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Learnings from digital leaders: Building startups in fintech

David Kolb spent 18 years in the banking industry, before moving into the role of CIO at a rising fintech startup. Now he works as a consultant, sharing his extensive experience in leadership, transformation and tech innovation.

Building startups vs transforming banks

As the strongest startup sector in the UK, with more investment funnelled into it than any other industry or vertical, fintechs are the rising stars of the tech industry. So when it comes to technology leadership at a fintech, it’s less about transformation and more about aligning your strategy and then building from scratch, David explains “With an early stage startup it's a completely blank page, so whilst you might end up creating problems in the future, it's quite focused in terms of what you need to achieve. And that’s to build. There’s nothing to transform really, so that’s where the two are different. And while there is a building element to transformation, it’s a different approach altogether.”

The pace of change

In a world where everyone has access to tech and the pace of change is more than it’s ever been before, David is keen to see the CIO role move away from one of a service provider, and move towards a more specialised business professional who is shaping the future of an organisation. He says “CIOs of the past could be order takers, they were less involved in business decisions. They would take a decision and roll it out (waterfall process) but now to move quickly you can’t afford to engage people in that sequential way, you can build things sequentially (like a production line) but you can’t afford to plan it in that way. They need to be coming up with solutions for the business themselves and presenting them in a way that is taking the business forward.”

Embedding good practices and knowing where to invest

So what does good innovative leadership look like to David? We quizzed him on some of the best investments he’s made and some of the bad decisions he sees across the industry. “Look at the processes that are wasting time for you. At HSBC, one of my best investments was to introduce a one-day onboarding process for new starters. It wasn’t a financial investment, just a change in process, but it made a huge difference. Investing in people is always worth the time - give them tools that will help them succeed, and I don’t necessarily mean the latest laptop, help them understand agile techniques or training in new technology.”

In terms of bad investments, David is quick to condemn the practice of bringing in new tech without encouraging behavioural changes first: “Things like robotic process automation I don’t always agree with. It doesn’t encourage behavioural changes, it just encourages you to move the existing process to automatic. Transformation should be broader than this. I also think there is a lot of overselling of AI in the industry, and because people don’t always understand it, there is a tendency to just rely on what suppliers say, rather than questioning it for themselves or planning how you will really use it.”

Advice for future digital leaders

“Find your own voice about what you want to achieve as a leader and stick to that. If you slip off the road, dust yourself off and get back on it.”


This article was written from an interview between Mark Mcnally, CEO of Worth Digital and David Kolb, CIO David Kolb Consultancy. It forms part of our Learnings from Digital Leaders stream. At WORTH we believe that knowledge sharing should be free, enabling and impactful. Want further insight into our thoughts and ideas? Sign up to our newsletter.

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