“Ask why until it feels awkward, and then ask once more”: Interview with Mambu’s CEO Eugene Danilkis

The banking system is changing. With many challenger banks opening across Europe, traditional high-street banks are being forced to digitalise, and more and more customers expect a forward thinking banking service. 

In this context, Mambu was born, as one of the world’s only true SaaS banking platforms. Mambu is currently used by some of the world’s most innovative financial services to become more agile, including N26, new10 and OakNorth, and has +2 million end customers.

We thought it was about time we spoke to Eugene Danilkis, CEO and co-founder of Mambu, about consumer-focused fintech solutions, working with N26, his words of advice for young fintech startups, and his predictions for the industry.

Hi Eugene, thank you for joining us! To get going, can you tell us how you started Mambu?

I studied Computer Science, and started my career working as a software engineer on control software for the international space station. In reality I wanted to combine my interests in technology with those of business, design and social behaviour. I was drawn to a degree in Human Computer Interactions at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which is a multidisciplinary qualification at the intersection of the fields of technology, design, psychology and business.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this put me on the path toward fintech and Mambu. I met my Mambu co-founders while working on a degree-related project  –  investigating how modern technology can help financial services access hard to reach markets. Through our work we found a gap in the market. Legacy approaches to building banking technology were too expensive, slow and cumbersome to help financial institutions serve individuals and micro, small and medium enterprises (who were poorly served by the existing backing infrastructure).

At the same time, cloud technology was disrupting industries, with internet and smartphone penetration becoming the norm, even in remote regions. The SaaS model was disrupting the respective CRM & ERP markets. Our idea was to bring lending and banking technology into the 21st century via the cloud, making core banking capabilities accessible to projects of any size and flexible enough for any market opportunity.

What makes Mambu truly unique?

Mambu is a cloud banking platform, the only pure Software-as-a-Service (Saas) platform in the market. We consider ourselves the lean, agile, cloud-first alternative to traditional core banking systems.

With Mambu, implementation happens in months, integration takes minutes and updates happen constantly. This is your foundation for actual agility. From day one, the platform supports lending, deposits, current accounts, transactions and accounting in an actually agile way, with a fully-exposed API.

That’s what differentiates us – through our platform customers can design and launch products themselves quickly, scale easily and do it with a small team. We enable our customers to take an agile, cost-effective, digital-first approach to bringing their lending and banking products to market. Today our technology powers over 6000 banking and lending products serving over 20 million end customers in over 50 countries.

You’ve spoken before about the ‘Fintech era’, and it being less about finance + tech, and more about building better customer-centric services. Can you tell us more?

We are living in the fast-paced fintech era. The world has shifted to customer-focused banking and lending. Customers are accustomed to intuitive, savvy services from Amazon and Netflix, so now they are looking at their banks with new eyes. They are demanding better experiences and starting to expect that from their financial institutions. Banks and financial institutions have no excuse for not delivering these types of services as the technology exists. Fintechs are swooping in and gathering more customers through the access to data insights to personalise offerings and the ability to scale. The customer experience has become tech-enabled – fintechs are offering superior and cheaper experiences. We see it as a dynamic, changing world and a shift in the ecosystem. It’s about putting the customer at the start of the conversation and solving for their needs using the technology that’s available at that point in time – which constantly keeps changing. 

Can you tell us more about what you’ve done with N26?

We partnered with N26 to help them transition from newly-launched single-market entity to Europe’s first pan-regional mobile bank. It originally launched in Germany in 2015 and leveraged off the banking licence of another company for a quick entry to the market. But they had big ambitions to expand to the whole of Europe. When they were granted their own banking license, we helped them make the transition to cloud where they had full ownership and control of their own tech stack, products on their journey to become Europe’s first fully digital bank. They have grown to over 5 million customers in Europe – and it was done on Mambu – a single, global platform, which requires little technical localization for new markets, to aid expansion.

What do you predict for fintech in the next 5-10 years?

Aside from the drive to offer a more customer centric and personalised service, we see collaboration between fintechs being more popular. This is the power shift in the market, with a realisation that just technology collaborations or “bank-led” collaborations are not enough. There has to be alignment from strategy through to value realisation in the entire ecosystem for collaborative models to work. As this develops the support to the customer experience and the ability to deliver better products faster at a lower cost will be key.

Flexibility in terms of a composable business architecture is also growing. This is how the market will deliver a framework for collaboration in order to support customer-centricity. We also call it ‘composable banking’ which refers to the quick and flexible assembly of independent systems. Having an architecture where everyone is “the best” at what they do, but with an easy integration that allows banks to build solutions and products for an unknown future is going to be a big differentiator.

In a cloud-based world, privacy and data protection are common concerns of customers. How does Mambu take on this topic?

We take information security very seriously as our customers, mostly banks, operate in a highly regulated environment. We set out to and obtained our ISO/IEC 27001 certification across all our office locations globally. We also took additional efforts to compile a SOC 1 assurance report that covers all our internal controls that affect our customers’ financial statements, across all Mambu locations. In order to satisfy customer requirements related to security and compliance, we’re steadily increasing the capacity of our Security, Compliance, and Engineering teams. This means performing more reviews of internal security and compliance along with facilitating customer audits.

This means performing more reviews and real world scenario testing along with facilitating audits with customers and partners.

What keeps you motivated when working on Mambu?

I love to create something that hasn’t existed before and do it in a lasting way. This applies to creating technology platforms which solves a big and challenging problem in the market but also to make sure that it can have a long lasting impact. Creating that lasting impact is the big exciting challenge since it means we have to make sure everything we create from culture, to communications, to technology choices is able to evolve as we grow, as complexity increases and as the market changes.  

In 10 years from now, I’d measure success in how many people we helped to create better banking experiences for, how much our customers value us as their partners and how much our own employees feel valued within what they do and what they personally get out of the time they put in with us.

What advice would you give to all the fintech founders out there?

While fintech in general is fast moving, the market, especially in B2B, may not be so quick to adopt. So if you are getting into the business, know that you are signing up for a marathon, not a sprint. It is relatively easy to build a new basic product but financial services is a complex environment. You have to work on building credibility through working closely with initial customers, and show the market the value you can bring through successful projects. This generally is a risk averse environment that needs assurances and references but it does contain innovators who can become your close partners in the early days and be key references for you as you move through the technology adoption curve. The key is to pace yourself, your business and your spend to how fast the market can adopt your solution. Sometimes you can drive that demand, other times you have to evangelize to build it up.

Building a fintech company, like most new businesses, is a journey of endurance and resilience. Build on what works, understand the value clients are looking for and differentiate based on this. Listen but listen deeply to their needs, and not their specific asks and requests, and ask why until it feels awkward – and then ask once more. Then you’ll really start to understand what’s going on.

You have to continue to invest in this perspective to find those earlier adopters who let you build customer success stories you can bring to your next opportunity. Take it one step at a time while sticking to your vision and values.

Take the time to find and onboard the right people in the right roles. Being able to rapidly find, onboard and empower the right people in the right roles around the world to support our clients and growth is quite difficult. But as cliché as it sounds, great people make a culture which makes a great business. The investment in time and energy to get the right people pays off many times over.

Lastly, remember that despite what is said, only a small fraction of your success or failure is actually attributable to you. You can make decisions about strategy, you can focus on execution but we’re all playing in a rapidly changing market with so many forces outside of our control: so if you can navigate those and luck aligns behind, you’ll be successful.

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