For any fintech, continuous investment in relationships with investors and customers is vital. Simplicity and flexibility have been integral to Taskize’s approach.
How does a start-up persuade a global industry that it has found a flexible, scalable and reliable solution to a problem that has frustrated practitioners and clients for decades? And how does that firm build momentum for adoption of a utility-based platform, overcoming a preference for proprietary processes and a cautious approach to innovation born of intense regulatory scrutiny?
These are some of the very specific questions that Taskize has faced in convincing banks to use its problem-solving platform to tackle back-office bottlenecks and trade fails. But the answers have a broader resonance for other fintechs looking to apply innovative technology to the challenges presently confronting the finance sector.
The path from innovation through implementation to widespread adoption is unpredictable – especially the timelines and relationships that shape the journey. ‘Be easy to work with’ has proved very useful advice, as simplicity and flexibility are core principles for nurturing relationships with investors and customers. To build and maintain business momentum, you must explain your value proposition, operating model and strategic vision many times; you will also need to understand and adjust to the constraints hampering your most ardent advocates.
Taskize’s relationships with investors and customers define our narrative. If a business is cash generative from the start, you can focus on customers. But when you have a longer, complex route to market, investors are critical. They are not, however, ‘sugar daddies’.
Taskize COO Phil Slavin took around 500 meetings in two years, but our relationship with Euroclear flowed from a highly serendipitous breakfast meeting in March 2014 with no fixed agenda. As a neutral market infrastructure operator with global relationships, Euroclear was an ideal investor for a start-up marketing a utility-type solution to multiple banks.
Although that initial meeting revealed many shared strategic themes, we were still only a priority for one executive in a large, complex organisation. We had to prove ourselves to internal stakeholders over an extended period. The investor agreement was signed in May 2015, after nine months of rigorous due diligence, setting the relationship on solid ground. Nevertheless, large firms do not jeopardise valued commercial relationships by introducing clients to unknown quantities. Having created our own momentum, going live with early adopters in December 2016, we are now rolling out a coordinated engagement programme with Euroclear customers.
Euroclear’s experience and advice was invaluable, as was the credibility their investment lent to our presentations in meetings with banks. Our target clients were tier-one banks that would benefit most from a scalable platform aimed at boosting back-office efficiency and productivity. However, mid-tier and smaller organisations proved quicker to make decisions, onboarding new solutions in shorter timeframes than global behemoths (1-3 months vs 9-12), thus providing us with valuable practical experience in handling larger future clients.
Even when signing up customers with relatively short timelines, we continued to sell our proposition to new stakeholders. Global firms inevitably need more approvals before going ahead with a project, but structure can also play a role. Highly centralised banks may wish to adopt a solution enterprise-wide but can require a supreme coordination effort to get the project off the ground. More federated firms might go live much more quickly, but only in one division, branch or country, requiring you to start from scratch – potentially facing different challenges – to increase users or transactions.
Following our launch, Taskize onboarded dozens of banks in 1H 2017. This was a significant technological challenge, but relationships are just as important. Not only must you maintain close contact with key internal sponsors, you should also be ready to develop new alliances. Sponsors can switch jobs before a project reaches fruition, their peers can identify new uses and users. Moreover, as any product develops, encouragement is needed to extend its utility to the customer. Volumes can only rise if users are aware of a product’s full potential, including new functionality releases.
Having recorded a 115% increase in our number of clients in Q3 2017, Taskize is on track to meet our business plan objective of working with multiple hundreds of banks by the end of Q1 2018. Moreover, our advanced negotiations with tier one firms lend confidence to our expectations of even more widespread deployment of our platform in the near term.
As noted in the previous article, fintechs face some uniquely testing challenges in achieving adoption of innovative solutions in the finance sector: the host environment can seem far from hospitable! But having taken many steps on this same path, I can vouch for the value of investing as much in relationships as in technology.