‘Fintechs like PFS buck the trend when it comes to STEM’

31 Jan 2019

Noel Moran. Image: PFS

Award-winning entrepreneur Noel Moran tells us how Prepaid Financial Services is navigating the choppy waters of Brexit, GDPR and regulation.

Noel Moran is the CEO of Prepaid Financial Services (PFS).

Before founding PFS in 2008, Moran worked with many stalwarts of the banking scene in Ireland and the UK, including Permanent TSB, AIB, Lloyds Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland. He continues to capitalise on the fintech revolution, with expertise in areas including e-wallets and IBAN accounts. PFS has offices in Ireland, the UK and Malta, and is working towards an IPO in 2019.

Last December, European CEO named Moran Entrepreneur of the Year in the Payment Solutions Industry (Western Europe) category. He was recently celebrated by European CEO at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos.

‘It was a hard push to get our first deal for 5,000 cards. Only for that, the business would have been dead in the water from day one. Today, we have issued over 5.14m cards’

Describe your role and what you do.

While this could lead to a broader conversation, I believe the short answer is to define a chief executive and their primary responsibility to leverage possibilities. I think what has been really valuable is finding a way to cut through the noise, assess the fundamentals of a situation and bring it back to basics.

I like to ask, ‘Is this important to the business and will it move us forward?’ Back-pedalling is never a comfortable position, so it is a situation best avoided by making the right decision about moving forward with a potential opportunity, or simply stepping away from it altogether.

In a highly regulated industry, it is also vital to lead by example and nurture the culture we have developed in the company. Our agile approach as a challenger means we are better equipped to quickly adapt and pivot to the needs of our customers, and ensure that change within the sector is both positive and powerful. Sometimes, as a CEO, it is important to take a calculated risk – without putting the business in jeopardy.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Sometimes, it can be a challenge to prioritise your working life when you have four lively offices in three countries.

Like chess, I like to work out what is the most strategic move to take next to direct us towards our goals and help our clients. I like to leave every meeting with everyone being clear on the expectations and best outcome. My PAs in Ireland and the UK do an excellent job of keeping me organised by coordinating my schedule and helping me to avert email overload. I feel fortunate that I get to work alongside my wife, Valerie, and she plays a big role in ensuring I stay on track, even on the busiest of weeks.

As CEO, I find it helpful to apply the Pareto Principle developed by Italian polymath Vilfredo Pareto. Better known as the 80:20 rule, 80pc of success can be attributed to 20pc of the most prioritised workplace activities throughout the day. I would add that it is important to get the balance right as I am involved in a number of areas outside of work, from other aspects of entrepreneurship to mentoring, sport and the arts.

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

Like all fast-growing financial services companies, we are mindful of regulation and the various regulatory jurisdictions that affect us and new regions that interest us.

PFS is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK as an electronic money institution. We passported the e-money licence to enable e-money issuance in the European Economic Area (EEA). We were quick to take steps to handle a post-Brexit world by applying for a licence outside of the UK. Additionally, in the age of GDPR, we are mindful of always following world-class security standards related to data and privacy.

We are well used to operating under a high level of compliance and meeting the demands of European directives.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

We are keen to expand globally by applying for a number of licences in Africa and Asia, namely Angola, the Ivory Coast, Malawi, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. Today in Europe, we are live in 24 countries and our licence allows us to transact in 35 nations. So, we have plenty of room to expand in the EEA.

In 2017, we were excited to have been granted a credit licence. While it is great being a challenger, this will move us a step closer to becoming a bank and a true alternative banking provider. We are eager to explore opportunities to innovate via a range of new and emerging technologies. A number of these have been generated through our €1m PFS FinTech Innovation Fund, where we engaged with schools, SMEs and entrepreneurs to help inspire the products of tomorrow. Watch this space!

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

In terms of office space alone, we have experienced a huge transformation. I started off the business working from the kitchen table of my one-bedroom apartment. How things have changed! Now it is a great story to tell but, like any start-up process, the pain at the beginning was very real. It was a hard push to get our first deal for 5,000 cards. Only for that, the business would have been dead in the water from day one. Today, we have issued over 5.14m cards. The numbers speak for themselves and, thankfully, we have always managed to steer the right course.

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

Knowing what I now know, I would have had more control from the beginning over some of the outsourcing. The lesson I learned was to do as much as possible in-house to save time and money. I would also have applied for a licence from the regulator on day one.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Fintech is constantly evolving and I have also had to evolve with it down through the years.

How do you get the best out of your team?

A series of back-to-back major awards has helped to raise our profile in the international payments industry. I feel it is important for me to acknowledge and appreciate that this was made possible by the hard work put in by each and every employee across our four offices.

I like to give my team the scope to use their expertise to achieve an end result. More than anything, I always want my staff to succeed and, at every turn, I encourage them to innovate to the best of their ability.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

I am pleased to say that fintechs like PFS buck the trend when it comes to STEM. Our percentage of ethnic females versus the total number of female employees is close to 40pc, which we are proud of. Tech-related industries have traditionally embraced neurodiversity and also the LGBT community, as do we.

The Financial Times’ inaugural FT Future 100 UK 2018 list highlighted PFS’ impact in the sector with the qualitative category code ESG, denoting companies seeking to make a positive impact via their environmental, social and governance policies, or promoting diversity or disrupting their industry.

Staying on the STEM theme, there is hopeful news for the future on this front, too, with the global push to encourage more girls to get involved in the area. One of our Junior FinTech winners from our Innovation Fund is an all-girl team whose project has already won a national award. We wish them and all of our teams the very best for the future in their respective careers alongside us.

Who is your role model and why?

I look up to Bill Gates and what he has achieved in terms of business and philanthropy. I like his philosophical attitude and the fact that he has dedicated himself to developing solutions to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing problems, particularly in the developing world.

A quote from Gates reminds me a little of myself as I left school at the age of 17: “I failed in some subjects in exam, but my friend passed in all. Now, he is an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner of Microsoft.”

What books have you read that you would recommend?

While I do not have much time for leisurely reading at the moment, I find that Bill Gates book blog is a treasure trove of top-class reading recommendations for budding entrepreneurs and anyone interested in business.

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

With a track record of profitability, it is important that we do not take our eye off the ball. This is why our own platform and daily reporting tools are important to us so we can see where we are on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis, and have year-on-year comparisons.

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