In episode #70 Dexter Cousins is joined by Robert Bell CEO of 86 400. They chat about the proposed acquisition by NAB.
86 400 is Australia’s first smart bank. Launched in September 2019 with an unrestricted banking license, the smart phone only bank has been the trail blazer for Aussie neobanks launching home loans, energy switching, joint accounts, budgeting tools with new feature releases on an almost weekly basis.
Backed by Cuscal and Chaired by Anthony Thomson (founder of Metro and Atom Bank in the UK) 86 400 partners with many Aussie Fintech including Zip, Uno, Data Action. And with the proposed sale to NAB, Tier One People believe this is a landmark day for Australian Fintech innovation.
Often the “Fin” in Fintech would denote a heavy hitter from a bank being a winning hire, right?
In the fast paced environment of Fintech, we have noticed caution on the part of our clients in making such a decision.
The hesitation is bound in stereotypes. Banking is often viewed as a mired in red-tape, compliance (or lack of, in Australia), too many chiefs, too many meetings and nothing getting done. Huge amounts of resources and dollars are thrown at projects that never come to fruition. Whilst their Fintech competitors move with stealth and agility, innovating at much greater speed with minimal resources.
The role of an Executive Search Consultant is to challenge stereotypes and get clients to view each candidate on their merits. The view of not being a team player and rolling up your sleeves is often a misconception in banking, but there are plenty who refuse to conform to the stereotype of a banker.
Tier One People is bolstering our position as the leading Australian Fintech Executive Search firm. Australia’s growing FinTech sector has seen a rise in the search for C-suite and leadership talent. Counting Revolut, TrueLayer, 10x, Klarna and Transferwise as some of the many companies seeking our assistance.
How bankers can take control of their job search.
A more proactive approach job seekers can take is to look at where your big banking skills can have an impact. Assessing whether a company is at start-up or scale up stage will also aid you in making a successful move to Fintech. Read this article on Fintech Career Advice to gain a better understanding at which stage of growth you are best suited to.
Before embarking on the search it is crucial to take a step back and ask yourself;
“How would I cope moving from a structured and heavily supported environment to a one of a specialist generalist”
The best advice we can give candidates looking to join a Fintech.
Showcasing your skills in 2020 also requires more savvy than ever before. Looking good on paper doesn’t get cut through anymore. If you are in the market looking to join a Fintech you need to have a plan in place and a goal in sight. You need to utilise all of the tools available, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Podcasts. These are all channels where you get direct access to decision makers, people who can hire you.
You can showcase your skills and achievements, bringing them to life and not being blocked by gatekeepers and recruiters.
Do FinTech Need Your Banking Experience?
Dexter Cousins, the CEO and Founder of Tier One People, has interviewed more than 300 FinTech leaders on the subject of hiring. He firmly believes hirers should consider the lifecycle of a Fintech to assess where the best candidate fit is.
It’s very difficult for anyone to move from a corporate job to an early stage startup. But with the rapid growth of tech companies, a startup can become an enterprise in 5 years. Examples include Stripe, Revolut and Australia’s Afterpay.
It’s a difficult process identifying the right time for a banker to join a Fintech. The right person can definitely make a significant contribution as the company scales. Often times the right hire is made but at the wrong time, which ultimately means the hire is wrong.
Watch our video on job hunting in Fintech
We get inundated with calls on a daily basis from candidates seeking a move to the shiny new world of ‘FinTech’. However, opening your pitch with “hey, I’ve got 20 years experience in banking, I want to work in FinTech” might not be the best way to impress people.
It’s also important to make the distinction between a Finance business and a Software business. Are bankers better suited to a NeoBank or a platform provider. Fintech covers a wide range of businesses and making this distinction can really increase your chances of securing a move.
Judo Bank, Xinja, 86 400 and Revolut in Australia have all hired highly experienced bankers early in their growth. Judo and Xinja are both founded by highly experienced bankers who were driven to change the industry.
FinTech’s are at the cutting edge of innovation with far fewer resources than any bank. The reality is no founder or investor gets excited by somebody with twenty years experience in banking, unless they can demonstrate previous success in a startup and they have skills currently not in the business which are mission critical to success.
When Founders need help with hiring.
The recruitment process to join a Fintech can be almost as intense as the job itself. If you can’t handle the intensity of the interview process, it’s highly unlikely you will succeed in the job.
The thing to remember is that FinTech founders themselves may not have the breadth of experience in HR or Talent to make critical hiring decisions. Hiring for a startup is often a make or break decision. We’ve watched some companies flourish and others flounder because of it.
For a founder looking to hire, specialist FinTech recruiters are more easily able to identify those candidates who are the ”right cultural fit.” Assessing if someone will relish the challenge of working in a FinTech environment is very difficult using traditional interview techniques. And a specialist recruiter can provide far greater access to Talent than an ad campaign and direct networks, especially in talent short markets.
But to achieve these results a client needs to invite us ‘into the tent’.
The key to success is communication
Being attuned to the changing demands of the business is vital to ensure success when hiring.
“The Revolut Country CEO search took six months. The brief changed 4 times as the company grew from 700 staff to almost 2000 during this time. Customer numbers went from 4m to almost 10m. When a company is growing that fast in a highly regulated sector like Fintech, it creates a lot of complexity. Hiring becomes even more complex.” commented Dexter Cousins.
There is a need for the modern executive search consultant to set realistic expectations with their clients. Being transparent and honest (even though clients may not want to hear what you have to say) is the only way to achieve lasting success. This approach is core to the values at Tier One People. The search for the “blue eyed unicorn” is never a realistic one and usually wastes significant time and business opportunities.
Of the 50 possible deployments we can do in a day, we can push five of them out to customers who get an iterative, improving application every single day. The most deployments we have done in a day is ten. At the moment, we’re sitting at an average of six.
Dom Pym – Up Bank
Dom Pym is Co-Founder of Up Bank, a collaboration between Ferocia and Bendigo and Adelaide bank. Dom speaks to Dexter Cousins about their journey to becoming Australia’s first ever mobile phone only bank.
How did UP Bank start?
The idea for UP was born out of frustration. As an entrepreneur I have a tendency to solve problems, problems for me personally, my family, my mates. And turn it into a business.
The story of UP goes back five years. My business partner and I were looking for the next business opportunity and raising capital. We met with lots of people and got talking to the CEO of Bendigo Bank who were out to tender for a new mobile banking system. Ferocia were there to raise capital and ended up building the platform for Bendigo. That’s how the relationship with Bendigo started.
The platform was a huge success and won multiple awards, but nobody knew who Ferocia, people just assumed Bendigo built the platform.
The success of the Bendigo platform led to work with one of the major Australian Banks. A project in Asia, to build a digital bank across 10 countries. We spent two and a half years building this thing and it never got into a customers’ hands. We worked with people in San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore, and spent a lot of time traveling. Then a new CEO arrived. The strategy changes and the Asia project is scrapped. On Friday, we were talking about the success of the project. The following Monday, the whole thing was off a right. Ferocia had dedicated two and a half years of resources, people and energy into it.
The executives we worked with on the project moved to another Big Four bank. They called and asked us to work with them on a new digital bank they had planned for Australia. Ferocia spent 18 months on that project. Again, the product never got into customers hands. By this stage we had spent four years building digital platforms and never got to see anything in the market. As you can imagine we were deeply frustrated.
The first digital bank in the world was started by an Aussie, Joshua Reich with Simple. We also noticed what Brett King was doing with Moven. And we were inspired to build a truly digital bank here in Australia. We thought ‘stuff it. Let’s build our own bank.’
There was just the small problem of raising 100 million and getting a core banking system. Not impossible but very unlikely. So we decided to go down a different path, partner with a bank. In 2016, there were no RADIs. So, we decided to look for partners and it was an easy conversation to have with Bendigo. The partnership already worked and there was a lot of trust between us.
But, you can’t just borrow another banks license. We spent about 18 months putting the legal structures and contracts in place. Finally in October 2017, UP went into production, Australia’s first cloud hosted bank, with Google Cloud Platform.
We ran UP for a year, initially with our own staff, then Bendigo staff. Next, we extended to friends, family and a small beta testing group, about 1500 people in total. We resolved any issues around regulation, compliance, risk, security, cloud hosting before the official launch of UP Bank in October 2018.
How successful has UP been since launching?
By February 2019 UP Bank had 50,000 open accounts and 30,000 unique customers (some people open multiple accounts). We are growing at between 500-1000 new customers per day. We had anticipated decent traction being first to market and having the power of Bendigo behind UP.
In January, we conducted benchmarking against Australia’s banks. The data indicated UP Bank as Australia’s third fastest growing bank, behind CBA and ANZ, but we had overtaken the likes of Macquarie, ING, NAB. ING announced record numbers in customer acquisition last year, something like a 47% increase.
What marketing strategies have you utilised to get such rapid growth?
That is the secret sauce recipe everyone is looking for. How do you get rapid growth and brand recognition, without spending a truck load on marketing, advertising, and promotion?
The strategy is proven with other digital banks around the world. Word of mouth, a strong referral network and happy customers are the key channels for growth.
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 spending on advertising to customers. We use social to communicate with customers.
Twitter is a fantastic tool to communicate with our customers. Not just me, our Head of Product, Head of Technology, Head of Design and the rest of the team are active on twitter. Twitter is an amazing tool for growth and we haven’t spent a cent on advertising on the platform. Facebook, we did spend money on, and we were able to acquire customers.
You wouldn’t think that a bank could acquire customers through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. We ran basic digital promotion campaigns, that created a viral effect. It was fascinating to watch people engage differently on each social media channel.
On Facebook, tens of thousands of people write about UP to their mates. They tag their friends in a post, it is like an endorsement that goes viral. With social media, we can acquire a thousand customers a day, through a single social channel without doing anything because of the strength of the brand. People love it. How many people in the world wear T-shirts, hats, badges, stickers and merchandise for their bank?
Experiential promotion and marketing works really well for us too. We’ll do industry events, like the Fintech Summit where we might do a panel or a key note or whatever.
But we have had most success sponsoring community events. We have sponsored university events, the Australian Design Industry Awards, the Pause Conference in Melbourne. Probably our most successful event was PAX, which is a computer gaming event where they have 100,000 people attend. We missed Sibos because we were busy at PAX!
We decided rather than attend an industry event like Sibos, Money 2020 etc we would try a gaming event. PAX is 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, merchandise. What really drove new customer sign ups was challenging them to a game of Mario Kart.
Our development team built software to track each game in real time with a leader board. People at the event would then compete against each other, it was a big hit. We even had the Mario Kart world champion come and take part in the challenge, two of the UP team members actually beat him.
It was a fantastic event to win new customers. Within a few days 100,000 passionate gamers not only knew about UP Bank, they had played a game of Mario Kart with the Founder, the Head of Technology, a Developer. Everyone at the event thought of UP as a totally different digital bank that lived in their world, in their community.
The UP website now has the word banking crossed out. We have replaced it with living. Banking is just a utility, It is something that should be in the background supporting life. We met one guy at PAX who used the round up function on our app to save for his ticket to the event. It is such a beautiful story, as here was someone passionate about gaming, using our software to realise their dream of attending the worlds biggest gaming event.
How big is the team at UP Bank?
Today, 29 people. It’s always been a goal to remain small and agile. UP is a nimble team of like-minded people, we are more like a family than a team. We set out to be the first in the world to launch a fully operating digital bank with less than 30 people. It is amazing what the team has achieved.
Monzo, Revolut, N26, Simple, these companies have hundreds of staff. UP was built on the hypothesis of using technology and automation to keep a digital bank below 30 people. I am not sure if we can remain below 30 people forever, but if we could, that would be awesome.
“People are the secret sauce to the success of UP.”
Dom Pym, Up Bank
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, is the reason for the success of UP. And that extends to the relationship with Bendigo.
Success can be distilled down to recruitment, the way we hire people and the caliber of people we hire.We place a huge emphasis on skills within the team. Everybody is multi-talented, no-one is doing a single specific role. Our people have an inherent ability of our people to learn on the job.
So when people are sick or when people are on leave or when we lose a staff member, we can still deliver across marketing, risk, security, compliance, technology, operations, cloud hosting. Every outcome we need to deliver for our customers can be met by not just one or two or three people, but by everyone in the team.
Most of the team has one degree of separation. Everyone that works here has worked with at least one team member before. We’ve got 10 people who have worked here for more than five years, five people who have worked with me for 10 years. Then there are those whom we’ve worked with in the past who keep in touch. One person came back to work with us recently. They left 10 years ago, joining Square in San Francisco. He had been working as Head of Technology development, moved back to Australia and came back on board.
Having built a digital bank, what do you think is the best approach. Is there anything you would do differently next time around?
UP is a collaboration between a technology company (Ferocia) and a bank (Bendigo and Adelaide) Working with an existing bank to develop new financial products is not an easy process. When we looked at other digital banks like Simple in the US, they launched quickly through a partnership with BankCorp.
But when BBA bought Simple they spent the next two years also transitioning core banking systems and didn’t really innovate or create new product. Monzo partnered with Wirecard, then when they received a banking license, decided to build their own core banking system. We believe UP Bank has a strategic and competitive advantage by not having to build a core banking system. But if we had our time again, we might want to…
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 is essentially a database of debits and credits. If you treat it in that way, innovation is possible outside of the core system using it solely as a regulatory ledger.
We hear people in banking say, you can’t build a digital bank on top of legacy systems. Well you can because we’ve done it. But, I would still seriously consider building a core banking system if I had to start all over again.
So is your model Similar to that of Apple and Goldman Sachs?
People have commented that the Apple Card app has similar functionality to UP. So, I find it quite flattering that the greatest tech innovation company ever is following in our footsteps.
I say this a little tongue in cheek. However, we work closely with Apple here in Australia and done a lot of first mover stuff with them. Apple Pay integration, Apple Watch integration, push notifications with merchant identification.
The model Apple has chosen, partnering with Goldman Sachs, is similar to the UP model. Apple is focused on the customer experience, a technology company delivering a superior customer experience. I will go on record and say Apple have the ability to acquire more customers than any bank in history.
It’s all about the customer experience and the delivery of the service, Apple has nothing to do with banking. That is all done by Goldman Sachs. Even if the interest rate is not attractive, it doesn’t matter, it is going to be the easiest card in the world to use and that’s what matters.
Neo Banks all over the world are selling financial services in the same way it has been done over the last 100 years. Create a financial product, price it, then sell it to consumers. What consumers want, in our view are products to power their lives. Let’s say you want to buy a car. Do customers care if there is a savings product, insurance product, loan product, transaction account all powering the service? Or do they care about the experience? Apple will totally nail the customer experience.
The interest rate 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 is just a credit card geared to millenials is perhaps naive and missing the real threat.
Would you class UP as a bank or a Tech firm?
From day one UP has positioned itself as technology-led banking versus banking led technology. I don’t know whether there will be other banks around the world, position themselves as a technology company. We set the goal of five deployments per day. Our entire 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 50 times every day.
Of the 50 possible deployments we can do in a day, we can push five of them out to customers who get an iterative, improving application every single day. The most deployments we have done in a day is ten. At the moment, we’re sitting at an average of six.
I’m not certain of other tech companies in any industry in the world that can talk about that level of iteration and innovation.
What plans do you have for UP Bank over the next 12 months?
The card product announced by Apple is very similar to the card product we have in development. But we will launch before Apple does in Australia. Eventually we will offer credit cards, mortgages, share trading products because we’re operating under a banking license.
We have experienced rapid growth in terms of customer numbers, but at the same time we have been developing a product roadmap. We get hundreds of inquiries from customers every day through social media, through the support channel with product ideas. The team came up with the idea to release a public roadmap communicating to customers what is coming next and when it is coming.
We call it the Tree of UP, we think is quite unique, certainly in banking, and even in technology. The next 12 months of product development is publicly available. You can click on the different branches and see what we’re currently working on. The roadmap is our way of communicating to customers who we are, what it is we do and why. Because we’re delivering improvements every single day customers are tweeting, instagramming and sharing these new features. We believe delivery is the best way to delight customers.
We recently launched a pull to save function. Some people have said The Gamification of saving for a whole new generation of Australians has been nailed by that one feature. It’s an amazing compliment.
Internally, there were reservations about launching the ‘pull to save’ feature. How would customers react? Should we be focussed on delivering traditional products, joint accounts, credit cards, home loans?
Fair question. But for the team at UP, being able to change the decision making and saving habits of an entire generation is a more lofty goal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.