Mark Hartley is the Founder and CEO of BankiFi - the UK-based technology company that specialises in Open Banking solutions for SMEs. Prior to founding BankiFi, he operated globally in a range of general management, sales, innovation, and strategy roles in the technology industry servicing the financial services industry. We caught up with him to find out more about launching a startup in the current climate.
Tell us about your role and your journey to the position. What are the critical elements that led you to it?
I've felt privileged to have experienced a practice run at this a couple of times, and these opportunities have provided me with a great insight into what I’m working on now.
I was lucky enough to be moved to Australia in my mid-twenties to set up the Australian subsidiary of a European banking tech cash management vendor. For this opportunity, I was given a blank cheque to go and establish an office, hire people and ultimately win business. You could say that was a great test run for what I'm doing now at BankiFi.
I also had the good fortune of being part of the executive management team at Clear2pay from day one. Initially, I was responsible for running products, then global sales, and latterly I held the position of Chief Innovation Officer. Throughout my time there, I was involved in the key decisions across the business, and we grew from just five people to over 2,000.
That experience gave me a lens on all the aspects required when starting and building a company that sells and delivers products to banks. Therefore, it feels like I’ve already had two important dry runs, in incredibly relevant spaces.
How challenging is it to create a fintech start-up in the current environment?
I don't think the current environment is any more or less challenging, it's always a challenge when you start out in any business. Regardless of whether you're in an economic upcycle or economic downcycle, it doesn't really make that much difference. It's whether or not you believe in what you're trying to do, and you have a purpose and determination to make it succeed. The rest will follow.
What’s the biggest mistake start-ups make that prevents success?
Wanting to be a unicorn.
How will the uptake of 5G affect the fintech markets?
I think it will really help to enable richer digital services. It also might make the sharing of large volumes of data and video streaming, a lot easier. In Fintech, it might enable better video-based interactions that will be more like the traditional face-to-face in-branch customer services that SME customers still crave.
It’s more about indirectly making things better rather than loads of services being created on the back of 5g.
What’s the single most imperative element to success in building a successful fintech?
Have a purpose and don’t do it for money. Your strategy should never be around making money or being an entrepreneur, the most overused phrase in the world. It’s about solving a problem, having a purpose, and doing it for the right reasons and everything else will happen as a consequence of that.
Are collaborations/partnerships/MA’s becoming more important - and what would your advice be to someone seeking a new partnership in the current market?
Yes, they certainly are. I think there have been three stages in the lifecycle of FinTech:
Firstly, this is where FinTech upstart organisations thought they were going to come in and change the world.
Secondly, the banks were trying to fight back and perhaps do their own thing and ignore the threat and opportunity fintech has brought.
I think we're now in stage three, where both parties realise they have strengths and weaknesses. By bringing both the banks and the fintechs together in a partnership, you've got a great recipe for success.
My advice would be to know what you’re good at, know what you’re bad at, and don’t reinvent the wheel. Think about solutions that solve real customer pain points and recognise that you're only a part of the solution set, you’re not all of it.
Asia seems to be leading the start-up fintech industry globally. Why is that?
I think it's probably because there's a lot of economic growth in Asia. There's an awful lot of small businesses in Asia and it's seen as the hotbed of the developing world, therefore there's an awful lot of investment going into Asia. I think that naturally means there'll be a lot of entrepreneurial ideas and spirit, and it's, therefore, a great fertile ground to start a business.
If you could give your younger self some savvy business advice gained from your current experience level, what would it be and why?
It’s all about understanding people and what their requirements are, whether it be a customer, a partner, or a member of your team.
Always use your senses in the proportions that you were given them in - so you have two ears and one mouth, so listening and hearing is, is as important if not more important than speaking. Ultimately, being able to understand what somebody else needs from a relationship with you or your company, as opposed to always trying to sell and pedal a product to them.
Think about why you’re doing what you do – have a purpose. When you set something up, you’re trying to solve a problem and you’re trying to do it for the right reasons. Always go back to that, to ground yourself and don't get carried away with success when it comes along, and don't get carried away with failure when that inevitably happens too. Keep going back to your north star, focus on your purpose and stay on an even keel whatever gets thrown at you.
What can we expect from your startup over the next few years? Are there any new launches/products on the horizon?
We set out to be a global software company and we plan on opening lots of offices, with a lot of customers across the world. Our mission is to help two million small businesses be better serviced by their financial institutions by 2024.