# Insights from Fintech Leaders
author: Tomasz Grynkiewicz
# Disruption Forum
Disruption Forum is a series of events hosted in various technology hubs around the world where we discuss challenges of a given industry.
Last year, we organized a Disruption Forum in NYC whose main topic was fintech, with over 200 attendees who joined Netguru in Manhattan to hear tips from executives of top fintech companies.
We covered topics from different areas: growth in fintech, AI, building effective product teams, and international expansion. We were lucky to host 11 speakers from Betterment, Stash, Ellevest, Plaid, Payoneer, Dataminr, OakNorth AI, Currencycloud, N26, Revolut, and Transferwise.
Now we want to share a glimpse of the discussions from the event.
# Building products
# #1 Building products with Betterment, Ellevest, and Stash
From left: Toto Castiglione (Netguru), Sudev Balakrishnan (Stash), Melissa Cullens (Ellevest), Katherine Kornas (Betterment)
We kicked off with a discussion on fintech products, with managers with years of hands-on experience:
- Katherine Kornas, Senior Director of Product at Betterment;
- Melissa Cullens, Chief Design Officer at Ellevest;
- Sudev Balakrishnan, Chief Product Officer at Stash
We learned how to balance design with tech & business and why it’s vital to incorporate diverse viewpoints when building products and conceptualizing CX.
All speakers emphasised the need to have as diverse a team as possible to build a product with a human-centered approach right at its core.
Having a diverse team really helps sympathize with consumers — said Katherine Kornas.
It was followed by hiring advice from another panelist.
I don’t wanna hire another me. If we had a team of cheerful white women from Brooklyn, then we’d make a great product for cheerful white women from Brooklyn — Melissa Cullens, Chief Design Officer at Ellevest, wrapped it up nicely.
Sudev Balakrishnan, Chief Product Officer at Stash, suggested that we ought to look for three pillars when searching for a good product team member:
- Immersion in user empathy
- Implementation and problem solving
- Understanding how the product fits in to the market
# Fintech unicorns
# #2 Growth = get comfortable with breaking processes, but not the culture
Then, we had a discussion on hyper growth with two fintech unicorns working in the B2B environment. Jody Perla, Managing Director Global Banking at Payoneer and Charley Ma, NYC Growth Manager at Plaid discussed their growth stories and the lessons they had learned along the way.
From left: Ola Prejs (Netguru), Charley Ma (Plaid), Jody Perla (Payoneer)
During the conversation, we distilled the different aspects of growth in terms of processes but also infrastructure, that is the guts of the system needed to support the scaling of a company.
Also, it turned out that you need to support globalization with local teams.
The way that we’re growing is by empowering and building local teams on the ground all over the world. In order to do what we need to do, not only from a regulatory perspective, but also from a customer engagement perspective, you need to be on the ground locally — said Jody Perla.
Charley Ma was one of the early employees at Plaid – he witnessed the growth of the company from 13 to over 300 people.
In any sort of a hyper growth company, you need to assume that half the processes at the company are broken. The process you put in place at 13 people breaks at 20 people, the process you put then breaks at 50, etc. We’re getting comfortable with the fact that processes will break. But at the same time, you need to be sure about things that can’t break. For us, one of these things that can’t break is culture — he added.
# Data and AI
# #3 Data is not the new oil. And AI replaces tasks, not people
One of the hottest topics on the financial industry’s radar today is Artificial Intelligence. But the verdict is still out and both corporate executives and the public are still trying to figure out whether it is anything more than a fancy buzzword.
From left: Konrad Pabiańczyk (Netguru), Alex Jaimes (Dataminr), Farrah Lakhani (OakNorthAI)
Farrah Lakhani, Director of Growth and Operations at OakNorthAI, together with Alex Jaimes, SVP of AI & Data Science at Dataminr, discussed how AI can help finance companies with massive, complex databases extract actionable insights from their data.
You have to give the machine good data for it to learn and give you insights. You want the machine to figure out what’s important and what’s not important. At the end of the day all of this data is useless if you’re not getting any insights out of it — said Farrah Lakhani from OakNorthAI, a company that analyzes data to fund business loans.
I ask ‘How are we doing this faster with this data? How does this add to our value proposition? This helps me get through the wall of lingo — she added.
Alex Jaimes from Dataminr noted that while there are tremendous benefits of using AI, there is still much work to be done.
The biggest challenge is the lack of education across the board. There are many misunderstandings about AI – what it can do, and what it can’t do. Having a balance between what is real and what is not is crucial — he added.
# US market challenges
# #4 International Expansion
We closed the panel sessions by four different fintech unicorns to the stage - N26, Revolut, TransferWise, and Currencycloud. They have one thing in common - they all originated in Europe.
- Nicolas Kopp, U.S. CEO at N26
- Dan Westgarth, North America General Manager at Revolut
- Arshi Singh, North America Head of Product at Currencycloud
- Andrew Boyajian, Head of Banking, North America at Transferwise
We discussed the different challenges of entering the US market. TransferWise and Currencycloud have been active on it since 2015, while Revolut and N26 are yet to launch their cards and accounts there (presumably in the first half of 2019).
From left: Tomasz Grynkiewicz (Netguru), Dan Westgarth (Revolut), Arshi Singh (Currencycloud), Nicolas Kopp (N26), Andrew Boyajian (Transferwise)
Different perspectives were shared, but all panelists agreed on one point – in comparison to Europe, dealing with compliance and bureaucracy is much harder in the US. After the financial crisis in 2008, the regulators decided to become tough on the banking industry.
The UK went the opposite way and made it very lax for fintechs so that they could compete with banks — noted Arshi Singh from Currencycloud.