Steve Findlay - from Fidelity's tech buy-out fund to fintech founder
Steve trained as a Chartered Accountant before spending 12 years investing and advising in technology VC and mid-market private equity.
Steve trained as a Chartered Accountant before spending 12 years investing and advising in technology VC and mid-market private equity – ultimately ending as Partner at Fidelity Equity Partners - co-founding Fidelity’s inaugural technology buy-out fund. He left in 2012 – taking a year out to learn coding and programme building before establishing a number of fintech businesses. These include: BondMason - using technology and old fashioned financial understanding to enable investors to access returns from loans secured against UK property from a broad range of lending partners (including some peer to peer); AAA Reserve Currency – a stablecoin applying investment management approaches to the crypto currency space – the first cryptocurrency to be signed off by a regulator in Europe; and most recently HODL Earth - an Ethereum-based app, gamifying and contextualising decentralised blockchain technology and transactions using cryptocurrencies.
Can you tell us about BondMason - where did the idea come from?
I had been investing across peer to peer lending platforms for a while, and experienced a good set of returns but recognised that it took significant time and effort to manage a diversified portfolio. Furthermore, there was a significant range in quality amongst the peer to peer lending platforms; as well as a fragmented property bridge finance market. Bringing these threads together, we built BondMason in 2014, to enable clients to easily access returns from a curated set of lending partners and loans.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Our biggest challenge has been matching the growth of the investor base with the growth of the loan opportunities. We’ve essentially built a two-sided marketplace. Building an investor base with a new brand is difficult – our clients, quite rightly, need to be able to trust us to be careful custodians of their hard earned money. It takes time and track record to build this trust. However, now that we are entering our 4th year of consistent track record, this challenge is getting easier.
What’s the best thing about working in the areas of fintech that you do?
Without doubt, the best thing about BondMason is the team. We have a strong flexible working culture – which means half of the team are working parents, working 9:30-2:30, 3-5 days a week – to fit in around their childcare needs. This ‘returnship’ ethos has enabled us to benefit from the efforts of talented, dedicated and experienced individuals; which we otherwise would be unlikely to be able to access as a smaller company. The average age of the team is over 40 years, and many have had successful careers in the city – the team prioritises a good work-life balance (working to live; rather than living to work) – this makes the office an enjoyable place to work, and hopefully this comes through in our communications with clients.
What skills from your previous life in PE do you find you rely on now?
Being able to focus a wide range of challenges at the same time is critical to running a growing company – one moment you're making a key hire for the team or raising VC funding; the next you are ordering paper for the printer! Knowing what to prioritise, and how to delegate, is the biggest challenge as a lack of time is the major limiting factor.
I can see you have hired an interesting mix of people since you started – some from the City – others from outside. What has been most important to you in these hiring decisions?
The most important aspect, without doubt, is cultural fit. There are no shortage of skilled workers; however, it is critical they fit into the existing team ethos. One bad hire can make a significant impact on the entire team. We look for people that are similar in mindset to the existing team: valuing a work-life balance, and at the same time are diligent and hard working.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about moving into the FinTech space.
If you are looking to start something, then do something you are genuinely interested in or enjoy. You will need to be the biggest advocate for your product or service, and it is critical this comes through when talking to prospective customers and new hires.
In 60 seconds – what do you think are the big trends in your industry in the next 12-24 months?
The biggest consideration on the horizon from an economic perspective is the impact of Brexit. Whether you view it as a good thing or a bad thing, it will certainly lead to opportunity. And for any growing business, fresh opportunities should be viewed as a positive – smaller business should be able to react faster and move quicker than large organisations which may be constrained by legacy business.
From a technology perspective, blockchain technology will begin to find its way into financial processes and methods. This may not be consumer facing, but should start to create a shift in terms of efficiencies and lower costs, which will ultimately benefit the end user.