Wise CTO: ‘For a long time, SMBs’ financial needs were neglected’

9 Dec 2022

Harsh Sinha. Image: Wise

The fintech company’s CTO talks about how digital disruption has helped serve SMBs’ financial needs and how Wise is bracing for the ‘tech winter’.

Harsh Sinha is chief technology officer at global fintech company Wise, which provides money transfer services.

The company, formerly known as TransferWise, had a record-breaking debut on the London Stock Exchange in July 2021 after being valued at £8.75bn.

Wise has reportedly seen an increase in demand from Irish businesses in light of looming exits from KBC and Ulster Bank. Its service for SMBs is used by more than 3,000 businesses across Ireland.

Prior to working at Wise, Sinha held senior roles at PayPal and eBay.

In his current role, he oversees the company’s tech team and leads its tech strategy. However, he told SiliconRepublic.com that Wise doesn’t run like a normal company.

“Since our earliest days, we have given our staff a huge amount of autonomy. They are set goals – such as making our product faster – and given freedom and resources to achieve,” he said.

“Everything I do, and everything the business does, aims to solve Wise’s mission – to create a world in which money has no borders, meaning it moves transparently, conveniently, instantly and eventually, for free across the world.”

‘Digital transformation has greatly changed finance, making the sector far more competitive’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

The ‘tech winter’ is a real challenge and will continue to bring great disruption – and pain – to the IT sector.

At Wise, we are addressing this challenge by having solid fundamentals in place. We are a profitable company, and we operate with discipline. We maintain a really strict focus on what we’re trying to achieve.

It is our mission to create a world in which money has no borders, so that it moves transparently, conveniently, instantly and, eventually, for free. By focusing so clearly on this, we stop ourselves from overstretching or becoming distracted.

We are also investing across our business. Our consumer product is strong. We’re also excited by the growth of Wise Business, which is solving the real international banking problems small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face, and Wise Platform, our partnership offering for banks and larger businesses.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Digital transformation has greatly changed finance, making the sector far more competitive and improving services for consumers.

Once, consumer finance relied on scale and necessitated a strong physical presence through bank branches, for instance.

Digital disruption has changed this, meaning fintechs can specialise and create products and services that are highly competitive and benefit consumers. We’re proud to be a part of this disruption.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

Every business in the sector needs to think hard about how they can be more sustainable. At Wise, we’re committed to getting to what we call ‘emission zero’, ie net zero.

A big part of this is looking at our energy sources – our Tallinn office has switched to clean energy already – and also how things like our cloud infrastructure can be more efficient.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

For a long time, SMBs’ financial needs have been neglected. Banks have found it hard to service them and this has had a real impact.

For instance, we recently commissioned independent research with Censuswide which found that 57pc of Ireland’s SMBs are having their growth stunted by poor banking solutions. Now, fintechs are helping SMBs by providing specialised services that are agile and affordable.

With Wise Business, we’re trying to help by providing international banking services for SMBs. These services allow SMBs to quickly and affordably manage their international finances, whether they’re paying suppliers, getting paid themselves or managing expenses.

International banking services are vital to enabling SMBs to expand abroad. Indeed, our research found that of those Irish SMBs put off from expanding abroad, 16pc are put off by the costs of banks’ international banking services and 11pc by these services’ inconvenience.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing the fintech industry?

We all need to take our security responsibilities seriously. At Wise, we’re extremely thorough and careful when protecting customers’ data from outside threats. In fact, we consider data security a human right. We use similar protections to handling customer data as banks do. Also, our Wise account product requires two-factor authentication to access funds and send payments out.

That said, the security landscape is a fast-evolving one where bad actors are continuously learning new techniques to get access to sensitive information. This requires everyone to be up to date with the latest attack vectors and the technologies and methodologies one can adopt to defend against attacks.

We run a multi-layered approach to security where we architect all our systems with security in mind from the design phase, but we also do regular testing of our defences.

Finally, we employ firms to test our defences as white hat hackers to see if they could find vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors.

Everyone in the sector has a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of security.

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