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Interviews

"The future of finance is fintech", Susanne Chishti, FINTECH Circle

Tuesday 28 May 2019 | 10:01 AM CET

Susanne Chishti, CEO at FINTECH Circle & NED of SafeCharge and Crown Agents Bank, discusses fintech, innovation, and the reinvention of banking

You founded FINTECH Circle and are its CEO. Can you share with us more about what FINTECH Circle is and its goals?

FINTECH Circle is a global fintech community, educational institute and innovation partner for banks. We focus on three things: first of all, we invest in fintech startups via our Angel Network where we connect entrepreneurs with fintech angel investors providing smart capital.

Moreover, as we see great demand for fintech education among bank employees and for those wanting to keep up with the latest fintech trends, we launched The FINTECH Book (providing knowledge on the fintech ecosystem), The WEALTHTECH Book and The INSURTECH Book, all published by WILEY (offering updates, critical thinking and actionable insight globally from startups, incumbents, investors, tech companies, advisors), and our fintech courses & FinTech MasterClasses for top management.

Lastly, we focus on corporate innovation for banks, specifically acceleration programmes to transform employees into becoming intrapreneurs to support digital transformation objectives, to build fintech ecosystems to improve products and services and enhance the competitive position overall.

What would you rank as the main challenges faced by startups as they plan for growth? What can a fintech startup gain from a partnership with a bank?

Access to capital, access to clients and access to talent are the challenges proving particularly difficult to overcome.

When it comes to partnerships, there can be mutual benefits for fintech startups and banks to partner together. Banks have scale, reach millions of clients and are experts in compliance and risk. Alternatively, fintech startups offer great innovation potential and agile working to deliver new products and solutions fast, as well as new business models with great UX. Therefore, partnerships are beneficial for both sides but many large institutions don’t know how to work with small companies - this partnership ability will become a key competitive advantage!

If you are able to build a powerful ecosystem with smaller and larger fintech companies developing value added services for your own institution’s customer base, you will be able to serve customers better while transforming your own organisation in a digital way. In order to achieve that each financial institution has to build up its innovation capability, that’s what our FINTECH Circle Institute is focused on where we work with board members and C-level executives to train this innovation mindset combined with our 4 pillars of “Fintech Mastery” as part of our Fintech MasterClasses.

For banks, what is the biggest danger to their business model? What`s on top of their minds when it comes to keeping up with financial and technological innovation?

On top of many bankers’ minds is normally cost cutting and regulatory compliance. Innovation and digital transformation are often not seen as that important as these areas are less linked to individual performance targets. Innovation success is also harder to define and measure with traditional KPIs and therefore it is harder to determine who contributed and whom to reward. In the startup world, founders own equity and know that the rewards for their work can be unlimited while corporate innovators earn a higher salary but their upside is capped to their bonus payment at the end of the year. No doubt, a compensation strategy which addresses these challenges and aligns the incentive structure is key for business model and technological innovation.

It is highly important to build up an innovation strategy and a team across the organisation who have P&L responsibility in partnership with business heads. You can’t lead and manage innovation part-time and you need external partners who can help to ensure that you don’t try to reinvent the wheel, or launch solutions which are already available off the shelf in the global fintech ecosystem.

One successful case study I can share as board member of Crown Agents Bank, where we decided to buy US venture packed fintech company Segovia in April 2019 (Reid Hoffman has been one of their lead investors). Crown Agents Bank will integrate Segovia’s payment gateway product and team with its established FX and frontier markets payment network to advance our B2B offering and promote global financial inclusion.

What effect do you see Brexit having on the UK tech scene in general, from a fintech perspective? What are the possible effects of Brexit on the global fintech market? Does it also present any sort of opportunities?

I don’t think that Brexit will have any positive effects on the UK and Europe but within the UK fintech sector we have learned to make the best out of the current situation and to ensure that we send the signal out that the UK continues to be open for global collaboration. London remains one of the global fintech hubs due to our unique global talent pool here, access to a large financial customer base, supportive investor landscape combined with great regulatory and government frameworks and initiatives.

Can you share with us a couple of new trends and technologies that show significant promise in the payment arena?

The biggest trends I see are the global conversion of payment requirements driven by global citizens who are used to pay by cards, QR codes, mobile money/mobile credits, and even cryptocurrencies. At the end of the day, payments are just a means to an end and, as a merchant, you want to offer all payment options which make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with you.

I am also on the Board of SafeCharge, a global payment company where we provide value-added services to merchants such as merchant dashboards, payment solutions completely adopted to the location and industry vertical of the merchant, identity manager, and reconciliation management based on a full stack payment technology. As board member we just recommended the GBP 699 million cash acquisition of SafeCharge by Nuvei, a provider of tech-driven payment solutions to merchants and distribution partners, primarily in the USA and Canada.

No doubt, there is lots going on in this space! The trends I observe within the payment ecosystem are that merchants are more demanding, and have a much better understanding of their customer payment needs. Payment managers today are a real part of the strategy of the company, unlike in the past where they were mainly a cost center. This basically drives innovation into payment management, lots of attention on conversions and a smooth checkout process rather than a pure focus on costs.

SafeCharge supports the client’s needs to attract the users, maintain a streamlined checkout process and improve the conversion flow by implementing the latest innovation in the market and being a fast adopter of new regulations by the card schemes. Therefore, in a nutshell, payments are really becoming a profit centre instead of a cost centre, so a very exciting sector! There is an interesting white paper on the “7 Habits of Payment Management”, downloadable from safecharge.com.

You attended Innovate Finance Global Summit, in April, an event dedicated to fintech innovation. What are the key-takeaways from the event? What new ideas and perspectives did you leave with for the rest of 2019?

My key takeaways were that fintech is such a booming industry globally and that the future of finance is fintech. So the key question is: Are you prepared?

From a personal level, if you want to enter or further build your career in finance, you need to join fintech networks such as FINTECH Circle to meet great fintech companies, invest in and mentor them, join their boards to advise them and help to scale them up. To join FINTECH Circle, visit fintechcircle.com/become-a-member/

From a corporate point of view, the right response to the digital and fintech disruption is to build your own corporate “innovation muscles”, your internal talent pool equipped with digital skills, tech and business model know-how and entrepreneurship skills to get things done, constantly improving new products and services and be bold enough to disrupt yourself before your competition will. It is critical to work with the best external partners who understand how to invest, educate and accelerate fintech innovation. There is no “one size fits all model” - a corporate innovation strategy and its execution must be bespoke based on the companies current market position and competitive areas of strength. The key is to act now, as time to wait is a luxury the financial service and payment sector does not have anymore.

About Susanne Chishti

Susanne Chishti is the CEO of FINTECH Circle, Europe’s  Angel Network focused on fintech opportunities & Founder of the FINTECH Circle Institute, the fintech learning platform offering Innovation Workshops to C-level executives and online courses. She is also the Co-Editor of the Bestseller “The FINTECH Book” which has been translated into 10 languages and is sold across 107 countries, and The WealthTECH Book and The InsurTECH Book (published by WILEY in 2018). After completing her MBA she started her career working for a fintech company (before the term “fintech” was being invented) in the Silicon Valley 20 years ago. She then worked more than 15 years’ across Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, Morgan Stanley and Accenture in London and Hong Kong. 

About FINTECH Circle

FINTECH Circle is Europe's fintech focused angel network providing corporate accelerator programs, finance and innovation education and top industry events through long-established partnerships with the world's best entrepreneurs and investors.

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