By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Nasir Zubairi Advisor and Investor Fintech. Previously Finleap, The Currency Cloud, RBS, ICAP.

Your background briefly?

I have worked in Financial Services for just shy of 20 years. The formative part of my career was in Capital Markets, specifically Interbank FX trading. I am signatory to various patents for the core interbank FX dealing system, that, at its peak, was matching flows of around $200 Billion/day. I was subsequently a “Flash Boy”, driving the set up and expansion of an algorithmic trading desk that quickly became the No.1 FX trading desk in the world, trading around $10 Billion/day. The past 7 years I have been focused on building businesses in the area now called “Fintech”, as well as advising banks/central banks and regulators on financial services evolution. I give back to the community by sharing my experience through a variety of accelerators and startup programmes. I was named one of the “40 innovators shaping the Future of Financial Services” in 2014 by the Financial News/Wall Street Journal. I have been fortunate in having been able to live and work in eight different countries throughout my career across Europe and Asia as well as the US.

What are you working on now?

I have been on somewhat of a break since March. I had been commuting between Berlin and Brussels for 18 months. I missed my family, so I decided to focus on spending quality time with my kids for a while. We moved to Luxembourg to enable us to be together – a place where both my wife and I had opportunities in our respective careers. Although my focus has been my children, I keep relatively busy in Fintech. I have been advising the Luxembourg Government on their Fintech strategy, I have been providing advice and due diligence to VCs on potential investments as well as evaluating some for myself. I have also been helping out a major social impact fund – they see Fintech as a core enabler for their objectives in developing markets. The latter has given me a great opportunity to learn more about financial inclusion and has allowed me to travel to some exotic places to advise central banks and financial services firms. I am now keen to get back in full time action so am currently evaluating a number of opportunities – startups, VC, Government and Bank – in relation to what challenge I take on next.

You have a lot of projects you’re involved in – how do you manage your commitments / and what does a typical day look like for you?

I learnt a few years ago that rigid schedule management is critical to deal with complexity. My entire week is scheduled in my calendar – including when I check emails, when I take leisure time and when I have “flex” time. By writing this all down I commit myself and don’t get sloppy. I also ensure that there are no distractions and I am totally focused on accomplishing tasks. I also stick with the mantra taught to me by a great mentor, Nigel Verdon, founder and Chairman of The Currency Cloud – the “SFW” test. Never panic and blindly react to information, always ask yourself “So F…ing What? – what impact does this have in the greater scheme of things?” Helps to ensure a measured and thought through reaction, if one at all.

My typical day will start with “me” time; I wake, help the kids get ready for school while having breakfast and coffee. I do not go near my phone or computer for at least an hour. Then I check email, social media and various news sources, work on scheduling new tasks that have come up from these sources. I then get on with my schedule – calls, F2F meetings, emails, presentations, contracts…..as well as carting the kids around (school, sports, doctors, play dates……phew!), cooking meals and grocery shopping.

How does it work going between London & Luxembourg? What are the pros and cons of both places?

It works great for me. I think it helps keep me sane; I relish experiencing the different vibes, environments and cultures across cities. I love London; it was where I was brought up, I have many close friends and family there. It has so much to offer. However, at my time of life, I am appreciating the quality of life that Luxembourg has to offer. I am glad London is such easy access but happy to not be living there at the moment. Brexit is a huge negative for me against London/UK. In business, resource costs in London are a disadvantage, though, on the flip side, resource availability is high – people flock to London from all over the world, regardless of the insane costs of living. Setting up a business in London is significantly easier than in most of the rest of the EU.

As a top FinTech influencer, congrats, which areas are you most excited by?

Thank you – though I have kept a much lower profile these past months. What excites me? Blockchain for securities processing and settlement. Compliance/Regtech, B2B. I like technology platforms/solutions that enable the existing industry to work better.

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

Most will, some won’t. Many banks are taking a sensible multi-strategy approach to innovation. They are collaborating with Fintech startups to mesh together core capabilities from each other’s firms. They are investing in and, in some cases, acquiring Fintech startups to gain exposure and capability. Others are working to re-calibrate their culture and incentivise intrapreneurship to drive in-house innovation. Finally, there is “coopetition” where banks are coming together to collaborate on and back technology solutions for shared problems – Blockchain is an area where there are a number of such initiatives. Banks will not suddenly disappear, most will survive and adapt, benefiting the customer. They are just slower and less nimble than startups, but they do have the customer base, the credibility, the balance sheet and, in certain areas, incredible economies of scale (albeit with inefficient technology and process).

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

Re-frame. Stop thing about being a “Financial Service” and start thinking of being a “Financial Enabler”. Some in the industry suggest banks should position think of themselves as “technology firms”; I think this is too narrow in scope. There are certain elements of banking that require a personal touch and will continue to do so for a long time. Thinking about how to enable customers will drive innovative thinking and approaches.

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

No. I think it will likely be the precursor of something bigger and better, but I do not back the longevity of Bitcoin itself. Digital currencies will become defacto in the next 20 years.

Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?

I recently heard Sean Cleary, advisor to the WEF amongst many other things, speak at a seminar in Cairo. He made a lasting impression and I will continue to follow his thoughts. Business School exposed me to Gary Hamel and I still refer to his theories and keep up to date with his latest work. Warren Buffet – need I say more? His thinking and approach is simply………right. I read a lot in general – a great way to learn.

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

Running a successful business is all about people – inspire them and look after them. A question: “Tell us something most people don’t know about you?” I own five skateboards and longboards that I use regularly, though my knees aren’t able to cope as well as they used to! If in Luxembourg, you may see me skating between meetings in the city.

What do you love about skateboarding? any help with work in terms of thinking / ideas?

These days a board is a means of transport more than anything else. It was about balance, air and the mental challenge – pushing yourself harder and faster, overcoming fear; as with my passion for snowboarding. I feel at peace when gliding on a board, it gives me time to think. So much of my life involves people. Working in teams, meetings…..even sports – I still play cricket (Luxembourg has a great team!). Its nice to just get away from it all, a bit of solitude.


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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