The Talent Behind The Tech

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RTGS.global
|25 January, 2024

In our second edition of 'The Talent Behind The Tech', Andrew Smith discusses his route to becoming a founding partner of RTGS.global.

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In our second edition of 'The Talent Behind The Tech', Andrew Smith discusses his route to becoming a founding partner of RTGS.global.

How would you describe your approach to leadership?

There are three guiding principles that every single member of a team should steer towards: security, resilience and performance.

Ultimately, I believe in autonomy and setting teams up to think for themselves. I spend a lot of my time making sure we’re all aligned on what we should be doing; as long as everyone understands the reason why we're doing it, how we should be doing it, and hitting the right benchmarks, I leave them to it.

As an engineer, I used to be very hands-on, but in the last six years, I’ve learnt that the best way to motivate talented people is to let them own their work and run with their ideas. No spoon feeding - it demotivates them. Let them problem solve, and master what they’re trying to do, which means giving them the time and space to do so. This way, they can work towards the high standards they expect of themselves and avoid frustration of being interrupted mid-task.

What have been the key learnings from your career to date? How has it led to being a founding partner of RTGS.global?

Over my career it’s become very clear that people have a habit of ‘over-engineering’ a task. In other words, they do more than they need to.

If you want to deliver on something, you should focus on doing the minimal amount possible - do not try and do everything up front. Yes, by all means, keep your end goal in mind and ensure all stages of activity align with this objective, but don’t tackle it as one big task. If you do, all you end up doing is front-loading lots of work that will take you a long time to complete and you risk then having to change it when you get further down the line and the focus shifts.

For example, if you want to release new software, you should focus on the minimum that will actually make it work. For a company, the ultimate goal is to onboard customers, right? So as long as the solution aligns with that objective, then that’s all you need. You can then start to make improvements once the project is off the ground. I often refer to this as “product maturity”. You don’t want to spend time, money and critical resources on building out more than you need to based on where you are in your journey. That isn’t just limited to features and function of your product, but also things like performance and resilience. If your maturity is you only need to do 1 transaction a second, don't spend time and effort ensuring your platform delivers 50 transactions per second. As you ramp, you can improve that performance - a direct link between tech and business maturity.

So, how has that fed into being a founder of RTGS.global? Well, when Nick and myself were looking at how to build RTGS.global, we made sure we didn’t over-engineer our model and proposition. We wanted to make a significant leap forward in terms of cross-border PvP and settlement capability, but with the minimum amount of impact on participants and the industry itself, that includes the technologies we opted for. It may sound obvious, but when you look at infrastructural reform across an industry, it’s very hard to achieve. Taking what works well today and trying to reform and change without starting from scratch, it’s really hard. It’s much easier to look at much bigger reform, scrapping what went before in terms of model, approach and obviously technology – but then that makes it harder to deliver and is a great example of front loading. It’s why things seem so slow in financial services.

What advice would you give to growing fintechs?

Growing fintechs have got three big problems to acknowledge and avoid: dilution of focus, restricted experience, and the build, buy or partner debate.

Starting from the top, all growing fintechs usually have a great idea - it’s what got them scaling in the first place. They’ve identified an issue and believe they have a way to solve it. Once business starts picking up, the founders and management team start to bring in new people. However, this is where the first problem arises. They look to get experienced people in too soon. Now, a lot of this early recruitment is usually driven by the need to get investment, so often leaders will look for very specific experience that they believe will aid them. The trouble is, by doing this you are willingly inviting different opinions - sometimes contradicting ones - to your company vision. For example, if you recruit someone with 20 years experience, they may naturally bring an old mentality with them.

A lot of fintechs therefore struggle with the dilution of their own proposition because of importing talent. So whilst it's a good idea to get experienced people in, it's absolutely critical to source individuals who buy into your view of how things could be done, not necessarily your view of how to change the world.

The second problem ties into this idea of hiring the right people and making sure you don’t limit your reach based on industry-specific experience. So for fintechs, experience is certainly valuable, but it doesn’t have to be from banking. For example, say you’re attempting to start a bank and so you recruit someone who’s been in operational banking for 25 years. I guarantee that everything that this individual starts to put in place is based on what they've seen at other large institutions over their 25 years, because that's their playbook - they don't know any different.

It’s particularly important to keep this in mind when scaling up. If a fintech starts to gain traction, I completely agree with the approach of blitz scaling to get the resource needed to optimise momentum. Think of the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world - if they didn’t blitzscale, they would have missed their opportunity and wouldn't have become the global leaders they are today. However, if you still need to hire the right people.

Finally, we land on the build, partner or buy argument. Growing fintechs can often feel obliged to build everything from scratch, because that’s what they see as being the value of the company. However, that’s not always true. Why take on a build project if it isn’t your specialism? But it will be someone else’s, so partner up! You need something done quickly but your resource is maxed out - buy! And finally you arrive at a project that falls directly within your wheelhouse, get building!

Play to your strengths and never be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses. Your company will only suffer otherwise.

What piece of technology do you see having the greatest impact on the fintech/banking world in the next 1,2,3 and 5 years?

AI is the obvious answer, but I think what's going to be most interesting is the mix of technologies within one approach. So if I think of fintech or banking for example, the way we do a lot of things is the wrong way round. Across open banking and APIs, currently the user gives you a token to access their bank and then you can call that down. This is actually quite an antiquated way of working, especially in the digital world.

So I think the biggest evolution is going to be around how we use different models and different approaches, coupled with tech like AI and Digital ID. Take RTGS.global, all of our participants have a digital identity which means they can manage their relationships with each other independently through our platform. We can therefore be really effective and efficient in terms of security, but equally so when it comes to the cost of that security.

Here’s another example. You're an open banking API provider and you’ve built your own connector which has been compiled into the bank. Now, customers can use AI to generate requests like standing orders, moving money around and making investments. The AI then generates the code that gets compiled and runs it as a module inside the bank. This is now a completely different approach to how things were done before.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The one piece of advice that always sticks in my mind was shared by someone called Ted Smith. His concept was always: work smarter, not harder. He believed that a lazy person will always find the most efficient way of doing something. That’s not to say you should intentionally be lazy, but you should look for the easiest way of working.

Water is the perfect analogy here. A river running down a slope will always find the easiest way down without disrupting the flow.

What does the future of RTGS.global look like?

The vision of RTGS.global has never changed: we want to see more corridors between banks coming online. While we’re at the mercy of market speed (adopting infrastructure can be very slow), this year, we should see the first two or three corridors up and running.

Once they do, we’ll be the only platform that's ever made all currencies involved interoperable without the banks having to do any further work. Nothing, not a singular bit of extra technical engineering work is required, whether that's to communicate between banks or just to start trading and settling immediately through our platform. What we'll then gradually get is a building momentum, like a snowball effect. One or two will turn into three or four - and then those four currencies will be able to translate into a lot more, exponentially increasing the value.

Also, it’s not just banks that will benefit. Yes, we need banks in the network to provide liquidity, but our model also accommodates other parties like MTOs and fintechs, bringing new and different propositions to the marketplace, like if someone wants to introduce smart contracts for supply chains from China through Europe into the UK. We'll therefore start to see several new use cases not yet considered, where fintechs, banks or participants start coming to us.