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Q and A Anna Bennett

Anna Bennett Q and A blog

Anna Bennett Headshot

Anna Bennett

Head of Partners

Anna Bennett Bio
Anna Bennett has more than 20 years’ experience of working in the technology sector to serve clients across a number of verticals from telcos to banks and FinTechs. Anna has worked for Monitise for the last three years and is Head of Partners, responsible for defining and executing Monitise’s partner strategy, selecting the right mix of partners to provide a coherent and comprehensive suite of solutions for Monitise’s retail banking financial services clients. In her ‘quest to find the best’ Anna has dealt with more than a hundred and fifty FinTechs over the last eighteen months and her work was recognised by Innovate Finance who named Anna on their Women in FinTech Powerlist 2016.

1. Hi Anna, thank you very much for making the time to talk with us today, you have a highly successful career in the tech industry, what inspired you to select IT as your sector of choice?

If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t select IT so much as happily fell into it. Twenty plus years ago, technology wasn’t so integral to our daily lives. I’d been a music scholar and I really had very little to do with technology, apart from typing up essays and a few experiments in C++ programming with my Dad (my role-model geek!). When I decided – after qualifying - that a career in music wasn’t what I wanted, I started to look for other things. I came across a job description – IT Sales – that sounded interesting and training was given, so I went for it and to my delight, I got the job. From the moment I walked through the door, I was enthralled with this new world I’d discovered for myself, fully embracing my geek side and voluntarily putting myself through and passing IBM Systems Centre exams within a year. I never looked back; technology has been an integral part of me ever since.

2. When you were a cloud focused Management Consultant, what were the most common challenges to true cloud adoption, and how did you overcome them?

I started consulting in cloud when it was a cirrus (the highest altitude cloud) type notion and so very little of it was understood, compared to now. So the most challenging thing at the time was helping clients - who’d engaged us to tell them more about how this ‘new cloud thing’ could help with the efficiency of their business operations - understand the concepts that we take for granted today.

Today, I see the challenges to true cloud adoption as legacy systems integration, complex wholescale migration and the resistance upheld by risk and security divisions who don’t necessarily understand the wealth of security now deployed to keep data safe.

In the heavily-regulated Financial Services industry, it has been hardest of all to overcome these issues, but the push from FinTech in delivering services very quickly and having the agility to update and change those services to meet consumer demand has now brought it firmly to the top of the agenda. Risk mitigation is the real key and bodies like the FCA stating last year that they support – and expect – banks moving to cloud-based service delivery has been transformational in changing attitudes.

3. You manage the Monitise FINkit Partner Programme, what is the selection process like? What companies have been introduced over the past 6 months?

The selection process is pretty tough going. We show clients that out of the huge number of FinTechs and Tech companies that we have considered for the programme, only a mere 13% make it through. The main criteria have been, of course, – compliance, relevance (to retail banking), delivery capability (is it something that can be used today?), longevity prospects (including funding), reliability and scalability. These are the sort of factors that, having worked with banks for over a decade, Monitise knows are of key importance.

The Partner Programme has been underway since 2015 and our founding cohort was revealed in November, where we announced 14 partners across a broad range of services who, together with our FINkit platform capabilities, can help our banking clients to deliver the sort of innovation that customers expect, as well as the innovation remedies that the CMA has set for banks to achieve.

4. What have been the main challenges of retail banks’ adoption of FinTech to date, and how have you overcome them?

The main problem that we hear repeated time-after-time from both the banks and the FinTech community is the ‘square peg, round hole’ problem. Essentially a mismatch between the operating models of these big banks who have large legacy technology estates and who operate with caution and FinTechs who are nimble, agile and can utilise all of the latest technology without worrying about their non-archaic infrastructures. Add to that conundrum the problem of getting onto a bank’s approved supplier list, which is nigh-on impossible when you are small. One small FinTech quoted having had a two year due diligence process with a European Retail Bank which nearly broke them, whilst another  now very successful and larger-FinTech experienced a three year on-boarding with a large US Bank, which saw them have to apply for more funding just to complete the process without going bust. This is not how to collaborate!

FINkit not only provides a platform for the integration of these capabilities, allowing banks to consume multiple services from a single integration point, but we’ve also done the background due diligence and selection. Add to that the service capabilities and toolkit within FINkit and you can start to see how banks can now start to consume services as quickly as their own pace allows them to.

5. You have been known to say ‘I love technology, I always have.’ What is exciting you the most in FinTech currently, and what do you think the retail banking UK FinTech landscape will look like in the next 3 years?

I do love technology – you’re quite right. From FinTech to MedTech, it’s a truly fabulous place to have a career and by ‘always’ I mean from the minute I entered the world of work. I’ve been so lucky to have a career in this space, it’s always exciting.

There are many emerging trends in FinTech as you’d expect, with the biggest being RegTech, AI/Machine Learning, the IoT and Blockchain/DLT.

Obviously all of those technologies can and probably will be game-changing for the financial services sector, but my personal area of interest is the IoT, in the capacity that it offers for lifestyle change and making life simpler for us all. This will absolutely result in huge change in how people (and their ‘things’) interact with their bank and financial service providers, yet very little discussion goes on about it within the hallowed walls of banks. I foresee that changing fast and soon; it has to

In terms of what the landscape will look like in 3 years’ time – I think by then we will see a lot more ‘fussy funding’ which is a pattern that started to emerge at the end of last year. Gone are the days where anyone calling themselves a FinTech could expect to have money throw at their door! I think we will also see a few more disruptors take off, but largely that FinTech will settle into a pattern of being collaborators. We’ll have a proven model inside the next three years, with lots of examples of those FinTechs who have seen their business transformed in terms of client acquisition; by forging successful partnerships with banks. To date, these partnerships have been largely stuck in innovation labs. We’re aiming to change that. Banks need it to change and FinTechs need it to change too!

6. You have said that in the future customers will experience ‘ambient banking’, are you seeing real steps towards this in the current banking climate? What do banks need to do to give customers the seamless digital experience they get with other companies, such as Amazon and Uber?

The concept of ambient banking is really that it will merge into everyday activities and cease to be a separate ‘thing’. If banks are to play an ongoing part in their customers lives rather than transition to being ‘dumb pipes’ then they need to work collaboratively with the surrounding technologies that will allow them to remain current and vital and become an integral part of many day-to-day activities that today they are not getting involved in. Travel is perhaps my favourite example of highlighting ambient banking. We all travel more than ever, yet card usage abroad (certainly by UK residents) is not high. What if your bank – like your mobile network - welcomed you to another country as soon as you arrived, told you that your card was clear for use and gave you the current exchange rate. Then offered you free and quick authenticated messaging from your app, the ability to chat to someone and get help immediately. If you lost your card abroad, helping you to get access to emergency cash. Rewarding you for using your card by giving you Avios points or money off a leading local restaurant chain. Notifying you that at your current rate of spending, you’ll be 20% over budget by the time your holiday ends. That’s ambient banking; relevance to what is happening to the customer right now and the delivery of services that help the customer as well as build loyal revenues for the bank. 

7. What advice would you give to anyone looking for a career in financial technology?

If you’re young and just starting out then go and intern for a summer in a bank and see how things work behind the scenes - if you understand the challenges then you can understand how to help and make it better. If you’re wondering how to make that happen – contact the people who regularly provide media commentary on behalf of the bank. Follow them, understand them and appeal to them with a great introductory letter or email, tell them what your aspirations are and how you feel you could learn greatly from the work that they are doing.

I firmly believe that the future of FinTech lies largely, although not solely, in collaborating with banks. How are you going to come up with solutions if you've got no understanding of the problems? Being a retail banking consumer isn't usually enough - you need solid inside banking knowledge. From there, you can go your own entrepreneurial way and set up your own business, or you can go and work with a funded FinTech and get started that way.

And if like me, you've moved on some time ago from your endless summer years, then go and enrol yourself in every webinar, seminar or trade show that you can find – there’s normally something going on every day of the week. Sign up to FinTech newsletters, get yourself on Twitter, on LinkedIn and engage with the community. Once you understand FinTech, you can understand how your particular career background could be applied and what experience you can bring to help solve some of the challenges facing Financial Technology.

Getting and staying informed is really the key in any tech field.

8. Your pioneering activities within the Monitise partner network were recognised by Innovative Finance, who named you in their Women in FinTech Powerlist 2016. How important do you think recognition like this is to the continued growth and success of FinTech?

I think this breaks down into two distinct areas. The Women In FinTech Powerlist aims to highlight and celebrate the role of women in a male-dominated industry. FinTech has a worse record than the rest of the financial and technology sectors for female leadership, with only 8% of top roles being occupied by women. Innovate Finance is committed to addressing this imbalance and I fully support and encourage their work in this area and I’m honoured to be on the list. A lot of work goes into encouraging younger girls into STEM careers and yet they get disenfranchised when they look at their career potential by taking a quick straw poll on women reaching the top. This has to change and lists like the Innovate Finance one give younger women in technology-based careers hope and aspiration for the future, knowing it is possible.

Secondly, recognition within the FinTech industry at a company level is incredibly useful for FinTechs. Nominations, Awards, FinTech delegations to other countries – these are all very important in highlighting your company’s proposition and potential. It also helps in gaining interest from companies (such as banks) that can help grow customer acquisition numbers and in the early stages, in attaining and retaining funding. Good PR can never be underestimated.

9. What’s next in terms of the key pieces of your partner network strategy for 2017?

Firstly, making it real. Lots of companies set up marketplaces and partner programmes, but then the impetus dies and nothing much ends up happening. Not here! We’ve on-boarded some relatively small FinTechs and now we need to show them that this is worth their while by achieving success with our banking clients. We are in advanced discussions with several clients and we’ll be highlighting these wins when they happen.

Secondly, my team and I are keeping an eye to the market, to changing customer whims and behaviour and to changing regulation – all of which dictate how a bank needs to evolve its services.  We have carefully selected our first 14 partners to deliver services that are relevant for the next few years, but we are also busy evaluating new technologies such as AI/Machine Learning, Blockchain/DLT, RegTech and IoT. When any of these look like they can be quickly adopted to solve an existing retail banking problem, we will act swiftly and build the functionality into our partner network. We’re already out there meeting with companies who show huge promise in these areas, so watch this space!

10. If you were to describe your career so far as the title of a novel, what would it be?

Goodness, what a great but tough question; I love literature! I think, as I’ve answered very honestly - and so it’s already apparent - I started my career at ‘Technology for Dummies’. I then traversed through the ‘War and Peace’ years with ‘Great Expectations’, but as a whole, I’ll settle for ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ because to me, technology is exactly that – ever evolving in delivering things that we all previously thought impossible and ‘dream-like’ in vision.

11. If you were to design an app, what would it be and why?

Given that I stand by my word, it would have to be the ultimate ambient banking app, with more than a nod to the IoT as my area of personal interest.

Customers are frustrated by the experiences they get in other areas of technology not resonating with what is deliverable in banking and that needs to change. Banks are still in the ultimate position of trust as those who can deliver this, but that window of trust is closing as people – and in particular, millennials - start to put their trust in anyone who delivers a great and relevant experience. Let’s act now!