26 October 2021

The importance of making finance more consumer-friendly with Andrea Dunlop, MD of The Access Group

With a wealth of experience in the payments industry, and a few self-confessed learning experiences, Andrea Dunlop is on a mission to make financial products more consumer-friendly. Andrea is a co-founder of Investfem, Chairwoman of the Emerging Payments Association's Advisory Board and a huge advocate of financial mentoring for women.
Interview with Andrea Dunlop (MD of The Access Group)

Andrea is also an MD at The Access Group, a leading provider of business management software and solutions to mid-sized organisations. They help more than 47,000 customers across commercial and not-for-profit sectors become more productive and efficient. Here’s what Andrea thinks about the future of money:

Tell us what you do, and perhaps most importantly, why you do it?

I'm an MD at a company called The Access Group, which is a leading software company here in the UK. I manage their newly formed payments division called Access Paysuite. We provide payment services to businesses, mainly in the direct debit space, but moving into other areas of payments. 

And why do I do it? Well, I've been in payments now more years than I care to remember and I love the industry. I feel really blessed to work with amazing people – in the last 5-10 years there's been such a focus on transformation, really looking at things from a customer perspective.

You're a real payment pioneer and you've worked on some incredible projects over the course of your career. What would you say is the most fun part of your job around money?

It sounds like the most boring bit, but I actually like the regulatory complexity. I love getting on calls with my compliance and risk teams when we see challenges and working through them. At the end of the day, you're trying to ensure that the payments get from A to B, but you're also trying to ensure that the payments are secure. I like the challenges around this with the constant changes and enhancements in regulations. 

You’re also co-founder of Investfem and a huge advocate of financial mentoring for women. I'd love to know on a personal level, what's the best piece of money advice you've ever been given?

I think the best piece of advice that was given to me was the best way to get wealthy. It's so simple: spend less than you earn and compound the difference. I do think there's a process that you go through to change behaviors with money and your relationship with money. it's not an overnight process and it's definitely not something we get taught at school. I’m passionate about things being set right early on. 

What’s the worst piece of money advice you've received?

The one that stands out to me is getting a car on a loan, and generally an expensive loan, because at the end of the day your car is depreciating and you're paying interest on the loan. I don't think people analyse the financial products they're getting and also, in fairness, this is how the market is changing. 

Financial products haven't historically been explained particularly well to all aspects of society, so unless you're a financial whiz and you are gifted with that financial management money book that you just know inside out, you can see why so many people make mistakes on financial products like loans for cars or mortgages for houses. I think it's really easy to fall into these traps and not really understand what you're getting yourself into.

It comes back to my passion for the industry around getting the language right, making it simple, and making sure that people understand what they're signing up to. There probably isn't anything financially that I haven't done wrong, I've pretty much done all of it wrong at different points in my life.

I wonder how much of that communication is intentional versus there not being the skills in-house to talk about these things in a way that people can understand? Or is it a mixture of both?

I don't know if it's intentional, I think that we get obsessed with the regulation and use a certain language. If you come from a banking background and you read any terms and conditions, a lot of it's tied to the regulation. I think sometimes we just lose sight of how we communicate and we think we're speaking to people that are in the industry who understand all the terminology. There’s some aspects that you've got to say to adhere to regulation, but we don't always do it in a consumer-friendly way.

Moving on to cards and cash, do you have any cash on you right now? 

I always generally have around £100 in cash. I don't know if it's a generational thing where it's just I'm getting old and I fall into that category, but I generally have two credit cards and two debit cards. I also have a separate card I use when traveling. I use a product called Curresea because it pulls from your current account and it does FX at mid-market rates, so it's far better than using your standard debit card or a credit card when you're abroad. 

I never go on the internet with my direct debit. Not in a million years would I consider using my direct debit card on the internet.  I'm quite particular about what cards I will use in which situation and when. 

Do you see the number of cards we use increasing or decreasing as an overall population?

Personally, I don’t think I’d increase my card usage.

As open banking comes more to the forefront, it’ll be interesting to see whether we start to use physical cards less. As we’re doing more account-to-account payments and in-app payments from our bank accounts, I wonder whether that will change our habits.

You've been named as one of the most influential women in payments. In your opinion, what is the future of money? Where's it all heading?

I do wonder if we're seeing a consolidation of currencies, and you already see it when you see global companies operate. There'll be a set currency that they're operating in and they will negotiate their contracts in those currencies. 

As for other aspects, I think we're just going to continue to see the push towards digital. There’s still so much to be done before we're ever a cashless society. I still think there's big policy questions to address around digital resilience that governments really need to focus on before we are ever going to end up a fully cashless society. We've already seen what happens when banks or payment providers have technical issues, people suddenly can’t make payments. 

I don't think it's going to happen overnight. Interestingly, we’ve seen that in certain countries, particularly the US and I think Germany, there's been an increase of consumers holding cash. 

In your opinion, how has Covid changed payments and the movement of money? 

There’s no doubt that Covid has definitely accelerated the move towards digital payments, but I think it's a lot more around some of the peripheral aspects. A good example would be more banks moving towards digital onboarding of customers and businesses, so they've been streamlining some of the regulatory aspects where normally you would visit the bank. 

I think in other aspects, the liquidity piece has come to the forefront during Covid. I think traditionally with payment companies you had X amount of days on settlement and I think Covid has really accelerated the need for more real-time payments. We saw a lot more providers really trying to ensure that businesses could get their liquidity a lot quicker than they've got it before. 

Is the world becoming more global? How do you see the movement of money across borders changing over the next 5-10 years?

Everything is definitely much more global, but cross-border payments are still really, really painful. 

We have been fortunate to have some amazing FinTechs come into the space who have made it a lot more seamless than it traditionally has been. It's definitely a step forward from where we've been historically; however, the correspondent banking network that’s used to underpin cross-border transactions needs a massive overhaul. 

If you're in the payments industry you are constantly suffering from cross-border payments and the pain of correspondent banking, so it's definitely an ongoing issue, but it's something that globally needs to be addressed. It's not something one government can address. It's going to take countries coming together and aligning on standards for corresponding banking if we're going to get this sorted. 

I think it's definitely 10 years out. I could be surprised, but I think it's definitely 10+ years before we start to see that. However, the new companies that are coming through are working within that existing framework and they are doing their best to remove friction.

What future money innovation are you most curious about? Thinking about all this change and considering the timescales, what excites you? 

The simplicity in payments. Payment companies are now starting to think about it from the consumers’ perspective as well as the business perspective.  

It’s not just our day-to-day payments, it's also the financial products. Getting a mortgage years ago used to be a really painful process – you had to go in and meet your bank manager. Now, with open banking you are actually being prompted: ‘you know actually, you can get a better rate here’ or ‘you know your mortgage is coming up for renewal’. I think those types of services where you’re prompted and guided to a range of products are the bits that excite me the most. 

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