Let’s start with an introduction to you, what you do and, most importantly, why you do it?
I’m the founder of Banking Circle. On a day-to-day basis, I operate as the CEO and carry out the tasks that a CEO does. The more exciting part is why I’m doing it. You have to go back around 9-10 years. I was doing long hours in M&A as an employee for a law firm. I read an article by Clayton Christensen, the author of How Will You Measure Your Life?
It made me think that you need to get up in the morning and do something you really enjoy. Irrespective of whether it’s for a small or big business you must enjoy it. I sat down and tried to identify which part of my daily life I enjoyed and which I didn’t. I realised that where I was happiest was where I could impact stuff, make decisions, move things forward and take the blame if things didn’t go well.
So, I quit my job and founded the business that today is Banking Circle, knowing that whether it became a small business or a large business, I would still be happy every day when I got up.
You’ve done incredibly. I read earlier this month that Banking Circle is looking to seek new funding at a $5 billion valuation. At this stage of your business and your career, what is the most fun part of your job around money?
I think I’m very much a person that gets excited about growth. I like to see things grow, I like to see where to take it in the next couple of years, and be a part of executing what’s growing today. What we do at Banking Circle is moving liquidity and money on behalf of a lot of clients. That, in essence, is fun. It’s fun to see new clients come in, work with existing clients and see their business grow in the way we’re able to. I also really enjoy ensuring we stay relevant as a business.
You’ve been a tremendous partner for 3S Money – thank you for all of your support. You’ve had a brilliant career and you really are one of the most influential people in the payments space. I’m curious, on a personal level, what’s the best piece of money advice you’ve ever been given?
That is a good question. It might have seemed quite obvious now, but 8 years ago, when we launched, everyone was focused on profitability. I had a good mentor from the US who told me: don’t focus on profitability, focus on building the right product, make sure that product grows, make sure that product has a total addressable market that’s very large, and focus on its unit economics instead of its profitability.
That advice was personal advice as he knew I was about to set up my own business. It was a big thing to do, so the fact we focused relentlessly on the product rather than the profitability is the best advice I’ve been given.
That’s really interesting. Do you carry cash with you? What are your personal money habits and what does your wallet look like?
I’m probably still a bit old-fashioned. I’ve got 2-3 credit cards and that’s it. I don’t carry any cash here where I live. If I travel, I have all sorts of cash because there are countries where it’s more relevant to be able to pay with cash than in Western Europe.
On the subject of cash and cards, do you see the number of cards we all use increasing or decreasing over time?
I think that depends on how you look at the cards. If you’re looking at physical cards, I definitely see them decreasing — that would be my best guess. In my view, they will turn into virtual cards or tokens, and whether you call them a credit card or not, they’re just virtual. It’s more a question of how you define the concept of the credit card.
In the future, you can imagine that if you have a lot of accounts and bank transfers, the Buy Now Pay Later app would be your credit card. It could still be a credit card, but not a physical card. I see physical cards declining, but virtual cards increasing in all aspects.
I read a piece you wrote for TechRound about how, in the digital revolution, it’s not about being the fastest or the strongest but instead about being agile and receptive to customer needs. In your opinion, what is the future of money looking like? Where are we heading in the payment space?
This is how we try to position our business: stay agile and be able to adapt to change. Obviously you have a roadmap and you know where to go, but you also know where the end point is.
What we’ll see over time, I think, is that the non-cash payments industry will increase, meaning that cash will decrease as a function. Within that non-cash payments space, I think we’ll see a lot more virtual cards and digital currencies, and those will be the main trends over the next few years.
Looking back a little back now, how has Covid changed payments and the movement of money in your view?
What we have seen at Banking Circle as a good representative for the flow here in Europe — we transact around 6% of Europe’s e-commerce flow — is a major uptake in e-commerce-related activities. The trend that we expected has probably been enforced and taken a leap of 3-5 years. In a non-Covid scenario, where we are today in terms of our e-commerce is where we would have been in 5-6 years.
The main trend we have seen is e-commerce as a function of the non-cash payment industry has increased, but also the non-cash payment industry in actual terms has increased a lot and cash has decreased.
What are you personally most curious about?
At least from an academic point of view, what is really interesting is central bank digital currencies. This is something we are following very closely and find very exciting. Given that we’re today linked into the different central banks, being able to accept these digital currencies is very interesting.
Personally, where you could see a use case for that is to subsidise cash. A function of today’s cash that could be distributed as a CBDC over time. This particular area is something I find incredibly interesting — both practically, on a long-term basis, and then theoretically and academically.
Do you have any predictions about how many central banks will launch digital currencies — and which?
We know from the topic that China is quite advanced, but I don’t have a good enough answer to that to be willing to make any predictions.
You’re raising funding currently. What’s next for you at Banking Circle?
We’re looking to grow our European business and become a global business. As of today, we are still very European-focused. You can expect to see Banking Circle moving into parts of Asia and North America over the next 12-18 months.
Now for a rapid fire round of questions. Do you see a future for QR codes as a payment method?
Yes, depending on how they’re structured.
In the next five years, can you see crypto replacing currency for international money movements?
In some aspects, if you look into exotic markets between different corridors, there could be a use case. But not in major, developed markets.
Do you think it’s feasible for businesses in the future to have a digital identity that could be passports to multiple organisations and countries?
Yes. I think that’s an interesting thought.