Building a customer base from the ground up and shaping the direction of a brand-new business is...
A conversation with Simon Hargraves
All companies are technology companies these days, so thriving means delivering technology improvements before your competitors. P^werFinance Chief Technology Officer Simon Hargraves discusses how he utilises technology to drive better customer experiences, making efficient use of resources to deliver product enhancements, and what it’s like working on the tech side of a fin-tech startup.
Tell me about your role, and what your day-to-day looks like?
A large and key part of my role is to work with P^werFinance leadership team, shaping the vision for the overarching company objective and ensuring our technology goals and delivery align to achieve that.
Outside of meetings and planning sessions, I work with our team to better delivery processes and brainstorm ideas to improve our platform.
How does what you do help P^werFinance achieve its goals?
My job is to ensure the technology we use doesn’t just keep the lights on and the business ticking over, but drives the company forward by enabling and attracting the right people and doing more for our customers.
In particular, we want to help our customers grow and get ahead in their own businesses, by creating a future of finance platform that brings catered customer experiences to the forefront. Finance traditionally has a very one-size-fits-all mentality, and we want to change that by allowing customers to tailor their own financial products and making our platform as seamless and easy to use as possible.
Putting the customer journey at the core of our business means we need the latest and most relevant technology, which is where I and my team come in. The key thing is to make sure we are working to solve the right problems for our customers.
When you’re designing P^werFinance’s platforms, what things are at the top of your mind?
Simplicity, quality and speed are the core principles I strive for. A lot of it comes back to using resources efficiently. With the advancements in cloud and modern technology removing much of the overhead needed to operate a platform, we can allocate all our resources to deliver results for our customers.
Before joining, did you have a strong understanding of the New Zealand financial sector or has that been built through your time working for P^werFinance?
No, I didn’t have a strong understanding of finance as an industry, but P^werFinance has really amazing talent, and working here has helped me learn a lot about the sector. I’m in awe of the industry experience across the rest of the team, which has been instrumental inbuilding and enhancing our platform, and has also made having conversations about finance a much more interesting experience!
Why did you want to work for P^werFinance – isn’t it very different from anything you’ve done before?
My family and I moved back from London at the end of last year, where I had previously been the Director of Technology for Betway, a first-class sports betting service. On a personal level I was keen to explore new industries and given the growth and innovation opportunities within the sector, finance was high on my list.
When I got the opportunity to speak with Dave and the senior team at P^werFinance I was extremely impressed with the calibre of people but also the exciting challenge presented by the vision and long term goals of the company. While very different to my last organisation, there were several parallels to my own experience, particularly in supporting compliance statures and meeting regulation requirements.
In the end, it was not a hard decision to join the team.
Was it challenging understanding the P^werFinance proposition and planning for the technological needs of a start-up? Can you share examples of some of the challenges?
The proposition was complex but understandable – enabling businesses to offer their own finance. For me, the initial challenge was coming in without experience in finance, and on any large-scale project it can be very difficult to know where to start.
The key was to break things down as small as possible. When you take this approach you can afford a level of trial and error, finding what solution works for different parts of the platform – and the many that don’t!
Any organisation will make mistakes and missteps – especially in startup mode – but it’s a lot easier to change direction when you are moving forward and have some momentum. We just need to make sure we learn and improve every time we make a mistake.
It’s also worth mentioning how critical culture is for a startup like this. There are naturally going to be hurdles and setbacks when building something completely new. Finding the right people and maintaining a hard-working and cohesive team culture is the only way for a startup to thrive and achieve its goal.
What’s different about what P^werFinance is doing with technology – and does it symbolise a growing trend?
I think a major technology trend is towards simplification which is leading to a much more efficient use of resources. Cloud and serverless computing take away a huge amount of effort involved in maintaining infrastructure and complexity, allowing developers to spend much more of their time delivering value.
Volumes of real-time data and analytics are becoming more available to businesses. With the customer experience at the very heart of our business, utuilisng this data will help us create tailored financial solutions, separating us from the pack by never settling for just one stand-alone solutio.
How has your previous experience shaped what you are doing now?
I had 12 years in my previous role at a startup in London which grew over time to thousands of employees globally, so I have a lot of experience working in a fast-growing technology company all the way through to a large-scale organisation. I think that experience lends itself to the massive challenge that P^werFinance has set.
In my time in the UK, I also had the opportunity to complete my Masters in Software Engineering at Oxford University, building my understanding of how to implement innovative software solutions.
What key lessons have you learnt in your career – or since joining P^werFinance?
While every organisation, objective and challenge are unique, there are four key principles I’ve picked up throughout my career. These include:
- Lean principles – Keep the focus on activities that add value to the company and its customers
- Aim for perfection – More testing and refining done at the beginning results in less work in the long run
- Keep things simple – The more complicated we make things the more maintenance and overhead there will be
- Understand the customer – Focus on understanding the customer to make sure we are solving the right problems and use data to make sure our solutions are having the right impact
How would you describe your team?
Honestly, the team are excellent. Talented, hardworking and motivated to constantly learn and improve. The team is the company’s greatest strength, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to take this professional journey with.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your work and life at P^werFinance?
I think the thing I’ve enjoyed the most so far is the focus that the company has on building a high-performance culture. People are put before anything else, which not only makes for a great quality of life within the office but leads to empowered teams that continuously improve over time.
The key challenge now will be to keep that going as the company grows.
What are you focused on for the next 12 months?
P^werFinance has a huge vision and some extremely lofty goals. To achieve these goals, we are going to have to grow very quickly to deliver a plethora of product enhancements. Bringing the right people on board, both from a skillset and culture perspective, is going to be paramount in the coming months.