Founders Story – How did we get here?
From senior industry executives in finance and investment banking to front-line fintech start-up, how did Open Banking bring together the people that make up Armadillo Financial Technologies?
‘I was recovering from a failure.’
says Mike Ward, Armadillo’s Executive Chairman. ‘After a 20-year career working in, then managing equity markets divisions at major investment banks, I became director of a fast-growing financial services company. I was part of the management team who were invited by the owners to buy them out. Unfortunately, as the closure of the deal approached, the owners had a change of heart and decided not to sell – two years of work and the deal had gone. Not unique and these things will happen, but this was a hard blow.’
‘Subsequently, I was focusing more of my time on angel investing and met a subscription pricing company who were looking for seed capital. Despite my interest, I saw a weakness in how they access customer subscription data and to solve this I researched and suggested Open Banking as a potential solution. The company chose not to take that route, but my interest in Open Banking had been sparked.’
‘It is often the way that chance and circumstance will lead you in new directions. I was struck by the similarities of Open Banking to the seismic changes we had seen in the past 20 years in equity trading. It was clear to me that it offered similar, amazing opportunities, but that this would also come with similar challenges. These challenges we’d overcome before, leading to great value for the industry and I really wanted to get involved in this next chapter of the technology revolution.’
‘I reached out to former colleague Tony Walker, who had an extensive knowledge and understanding of the evolution of FIX protocol and its adoption in equity trading. Interestingly, he had not heard of Open Banking, but I asked him to explore it. After a month of investigation, it turned out that I wasn’t miles off the mark as he confirmed he too saw the similarities between the new world of Open Banking and our experience with electronic trading and FIX protocol in equity markets.’
‘Back then,’ says Tony Walker, Non-Executive Director of Armadillo ‘I was tasked with implementing the electronification of the markets. I found that the adoption of the technology and opportunities was slow. This was understandable, given it was completely new for a lot of people and we were building something that had not been seen before. I learned then that to move forward with dramatically new business ideas you have to begin by focusing on simple, understandable solutions and build gradually on top of that to change attitudes and practices.‘
‘As before, so again with Armadillo and Open Banking. I was involved with other business interests and indeed had just been on Dragon’s Den with one of them, but whilst I’d turned down the Dragons’ advances on that business, I agreed that Mike was right in seeing the next evolution here and wanted to be part of it. We’d made a success of a similar change before and I was ready to do so again.’
With his instinct on Open Banking now backed up by Tony, Mike then turned to finding the people with the talent, drive and skills to round out the initial team and bring these ideas to life.
‘I had previously worked with Richard for several years,’ says Mike ‘growing the Merrill Lynch derivatives business from $300m in 2003 to over $1bn by 2008. Coincidently, he had that week downloaded one of the early marketplace apps which utilised the Open Banking API.’
‘Mike approached me with his initial thoughts about Open Banking.’ adds Richard McCall, CEO of Armadillo. ‘I was impressed with the potential it offered and Mike caught me at the perfect time to get involved. I’d worked in senior roles across the finance industry and I had found that what I really enjoyed was building cool stuff. I wanted to rekindle the kind of passion that makes me want to get stuck in on a Sunday afternoon, solving problems and delivering really elegant solutions. Open Banking, and the team Mike was building looked like it would give me that.’
Mike picks up the story, ‘I worked with Jason during my time at Nomura where he was the CTO for the equity trading business. Nomura’s equity technology was truly world class and by far the best I had worked with during my career in banking. Jason and I had both started our own research into the opportunities in Open Banking. Once we had reconnected over a coffee at Wetherspoons (maybe the first people ever to go to Wetherspoons for a business coffee) we established our shared views on Open Banking, its parallels to electronification of trading and the huge opportunity it provided to transform how individuals made use of their financial data.’
‘Like Tony, I had been part of the electronic trading evolution.’ says Jason Oates, CTO of Armadillo. ‘I’d built the early platforms, and had over the years continued to develop the technology enabling the growth of the electronic businesses across Europe and Asia. I’d already started exploring Open Banking with side projects of mine and when Mike came to me, I realised this was the opportunity to fully bring this to life. This team with their experience would do it properly.’
In February 2019, with the core team of Mike, Richard, Jason and Tony now in place, Armadillo Financial Technologies Ltd was formed.
What has history taught the Armadillo team? That the vision of the future driven by a technology evolution will bring big changes, innovation and great opportunity. These changes, however, will require trust, education and patience for businesses as much as it will do for clients. It will involve overcoming a whole new set of challenges and barriers, both with the technology and the mindset. Who knows where this will lead? The Armadillo team have been here before and succeeded.