S9E06: Pursuing frictionless, distributed finance, with Nigel Verdon (CEO, Railsbank)

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S9E06: Pursuing frictionless, distributed finance, with Nigel Verdon (CEO, Railsbank)

Nigel Verdon (CEO, Railsbank, a leading embedded finance experience platform) speaks with Xquadrant's Founder Richard Medcalf.

We're continuing our season "Mission-Driven CEOs". Top Chief Execs talk about the impact they want to make beyond just the financials - in terms of the company mission and their personal leadership legacy - and how they put that into practice on a daily basis. 

In this conversation, you’ll discover:

  • How Nigel spotted a real market need upon which to build his business
  • The "efficiency & focus playbook" that CEOs need to revert to during times of great volatility
  • The difference between "old finance" and "new finance", and why that's become a personal mission for Nigel
  • How Nigel mobilises his team to deliver on the mission

"Build something great, solve a real-world problem, and you'll make money."

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You can watch this episode and discover more videos on strategy, leadership and purpose over on the Xquadrant YouTube channel.

Transcript

Richard Medcalf
So today on the show, I'm really pleased to be joined by Nigel Verdon, who is the CEO and co founder of Railsbank, and embedded finance experience platform. Now just got a really interesting background, he's founded three FinTech companies, and been successful with those in different ways and he's also according to his LinkedIn profile, a finance for good evangelists. So I think we can have a great conversation with Nigel on what it means to be a mission driven CEO. So Nigel, welcome, and thank you for joining me.

Nigel Verdon
So thank you for the invitation.

Richard Medcalf
So I've just given my interpretation of your bio, but why don't you tell us a little bit about just a few words, what's your journey been? To up to Railsbank? And what is this? What does it mean to be an embedded finance experience platform, perhaps we should start there, what's Railsbank, and then we can perhaps go back into the past and see how you got there?

Nigel Verdon
Sure. Embedded bills bank is the world's leading global finance experience platform, which as we provide the technology, the tools, the API's, and everything, that a company needs to put a financial product in existing customer experience and we look at that as a FinTech customer, you'd be putting wallet, or you'd be putting lending into, for example, wage advancing as as an experience and if you're a football club, you may use better finances a fan engagement capability to give them a an arsenal, credit card or debit card that gives them awards that and offers from the sponsors. So the competitive economic firing on that, we were very much like AWS, Amazon Web Services, where Amazon totally got rid of the machine and put it in the cloud and so you can go live in literally 22nd or 20 minutes. So, but a debit card. For a few 1000 bucks. We do the same thing with financial services industry.

Richard Medcalf
Got it. So yeah, so you're really making it a platform to make all these options available to companies, you don't want to build all that out themselves and go through the hoops regulatory possibly, or, or? Absolutely. Yeah, perfect and so, So what made you start this business, I know that you founded the business about six years ago, and you've seen great growth since then and now you got hundreds of employees and customers, I think, for the last four years, so but take us back to the start. What made you decide to go on, I guess, your third or your fourth business, and go on the journey?

Nigel Verdon
Sure. This one, there's an observation that when when our clients had currency cloud, and a lot of the first wave of the FinTech, when they got called FinTech in q1 2012. So people Monzo revolutes, ourselves, currency, cloud, transfer, wise, cedars, all that type of genre. Everybody was building the same core infrastructure, like free all these guys to build a machine runs and different data centers and all that type of thing. With AWS, you don't need to do that anymore and that was our goal to to allow people to accelerate that product idea. By us taking away all the overhead of building out the financial infrastructure. You need to operate your business because having a bank account is not differentiation for you, your customer experience and your value prop is and that's importantly, we allow our customers to focus on what's important to their consumers. We do all the heavy work in the background and the stuff which is not usually interesting to them but they used to have to do that. No, they don't.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's interesting. I know, Jeff Bezos has this distinction between missionaries and mercenaries, right, which is a little bit harsh terminology, but at least it kind of begins with an end. Yeah, it's point is that you know, that some people will begin the business primarily with the financial perspective, like they see an opportunity or and they're like, let's do this and maximize, you know, flip my stock because he says, You know, I leave and says that the missionaries go because there's, there's a sense of a real customer service or customer experience that they can provide, you know, Amazon with its kind of focus on customer experience. Obviously, they see themselves very much in that camp of, you know, we know we want to provide our customers and that's where we're orientating. I'm just wondering where you sit on that scale, you know, whether you came at this from the point of view of we know what, there's a lot of money to be made here. Or whether you came and said like there's you know, there's, we can really see how we can simplify make people's lives better or the rest of it through the services. Clearly there's going to be both right but I'm just wondering how you kind of balanced those in your mind or how you see those?

Nigel Verdon
Sure. We really, we always come from the perspective of a customer or problem to solve and we sort of have a major issue with the cost and pace to market and the ongoing operating costs. So he thought, that is something we can solve out of it and other philosophy behind the build a great thing that people buy, because he solved a real world problem and people need that you build, you'll make money. It's as simple as a consequence of building something good that people want to buy, rather than they accept thinking, How do I make money and then go and build it? Philosophically? If we see people, once, if we're looking at a ton of startups, I used to be on the Investment Committee of textiles were tech TechStars, Barclays, where the remainder 100 applicants, which will be weeded down to 80 hopefuls down to 10 people that were accepted into accelerator and invested in and there's a massive correlation between success of the startup where the founder, has really zoned in on something people want to buy and it's not in that as a as a real pain to people and everything and the ones which just talked about their features, and all these amazing features they have, and they're looking for a problem. I'd say some of the sort of, like well known comes in our space have fallen into that. So it's, it's thinking, Well, who cares about features? Do you actually sell something for somebody? And generally, if you sold something, if they're happy to pay for it, because there's a value exchange between two people of mine, after a pain point, I'm happy to pay for you to take it away.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I suppose that he has, because he's problem led versus feature led businesses and I've seen that on the close up when he when other Cisco, you know, a massive company, but sometimes the engineers would get out of control and they'd even come to us we'd like, you know, they've released a product with a massive launch and then I'd be going into executive level into customers potentially trying to explain the business relevance and the business value and sometimes, you know, we'd be doing our work beforehand and going like, what is the point of this guys, and they were only able to talk in features, it might take us weeks to actually finally extract from them. Okay, so this means that this and this means that this, but it was very much feature LED. Yeah and it does create issues, because then you can miss them so slightly, but just enough what customers really need and so I think it's a it's a great point.

Nigel Verdon
Very much. So the the sort of coalition of invaluable as well, if you look at Twilio, which is like a parallel business to us. In total, it was a day that totally changed the marketing related concern Avani took over and they started marketing on these amazing moments for your consumer, they just happened to be delivered by SMS and told her stuff that it's, you've taken away the whole transactional issues with the telephone, where you have to go find a bit of Bakelite turn the wheel, and as a real transaction experience, into marriage, we just pick this up, and you have to be in WhatsApp or something else hit the call button and you've caught somebody. It's not transactional, it's embedded. So it's that sort of companies who have done that, like Twilio letter sales and, and ton of other and other markets, too. It really does transform a world away from having to go to the device or go to the bank, into a world where it just happens in front of you. Uber is a fantastic example of it if Uber, you get out of the cab, and you just go, it's paid for in the background. Beforehand, you stressed about does I have to have cash to that change. So it's a card's all about this. Yeah, totally made a frictionless experience and made it into a value prop, as opposed to here's my future or kept driving or that type of thing that approach is a real people buy into it.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. It's simplicity, you know, is this such a value on simplicity, right, when you can streamline things? I have a question for you, which is you'd be doing this you multiple businesses and this current business you've been doing for, I guess, six years or so. At this point, in your leadership and in where you are, what's the personal mission that you're on right? At this point? What's the legacy that you're trying to create? You know, where's your ratio kind of focus at this point, you know, obviously, you've, you've got the thing going, you've built the product, it's, you know, it's happening, right? It's a thing. So what's, what's the mission that drives you now at this point in your success?

Nigel Verdon
So we have a few that are, finance should be an amazing experience anywhere, and you shouldn't be dictated and what you do by finance. So you can almost say democratizing access but what does that actually mean? It means that beforehand, the bank told you what to do, and what we call old finance, this is what you do, because we do it and it's all that around themselves and not a consumer. I think by by taking finance, to, to wherever it's relevant at the person's life, or the customer journey that happened to be in like the example I used, we then take the financial collapse of consumer and he made the consumer at the center of everything, rather than the bank being the center of everything. Scam, that mission out there, then you democratize access to it is irrelevant when you actually need it. That punch frictionless classic example, we firmly line that Michael Jackson are going into my Bay out to a conference we're talking two weeks ago and Michael and I were talking about their deployments and have fun, x will disappear and we drove to the airport in his subscription Volvo, which just paid for the tolls went through later on and when it came to its servicing, and everything's been switched on, you didn't worry about it. The airport paid for Starbucks and just picked it up and went and just didn't pay his order with the app payments happened and then getting an Uber the other end to the hotel. Same thing, it's just for us to do, but we didn't touch money. We didn't touch a wallet, we didn't pick a credit card out. No just happened. Yeah, and having that it makes the experiences that people enjoy, which is getting somewhere absolutely frictionless and non stressful on the money side of things. So it's the concept behind this is experienced drives everything with a consumer. Why did Why is the world made financially difficult, for make it easy. We can also democratize access and ease of access and then when you take it into the world, or say, Southeast Asia where there's like 400 million or so unbanked people, five to 6 million. There's a colossal man, people, if you do bring finance out of the banks and into the like the world or Wechat into the world or the cap on it's the local corner store, and present the relationships that don't need to be bank or services against somebody like us just running talk behind the scenes, but they know what the consumer needs, they put it into their cooperative farming experience. For example, rather than having to get to the banker, it's become a part of being part of the cooperative just happened. Sort of mission behind everything is really democratizing and making it an amazing experience in something you actually trying to do at that moment in time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, making me think I'm wondering what I love this idea of democratizing finance, and this idea of creating frictionless experiences. It's really compelling. What I'm wondering is, what's the thing? What's the little vignettes, right, the snapshot from the future that you've not yet you've not yet created, but that you'd love to create, I'll give you an example. One of my clients is the CEO of a, of a fiber optic company, and the founder ads, and it but he does it from a real sense of social impact. So his point is, anyone can sell a fiber connection but what I want to do is, is transformed the way that cities engage with the internet and create new opportunities and so forth and so for him, he was always guided by this idea of wouldn't it be amazing if, you know, there was a kid in an underprivileged family and this place in you know, underprivileged place, who was able to create an amazing career in online gaming, because he had access to the world's fastest fiber infrastructure and was you know, in a in a hub which supported that and so forth. So he had this kind of image in his mind of this tiny little snapshot of what would be an incredible thing to create in the world as he went about building his business and what was amazing is that's happened. It came about, you know, they one of the places they deploy They created the Gaming Hub and you know, this kind of stuff started to become very real. So I'm just kind of wandering, pushing your thinking a bit. You know, as you think about all those areas about creating treatments, finance, building this infrastructure for people, what's something which would really inspire you, if you just say, wow, you know, here we were in 2022. But in five years time, we're able to do this and create this for somebody, what comes to your mind when I say that?

Nigel Verdon
Think it again, it's how you democratize. The idea is if you restructure the finance industry, between like pools of capital, people, there's a thing in the middle for banks and capital markets, which sort of gets in the way at cost and if I want to make an impact, to help somebody in saving the pool, there's no way in hell I can do that. The the will School of distributive finance defined networks, which are emerging, some of the complete cons, some interesting technology and stuff but the the core concept behind that is being able to see cause and effect of $1 in here, say in Monaco is $1 out making impact to lending in the pool to small farmer, and you're able to impact bigger returns, as well as which, that's where capitalism works but you can see the cause and effect and so you don't get hidden by this morass of old finance and that cost of finance that imposes on it until it to the margin age before it gets to somebody at the other end. You can bypass all that using Blockchain technology and a defined networks and all this smart contract stuff that goes on. That would be an amazing place, because suddenly finance totally is democratized and it doesn't have to be local. Now, that's a terrifying concept for the regulators and everything but the thing How do you regulate something that is distributed, and global? So that was, there's quite a lot of philosophical debate of of should central banks and the currency control something or not? The the Bitcoin, so the Bitcoin people are total evangelists, about very chilling in finance or anything but if you get the happy medium, where you've got the solidity of a central bank, you've got a much more efficient financial system and you can see cause and effect, I think that takes us to a really good place. So it's not like banks are bad. It's just they have different, different role within the industry and in parallel, if you looked at music industry, which, when Apple launched, the iTunes was on its knees completely, that simple innovation of I think it was the marketing of the iPod. Can you imagine that you put 30,000 records in this and carry them around with you. That was, oh my god. Okay, I can do that. Suddenly, music became everywhere, because the Walkman was a great invention, but it was a tape and the tape was like chewed up eventually, as one hour and so that innovation, making the track digital suddenly just boomed the industry and other things, can I Spotify and streaming, the fact that you don't need to own everything, it's weather, wherever you happen to be and music's there is a similar sort of concept.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's when you create the frictionless things you get, because you start to click ubiquity, right? Adoption rises, it becomes simple. It's not a fixed system, right, that it creates effects. It's really fascinating. I mean, I will move on it, I think it's a really interesting subject, because I can see something in there for you to own because, you know, you made things happen in the finance world and you are, and I can see that this is this topic is, you know, is important to you. You know, perhaps there is something really about really owning that, like making finance frictionless on this huge scale, right? I think that there's a really compelling

Nigel Verdon
Just sort of Product Strategy is we need to connect the consumer all the way to the central bank and we need to get consumers to visit with our Visa or MasterCard and then get rid of everything in between. Right, and TransferWise done that to a lot of extents and then the UK with a second people after TransferWise to do that and so it's it's really looking at every service complex and everything. I think putting somebody on the moon In the power of a Blackberry, that's complex. That's with Link changing stuff and finance, because it's got regulation and stuff that's not complex. It's just thinking it through figuring out how you can get it to work. It's it's massive, and the moon landing the first moon landing on like on technology, which is today just taken for granted, if you see what I mean. Yeah. So it's, it's, it's just really just like, I don't believe it's a a big task that can't be done. It's like the first person looked at Everest. So that's quite big.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So how do you how do you mobilize people around your vision? You know, how do you inspire people? How do you get people really pulling in the same direction? Yeah, I'm, what have you learned the hard way on that, you know, what have you found doesn't work?

Nigel Verdon
It's, yeah, it's hard but you've just got to crystallize what you're trying to achieve down to very simple messages and then have a bit just a closer to objectives. It's here, this is where we're going to get there. It's amazing change will make if we achieve that, and here's the things we need doing and then just leave them to figure out because if you have smart people just get out the way is the best way to do it and they'll figure out how to do it for you, the manager the same ways as yourself, but they'll get there, there's a million loads to the same sort of end goal. So by objectives and not getting, taking things on yourself, I used to take things on myself, because I knew how to fix it but you get far better outcomes, I think when you've got a team of people just in the same direction, and it's sometimes a bit like herding cats to make sure that we're still pointed, and you got to pick one up and put it back in action and I'm just keeping the not changing direction. You just got to keep have belief in what you're doing because it's so easy to change and chop and do stuff. That's interesting, the new sparkly thing you're saying, keeping the same consistency of direction, unless there's a major pivot that sometimes happens, that direction, getting out the way is is the best thing I've said to my team, my job here is to shake hands and smile at people and raise money to finance what we're doing. So it's up to you to go in and make that happen.

Richard Medcalf
Make it happen. Yeah, it's interesting. On that topic of you're moving people forward in the direction. How do you deal with all the uncertainty in the market at the moment? I mean, I know especially right now I'm recording it, you know, we've had a massive crash in crypto, there's inflation going up. There's uncertainty about the geopolitical situation. Yeah, there's a whole load of factors that are destabilizing businesses. How do you think about that? How do you navigate a way forward and take people with you?

Nigel Verdon
Sure it is the sort of fairly well understood playbooks for growth for markets, unknown markets, and unknown markets, it's really about if you're in stages of growth stage businesses, is you've got to dust off the efficiency handbook or playbook which is very much about give yourself 12 to 18 months runway of capital W double down on core products, get rid of new exciting stuff that you might be doing and then focus where the revenue is low the customer is and it's just it's probably a good discipline to do that anyway, once in a while. So the market forces you to do as well at this time. So it's an efficiency and focused play. You must be able to do and also make the decisions to to a change you've got to do to get that say say we're not hiring anybody or we've got to reduce cost by X y&z as we went through this, we've had to let some people go and we'll cut back on plants, bean plants in the office or something golden when you can tell them there's bad stuff coming because the fruit trolley used to disappear off the trading floor and the fruit disappears in the past but there seem to think there's a bear market coming. So it's been there is a playbook generally for doing that and having experienced that myself and my team have been through tunnel downturns since then 1990s and if you read the political economic talent in the book, The Black Swan is a trader life insurance on events, that would technically never happen but every six years, they tend to happen because it's black swan events. So every six years, he makes a ton of money and then it's got Okay, money in the the Pharaoh years was a good year as well, other people have fallen for him because it's his contrarian way of looking at stuff. So it's energy but if you don't make decisions, and you, you try and overthink things too much, and you can see so much analysis and everything that we tend to get lost and it's Fortunately, a lot of at this current moment, there's a ton of companies up for sale, you'll see companies that started to sell, but they're actually going bust at the moment. So that's consequences happens but you've got to be brave and make decisions and yeah, sometimes decisions wrong, but don't worry about because the no decision is worse than the wrong decision, wrong decision making change in generally.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I think that efficiency focus by book is helpful, because it's like a breathing. It's like a living organism, you know, you have modes of expansion and moments of contraction seasons, your spring and autumn ear pruning, and I think it's, the cycles do come and I think it's helpful. I mean, I have a term which is, you know, scale, scale back to scale up, right, which is, you have these seasons of growth, where you try things, you experiment, you get things out there and that's good but there comes a point where, you know, you need to actually go, Okay, let's consolidate through those branches, you know, the ones that are less fruitful, we can get rid of bring it back down, and it gives more energy for what's left, right. I've done it myself, you know, it might tiny, small scale business, I do that as well, you know, this thing here don't need to be doing this anymore. No, you know, do we need to be doing this? Possibly not? And it brings back to a healthier, healthier, cause? I think you're right. It's an important discipline and then I think decisiveness that's, well, yeah, it's, you said, No, you've got to have something in motion. Right? If you're not in motion, you can't? Well, you're actually already deciding that's the point. You're already making a decision by not deciding.

Nigel Verdon
Yes. It's, there's our theory around decisioning. My father was in the military. So they, they're very much talked about making a decision. You've got to make decisions and if you don't make decisions that you you are in a sort of paralysis mode. People tend to unfortunately die in in that sort of mode. You can always change the decision. That's important but they also train you on on good decision in full stop. That is a that's a real skill to learn is making.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, when I say that we don't learn it in school, right? I mean, these are skills which everyone needs, in their own levels. That's the first another question for another day. Let's move on to questions. What's the favorite quote that you perhaps you know, you live by or that you, you, you bring out a lot in your own leadership?

Nigel Verdon
He's gonna make decisions, it's make a decision, don't worry about making the wrong decision. You can change it now and we're not alone industry, but he dies if you make the wrong decision, like a doctor, that's a lot of pressure on them or in the military but we're in finance, I can do some money, but people will care and living. So let's just make a decision changes as well.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, perfect. What about a favorite app, often we have an app on the iPhone that we find particularly useful, particularly mix historically productive or whatever, it's anything that you can't do without?

Nigel Verdon
It's Spotify, video musician all my life and I collect guitars, I've made them or playing them and all over the world, and a parallel, sort of, like, almost a ton of my friends are in that as professionals, and at various parts of it. So Spotify is the thing that's just keeps us connected and discovering new stuff every day.

Richard Medcalf
It's so fascinating, actually, I know, you might know I run a CEO, mastermind group and community and we're meeting next week actually and I'm gonna take a guitar with me I think because so many of these people play guitars, I play guitar and, and fascinating. CEOs and guitars and I should do an episode on it.

Nigel Verdon
One person should get back with David solo who was at Swiss banker. He's one of the senior guys, but he's a senior guy and he like 30 and and he became the CEO of global asset management Gam, which is a big, huge asset manager. He's a phenomenal guitar player as well. So that's, that's one you should definitely get.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, excellent. What about the book that's really influenced you?

Nigel Verdon
I think it was, it was Jack Kerouac on the road and it's like the craziness of it and it's just a good story of interesting stuff. I've gone on the road, as you might say, sort of trips and things quite a few times and different parts of the world that Jack Kerouac on the road, another one be the old man to see by Hemingway and it's just the interesting thing you see Hemingway's life, and what a sort of like a complete alpha male type person can write something as amazing as old women see. Amazing novel.

Richard Medcalf
Okay. What advice would you give your 20 year old self?

Nigel Verdon
The advice I give my 20 year old self is yes. If you got the idea, stand up for more. But have more belief in some of your ideas just have more belief, because it's the the belief in things that really take stuff forward.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, believe more. Fantastic. Many of our guests on the best guests on the show come from referrals. So I'm just wondering, is there anybody you know, who inspires you as CEO who's up to great things in the world, you know, who you think would be a good, you know, somebody you know, who would be great guest for the podcast?

Nigel Verdon
Yeah, there's a chap called Charlie delanco, who's a CEO and founder of Complan advantage, is a fascinating guy and he's also a super intelligent, unbelievably intelligent human being and so he's he's a, he's a, he's quite a wonderful person. Another person who I want to talk to is actually my board. She's not a CEO but she was the CFO of Snapchat, the CFO of Instagram, and is on the border of the lemon, Emily White, individual people in Google, as well. So he's got a fascinating story of how you scale these other businesses.

Richard Medcalf
Right. Yeah. Beautiful. Thank you for that. So finally, with one of our favorite questions, no matter how much we've achieved, there's always a next level to get to. So where does Railsbank go from here as a business, what's next for Railsbank and then how's that going to change how you need to lead differently and the role that you play in the business?

Nigel Verdon
Sure, if our ambition is to have the V A company, that same sort of scale of AWS, and pairing, and being the infrastructure behind anybody doing finance, so whether it's a sports club, like arsenal, or money knighted, monetizing 1.1 billion fans, they have, although it's a small startup with a laptop, lots of coffee, we want to be the place where they'll sit on what's that mean? For me? It could be a public company and so the interesting change to three big private companies and going to be running a public company might be quite interesting. I'd have to figure out skill sets. But I've just heard the chairman of MasterCard, former general MasterCard, who took MasterCard through the flotation for 15 years, go public case in weights was CEO of invensis, Lisa Salanter, and others. So that's hopefully a mentor, to me to be able to take through to what a is like to run a public company because he has to pick a company to flotation.

Richard Medcalf
Fascinating, brilliant. Finally, if people want to find out more about you, or about Railsbank, how do they do that?

Nigel Verdon
Sure. I'm the only Nigel Verdon on LinkedIn. So please reach out. I do. Look at everybody who does reach out the ones that get rejected for cheating on equipment, consultants, and software companies, billions of software companies trying to to activate but no, I look at everybody coming in. So it's a 99% chance or so. Yes.

Richard Medcalf
Beautiful. I know, it's been really fascinating. You know, it's been great to find out that you know, this company rang I didn't know about, you know, until we first started getting in touch and you've got, you know, you're going to be the next AWS so I'm pretty glad that I've discovered it. I think it's fascinating, you know, your vision for, for creating frictionless finance for reducing the overall cost of the system for allowing people to have experiences and do that without having to worry about the the transactional component of that. I think it's really inspiring and I think you know, you've given some really great people waits around, around, you know, dealing with uncertainty, a little bit about scaling back to scale up to make sure we've been decisive and so many other things. So just thank you for the time you've spent to share all that with us.

Nigel Verdon
Thank you for the invitation in Spokane to reach out and ask to join the podcast.

Richard Medcalf
I look forward to following the news of Railsbank as it continues to grow. So thanks, Nigel and speak soon.

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