By @SimonCocking. Latest great FinTech  interview, with Sam Maule. Striving to put more monkey back into business. FinTechMafia member.

Your background? How did you end up doing what you do now?

I’m an accidental tourist, like a lot of folks in fintech. It was never my intention to end up in this space, it just unfolded on its own over the course of my long, winding career path. I spent about a decade in the U.S. Navy serving on ballistic submarines; almost another decade working for Northern Trust in the wealth management space where I learned how to code and project manage; close to eight years at TSYS both in the U.S. and in Europe; and now five years at NTT Data Consulting.

I never really thought I’d end up as a consultant, but it is something I really do enjoy. A friend/client of mine from JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle), Simon Foster, best described my daily routine over a few pints in New York City once: “Sam works really hard, just in a different way than what most people are used to.” I spend a huge amount of time networking and engaging with folks across the fintech/digital ecosystem. Being up-to-speed on the latest breaking news and trends in fintech is imperative to my role at NTT Data Consulting. At times I feel like a technology investigative reporter, but then I’m able to balance this aspect of my role with impactful delivery engagements for our clients. And it’s this part of my role that I find the most rewarding — developing an idea into a strategy, then into an actionable plan and then into reality.

My background has been focused on the cards and payments space over the past decade; however, I recently assumed responsibility for NTT Data Consulting’s new FinTech/Digital practice. This is a natural evolution in my career as digital transformation for financial services and insurance organizations is being driven by fintech and insurtech. We have a really strong Digital team at NTT Data with experience across the digital landscape and I’m learning every day from my fellow subject matter experts Lisa Woodley and Shamlan Siddiqi. We need to come up with a moniker like “The Three Amigos” or something. Each of us brings a specific and unique perspective to the digital space. Lisa coined the phrase “Experience, Technology, and People” to describe the three of us and I believe that is spot on (I’m the “People” component of this triad). I think this also describes the digital landscape quite well.

What trends are you excited about in FinTech currently?

Not to be Captain Obvious, but the potential of blockchain solutions is easily one of my top three. I do believe this will be transformative for multiple industries, not just financial services. For example, the United Nations just posted a position for a blockchain SME to explore multiple use cases. My friends at 11FS (David Brear, Simon Taylor and Chris Skinner) are exploring the impacts of blockchain solutions throughout Europe and I expect great things from them as part of this effort. NTT Data is also actively researching and experimenting with different use case opportunities for our clients across the globe. I see the next few years a big discovery period for blockchain solutions, with industry rollout at scale beginning around 2020.

The new(ish) and splinter industry of insurtech is another area I believe will grow exponentially. I’ve spoken with numerous data scientists and industry experts who understand the wealth of customer data insurance companies have collected over time but aren’t optimizing. The advances in AI, machine learning, biometrics and IoT will all have significant impacts to the insurance industry, not to mention driverless cars, the sharing economy, etc.

The third trend is possibly my favorite, as it comes back to people. Simply put, it’s talent. The success of the fintech unicorns (albeit a small number) has resulted in attracting a lot of young talent into the financial services space. This is the disruption we truly needed. Over the past decade or so our industry has been forced into competing for talent with the pure tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Fintech, to some degree, has helped draw young talent to focus on providing solutions that are a fit for the digital age. The very definition of banking is changing and we need the next Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, etc. to ensure financial services isn’t left operating in a land line model. Yes, we have a long way to go — especially here in the U.S. — but I, for one, am optimistic.

How did you come to be a member of the FinTech Mafia?

In 2010, I was still working for TSYS based out of York, England. My standard routine on the flights back and forth from the UK to the U.S. was to buy a book that I could begin reading on the flight with the purpose of putting me to sleep. During one of these flights, I bought Brett King’s book, Bank 2.0, at the Manchester airport right before my flight. I ended up reading the entire book on the flight. I even broke out my highlighter and pen within fifteen minutes of diving into the book. I remember thinking I had just found someone from my tribe; someone like minded who saw the drive to digital that was beginning to take place. The next day I looked up Brett on LinkedIn and sent him a contact request, praising him for authoring what I thought was such an important piece of thought leadership. To my surprise he replied back to me the same day, thanking me for the feedback. This simple exchange grew into a friendship, first over social networks, but eventually meeting in the real world a few months later at a Next Bank (now Next Money) conference. My friendship with Brett led to introductions with many of the other members of the so-called “Fintech Mafia.”

My network of fintech diehards such as Ron Shevlin, Brad Leimer, Jim Marous, David Brear, Chris Skinner, Dave Birch, Duena Blomstrom and the rest of the gang grew over time mainly on Twitter and at various fintech conferences. Too be honest, I don’t remember where the “Fintech Mafia” moniker first came from. It seems as if we’ve always been talking with each other, discussing fintech trends, laughing at each other’s lame jokes, and always looking to promote fintech and the digital transformation of the industry. I’m proud to call this group my friends.

How well are conventional banks responding to the changing Fintech developments? What should they be doing better?

It’s taken a bit longer than I thought it would in some cases, but most of the large scale banks are quite active in the fintech scene. We are definitely in the “Fintech 3.0” stage in my opinion. Fintech 1.0 was proof of concept; Fintech 2.0 was disruption; Fintech 3.0 is collaboration. I’m excited to see most of the banks I work with on a day-to-day basis partnering with fintech companies and in several cases developing unique solutions of their own.

The key challenge for the banking industry as a whole continues to be the reliance upon an aging legacy infrastructure. Both Chris Skinner and Brett King have been loud advocates of the need for the banks to move to a true digital platform. The rise of CIOs (Chief Integrations Officers as I like to call them) is a good sign. Think of the roles Shamir Karkal at BBVA and Dan Kimerling at SVB have in the development of open APIs. PSD2 in the EU was also a massive step forward in tearing down the traditional protective castle walls financial institutions have huddled behind over the years.

I still believe the basic mode of engagement hasn’t really changed. Financial institutions can build (think clearXchange), buy (BPCE and Fidor Bank), partner (UBS and SigFig) or ignore. This last option is one that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves in my opinion. The idea isn’t to ignore the fintech industry; this will result in “death by 1,000 cuts” as JP Nicols likes to say. What I mean by ignore is that financial institutions must look at their own brand DNA and understand what markets they are serving. Tom me, trying to address and solve for every single product is “death by 1,000 projects.” Focus — very narrow and very deep — is what is really needed by the banking industry. They need to focus on who their real customers are, what role as a solution provider they are looking to serve in their specific market, and then focus on their development, partnerships and acquisition strategy in this light.

How is your campaign to put more monkey back into business? (And what do you mean by that?)

You must have read my Twitter bio. We take ourselves way too seriously in this industry. Wall Street companies are notorious for the hours they demand of their employees; we are in love with conducting elongated meetings, conference calls, WebEx sessions, and devoting countless hours to developing 80-page PowerPoint decks that no one really reads. I’m a fan of taking a step back and trying to inject just a little bit of humor, fun and, dare I say, friendship into the process. At the end of the day we are all human (sorry Brett King but the robots haven’t taken over just yet). We need to embrace the human component of working together, enjoy each other’s company and insights, and ditch just a little bit of the corporate BS we’ve spent decades implementing.


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