with companies they trust.

Anthony Quinn Arctic Intelligence
Anthony Quinn – Arctic Intelligence

Anthony Quinn is founder and CEO of Arctic Intelligence, one of Australia’s first Regtech startups. Anthony and the team have developed a platform that tackles the global problem of financial crime and money laundering. Dexter Cousins, CEO of Tier One People caught up with Anthony to talk about the journey so far.

Can you tell me more about Arctic Intelligence?

We specialise in audit risk and compliance software, predominantly in the final crime prevention space. One of our platform solutions is AML Accelerate, which is a cloud-based money laundering and terrorism financing risk assessment platform, that caters to 30 different financial and non-financial industry sectors and contains an AML Program tailored to the laws of over 10 countries

We’ve got a very diverse client base on AML Accelerate including some larger financial institutions like Suncorp, CUA, TAL, smaller financial institutions like the challenger banks, Xinja, Volt and 86:400, digital currencies, money remitters, non-bank lenders, as well as non-financial sectors including lawyers, accountants, real-estate agents and various pubs and clubs.

We also have developed two other platforms, another Risk Assessment Platform that we are about to launch. It is aimed at sophisticated financial institutions, major corporations and professional services firms and is a risk agnostic, flexible and highly configurable platform. The risk framework, risk and controls assessment and methodology can be adjusted to suit any company.  

The other platform is Health Check which caters for regulated businesses and their professional advisers. The platform assesses the design and operational effectiveness of compliance programs through rigorous controls testing, which is used by clients like Deloitte on their engagements.

How did Arctic Intelligence get started?

I spent 20 years consulting to investment, and retail banks first in the UK. I moved to Australia in 2003 running a number of risk and compliance programs for different banks. Over the last 10 years I specialised in financial crime and was the program director running the AML and FATCA programme for Macquaries Banking and Financial Services Group. I developed a deep interest in solving the financial crime problem. Many of the challenges regulated businesses have in managing their risk and compliance obligations stem from the fact that many of these processes are manual.

So, I set about building a platform to make it easy for regulated businesses of all sizes, sectors and geographies to conduct financial crime risk assessments and build effective control frameworks to mitigate and manage their risks.

There was a huge gap in the market that no one was addressing. Money laundering risk assessments and AML programs have to be signed off by the board, with significant consequences for board directors and companies in the form of millions of dollars in civil penalties.

CBA’s $700m fine (which highlighted among many other things, deficiencies in product risk assessment), the royal commission into banking misconduct and the rise of the board executive accountability regime make it clear organisations can no longer rely on outdated spreadsheets to manage a very important risk category.

Arctic Intelligence started as a side hustle, like most startups do. For two years, I was developing the business while working four days a week with Macquarie. I personally funded the initial development of the platform, working with a development team to build an MVP. At the end of 2015, I finished up with Macquarie and went full time with Arctic Intelligence.

We were one of the first residents at Stone and Chalk. Then in August 2016, we won our first client, Deloitte, and then from there the business has just kept growing.  We’re 17 full-time staff at the moment, mostly based in Stone and Chalk but we do have a couple of people as Business Development Managers in Singapore and the UK.




How is the team structured?

First of all, as a startup we need people who are multi talented. But we are broadly split across three main areas. Our Chief Operating Officer, Darren Cade looks after our operations, client services, HR, finance and content management activities.

We’ve got a sales and marketing team led by Imelda Newton. Her team is responsible for winning new clients and building relationships with consulting firms of all sizes plus establishing and maintaining active reseller relationships.  

Then we have the product and technology team, headed by Nathan Zaetta our Chief Technology Officer and supported by a Head of Product, Tammy Goodman and Development Lead, David Stephen. They lead the requirements gathering and software development across our three platforms and manage the testing team which we’ve got in-house.

Under each of these teams we are supported by a very enthusiastic and high-performing team, as well as a very experienced Board, Advisory Group and Investor base.

What are the biggest challenges you have found in hiring people.

The challenges you face in being a startup, is that most people with experience would be mad to join in some ways. Myself and some of the people we’ve hired could earn a salary of over $400,000 at one of the banks. It’s a tough sell to entice people to leave that comfort and join a startup for 75% less than they are currently earning on a promise of changing the world!

So, you’ve got to have the right people with the right attitude. Most importantly, anyone you hire needs to clearly understand what they are letting themselves in for.  We hire people who are passionate about the vision and can see where the business will be in a few years time. But even that isn’t enough. The people we hire need to demonstrate how instrumental they can be in making the vision come to life. Startup businesses are pretty tough at the beginning.

Can-do attitude is important, You can’t be political or too precious in a startup. We are building a team of high performers. We have been very selective with the people we have hired . We are very lucky to have high calibre people on the team.

How do you hire high calibre people?

We’ve done a couple of investor rounds which were targeted to private investors. That process not only brought in funding but gave access to investor networks. That is how we have assembled an impressive board. We have the ex Chair of PWC Australia as Chairman, Neil Helm, the ex-CEO of OFX is a director. Our board and investor network are all very deeply experienced and well connected, so we leverage that whenever we can.

Arctic Intelligence were one of the first RegTechs in Australia. How far has the industry come since you launched?  

It’s funny. When we launched RegTech wasn’t even a term. The Regtech Association came together about 18 months ago. A small group of startups were out promoting the benefits of RegTech and highlighting the need for change. We really struggled initially to get momentum, primarily because the care factor of AML compliance was so low.

Fines and penalties for non compliance were very low, the biggest fine was $300,000. And the likelihood of a regulator taking a business to court was virtually non-existent. The big shift started when CBA were fined $700 million, and the Royal Commission into banking  misconduct. There is now a lot of demand for RegTech solutions.

Arctic Intelligence were one of the first nine founding members of the RegTech Association. It has been overwhelming how positive the association has been received and much of the credit should go to Deborah Young, the CEO for driving this forward. At the last conference in March 2019 we had 105 startup and corporate members and sponsors. So it’s definitely taken on a life of its own and the conversations are really starting to happen in major firms that may not have considered the value of regulatory technology.

There’s certainly a lot of good use cases and testimonials and some really good early adopters of the latest  technology. We have noticed a significant uptake in our business and see this continuing to gain momentum.

What is the opportunity for RegTech in Australia to compete globally?

I think what we’ve got going for us is that it is a small market, but it’s a very open environment. We have Tech hubs like Stone and Chalk, Tank Stream Labs, Fishburners etc fostering innovation in RegTech and FinTech. But we also have very open and engaged regulatory authorities such as AUSTRAC and ASIC. They are running regular update meetings and have developed an outreach programme to RegTech startups.

The regulators are now very open to RegTech and frankly I think they need it as much as the banks do. If you look at a regulator like AUSTRAC, they’ve got 300 staff to monitor 14,000 regulated businesses. This number will increase to approximately 85,000 businesses in 2020. Without technology it is not feasible that regulators can effectively regulate – they are resource constrained and losing the battle, they have to be smart about supporting technology innovation but also become adopters themselves. I offered our technology to one of the regulators for free, over 4 years ago but nobody has taken up this offer.

It’s a great eco-system where you’ve got regulators, regulatory bodies, professional services firms and tech providers collaborating together, challenging each other on the art of the possible. It is leading to rapid innovation and proving what can be achieved. Everyone is going on their own journey with RegTech, which gives us all a much deeper understanding of multiple perspectives.

I think this is the key reason why Australian RegTech seems to be standing out globally.

What are the future plans for Arctic Intelligence?

We are about to launch, another risk assessment platform, which is domain agnostic. So it can do much more than Anti Money Laundering. The new platform has multiple use cases including bribery, fraud, cyber, operational risk or any risk domain. It allows a lot more flexibility in terms of being able to introduce risk models or control frameworks, add relative weighting of risks and controls, changing methodologies.

We’ve developed a very flexible risk platform primarily aimed at sophisticated reporting entities like major banks. Believe it or not, most of the major banks we work with in Australia and overseas are still managing financial crime and AML risk assessments on spreadsheets. The platform takes the data in those spreadsheets and puts it into a robust risk assessment framework.

The platform is geared towards regulated businesses and the professional services community. Deloitte are white labelling our technology. We are in a beta test program, which is a global program with about 25 different stakeholders in the UK, Canada, the US, Southeast Asia and Australia.

What’s the end-game for Arctic Intelligence?

We feel like we’re at the bottom of the mountain, even though we’ve been going for quite some time. There’s a lot of growth potential for us in terms of growing into new markets, growing into new industry sectors and growing across our product ranges.

We think we’re just at the start and the sky’s the limit, so we are really pumped to get out there and make a difference. And ultimately it is about trying to do our bit to help solve the money laundering problem and the social impact that causes – violence on our streets, rampant ice addiction in Australian cities and country towns, increase in crime rates, domestic violence and broken families.

That is our higher purpose and the thing that really drives us.

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Leda Glyptis – 11:FS
Maybe Australia’s proximity to Asia is the game changer. Do Aussie Fintech’s use all their resources taking on the Big 4 banks, or do they put the same energy into Asia?

As CEO of 11:FS Foundry, Leda is at the forefront of innovation in open banking. She’s also Chief of Staff for 11:FS Group, a specialist digital financial services firm that is reinventing what providing advisory, technology and design services to the banking community looks like.

Leda is a renowned speaker, writer and academic in banking and fintech, and an expert in digital disruption, strategy and financial technology. She was recently named in the top 50 Senior Female Leaders in Global Fintech. Tier One People CEO, Dexter Cousins caught up with Leda to talk all things 11:FS and Will.I.am?!

Leda, most people here in Australia know 11:FS through the Fintech Insider podcast. Can you explain how 11:FS work?

At a high level, 11:FS is essentially a set of capabilities united by a common purpose. What do I mean by that? We have structured the business very deliberately around the way customers engage with and purchase financial services in the digital age.

Our business model consists of Media (content, podcast and events), Research and Benchmarking (market, product and competitor analysis), Consulting Services and the Foundry Platform. We build digitally native propositions for banks and financial institutions. As an example, we launched Mettle, an SME challenger proposition delivered for NatWest.

The Executive Leadership Team at 11:FS are ex bankers. Remembering back to when we worked in large banks, when it came to innovation, there would be regular meetings where everyone got excited by the question ‘Wouldn’t it cool if ….?’

Sadly, few if any of the ideas ever came to realisation. 11:FS exists to help financial services firms bring these ideas to life and build entirely new propositions with a digital first approach. We are a completely different kind of consultancy because our focus is on execution. And we spend our client’s money like it was our own, with every single dollar budgeted for up front.

 

Can you tell me more specifically about 11:FS Foundry?

11:FS Foundry is a game changing banking platform we are building in partnership with DNB bank. Today’s banking systems were built in the past and for the past. They worked in their day, but they’re no longer fit for purpose in the digital age. The Royal Commission in Australia highlighted many of the problems legacy systems create for large financial institutions.

Banks are spending billions keeping their legacy architecture on life support rather than truly transforming their services. Why? Because changing a core banking platform is staggeringly expensive, time-consuming and risky. We built 11:FS Foundry to enable banks to modernise systems without needing to replace everything at once. It is a ledger first core banking platform with a modular stack. Which gives technology teams agility and flexibility, they can add modules as and when they need them.

The platform will launch soon. And the partnership with DNB is working beyond our expectations. We are really excited and see huge potential for 11:FS Foundry as we enter a new era of open banking.

 

“Maybe Australia’s proximity to Asia is the game changer. Do Aussie Fintech’s use all their resources taking on the Big 4 banks, or do they put the same energy into Asia?”

 

Australia plans to launch open banking in July this year. What potential opportunities do you see down under?

That is a tough question. Open Banking should, in theory, create more competition. But I think it would be unwise to look at the UK and expect things to play out the same way in Australia.

Australia has 4 banks sharing 85% of the market. That kind of influence makes it very difficult for challenger banks, Neo Banks and Fintechs to pose a significant threat. International banks with deeper pockets have tried and failed to crack the Australian market. It isn’t easy.

Maybe Australia’s proximity to Asia is the game changer. Do Aussie Fintech’s use all their resources taking on the Big 4 banks, or do they put the same energy into Asia? It is a far bigger market. When I was last in Sydney for Sibos, the level of innovation in areas like RegTech, Data and Identity impressed me.

 


 

Many people in the Fintech industry first got to know 11:FS through the Fintech Insider podcast. Has it been key to the rapid growth of the business?

The podcast recently hit 300 episodes. It definitely builds our profile, but it also builds a vibrant community much beyond our brand. In fact, the greatest benefit of the podcast is the community we’ve built. The 11:FS community is global and the show is a great vehicle to share our message. But, if you listen to the podcasts, it is not about us. It is about the people in the industry, it’s about the community, it’s about giving Fintech’s a platform, a voice.

And for people in the banking industry the show helps by cutting through the noise and demystifying what is a confusing period. There is more noise in the industry than ever. Blockchain, AI, Fintech, Crypto, Cyber Security, Open Banking, API’s; Banking executives rightly feel confused. So, the podcast is a platform to share insights, knowledge and ideas.

As an example, we hosted AfterDark, an evening event at Level 39 in London. Over 200 guests turned up. A guest I invited (a highly influential global banker) came to me afterwards and said “I don’t know what impressed me most. The fact that so many people turned up in the awful weather. Or, the fact there are so many influential and heavy hitting people from Banking and Fintech in the room.”

Banking executives clearly want to embrace change and innovation. But they need the right information, insights and strategies. Do they get the right strategies from traditional consultancies? Or do they turn to 11:FS who know Fintech and have built digital banks like Monzo?

We believe that Digital Banking is only 1% finished. There is so much more we can do and are doing for our clients.

 

What attracted you to 11:FS?

The Co-Founders and I had known each other for a couple of years before me coming on board. We would regularly bump into each other at industry events or when I was a guest on the Fintech Insider podcast. It was clear we shared similar views on how digital banking should be done.

So, when David approached me, it just seemed like a natural next step. He is an inspiring leader and he has created a simple culture and philosophy that resonates. Importantly for me, it’s a high-performance culture, modelled on sports, teamwork and winning. But it is not a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. We have one golden rule ‘don’t be a dick’. It sounds simple, but regularly reminding ourselves of this one sentence nips arguments and politics in the bud.

At 11:FS I get to work with and meet amazing people. Had you told me a year ago I would get to interview Will.I.am, I’d have laughed. The velocity at which we are moving is unlike anything I have experienced.

 

Which people tend to be successful at 11:FS?

People with principles, passion and positivity. This is a high-performance culture where we work on outcomes and results. You have to believe in a particular way of working. We work in small teams, taking the sports team philosophy by bringing together people with complimentary technical skills and ability. We’ve assembled experienced banking, fintech and insurance leaders, alongside outstanding talent from start-ups, consultancies and agencies.

11:FS is unlike anywhere I have ever worked. It has been a wild ride so far. I joined 11:FS in September 2018. On day two I flew to Oslo to meet the DNB team and pick up my part of the negotiations that led to our current partnership. The negotiations were at an advanced stage when I came on board and it was great to have the team’s faith to jump right in.

This past 6 months have been the most exhilarating of my career.

A lot of people could find it daunting. People in Banking tend to think Fintech is sexy, fun, innovative. But the reality can be very different. It’s extremely tough work. We are at the leading edge of innovation, so most times it feels like we are building the plane as we are flying it.

We have an eclectic bunch here. Creatives, marketers, product, tech. Smart and driven people. We are now 150 staff and growing fast. A lot of people approach us direct because they follow the podcast, get excited by the work we do and feel a connection. But we are just like any rapidly scaling business. We need a measured approach to Talent Acquisition and it is hard to find the right people when you are growing at scale. We are always open to people approaching us if they share our philosophy.

 


 

Check out Careers @ 11:FS

 


 

Leda, people consider you an ‘Influencer’ in fintech and you write regularly sharing advice. Who has been the greatest influence on your career?

First of all let me say, I find it an honour people read my work. But it’s my belief that you influence by doing, not by talking. The greatest influence on my career is Adriana Pierelli, my old mentor at BNY Mellon. She was the person who backed me when I launched the innovation division at BNY. At the time it felt like everyone was mocking me as I got excited by APIs and the possibilities they could bring to the business. Adriana believed. And opened the door for me to prove myself. All we need is an opportunity and a little bit of faith. And she gave me both. There are two life lessons I took from Adriana.

1)      Practical Impact. You must make things happen.

2)      Pay things forward.

It is so important to help people along the journey. To give your time, advice, connections. The platform I have been given is a privilege, meaning I can help more people than ever. That is the great thing about the 11:FS tribe. The Fintech Insiders show takes a lot of time, energy, money and resources to produce. But we do it for free because we truly believe in paying things forward and making digital banking better.

 


 

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Martin McCann – Trade Ledger

2019 was a breakthrough year for Trade Ledger. 2020 promises to be even bigger as open banking creates the perfect set of conditions for the Trade Ledger platform to take off.

Dexter Cousins of Tier One People caught up with CEO and Co-Founder Martin McCann in Sydney recently to talk open banking and Lending as a Service.

 

What kind of FinTech is Trade Ledger?

Trade Ledger is a banking platform technology designed to help banks and large non-bank lenders provide any type of credit to businesses and corporations around the world.

We have built a global platform, technology which can be instantly deployed in any country. Matt Born (co-founder) and I come from Enterprise Technology backgrounds. Trade Ledger came into being because we both wanted build what we call a ‘true platform’. We see a lot of FinTech’s claiming to provide platforms which in our view are nothing more than technology stacks for a specific product. These are not true industry platforms.

Enterprise Software, which is essentially what we do, is one of the most complex and difficult markets in business. We’ve been building Trade Ledger for a market which didn’t even exist when we set up the company. Globally the market we operate in is estimated as a $4 Trillion opportunity. Just the undersupply of credit for businesses globally is $2 trillion. That is the extent to which businesses are underserved with lending and capital. We call it ‘Lending as a Service.’ Nobody used the term when we set the business up two-and-half years ago.

 

Can you tell me how LaaS works?

Essentially LaaS is the outsourcing of the IT and operational requirements for the bank when it comes to lending. Typically, for a business to apply to a bank anywhere in the world for a line credit the average time to process the application is 90 days.

There’s about 30 hours of manual work for the customer plus 300 emails and 500 calls involved.

Trade Ledger eliminates the manual processes using API’s and accessing the banks data, completing the whole process in four minutes without a single document filled out.

 

What do you attribute to your success so far?

Matt and I followed our own path when we started the business. Trade ledger was incorporated in August 2016 and we were supremely confident we were building the right solution at the right time for the right market. Joining forces is the first thing we got right. What Matt, the team and I are doing is really, really hard and you need at least two co-founders to tackle all of the challenges ahead.

The combination of us working together has proven to be a real positive for the company and our personal lives. Matt and I both have extensive experience in enterprise software. We both worked at SAP and we witnessed software disruption in other sectors, it was only a matter of time before the same would happen in banking.

The blueprint was already there from other industries, it was just a case of applying the strategy to the right niche. Forming our partnership, our timing and product market fit are the keys to our success so far.

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Can you tell me more about the Trade Ledger business?

The business is now over 20 people, evenly split between London and Sydney. We’ve almost doubled the size of the company in the last three to four months. We are delighted with the ‘firepower’ we have hired into the business.

Firstly, we managed to find really high calibre senior engineers, the kind of people we think are potential game changers. In London, we’ve hired a CFO who is highly respected in the VC community. He will help turbo charge the growth of the business. We are embarking on Series A funding, having a CFO of the calibre we have is essential.

All this adds to the great talent we already have.

We don’t want a development center, and operational offices, we’re trying to keep uniformity across the offices. Fundamentally I believe three things will give Trade Ledger long-term differentiation, in the market-place.

The people in the organisation

The culture of the organisation

And what I call the velocity, are we moving fast enough in the right direction?

I don’t know if we are moving fast enough in the right direction yet, but we are accelerating.

 

What makes the culture of Trade Ledger unique?

The culture is very important to us. Matt and I have almost identical values and business ethics. Transparency is key to us, in terms of our business relationships and our people. We firmly believe when you’re trying to grow something this new, this quickly, you are going to break things, frequently.

It’s what you do when you realise you’re going in the wrong direction, or you’ve broken something which counts. And recognising which things you can break and what you absolutely have to get right.

Living by this ethos creates a culture of high performance which is the edge for a company like ours. Frankly, the banks struggle to attract the kind of people required for a high growth, exciting tech startup like Trade Ledger.

So, banks will have to partner with Fintech’s to access the talent, innovation and execution required for this next paradigm of business we are entering. Big organisations just cannot achieve the velocity required to keep up with the pace of innovation today.

 

What do you look for in the people you hire?

Primarily values and attitude. We don’t focus on people’s experience or their background, we focus on whether or not they would fit well with the team or will they be disruptive in the team. We love diversity. It does cause some challenges. The nature of diversity means it’s harder to evaluate how someone will fit, in the context of values and ethics.

And then the other thing we look for is high potential or high propensity for success. What we’ve found is interesting. People who are under-experienced, properly motivated and show high potential are a much better fit for this organisation than people who’ve got proven experience.

People with high potential fit our culture and the way we work. They want to get ahead quickly, they appreciate the opportunity to be able to contribute and to learn. And they understand the value it creates for them as an asset that differentiates them in the market.

 


 

Trade Ledger

 

 


 

What prompted your move to London?

A good question. Can I say, it’s really nice to be back in Sydney in the heat. From our perspective, Sydney is a great place to start a company. There’s a lot of benefits to be found in the FinTech ecosystem but there are limitations.

The market itself is relatively small, compared to other markets globally. With our ambition to be a global software company, we don’t see significant market penetration in Australia. Banks in Europe and North America don’t see Australia as a market with enough scale, so it is difficult to get credibility as a global player being based from Sydney.

Why choose London? After some consideration and research, the legislative changes in Europe and open banking in the UK made London the ideal launch pad for the Trade Ledger platform.

There’s massive investment from the banking sector in open banking technology, which from our perspective, is just API-based platform technology. The most innovative global bank transformation programs are happening in London. Lloyds alone has five transformation programs running, which, have a multi-year program budget of over 2.5 billion pounds. That’s the scale of transformation technology that’s happening in Europe and it’s hard to find anything comparable happening anywhere in Australia.

If we want to be a global company, we have to win the European market and more specifically the London market. Open banking, GDPR and other legislative changes have created a seismic shift to data-driven lending in the business bank and SME funding market-place.

 

The UK is now 12 months into open banking. What are the potential opportunities here in Australia?

The UK market has been really interesting, and for us, it’s great to have a ring-side seat to the first real implementation of open banking.

Year one was all about fixing the problems with the original scope, specification and approach to open banking. It went live late and there were a couple of issues with the implementation.

The challenge is shifting a heavily regulated market to a technology-driven business model in a record amount of time, it’s never been done before. All of the interested parties are struggling to keep up.

The regulators are finding it particularly difficult to figure out what to do when things go wrong. Liability, specifically the daisy chaining of liability and how to manage it, is turning out to be a significant problem. I think everyone has underestimated how big a shift this was going to be.

Discover your next challenge – https://tieronepeople.com/jobs-in-fintech/

What can Australia learn from UK Open Banking?

Australia being number two into open banking is perfectly positioned to come up with the best capability in the world. It is a highly ambitious plan to implement open data across all industries. Conceptually this is where the market needs to go to.

The Australian market has perhaps underestimated the difficulty of implementation challenges. Something of this scale needs a very strong governance process. It needs to have a very, very high degree of consultation with all of the stakeholder groups.

My fear is the original scope could be thwarted, and open data never actually achieves the ambition outlined in the original agenda. Specifically creating competition in banking.

I wrote an article outlining my fears, published in the AFR. From the feedback I received, maybe people misunderstood my intention. I do not advocate any particular solution, Trade Ledger will prosper regardless of what Open Banking journey Australia chooses. I feel strongly that we need to have the right discussion about the national interest, because this is a once-in-a-generational opportunity Australia can’t afford to get wrong.

If Australia gets open banking right, it is my firm belief we can export financial services to other countries on a scale rivalling the mining industry. And if we get it wrong, then the opposite is true. Digital financial services does not observe national borders. Regulation, which once protected national markets has now become a grey area.

 

What does the future hold for Trade Ledger?

We are in advanced discussions with significant global banks. It is a distinct change in strategy for us. There is a much higher risk involved and a lot more investment up front.

If Trade Ledger is to become what we intended from day one, a global top three in the category, then it’s the direction we need to go in. We don’t shy away from risk or challenges, we embrace them, and we work harder, faster, and smarter to try and move in the direction we want to go.

 

Discover your next challenge – https://tieronepeople.com/jobs-in-fintech/

Andy Taylor – Douugh

We are laser focused on building a ‘smart’ banking experience that will change people’s relationship with money for the better – fostering financial wellness.

Andy Taylor – CEO, Dough.

Andy Taylor is an Aussie FinTech pioneer. He is one of the original founders of Society One, bringing peer to peer lending to the Australian market. Andy’s latest venture, Douugh is his most ambitious project yet, a next gen Neo Bank with an AI first approach. Set to launch in the US through a partnership with Choice Bank, Douugh announced a partnership with Regional Australia Bank just this week.

Tier One People CEO, Dexter Cousins brings you this exclusive interview!

What does ‘next gen’ Neobank mean?

Unlike ‘traditional’ Neobanks, who are taking a mobile first approach and applying for their own banking licences to sell traditional bank products. Douugh is a technology company taking an AI first approach to building a proprietary software platform, partnering with a bank to provide it with deposit taking capabilities and a balance sheet. The company is pioneering a new business model focused around delivering financial wellness for it’s customers.

Is it a similar arrangement to your partnership in the US with Choice Bank?

Correct, it allows us to offer a fully insured bank account and Mastercard debit card, without the need to become a licenced bank ourselves. This frees us up to focus on building out a technology company, innovating on the customer experience software layer through an AI first approach, utilising open API’s.

How did the partnership come about? Was it difficult to find/select the right partner?

It’s been very difficult and time consuming to find the right partner in Australia. We wanted to find someone who respected our independence, shared our values and capable of supporting our ambitious product and growth plans.

Just so I don’t explain it incorrectly … would a Douugh customer in Australia be opening an account with Regional Australia Bank? Can you explain the arrangement to me in layman’s terms please?

Correct, it’s ultimately a wholesale partnership. The Douugh branded bank account will be ‘issued’ by Regional Australia Bank on the backend, customers funds will be held by them, protected by the government guarantee on deposits upto $250,000. The entire customer experience is managed by us through our mobile app and customer support centre.

This is a similar commercial partnership model to what Up has with Bendigo Bank. Meaning, we act as an ‘authorised representative’ of a bank, rather than getting our own banking licence. The partnership with RAB is very much the missing piece. The ability to offer a fully insured bank account and debit card means we can now launch in Australia.

Do you expect HENRYs (High Earner Not Rich Yet) to migrate away from Big Four banks to Douugh?

We do expect people to dip their toe in the water initially to test our technology and gauge the impact it will have on their daily lives. I think we will need to work hard to win the right to people’s salary deposits. We believe people will hold multiple bank accounts in the future.

The battle ground is winning the right to the salary deposit and everyday expenditure. We do allow customers to connect their existing bank accounts and credit cards, so we can give them a 360 degree view to truly understand their financial position. This is where the strategy of becoming the ‘financial control centre’ for our customers becomes very important.

Why do you think Douugh will appeal particularly to this demographic?

We are laser focused on building a ‘smart’ banking experience that will change people’s relationship with money for the better – fostering financial wellness.

People now expect transparency, insight, personalisation and autonomy. They want to understand the opportunity cost of their financial decisions today and what it means for their future, delivered through a seamless, intuitive and frictionless experience.

Banks today do not offer this. They are analogue in their offering, and are not incentivised to offer this kind of service and business model, as they are bogged down by legacy systems and operational models, totally reliant on pushing traditional credit products to deliver short-term profitability, as opposed to generating positive financial outcomes for their customers, taking a longer term view.

People are now aware of this (as exposed by the Royal Commission), and are looking to technology to help them. We believe this sentiment is consistent around the world.

And is that the same for the US and Australia?

Ultimately, it’s about understanding people’s emotional drivers. Money is one of the most powerful forces behind emotional state of mind, and the majority of people’s relationship with money is based on fear and anxiety. We plan to tap into this in a positive way and change the narrative, supporting and educating our customers to get ahead and achieve their goals. So, they can live happier and healthier lives. Rather than be bogged down, living paycheck to paycheck .

This is where we see our AI assistant Sophie really playing a positive role and forever changing the game. Taking on the responsibility of a frictionless, autonomous money manager. Working on behalf of our customers to make money work for them, not the other way around.

We believe this will have a major and lasting impact on society as a whole. This is the legacy I want to leave behind.

Douugh Smart Banking

 

Do you have any indication yet of likely demand for Douugh?

We have strong demand in the US from the little marketing and PR we have done, with thousands of people signed up to our waitlist.

We have started to raise our awareness in Australia via our partnership with Crowdfunding platform Equitise. We aim to build a foundation community. With thousands signed up on our waitlist so far. We will look to ramp up our pre-launch marketing efforts from here on in.

Are we likely to see the Australian accounts open this year? Is there a sense of urgency with other neo banks on the scene?

We are targeting a late Q4 launch this year. Yes the space is hotting up, and we are keen to cut our teeth in this market because it is our home, and we believe Australia (like the US), has a very big problem to solve in terms of the spiralling household debt levels and overall financial health.

Importantly, we view Australia as a key strategic market for R&D purposes, as it is continues to lead the way in mobile payment adoption in the western world.

Is it hard to explain to potential customers the unique selling point of Douugh versus other options? What is the main hook you think that will get people over the line?

Not really, I believe it is much easier for us as we don’t need to get distracted by the fact that we are wanting to be a bank. Becoming a bank does not solve the problem. We have a much more succinct, purpose based marketing message and mission than other ‘Neobanks’.

The hook is that we are looking to pioneer a new business model to make the world financially healthier through a proprietary software platform. We are helping people pay off debt, spend less, save and build wealth autonomously via a ‘smart’ bank account offering, powered by AI.

How is the crowdfunding going? Why did you go via the crowdfunding route rather than the more commonly used VC route?

The crowdfunding is going really well, demand is strong. We wanted to use it as a vehicle to attract a foundation customer base and community in Australia that are passionate about our cause and business. We see this as a better fit at this stage in our lifecycle.

We are on a path to list on the ASX this year, this funding round will allow us to staff up to launch and scale the US business.

How do you view the potential for Douugh in comparison to when you when you founded SocietyOne?

We see much bigger potential for Douugh, as we are operating this as a global banking platform from day one, beginning in the US. The opportunity is obviously significantly larger as we scale up in this market and beyond. Everyone needs a bank account!

We truly believe we can scale to reach 100 million customers by 2030 and we are motivated to show the world that Australia can produce world class consumer technology companies.

Does this feel like unfinished business for you in any way, as SocietyOne came along with a mission to knock the majors off their perches.

Very much so. I’ve always been driven to build a global consumer software company that structurally disrupts the status quo. The mission was always to provide consumers a better experience than offered by the banks, with a business model that is aligned to positive financial outcomes. With Douugh, we are building a product that is co-created with customers from a passionate community.

11:FS talks Aus FinTech

If you aren’t following 11:FS then you simply ain’t into FinTech. A game changing digital consultancy for Banks and FS, a ground breaking banking platform in Foundry and publishers of the #1 Podcast FinTech Insider.

In the latest episode, a cheeky question by our very own Dexter Cousins sparked a healthy debate on the emerging Australian FinTech scene. Hosts David M. Brear, Jason Bates and Sarah Kocianski share some interesting views. What is undisputed is the world is taking notice of Aus FinTech!

AWESOME – listen to the podcast

Douugh partners with Bank

Our friends at Douugh, made a major announcement signing a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Regional Australia Bank.  The bank will become Douugh’s sponsor bank partner in Australia and challenge the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ banks.

On a mission to democratise banking globally, Douugh is building a ‘smart’ bank account designed to help customers live financially healthier, thanks to Sophie – its AI personal financial assistant. The agreement with Regional Australia Bank follows a global strategic innovation partnership announcement with Mastercard at the end of 2018 and a sophisticated raise on leading Equity Crowdfunding platform Equitise which remains live until February.

Douugh’s smart mobile banking app, will offer a Mastercard debit card and suite of everyday banking functionality, as well as multiple enhanced and unique features – focused on helping users pay off debt, spend less, save and build wealth. Sophie offers real time insights and guidance, learning how you spend money and understanding your goals to help you get ahead.

AI Powered Neo Banking

Currently in beta testing in the U.S, Douugh is gearing up for rapid growth. Launching first in the U.S market next month, with Australia set to follow later in the year. Douugh is fast becoming one of Australia’s most promising international fintechs.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Regional Australia Bank, who share our cultural values and vision on helping Australians become financially healthier”, says Andy Taylor, Douugh’s Founder & CEO.

With an initial focus on the global millennial market, Taylor believes the sweet spot of the Millennial demographic for early adoption of Douugh, are the HENRY (High Earner Not Rich Yet) segment.

“This segment is ready to plan for their future and start accumulating wealth. This is where Douugh can educate and automate their finances, and alleviate the stress involved. Helping them live financially healthy by still enjoying the now while planning for their future,” he said.

“We believe the future of banking is about platform, data and identity. Our ultimate goal is to become the financial control centre, where people’s finances are managed on autopilot.

“Technology and the pioneering of a new platform based business model, will be the key differentiators in winning customers from the major banks and it will be the true fintechs with global scale that will ultimately be best placed to capture market share in the long-term,” says Taylor.

Regional Australia Bank CEO Kevin Dupé says, “Douugh has a big focus on customer financial well-being and this aligns perfectly with our approach. With our industry continuing to evolve at pace, we are excited to be partnering with Douugh and help take such a cutting edge technology platform to market”.

Douugh is currently closing out a $5m crowdfunding offer to wholesale investors on the Equitise platform. For more information visit www.equitise.com

Watch out for our exclusive and in depth interview with Douugh founder FinTech NextGen 012 – Andy Taylor

Alex Badran Spriggy

Spriggy is a financial education product for families that helps parents teach their kids about money. The app has become so important in the ‘Cousins’ house hold that the kids now call ‘pocket money’, ‘Spriggy money.’

Dexter Cousins of Tier One People talks with Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Alex Badran, to talk about the Spriggy journey. Alex is one of the smartest, likeable and authentic entrepreneurs you will ever meet.

How does Spriggy work?

Alex: Spriggy provides a prepaid card for kids and an app that parents and kids use together. Through the app, kids can learn about earning, saving, and spending, in a responsible manner, in an environment supervised by their parents.

 

How did the idea for Spriggy come about?

Alex: In 2015, myself and my co-founder Mario Hasanakos got together, and we were talking about banking. We had both worked in a bank and felt banks could do a better job in teaching their customers about money. We could see technological advances were enabling new solutions to enter the market.

Banking at the time was slow-moving, encumbered by legacy technology and regulation. Mario and I felt the conditions were right to deliver something unique to consumers. So, we began talking to people about how they interacted with money and the challenges that they faced. We very quickly discovered a problem that exists between parents and their kids;

“How does a parent teach their kids about money, as money becomes invisible?”

 

We found invisible money was a real concern for most parents out there. It’s a very practical problem as kids are spending online nowadays and money is becoming increasingly digital, yet parents are still teaching kids with antiquated techniques.

So, we set out to help parents teach their kids about money. And started by trying to solve a very practical problem, which is:

“how do I manage digital money with my kids?”

 

How did you bring the idea of Spriggy to life?

Alex: Mario and I have a bias towards doing. During the research phase we built a very clunky prototype. Our first-ever family, Annabelle and her kids, sat in the office with us, as we used off-the-shelf products to put together a product.

Within a few days Annabelle, had a basic tool through which she could manage pocket money with her kids. It wasn’t the best product, but we were able to observe the challenges that Annabelle faced and iterate on the solution that we had in place. We then built a solution and tested it with fifty families. Based on the learnings from testing we built the commercial version you are using today.

 

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What feedback did you get during the early stages?

Alex: It was an interesting experience. Mario and I were given a front-row seat to the challenges parents face with their kids. We learnt pretty quickly that it can be tough managing kids. The jobs of mums and dads is chaotic. You’ve got kids going to sport, you’ve got kids running out the door going to school.

We learned quickly that if we didn’t build something to make their lives easier, they wouldn’t have the time to consider it. Anything we could do to simplify the challenges faced by parents, would be considered a win.

Building an app for adults and building an app for kids is a very different process. Adults are used to having control, they’re not as digitally native. Parents understand concepts around money, but are less literate in technology. Whereas kids, they know their way around Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, but are less literate when it comes to finance.

We could get away with clunky prototypes with parents. If it was functionally up to what they required, they were happy with it. But with kids, if it wasn’t up to the quality standard they had grown used to, they wouldn’t use it.

Building a solution for kids was daunting, but also informative, because we discovered quickly where you need to set the bar. It was intimidating putting products in front of kids. They’d find bugs very quickly and they’d say, ‘look, it’s not good enough.’

Don’t underestimate kids. By giving kids control, responsibility, and ownership, and them seeing the consequences of their decisions, it’s remarkable how quickly they learn. There’s no conversation we’ve seen to replace the feeling a child gets when they spend five dollars on something stupid and then regret it.

The act of learning by doing is very powerful. Which is something I’ve always believed. There’s plenty of research to back it up, but seeing it in practice was cool.

Spriggy Money

The Cousins Klan earning their ‘Spriggy’ money!

 

What was the point that you realised that, ‘Hey, we’ve actually got something really special here?’

Alex: I remember this moment vividly. We were moving from our prototype product to a commercial product, I called one of our earlier users, Nicola, and asked her if we could wind down the original prototype. She would only have to wait a couple weeks for the commercial version.

Nicola said no. We couldn’t take the prototype away from her, because she needed it. Even though it was clunky, didn’t work properly, and wasn’t to a commercial standard, Nicola’s daughter had been naughty that week and she was restricting her pocket money. I got off the phone, went back to Mario and said, “Man, we’ve got to keep this product running for one of our families because they just need it.”

 

“When you’ve got customers that won’t let you take the product away from them, you know you’re solving an acute pain point in their lives. That was the moment I knew we were truly building something special.”


 

There has been a lot of ‘bank bashing’ recently with the Royal Commission. What do you think is the right approach for a FinTech start-up to get traction, and become successful?

Alex: Interesting question. I think it’s about knowing who your audience is. There is a lot of talk around banks right now. Could Spriggy take advantage of the Royal Commission and ‘bash the banks?’ Yes, but I think negative messaging is setting the bar low.

Parents don’t care about banks. They care about their kids. They care about their kids being able to buy lunch, they care about their kids being able to buy a house when they grow up, they care about being able to afford a family holiday, and don’t want to have to worry about school fees.

Our view at Spriggy is that we’re always better off focusing on who our members are and what’s important to them. How do you find the core, emotional driver, that keeps your customers up at night, and deliver real value to them?

“The answer will differentiate you from the competition and help you get traction.”

How have you scaled the business?

Alex: Mario and I are both optimists at heart. The downside of that is you under resource at times. Spriggy was only four full-time people when we launched to the public. It was remarkably challenging in those early days. You don’t really know where the cracks are in your system, particularly with a product of this complexity, until you put in front of people.

When it comes to people’s money, if it feels like their money isn’t where it should be, that’s a terrible user experience. You can’t get away with mistakes and bugs. If you build a social app, and a user has two likes instead of three, people don’t seem to mind. But the minute you’re starting to deal with real money, the quality threshold needs to be extremely high.

At launch, the product was ready to go, but as we started to scale the business, we had challenges. In the early days, we were growing much faster than we expected. And we were receiving a lot of feedback from our customers. It was all-hands-on-deck, to ensure we applied the feedback and iterated the product quickly.

We are now a team of twenty, which is great to see. For the first time since Spriggy started we are not depending on a few remarkably talented people to do everything. We now have remarkably talented people, in specialist roles. We now have processes and support in place, we now have the tools and resources to take a product and business which is scaling and deliver even more value to our customers.

Spriggy Co-Founders

Alex (left) and co-founder Mario Hasanakos (right) with the shiniest head in FinTech!

 

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How have you attracted highly talented people to the business?

Alex: It’s a great question! I reflect on this a lot. The product and the space we’re in is interesting, so that gets people’s attention. Spriggy is also a unique brand, in a unique space, and there’s a lot of interesting things happening in FinTech. However, getting people’s attention, that just brings them to the table. There is a whole lot more involved in hiring highly talented people.

We have brilliant people in the team and a very eclectic mix of backgrounds. My co-founder is a physicist and an electrical engineer. Our CTO has been building apps ever since apps were around. Our CMO is a software engineer, one of our software engineers has a medical degree and our customer success lead used to be a geneticist.

We have managed to hire remarkably talented people who are great people, not just intelligent. They work hard, they care about what they do, they care about the people around them and they care about our customers.

This might sound simple, but talented people want to work with talented people who share the same values and ethics. That’s it. Sure, our people have flexibility, equity and all the advantages of working in a startup, but they are not the key motivators for joining.

Our people really buy into the Spriggy mission too. I love coming to work, and I learn so much from our team, every day. They are just amazing to be around. I am sure it will become harder to hire exceptional people as we scale, but right now, hiring talent isn’t a challenge for us.

 

What do you see as the challenges for Spriggy?

Alex: We have a customer base who like our product, we have a very capable team, we’re in in a space that is exciting and there is lots of opportunity. The challenge is just to remain focused and keep on executing.

Execution is a lot less glamorous than people make out. It’s rolling your sleeves up and doing all the hard parts. Execution is being focused on the right problems. Not trying to solve one hundred different problems, but solving the one or two that really matter. Keeping disciplined and focused when executing will be one of the challenging parts of our growth.

Access to capital in Australia is challenging. Mario and I, we’re not natural capital-raisers, we’re product guys. We have learned a lot during the capital raise process. Presenting as the founders, hitting the pavement, talking to a lot of people, learning who’s in the network, who you should be talking to, who you shouldn’t be talking to.

Learning how capital-raising works was a big challenge in the early days. But we are fortunate to have met a lot of good investors, good people, and great founders too. I underestimated how helpful founders can be. Other founders may be a year or two ahead can tell you who to approach and who not to approach, which saves a lot of time.

I personally find capital-raising challenging in the sense that I much prefer to be building the business, rather than talking about building the business. Pitching and raising capital are disciplines I’ve had to learn.

 

And what is the end goal for you and Spriggy?

Alex: This is not an easy answer. I am not thinking about an exit strategy. We’re just getting started. We have just earned the right to play. And we’ve spent years earning the right to play. I feel like we’re about to start delivering on the vision we had from the beginning.

It’s becoming clearer what our customers want and need. It is obvious that the financial services sector is shifting and there are a lot of dynamics which are playing out globally. Tech is evolving rapidly and the consumer segment continues to evolve.

So, there are a lot of unknowns out there. We need to keep making sure we listen to the signal versus the noise, look after our customers, look after our team. And it’s that simple.

But there’s a lot of momentum in the market and we’re looking forward to delivering more value over the next three, six, twelve months. There will be some cool features coming your way very soon.

Sibos 2018 – The Rise of FinTech

FinTech comes of age in Australia at Sibos 2018.

As Sibos 2018 comes to a close and the worlds biggest players in banking head home the event can be considered a huge success, especially for FinTech. Sibos is the worlds premiere financial services event and what an event it is. 7000 banking and financial services professionals from across the globe gathered. With Money 20:20 taking place in Vegas at the same time the turn out was incredible.

Australian FinTech partnered with Tier One People to cover the four day event.

A dedicated Fintech exhibition, The Discovery Zone drew huge crowds. Innotribe, presented the worlds foremost experts on Blockchain, AI, Quantum Computing and Open Banking. The Oceania Lounge, hosted by FinTech Australia showcased some of the brightest emerging FinTech startups to the 7000 attendees.

FinTech thought leaders such as Ghela Boskovich, Dr. Leda Glyptis (exclusive TOP interview coming soon), Tony Fish and Brett King could all be seen engaging with some of the most visionary FinTech founders from the US, Asia, Israel, Europe and the UK.

The calibre of Fintech businesses and talent on show was outstanding.

My fondest memories of the week are the friendships that have developed with some of the very best people in FinTech. Straight shooting visionaries like Leda Glyptis and Ghela Boskovich think Australia has potential to become world pioneers in areas like Open Banking. They are genuinely excited by the talent and tech on show.

VC firms are actively pursuing Australian FinTech’s who are considered advanced in RegTech and Compliance technology. I expect to see more overseas investors look to Australia in 2019.

Sibos presented an opportunity to put Australian FinTech on the map and everyone involved has delivered. Congratulations to FinTech Australia and a special mention to Rebecca Schot-Guppy who is doing an incredible job as interim CEO. You really have done the FinTech community proud, Rebecca, muchos respect!


FinTech Ashes?

A UK FinTech delegation led by Alastair Lukies (Theresa May’s Ambassador for FinTech) and the UK Department of Trade added a little bit of spice and rivalry. The UK is almost 12 months into Open Banking and there is so much we can learn from our UK cousins. In many areas Australian FinTech is catching up to the UK. There is a golden opportunity to make Australia the FinTech gateway to Asia if we approach the next 12 months in teh right way.

I spent the week getting to know many of the UK delegation and there is a real desire to collaborate and leverage opportunities. A breakfast forum on open banking covered many areas of the consumer data right, which creates even more complexity to the debate (which is becoming very heated here in Australia.)

Andrew Stephens of the Data Standards Council was astute enough to point out, while banks and FinTech’s jostle over open banking, the consumer (who’s data they are fighting over) seems to have been forgotten about.

The work of Tess Thomas and Odette Hampton and the rest of the team from UK Department of Trade is highly commendable. It is fantastic to see so much energy and enthusiasm to build the FinTech Bridge, attracting investment and capital for both nations.


Own the relationship or partner with a big bank!

The Discovery stage was standing room only as the hottest topics were covered. Van Le (Xinja), Steve Weston (Volt Bank) and Robert Bell (:86400) debated challenger banks, open banking and how to win customers from the big banks. Personally I can’t wait for 2019 when challenger banks will finally launch.

Simon Lee, Co-Founder of Assembly Payments gave a straightforward account of partnering successfully with an incumbent bank. Exciting times for Assembly as they go through a period of rapid growth and the partnership with Westpac pays off. Simon is a top guy and is spending a lot of his time in the US talking to potential partners and VC.

For many FinTech businesses, partnering with a bank is the fastest and often times the only path to success. There has been some friction in previous years with banks being accused of ‘innovation theatre’. At Sibos 2018 banks were ready to do business and a number of FinTech’s we talked to were in advanced talks with documents signed and commercial terms being drawn up.

The energy at Sibos was so exhilarating that even an overnight 10% tanking of the markets didn’t seem to dampen spirits!


KPMG FinTech 100.

KPMG and H2 Ventures announced the FinTech 100. Coincidentally three of Australia’s recognised FinTech startups were lined up next to each other at Sibos – Trade Ledger, Look Who’s Charging and Airwallex. Tier One People have been waxing lyrical about Trade Ledger and Look Who’s Charging for several months.

The rise of Airwallex has been phenomenal. I caught up with GM for Australia, Steven Deglas who was delighted.

“It is a big milestone. We are three years old now, there are lots of entrants in our space and not many make it past 18 months. So it is a big testament to the team, the founders and our investors that we continue to grow. There are lots of opportunities for us and we are really excited about the next 12 months.”

Nicole Grover Co Founder of Look Who’s Charging said she was pleasantly surprised when the award was announced.

“I thought we had been invited along as guests, when they called out Look Who’s Charging I was pleasantly surprised. David and Stu (David Washbrook and Stu Grover co CEO’s) are in Vegas for Money 20;20 as we look to expand. The partnership with NAB has really given momentum and we are very excited about the global opportunities ahead. We have lots of interest from banks and FinTechs at Sibos and Money 20;20. And everyone seems prepared to talk business.”

Martin McCann, CEO of Trade ledger was his usual modest self and humbled by last nights award.

“It is fantastic recognition. The business is only two years old and we now have offices in London and Sydney. I have moved to London to focus on partnering with international banks. The KPMG FinTech 100 recognition is paying off with several banks exhibiting at Sibos approaching me today. The only downside to being in London is I miss my Sunday morning surf!”


The potential game changers.

I was really fortunate to shadow a group of hand-picked FinTech companies as they hustled for new partners and potential investors. Here is my pick of the best of an already elite group of FinTech startups.

Priviti Group is a startup from Ireland with a Consent Management Standard for Open Banking. It is a visionary technology that allows the Consumer to grant, review and revoke consent for the use of their personal data. I spent the whole week with CEO Dave Cunningham and Head of Asia Dermot McCann, these guys are phenomenal entrepreneurs and have a visionary solution. Absolute game changers!

Bud Financial is an API platform connecting banks to 90 FinTech applications. Leading the way for open banking in the UK, Bud enables big banks to partner with multiple FinTech applications, giving the user one simple interface. Bud is the perfect solution for FinTechs and large banks to collaborate, with HSBC their biggest client. There are no plans to head out to the Australia at this stage.

Arctic Intelligence is a regtech software business going through huge growth. Offering a risk management and compliance solution suitable for businesses from startup to global enterprise. I caught up with CEO, Anthony Quinn and there is significant interest from global players in banking.

R3 Blockchain platform, Corda, that enables any business of any size to build and operate on the blockchain.  Corda records, manages, executes institutions’ financial agreements in perfect synchrony with their peers, creating a world of frictionless commerce.

Scanovate is an Israeli startup with a mobile first, dynamic, identity management platform using facial recognition for KYC compliance. I spent a day with the CEO

Revolut I hear the wait will soon be over. Can’t say anything else at this stage sorry.

FinTech Summit

Tuesday 16th October. The 5th FinTech Summit took place in Sydney. An all-star line-up of FinTech leaders and a sell-out crowd made this the best FinTech Summit yet.

The topics of open banking, the rise of challenger banks, the recurring themes of raising capital and hiring talent were all debated. But the prominent themes of the day were integrity, ethics and genuine care for customers.

There was a real sense of excitement in the room, with the audience recognising we are at the beginning of a new era in FinTech. Presentations by UP Bank and Xinja demonstrated the differences between a digital challenger bank and a neo bank.

Using ground breaking technology, Up (challenger bank) have taken an established bank and re-imagined the banking experience based on the premise ‘living not banking.’

Xinja (neo bank), on the other hand are building a totally new bank and new products, using technology to ‘bring humanity back into banking.’

Two very different angles, two very different visionaries but two people united in making Australian banking the best in the world.

A panel discussion with challengers Volt Bank, Athena Home Loans, Douugh and Judo Capital and a final presentation by Martin McCann of Trade Ledger painted an exhilarating future for Aussie FinTech. In 12 months time Australian consumers could be spoilt for choice.


Celebrating the success stories of Australian FinTech

AfterpayDavid Hancock of AfterPay opened the FinTech Summit with a fantastic presentation on customer trust. AfterPay has a market cap of AUS $2.6bn and is without doubt Australia’s greatest FinTech success story to date. The global growth story is astonishing, even Kylie Jenner wants AfterPay for her cosmetics business!

The paradigm shift in risk management, based on trust and customer care, has played a big role in AfterPay’s success. Social platforms, technology and access to data have all enabled the rapid growth and adoption of new business models. His words of advice to the major banks were

“The cost of mistrusting people is significantly higher than the value of mistrusting people.”

Katherine McConnell, CEO and Founder of Brighte shared her journey. Incredible to think exactly three years ago, Katherine arrived at Stone & Chalk with a vision and a laptop. Today, Brighte has written approximately AUS $200m in loans, has $90m banking facilities, with investors including Mike Cannon-Brookes and AirTree Ventures.

The 10x vision for Brighte is to enable the mass adoption of batteries in the home and play a pivotal role in making Australia a clean energy country. Despite all the success and awards, Katherine remains one of the most humble and accessible people in FinTech. It is fantastic to see the continued success of Brighte.


Xinja news and updates

Xinja CEO, Eric Wilson was as passionate as ever in his mission to bring humanity back into banking. We caught up with Eric afterwards where he shared big announcements and a new product release (not Xinja Chocolate.)

Although unable to name names at this stage, expect announcements on high-profile board appointments. The series C funding round is coming to a successful close with lots of interest from overseas investors. Talks with regulators are on track. And the core banking system implementation (a world first partnership with SAP) is ahead of schedule. Hopefully all should be announced at the next AGM planned for November.

So, only one questions remains (quote Billy Zane in Zoolander)

‘Eric, when you gonna drop Android on us buddy?’

Soon!


Values and culture are your business

The afternoon event consisted of 4 break out sessions on open banking, raising capital, regtech and compliance. Yours truly chaired a panel discussion with Kylie Vitale of Volt Bank, Kristen Holmes of Zip and Will Blott of Cover Genius. Three highly progressive People and Culture leaders with a pioneering approach to scaling businesses through Values and Culture. The value of hiring a People and Culture specialist in the early stages of growth is huge.


Open banking and the future of Australian FinTech

Martin McCann of Tradeledger ended what was an energetic event with a rallying call to action on open banking.

“If we make Banking as a Service a success, we could unleash Aussie financial muscle on international markets, on a scale never seen before”

What a fantastic message to end a landmark day.

My closing thoughts? Open banking is a once in a century opportunity for Australians. For the future of Australia and our ability to compete on a global scale, we simply cannot allow open banking to become the exclusive domain of the big four banks. Scott Morrison has asked the FinTech community not to screw it (open banking) up. Today, the FinTech community fired the same message straight back to the PM.

Glen Frost deserves extra special praise for organising another standout Summit and for his continued and selfless support of the FinTech community. Well done Glen!

 

 

Up Bank Launch

October 9th 2018 will go down in history as the day Australian Banking stepped into the future, with the official launch of Australia’s first Next Gen NeoBank. 

Up is a partnership between Australia’s 5th largest bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, and Ferocia, the software team behind Bendigo’s award winning banking platform.

Tier One People Founder, Dexter Cousins was one of a lucky few guests at the launch event in Sydney. The launch itself was more akin to an iPhone launch than the launch of a bank. Founder Dom Pym (the dude in the beard) wowed the crowd with an amazing product demo. Guests watched on as Dom transfered money from his UP account into the account of Head of Product, Anson Parker (pictured next to Dom,) using a voice command, in seconds.

A bank built by Techies NOT Bankers

Users can sign ‘UP’ for an account in two minutes (the average sign up time is 2 minutes 5 seconds to be exact!) and use the account immediately through Apple Pay while your card is issued. UP is the first cloud-hosted bank platform using Google Cloud Services, testing results on the platform are incredible. During 11 months of testing, the platform has spent a total of just over two hours in down time!

The technology is super powerful with features like spend tracking, spend analysis, automatic transaction recognition, instant payments using Osko and Siri integration. And they have been super smart to preempt open data reforms by giving users total access to their data. The tech is backed up by seriously slick UX and design.

I asked founder Dom Pym if UP were classing themselves as a challenger bank to the Big 4 Australian domestic banks. This is what he had to say;

“Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s strong track-record provides us with a credible banking partner, coupled with the creative licence to design Up in the most ‘non-bank’ way possible. It has meant we can offer customers a new way to manage their money ahead of everyone else.”

“The alternative would have been to apply for a restricted banking license and be in the same boat as the neo banks – unable to launch in any meaningful way until at least 2019.”

“We’ll keep working at a fierce pace to add new and exciting features at a consistent rate. We’ve been averaging about five deployments per day, which is unusual for a bank, to say the least, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Up Bank Launch

Is UP any different to any other banking app?

I have been using UP for the past six weeks. What I find so refreshing and unique about UP is the limited involvement of bankers in the build and design of products. UP has been built by Tech people (super talented Tech people!) and the end product is highly impressive.

The bar has been set high for challenger banks entering the market. What is so ground breaking about UP? They have taken the best of the best FinTech innovation and applied design thinking to create a banking app for a world where customers own their data. Australian consumers are long overdue an enjoyable and convenient banking experience. UP delivers and then some.

Just announced – Founder Dom Pym will be sharing the UP journey at the FinTech Summit 16th October 2018 in Sydney

Exclusive for Tier One People network

Skip the wait list and get access now. Download the UP Banking App on iTunes and Android and enter code DEXTER – Limited to first 50

Matt Baxby Revolut CEO

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