As part of our spotlight series where we look at the most innovative companies, we headed over to Level 39 to catch up with Ricky Lee. An early member of the Revolut team, Ricky Lee went on to start a fresh new FinTech: Sync. The platform is going from strength to strength having recently won the prestigious Alibaba Group Global Competition at Hong Kong Fintech Week.
Read on as we find out more about Sync. and talk old banking, new banking and the entrepreneurial world.
IL: Can you explain your background and particular areas of interest?
RL: It’s always been product. I’ve always had a love of crafted, beautiful products and that could be in any market; we love phones, clothes, well-crafted brands. It’s all about brands, really.
IL: What prompted you to make the jump from working for old, incumbent banks to branching out on your own?
RL: The big jump was because banks are very slow. At the end of the day we youngsters -I’m not that young anymore, but still young enough- think differently, act differently, interact differently. People at banks didn’t want to see that and when they did see that it was way too late. Working for the big banks was always five steps behind and I didn’t feel part of anything. When you join a start-up you are part of a team, a family and partly why I decided to do my own start-up was that I could develop and design my own team. I’ve always said an incredible product is not made alone; it’s made by an incredible team. And when you’ve got an incredible team it makes that incredible product that will bring users. It’s fact, it’s just life.
IL: Tell us what Sync represents and where you feel there is still that gap in the FinTech market to be filled.
RL: I remember the days when I had a design when php came in, then it was ruby on rails and then other languages. For a while all you heard about was blockchain and now it’s FinTech, so there are trends. But I do think it now it has become too niche. Remember in FinTech you have challenger banks, you have wealth management platforms, you have investment platforms, you have p2p, money transforms, mortgage advisers. With challenger banks you’ve got one that does saving, another one that’s good at travel, yet another that’s good at money management, this one that does p2p.
So, this is where Sync comes in; we don’t want to kill those businesses but support them. The clue is in the name – we synchronize all your accounts on one platform. You can money transfer between them, you can pay, you can exchange, hold 32 currencies with us, exchange at almost interbank rate. We do the travel bit, we do the money management bit, we will be doing mortgages and loans. The most important thing is who out there is really challenging the banks? Customer support is not there yet, banks are still good at that; your bank does your mortgage, your loan, your divorce papers (if needed). They give you debit cards, credit cards. If you look for these services from a challenger bank you need seven of them to do what one incumbent bank does.
IL: Is the idea to replicate what a traditional bank does and just do it better?
RL: Look, I’m from Spain. Our banking industry is said to be one of the most advanced; we’ve got incredible companies like BBVA, Santander. They are much larger than banks in the UK or across Europe, so they are very wealthy banks but banks in the UK are incredible. If things go wrong they will apologise whereas banks in Spain don’t say sorry. In Spain the hours are short and they charge you for paying in money, so we are lucky in the UK. However, at Sync we will be able to move quicker than all of them, we are more digitally advanced, we will listen to our users and unfortunately I don’t think banks listen to their customers. Let me give you an example; I had to re-mortgage yesterday and a broker gave me Halifax. I called up Halifax and said that I’d worked for them and introduced a new customer. I said that I wanted to stay with them but the broker was taking me elsewhere and why was the rate being offered going up. They said that they tend to give better deals to new customers. I said I understand, it’s a business but when a customer is saying I’m going to go and I want you to try to keep me and the response is there is nothing we can do, no wonder they are losing customers.
I used to believe that challenger banks would be on top of the banking infrastructure in the UK and Europe but since June I don’t believe that anymore. I now think that challenger banks are the banks of the future and if your kid hears that you are with one of the old banks they will think you are old fashioned and not keeping up with the times.
IL: How does Sync gain traction in a crowded market?
RL: It’s interesting…you never know, you can have a great blogger with a million followers who can easily bring you 200,000 users easily. It’s not about doing TV ads anymore. I think the really new market is watching youtube and mouth to mouth. We have got some incredible marketing campaigns that you will see in time but I’m in favour of organic growth so I’m not looking to have 5m customers in the next year. Everyone is a quality customer, but we just don’t want to cheapen the market by saying, ‘there’s a little problem with Sync so I’m going to move to…’ I think we’ve got a really good card. I think we’ve got a great package. We stand for new energies, biodegradable products. We have an incredible relationship with Mastercard and when you see our card you will understand how different it is. And why has an organisation like Mastercard have allowed us, a little start-up in Canary Wharf London to take that first step? I think it’s for a reason.
IL: What sort of mind-set do you need to step into the entrepreneurial world?
RL: My whole family is entrepreneurially led, especially my dad. I opened my agency when I was 21. I’m just used to it; I’m used to the pressure. Family members say that I cope with stress very well – they usually say I don’t know what stress is. I’ve worked for other companies and for another challenger bank from scratch and I heard on the news the other day that they are going to be worth 10 billion. It’s incredible seeing a challenger bank and young people get to that point. You know who is king at the end of the day – users. And users are screaming for a change. I love this example; I love petrol cars but I got into a Tesla not long ago and I’m thinking this is better than a petrol car. The force, the torque that that car has got and they’re not expensive. You’re taking a step forward to make this world better. We have created these different companies and the world is changing. I’m a big fan of tech advances. Finance is big; it’s more than money, it’s sweat, it’s what you work every day for to get your salary. You want that to be protected, you want that to be well invested. You want to be advised properly about your money. Why pay for financial advisers when your bank can do it, but I don’t think the banks have the people and skills to do these things and when they get the right people, like me, they lose them. We don’t ask for a lot, just a tap on the back to say thank you, but we don’t get that from the big banks.
We would like to warmly thank Ricky Lee for his time and insight with the above interview and also for the fantastic presentations he has given to our groups. For real-business insight, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org to book your company visit.