‘We are seeing more appetite for digital transformation now than ever before’

9 Jun 2020

Louise O'Connell. Image: Iain White/Fennell Photography

Fenergo’s Louise O’Connell discusses her new role, how the company adapted in the wake of Covid-19, and what she’s doing to help unwind.

Louise O’Connell joined Dublin-headquartered fintech firm Fenergo in 2019 as chief customer officer. In this newly created role, she is responsible for client success management, client support, product management, regulation and compliance, and professional services.

O’Connell has a background in both technology and finance, with leadership experience in start-up and large-scale corporate asset finance, financial services, fintech and IT organisations. She holds a degree in applied languages from Dublin City University and a post-graduate diploma in marketing and sales management from Dublin Business School.

‘Like many other businesses facing this global health crisis, we have had to adapt rapidly’

Describe your role and what you do.

My current role is chief customer officer for Fenergo, a leading provider of digital transformation, customer journey and client lifecycle management solutions for banks and financial institutions.

I am the global executive owner and leader of all client-facing functions including customer success, product management, regulatory and anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) compliance, customer support and professional services. As part of my role, I lead Fenergo’s customer success strategy, focused on driving a frictionless customer experience throughout the customer lifecycle, driving long-term measurable value for our customers, maximising customer retention and growing annual recurring revenue.

I also have responsibility for leading product development. Our clients contribute to the solution roadmap, ensuring it meets their exact technology and regulatory requirements. I oversee the smooth running of this programme, while ensuring we are continuously developing and enhancing the core product to add value to existing customers and to expand the target addressable market.

Finally, I am responsible for post-implementation support and enabling our customers to become self-sufficient.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

As I have a global remit, I organise my working week to ensure that I have the right level of engagement and coverage across our customers and teams in Europe, North America and APAC – this often means early mornings, late nights and frequently very full days in between. It’s a tough balancing act.

How I prioritise is pretty straightforward – the customer is my primary focus and I prioritise customer meetings and engagements above all else. After that, I ensure that I am prioritising my teams and driving the right behaviours, activities and engagement to deliver to our customers’ needs and to the overall goals of the business. I also block out time in my diary, daily, to catch up on industry news and a couple of slots each week for planning and more strategic initiatives.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The effects of Covid-19 are clearly very challenging for every business. At Fenergo, the switch to remote working has been seamless, as all of our technology and applications have been in the cloud for several years now and we leverage some of the best collaboration technology to keep us connected. Our systems and technology are also very robust and, other than the absence of face-to-face meetings with clients, we have seen little impact.

Like many other businesses facing this global health crisis, we have had to adapt rapidly, pivoting to a remote selling model while remaining very closely connected to our customers in a remote manner. Critically, we have adapted our product offering to support the growing demand from our customer base for full digital capability.

A great example of how Fenergo is adapting is the recent launch of our remote account offering capability. Many of our banking clients are unable to open physical branches at present, so supporting them with a remote account opening and client onboarding solution, that allows them to rapidly open accounts and process business loan applications without face-to-face interaction, is crucial.

We are seeing more appetite for true digital transformation now than ever before in the wake of Covid-19, and are continually assessing our product and service to better service this rising demand.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Expansion of our product into a broader set of verticals, including commercial and retail banking, asset management, private banking and wealth management. We are also looking at entering adjacent markets, such as insurance.

Partner and channel go-to-market opportunities are also key for us as we scale the business. We have recently added IBM and PwC to our growing roster of partners, which include Capgemini, Accenture, Salesforce, Luxoft, DXC Technology and more.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I spent the first 10 years of my career in technology, and the next 20 in financial services. I was made redundant at the end of 2018 and this allowed me to pause and decide my next move. I decided that I really wanted to move into an established fintech organisation and had always admired the ambition and growth of Fenergo as a global, Irish-run business.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I have made many throughout my career and learned from them all. The few that stand out for me most are:

  1. You can’t do it all yourself – to be successful as a leader, you have to build and empower your team
  2. Trust your gut and don’t try to be someone or something you’re not – if an organisation is highly political and you work in an environment which is not one of mutual support, move on and let your value be felt elsewhere in a culture of mutual respect and support
  3. If you’re running a technical/digital transformation programme, you have to run a business transformation programme in parallel – if you want to deliver true change, people have to be willing to accept change and, as a leader, you have to relentlessly drive it to avoid recreating the past
How do you get the best out of your team?

I always try to understand what motivates each of my team members, as we are all made of different things, to identify people’s strengths and to then put people in the right places to maximise these strengths. I also always try to be open and honest, transparent, firm but fair, and lead by example.

I don’t micro-manage, I let my team get on with it by steering them in the right direction, ensure that I communicate and that they fully understand the strategic goals of the business, that we have regular check-ins individually and as a team, and that we all hold ourselves accountable and learn by our mistakes in a supportive and collaborative manner.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Yes, although I feel it is improving. Fenergo as an organisation is very open, flexible and genuinely embraces diversity. To be more inclusive, I feel that organisations need to raise awareness and proactively support and encourage diversity at all levels, from the top down. Having ambassadors, groups or committees celebrating diversity through company days can be a great way to remind us that what makes us different makes us collectively better.

As a female leader on Fenergo’s C-suite, I also feel a personal responsibility to support the development, coaching and mentoring of our female staff members. Having strong role models definitely helps.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Yes, a female COO I reported to really helped me understand my own value and not be afraid to use my voice. What’s the worst that can happen?

What books have you read that you would recommend?

At the moment, I spend more time reading The Beano with my son than anything of business value! I also try to read anything from Cornflakes boxes to movie subtitles on Netflix to keep up my language skills!

As I am relatively new to being a chief customer officer, I have recently read a couple of interesting books in this space and would recommend Customer Success and The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook (both by Gainsight).

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Time with my son, laughing about things not remotely related to work (turns out The Beano is pretty funny), coffee, yoga or a walk in the fresh air just to clear the mind. Not overdosing on news and media in the current climate also helps.

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