Formerly Group Innovation Director and COO Digital Banking at Lloyds Banking Group, MD of Paypoint.net and Director at PayPal
Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?
I was trained as a Civil Engineer and I earned my first salary as a coder but I quickly went back to my profession, building roads and rail lines in West Africa. I got into financial services after business school by joining GE Capital. I got involved with digital in the late 90’s, just before the dotcom crash of 2001.
After GE, I joined a VC-backed incubator followed by several leadership roles at PayPal, PayPoint and more recently at the at the Lloyds Banking Group.
I have recently set up The Pacemakers to enable me to work with both Startups and very large businesses. I mentor the first group and I advise the second group on how to build profitable digital offerings to complement their existing activities. I am sector agnostic but I see that I focus a lot of my time on FinTech, payments and financial services.
— Alessandro Hatami (@ahatami) October 26, 2015
What does a digital change agent do?
In my businesses I help organisations understand and (hopefully) benefit from digital change. Every business is different and at the core of each one is a number of hypotheses. I work with each business to understand, refine and sometimes transform these hypotheses into propositions and eventually business plans that can actually be implemented.
As I work with both start-ups and very large firms, I often see myself acting as a bridge between two different ways of doing business – the entrepreneurial, creative and bold world of the start-up and the organised, layered and complex world of the big business.
— Alessandro Hatami (@ahatami) October 28, 2015
What you do sounds like a lot of fun (as well as challenging), do you have different approaches for them (startups versus large businesses) etc?
Working with start-ups is fun because; most of them are led by intelligent, ambitious and fearless individuals that, at some level, aim to change the world.
Working with established firms is enjoyable is a different way. These businesses are big and usually very profitable. This often makes them slower, more complicated, risk-averse and process focussed but I like to work on large, complex propositions that can potentially help very large numbers of customers.
— Alessandro Hatami (@ahatami) October 24, 2015
Mentoring – your top tips?
My approach changes based on the needs of the mentee. In general my preferred approach is to act as a coach, helping them to come to the right solution for their business without being too directive especially if the challenge is strategic.
These are my top four points of advice:
#1 Listen and empathise – Try to understand how a startup got to where it is now. Sometimes coaching is about having someone experienced to act as a sounding board.
#2 Suggest don’t direct– be careful about your tone, it’s their business after all. Advice that is too prescriptive often backfires.
#3 Help to Visualise – help the mentees see the big opportunity while at the the same time help them remain realistic. I find that startups err at the extremes: they either want to boil the ocean or do something that is too niche.
#4 Share Your Experience – The biggest asset of a mentor is their experience. Share it judiciously.
Did / do you have a mentor, if so how did they help you?
I’ve had several: from an insightful Jesuit literature professor at high school, to an extremely pragmatic female Guinean geologist when I was working in West Africa to my sometimes philosophical and painfully principled father. They all left me with something that I will forever carry with me.
— Alessandro Hatami (@ahatami) October 8, 2015
It’s been very exciting. I am fortunate enough to find myself in the middle of the FinTech revolution, where on one side you have the incumbents with their deep pockets, large customer bases and the desire to keep things as they are and on the other side you have the challengers with their desire to change the world with little more than ambition and creativity.
Anything you’d do differently?
I think this answer will surprise some of the people that know me – I sometimes wish that I had followed my gut instincts more. No details please.
What trends are you excited by? What are you investing in / not investing in?
I’m bullish about well-executed social/financial business models – I include P2P, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in these. In general these businesses are about empowering the individual, which is an ongoing trend for digital. Once I believe in the model, then it’s all about execution.
What are the pros and cons of being London based?
Pros: a great concentration of talent, know-how and capital makes it a great place to start a business – especially in the FinTech sector.
Cons: Even though we are better than many other parts of the world, compared to the US the UK is a small market. US start-ups have access to a homogeneous market of close to half a billion people; UK companies don’t because serving EU customers is unnecessarily complex. The Government should push for the Single Digital Market initiative at the EU level if it truly wants the UK to become a digital innovation hub for the world.
Your plans for the future?
Continue creating links between innovators and incumbent players. They could do great things together but they speak different languages. I will continue to try to bring these two different worlds together.
— Sbootcamp FinTech (@sbcFinTech) October 28, 2015
Blogging, who do you follow / like? Who inspires you?
I have my own blog where I mainly talk about FinTech.
In social media I like twitter where intelligence and clarity of thought are immediately transparent. I like the slightly abrasive but fair tweets of Marc Andreessen and Elon Musk. In the FinTech space I like the humour and intelligence of Duena Blomstrom, Brett King and Nektarios Lolios.
How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?
I think the secret of good work/life balance is to decide early on what you really care about and prioritise. I’m married to a very busy professional and we opted for a fair sharing of tasks and not be too bogged down by role stereotypes. And I dare say that it has worked so far – probably in great part because we are blessed by two wonderful daughters.
On the online/offline balance, I like feeling always connected but not always reachable.