By SimonCocking. Great interview with Huy Nguyen Trieu.  By night writes blog Disruptive Finance. Founder of The Disruptive Group. Passionate about  and .

Your background briefly?

I’ve been an entrepreneur, then a banker, then an entrepreneur again. My background is engineering (Polytechnique and ENPC in France, MIT in the US). After university, I co-founded and was CEO of Ukibi, a tech startup in the US. I then moved into banking where I stayed for more than a decade, and built businesses within large banks – most recently as a Managing Director at Citi. And now back to entrepreneurship, I’m launching The Disruptive Group.

How did you end up doing what you do now?

Since my first startup, I’ve always stayed in contact with the tech and entrepreneur world. So while I was a MD at Citi during the day, I was writing the blog Disruptive Finance at night, mentored dozens of entrepreneurs in Fintech, sat on a few boards, helped the World Economic Forum for their SME report and was a Resident Expert at Oxford. I’ve loved both my “day job” and “night job” and it ended up being quite complementary since a lot of innovations are happening in finance.


Congratulations on your recent rating in the global fintech influencers list – where did it all go right?

It’s obviously good for the ego to be in the influencer lists, although they tend to favor people who are visible online – which is what tends to happen when you write a blog! Writing Disruptive Finance is a real pleasure – it helps me to structure my thoughts, share my ideas and exchange with other people who are also passionate about Fintech. If a side benefit is to be on an influencer list, then I’m delighted!

What are you working on right now, and if it all goes to plan, what might happen?

I’ve just left Citi last month – after 13 years in banking – and am now launching The Disruptive Group. TDG is an advisory firm and business builder in innovation and finance. There will be many different activities in TDG, but one of them is to help CEOs and board members of large financial institutions to navigate today’s world which is being radically transformed by technology. And I will of course still be very involved with startups – through mentoring and my different board positions, but also directly help structure and launch very innovative companies. In general, I love mentoring and working with young entrepreneurs, so that is unlikely to change…

If all goes to plan, I’ll be able to help shape finance for the 21st century!

Tell us what you enjoy about your blog, and which pieces have done the best for you

It’s very selfish, but my first pleasure is first and foremost to write it! Because I know financial services and technology quite well, I tend to have a good intuition of future developments. However, there is a big difference between an intuition and a well-thought reasoning, and the blog forces me to develop my thinking until I’m sufficiently happy that I can share it with other people.

There are some pieces I really like, if only because they turned out to be right! For example, in 2014 I wrote about the very strong momentum of Fintech, and how entrepreneurs should raise as much money as they can while investors had to be wary. I then wrote an updated piece in 2016 that argued that Fintech participants needed a new strategy – which I believe is still very relevant.

Many readers liked my piece about “Why different is better than better” which described the different types of Fintech startups, and showed that it wasn’t necessarily easier to be incrementally better (the usual “better, cheaper, faster, nicer UI”) than radically different (the real innovations).

How does this help / inspire you with the day job?

While I was in banking, I loved both my day job and writing a blog/mentoring entrepreneurs at night. Although I wasn’t directly involved in innovation at Citi, I had very interesting interactions with colleagues who were in that space. In all cases, most jobs in finance will be impacted by innovation, so it was very useful to have an innovation eye for my day job.

In the  banking / innovation / fintech world, what are you excited about?

A lot of things! In general, I think that finance will be radically different in 10 years, whether in retail banking, capital markets, asset management or insurance. What I am mostly interested in are the real innovations, what I call the next Googles of finance: business models and applications that did not exist in the offline world, but are made possible because of the Internet and new behavior of consumers. A company like Credit Karma – which acquired 50m clients in 5 years with a novel business model – or Ant Financial – which has the 3rd largest money market fund in the world after 2 years – are such examples of fascinating changes in that space.

Can traditional banks successfully innovate to deal with the rise of FinTech banking disrupters?

Of course, but it won’t be easy. More generally, Digital Transformation is in my opinion the biggest challenge faced by all large companies today, and banks are no exception. Technology (and I would include Artificial Intelligence, predictive analysis, but also Amazon Web Services or the cloud in general) has suddenly permitted the emergence of new competitors who can scale very quickly, and very cheaply. There are therefore clear threats for large companies, not only from startups, but also from new entrants from other industries. But banks still have very strong assets, from a very large customer base to a wealth of services, from the regulatory infrastructure to the strong financial resources. There are a lot of different ways for banks to do their digital transformation, but the key in my opinion is to have a very clear and defined strategy and to realise that standing still is not an option.

If you could make everyone in Banking do what you told them, what would you command them to do?

I wouldn’t dream of it! But if I could, I would tell them to leverage all the opportunities offered by technology. We are now in a strange world where the technology we use every day is in many cases much more powerful than those we use in bank. For example, recommendation engines have been used for more than 10 years by Amazon, but very few banks use such tools to help their clients. Or in a world of real-time communication, it took me 3 weeks to – unsuccessfully! – make a bank transfer. We can all see the direction of the future, and if it’s not the banks, someone else will make those changes.

Will bitcoin achieve wider adoption or not? What are your thoughts on the viability of wider adoption of cryptocurencies?

I wish! I love the concept of Bitcoin – send money as cheaply and quickly as email – but I think that the current implementation is very flawed. In a world where global warming is our biggest threat, how can we imagine running farms of computers for no purpose other than a proof of work? And Bitcoin is clearly reaching its scalability limit, whereas it’s still tiny in terms of assets. So I hope that we will see Bitcoin 2.0 very soon, that will be much more scalable with a more efficient validation framework, and help achieve the initial vision of Bitcoin.

Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?

It’s a very hard question! There are a lot of great people I enjoy reading, for example Dave Birch (Consult Hyperion) who always shares very insightful thoughts, Chris Skinner (The Finanser) who shares great info, or Yann Ranchere (Anthemis), although I wish he wrote more! I love exchanging with people like Claire Calmejane (Lloyds) or Neal Cross (DBS) who are doing amazing innovation work within huge banks. And I follow Anna Irerrra (Financial News) and Izabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville) who are very different, but give very interesting views on Fintech.

How do you manage online / offline, work/life challenges?

Over the last few years, I’ve had a day job in an investment bank and a night job with a lot of activities, so it was very long hours! I’m afraid that my social life suffered a bit during these years!

However, I’m not addicted to email/social media or technology at all, so still manage to spend some good quality time with my family. So long hours for work during the week, but it’s all family during the week-ends!

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?

No thank you, it’s been a pleasure exchanging with the Irish Tech News, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of innovation coming out of Ireland!

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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