How did you get into the industry?
My move into financial services happened completely by accident! I had been working in retail and consumer goods marketing when I moved to Cardiff with my Welsh partner. Commuting from Cardiff to London and then Swindon got quite tiresome so in looking for a job closer to home I made the leap into financial services. My first project was to launch a digital-only credit card with an all-new digital banking platform and infrastructure. It was a massively steep learning curve; to learn about the industry and tech in a high profile, multi-million pound business case. But like all of these “in at the deep end” moments, it’s when you learn the most!
Can you describe a key decision or ‘fork in the road’ that had a big impact on your career?
Leaving that same bank without a job to go to. I was so unhappy working in an organisation where the only thing that mattered was profit – it really taught me that culture and values mean everything in business. Finding a business where you can truly be yourself and where you can make a difference to your team, your communities and your customers. I joined Principality after six months of soul searching, taking a smaller role initially and it’s the best decision I ever made!
What do you love about working in FinTech?
The pace, variety and opportunity to create something great with amazing people.
How did you become aware of the opportunities within the sector in Wales?
Having worked in financial services in Wales for nearly 20 years, it’s been fantastic to see the growth and development of the sector. There is such an amazing diversity of organisations and stakeholders who are pulling together to create partnerships, ecosystems and have a strong desire to support each other. The creation of Fintech Wales as a trade body has been instrumental in putting the sector here in Wales on the map. So much has been achieved in a short period of time and I know the Board and advisory panel have huge ambitions for the future.
Who were your role models as you progressed in the industry?
My role models going back a few years ago were people like Mark Mullen who was CEO of First Direct. I liked that he was single-minded in his determination to innovate around his central purpose of fantastic experience.
In more recent times Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter who then launched Square. I loved the simplicity, the product centric design and how it fundamentally challenged the proposition of incumbent banks and payment providers who have stifled innovation and over-charged for years.
I also have been fortunate enough to have a mentor who is a couple of years ahead of my journey both personally and professionally which has enabled me to learn through them too.
What would you tell your 18 year old self?
Believe in yourself. Anything is possible with hard work, determination and fantastic listening skills. Listen to understand and listen to learn. But also have fun – if you don’t love what you’re doing or laugh at work then you’re probably in the wrong job!
What are the biggest challenges that Welsh fintech has seen off so far? As an industry, what’s been learned from such challenges?
One of the main challenges has been getting Wales onto the UK’s Fintech map. We’re making progress in overcoming this by demonstrating our experience, activities and mainly successes. To keep ourselves moving forward we need to believe in ourselves more, and share it with the world.
What are the advantages and challenges associated with being based in Wales?
I think there are lots of advantages of working within the sector in Wales, first amongst which is the supportive community, where it’s not just about the individual or business, but the bigger picture of the benefit for Wales as a nation. Location-wise it can be great for work-life balance, being only two hours away from London. And I think as we see graduates and professionals move out of London and back to Wales it’s creating great talent pools for businesses in the country. That’s not to say there aren’t disadvantages to the sector in Wales, with less celebrated or spoken about success stories to leverage, but it’s why I’m always keen to do things like this.
Why has Wales developed this strong reputation as a centre for FinTech?
It has developed out of the community – current and former founders and leaders – who want to see Wales make an impact in this area. As more of the larger businesses begin recognising their role in the ecosystem, more opportunities will develop for Wales to grow as a centre for FinTech, supported by initiatives like FinTech Wales.
What’s the opportunity for the sector?
I can see three opportunities for the sector in the future; first, the opportunity to highlight the growth and success of our early-stage ventures; second, the ability to develop enduring connections between corporates and the wider industry for mutual gain through the Fintech Wales Foundry; and finally the opportunity to focus on purpose and impact for the ‘greater good’ – it’s not just about money and exits!
Where should we focus our energies, and what is the roadmap to get there?
I think it’s important to build and nurture the community of FinTech, with corporate businesses playing a meaningful role in driving the agenda forward. The roadmap should involve increasing resources for early stage ventures and look to attract scale-ups to Wales.
Where do you see Welsh FinTech in 5 years? 10 years?
If we remain focused and really invest in a the correct strategy, I think Wales could be seen as a great place to start, grow and expand fintechs, a space of thought leaders and successful founders.
What obstacles need to be overcome for the Welsh fintech sector to reach its potential?
Belief. This is not just a Welsh Fintech issue, but a Welsh issue generally – we need to continue to back ourselves as a nation.