Mark Hartley is Founder and CEO of BankiFi – the UK-based technology company specializing in open banking solutions for SMBs. Prior to founding BankiFi, he held a variety of general management, sales, innovation and strategy roles globally in the technology industry serving the financial services industry. We caught up with him to learn more about starting a startup in the current climate.
Tell us about your role and your path to the position. What are the critical elements that led you to this?
I’ve felt privileged to have experienced a practice run here a few times and those opportunities have given me great insight into what I’m working on now.
I was fortunate to move to Australia in my mid-twenties to set up the Australian subsidiary of a European banking tech cash management provider. For this opportunity I was given a blank check to start an office, hire people and eventually do business. You could say it was a great test run for what I’m doing now at BankiFi.
Also, I was fortunate to be part of Clear2pay’s executive management team from day one. First I was responsible for product operations, then for global sales and finally as Chief Innovation Officer. Throughout my time there, I have been involved in key decisions across the business and we have grown from just five employees to over 2,000.
This experience gave me insight into all aspects required to start and grow a business that sells and supplies products to banks. So it feels like I’ve already had two important dry runs in incredibly relevant areas.
How challenging is it to found a fintech start-up in the current environment?
I don’t think the current environment is more or less challenging, it’s always a challenge when you start in a company. Regardless of whether you are in an economic boom or an economic downturn, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. It’s about whether you believe in what you’re trying to do and whether you have a goal and determination to make it a success. The rest will follow.
What is the biggest mistake startups make that prevents them from succeeding?
want to be a unicorn.
How will 5G rollout affect fintech markets?
I think it will really help enable richer digital services. It could also make big data sharing and video streaming much easier. In the fintech space, it could enable better video-based interactions that are more akin to the traditional face-to-face, in-branch customer service that SMB customers still crave.
It’s more about improving things indirectly than creating many services based on 5G.
What is the most important element of success in building a successful fintech?
Have a purpose and don’t do it for money. Your strategy should never be about making money or being an entrepreneur, the world’s most overused term. It’s about solving a problem, having a purpose and doing it for the right reasons, and everything else will happen as a result.
Are collaborations/partnerships/MAs becoming more important – and what advice would you give to someone looking for a new partnership in the current market?
Yes, they definitely are. I think there were three phases in the FinTech lifecycle:
First, this is where emerging FinTech organizations thought they would come in and change the world.
Second, the banks tried to fight back and maybe do their own thing and ignore the threats and opportunities that fintech has brought.
I think we are now in phase three where both parties realize that they have strengths and weaknesses. By bringing both the banks and the fintechs together in one partnership, you have a great recipe for success.
My advice would be to know what you are good at, know what you are bad at, and don’t reinvent the wheel. Think of solutions that solve real customer problems and realize that you are just part of the solution package, you are not everything.
Asia appears to be leading the start-up fintech industry globally. Why is that?
I think that’s probably because there’s a lot of economic growth in Asia. There are very many small businesses in Asia and it is seen as a hotbed of developing countries, so a lot of investment goes to Asia. I think of course that means there will be a lot of entrepreneurial ideas and spirit and it is therefore a great breeding ground to start a business.
If you could give your younger self some smart business advice based on your current experience, what would it be and why?
It’s about understanding people and their needs, be it a customer, a partner or a member of your team.
Always use your senses in the proportions they were given to you – so you have two ears and one mouth, so listening and hearing are just as important, if not more so, than speaking. Ultimately being able to understand what someone else needs from a relationship with you or your business, instead of always trying to sell them a product and pedaling.
Think about why you are doing what you are doing – 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. Keep going back to it, ground yourself, and don’t get carried away by success when it comes and don’t get carried away by failure when it inevitably happens. Always return to your North Star, stay focused on your purpose and stay on a balanced keel whatever is thrown at you.
What can we expect from your startup in the next few years? Are there any new launches/products on the horizon?
We have set out to become a global software company and we plan to open many offices with many customers around the world. Our mission is to help two million small businesses be better served by their financial institutions by 2024.