At Bonova Advisory we interview C-suites and Industry Thought leaders in Banking and Finance. This week , I had the pleasure of interviewing Harsh Sinha, CTO of TransferWise, the company that makes sending, receiving, and spending money abroad as low a cost as possible, oversees technology and growth to its 3+ million users worldwide

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve been an immigrant my entire adult life. I grew up in India and moved to the US for graduate school. This was when the tech industry was still coming out of the dotcom crash and the tech job market was still recovering. I was lucky to score an internship at eBay, which started a long tenure for me at eBay and PayPal. I started out in the performance engineering team, where I learned how to build technology platforms that scale to handle massive traffic. It was great training for a young engineer. Over time, I switched to building global product experiences and helped incubate and expand acquired startups. I joined TransferWise in May 2015 to help scale our technology and our team.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

TransferWise has customers all over the world and I tend to run into them at random places. I once ran into a customer standing in line to board a flight in Germany. She was explaining to her friend how TransferWise was saving her money when she sent euros to the UK. She was so evangelical that she convinced her friend to try us out. Our marketing team would have been very proud of her.

We ended up sitting beside each other on the plane and began talking. Once she learned what I did, she gave me a laundry list of things she wanted us to solve for her — one of which was launching a debit card that she could use across the globe. As luck would have it, earlier this year we launched the borderless account, which lets you to hold 40+ currencies and access the funds via a debit card. It’s always great to meet customers and see how we’re impacting their lives. It’s a constant motivator to get out of bed and keep working to solve real problems.

What do you think makes your company stand out during these disruptive times? Can you share a story?

Building a financially focused tech company requires us to be great at technology and regulatory compliance. Tech companies are usually good at building systems but can struggle working with regulators. Banks historically have been good at compliance and regulation, but have struggled building customer-friendly technology. I’m proud of TransferWise for doing both of these things very well.

The power of our technology comes from building direct integrations with local banking systems in each country. Earlier this year, we became the first non-bank to gain access to the Bank of England’s interbank payment systems, by integrating with the Faster Payment Scheme (FPS). Now our UK customers can send instant payments 24/7.

We also work closely with financial regulators to make laws more customer-friendly. For example, we recently worked with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to change the law that made customers do face-to-face document verification before sending money abroad. They used to have to take their IDs to their local bank branches to get verified; now they can do the entire process online in a few minutes.

Can you share what you believe will be the “Top 5 Fintech and Banking Trends Over The Next 3 Years” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Financial services companies will get Amazon–ed: We will see fintech companies do to banks what Amazon did to the retail industry. Financial services will continue to get cheaper and cheaper until the customer costs will be negligible. This will be accomplished by higher levels of automation — building more intuitive experiences for users and reducing the need to call customer service. We’re already seeing this with robo-advisers, mortgage brokers, and savings and money transfer apps. Your smartphone has become the physical branch you go to to access a plethora of financial services and this trend will continue.
  • Real-time payments in the US will become a reality: Real-time payments will let consumers move money instantly and securely across local bank accounts — moving the US financial system away from the slower and less secure ACH system built in the 1970s.
  • Banking apps without great user experiences will die: Banking user experiences are woefully behind the e-commerce industry. Customers will expect more from their banks and move to products which are more convenient and give them more control. Whether it’s changing the spending limits on your debit card to stick to a budget, or freezing your card when it’s lost, customers will be able to take these actions from their mobile apps — and won’t need to speak to a human.
  • Contactless payments will pick up in the US: The US has lagged behind Europe, Australia and Asia in adopting contactless payments. As the US consumer becomes more global and travels more, they’ll expect similar experiences in the US. Card issuers who provide simpler payment experiences will get more customers.
  • Privacy and cybersecurity-related incidents will increase but regulators will push the industry to bridge the gap: We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in data breaches. We are seeing regulators stepping up requirements to protect customer data with GDPR in Europe, the New York DFS cybersecurity ruling, and California’s Consumer Privacy act. These measures are needed to push companies to invest in protecting our valuable information. That said, I urge regulators to seek advice from tech professionals when they make these rules — because some of the regulations can be very out of step with what technology can actually do. This can end up having weird ramifications that ironically leave consumers more vulnerable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I have two:

  • The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. — Mahatma Gandhi
  • Look up to the stars but keep your feet on the ground. — Theodore Roosevelt

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  • Breana Patel

    Founder and CEO Bonova Advisory- Risk and Regulatory Advisory ?

    Founder of Bonova Advisory that specializes in helping companies navigate complex Regulatory, Risk and Operational Environments. Industry expert in Banking Regulations, Enterprise Risk Management and Technology disruptions via RPA, AI and Blockchain. I write on evolving Financial eco systems in this 4th Industrial Revolution