Gene Murphy, Bank of Ireland, working in fintech
Gene Murphy, entrepreneur in residence, Bank of Ireland. Image: BOI

Bank vs start-up: What you need to know about working in fintech

27 Apr 2017

With fintech start-ups blossoming everywhere and big financial institutions catching up fast, how will working in fintech change between banks and start-ups? Gene Murphy, entrepreneur in residence at Bank of Ireland, shares his insights.

Fintech Week

When I arrived in Bank of Ireland (BOI) as entrepreneur in residence in 2015, there was no better place to start with some background research than a Wikipedia entry, which highlighted that BOI began in 1783.

I learned that our first modern day competitor arrived on the scene 70 years after we had opened our doors, and that we had paid our first interest on a deposit 81 years after opening 235 or so years ago.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that fintechs these days don’t have the same volume of time to play with in respect of dealing with competition or producing revenue – even if years are converted to weeks – as we did in the 1800s.

When not reading the history of banking in Ireland (which is surprisingly more fascinating than you may think), my role was to work inside the newly formed innovation team at BOI and use what I had learned in the start-up world to the best of my abilities, to see how we could support entrepreneurs, carve out an innovation programme and work with fintech in all its disruptive glory as it played out.

Personally, in this role, I was going to be a little selfish as I had wanted to see if the old phrase, ‘You’re a product of your environment’, could be flipped on its head and instead, see what would happen if we focused on improving the environment. Could we produce better products and have more success with tech start-ups in Ireland?

The comparison with working in start-ups and in a bank is a subject that I think about a lot, but hadn’t formalised in any particular way until the looming deadline for this article was ticking down to zero.

Nurturing start-ups

In my own opinion, I believe that the word ‘start-up’ doesn’t exactly relate to something physical. I don’t see it as a ‘thing’, so to speak, it’s more than that. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking in business that ultimately helps you concentrate on the core problem: create a solution, validate it multiple times and produce a product that provides real value.

Over the past two years, I have worked on programmes to support start-ups across Ireland with our free co-working and event spaces, called Workbenches, to help early-stage entrepreneurs.

I’ve also worked on programmes designed to foster intrapreneurship at BOI to help teach how to identify problems and validate ideas to ensure solutions that have the best opportunity for success.

We’ve even gone so far as to open our first tech incubator programme in Galway last year, one earlier this year in New York and, this summer, our third StartLab – focusing on tech and fintech start-ups – will be opening in Dublin on Camden Street.

Banks vs start-ups

During these past two years, I have had the opportunity to watch and learn how a large 235-year-old company has dealt with the rise of fintech and the impact of digital.

Two years ago, fintech start-ups were discussed as being ready to unbundle banking.

Now, what seems to be more beneficial to all concerned is the area of open innovation, with everyone working together.

Where banks have the ability to distribute product and provide customer service at scale, working with fintech founders who come from a wide range of backgrounds and provide solutions from a completely different perspective seems like a winning combination for success.

Coupled with that, introducing teams made up of design-thinking specialists, developers, data scientists, growth hackers and all manner of other brand new job titles that weren’t the norm in banking, this new genetic code being added into the banking gene pool can only be for the better, in order to create cutting-edge products at scale.

Over the past two years, we have invested in Irish fintech start-ups that have founders with no traditional banking backgrounds per se but, with their own unique skills, they have founded some very exciting fintech companies such as Plynk, the social money messaging app, or Deposify, the tenant and landlord escrow deposit management service.

With their own backgrounds respectively in Facebook and a leading law firm, they spotted opportunities, built solutions, raised funding and now have pretty exciting futures. These new perspectives, skill sets and ways of working are making for an exciting future in banking, in my opinion.

Those who know me will equally know I’m a generalist when it comes to tech start-ups. What I mean by that is, I get to work with lots of tech start-ups in a wide spectrum of sectors, and I like to use that experience to look at the bigger trends that seem to play out in different industries experiencing rapid disruption brought on by tech start-ups.

Working in fintech? You need to network

Another thing people know about me is my belief that a strong network is one of many keys to success. By surrounding yourself with people with wildly different skill sets and areas of expertise, you are surely in a better position in business.

With that in mind, get to know people such as Dave Anderson at Fintech Ireland and Kevin Loaec in Chainsmiths, the work done by the NDRC with their fintech pre-accelerator programme, or the Enterprise Ireland Fintech Competitive Start Fund programme people. The entry points to get to know if fintech is an area for you and your particular set of skills is thankfully very accessible.

‘Roles that never appeared in tech start-ups, let alone banks, have proliferated through our organisation and industry’

I’ve learned just as much, thanks to the BOI innovation team. I get to spend lots of time with great people whose areas of expertise and wonderment include AI, blockchain, AR, VR, fintech, entrepreneurship, design thinking and lots more. We are always on hand to chat about all things, your questions or ideas on fintech and beyond, so please do say hello to us.

Banking has changed, that much is certain. Roles that never appeared in tech start-ups, let alone banks, have proliferated through our organisation and industry.

We’re having really great conversations with existing folks that have tons of experience in banking, new folks from areas I never thought would be the starting point for fintech, and the folks that don’t know what they’ll be doing next, but definitely are people we can help, learn from and work with.

I never thought I’d work at a bank but I love it and I’m looking forward to what happens next.

By Gene Murphy

Gene Murphy is entrepreneur in residence at Bank of Ireland.

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