An Interview With Jason Hartman
Put people first. The world of finance can be serious, stressful, and so number-focused. Yet, at the end of the day, it is a people business. I enjoy connecting with our customers, partners, and our team. Without the people at our financial institutions and fintechs, we would not be here so remember to put people first.
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As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Althaus.
Jeff has more than 25 years of experience in finance, payments, and technology. He began his career in sales for large tech companies such as Wolters Kluwer and Oracle. In those roles, he worked closely with financial institutions and quickly learned their pain points around automation and digitization. He transitioned for a period into the electronic bill presentment and payments space where he was responsible for building large global teams and driving significant growth. Prior to WireFX, Jeff was part of the executive team at Flywire that focused on cross-border payments. Jeff’s experience building and leading high-performance companies and teams to record-breaking revenues and growth prepared him for the launch of WireFX. WireFX is a Global Payments as a Service fintech startup where Jeff is the founder and serves as President and CEO. WireFX is committed to making global payments more accessible for U.S. financial institutions, fintechs, and payment companies.
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Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career on the sales side of large tech players such as Wolters Kluwer and Oracle. In those positions I worked closely with financial institutions around key areas like compliance, regulation, and legal to help them automate and modernize. I left financial services for a period to lead business operations in the telecom space. When I returned more than a decade later, I realized the industry, to a large extent, had not changed. Financial institutions were still struggling to automate and modernize their digital experiences internally and across their customer base. Most systems were still siloed, using archaic technology, and had a desire for modernization. That is why I am so excited to be leading WireFX as President and CEO. With our launch earlier this year we set out to serve the masses giving banks, credit unions, and fintechs a platform they can leverage to compete on the global payments stage.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
On more than one occasion I found myself referring to banking systems that were used in the 90s, however I am quickly reminded that the industry has consolidated, and the system is now under a new product name or company. Lesson learned is to make sure you have a fellow Gen Xer who can help translate your reference for the others present! :)
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I shared earlier that at WireFX we set out to serve the masses with the launch of our Global
Payments as a Solution (GPaaS) platform. WireFX delivers a simple, end-to-end digital payment experience for financial institutions, fintechs, and their end-customers giving them the same technology and opportunity that a top 10 bank would have. Regional and community banks along with credit unions and even fintechs can benefit from using WireFX to support their customers’ cross-border payment needs.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started what was its WHY, its purpose?
At WireFX our purpose is to change the international payments industry by giving financial institutions and fintechs access to the global banking systems to better compete and perform against the top 10 banks. We are that platform that says: “Don’t lose your customers. Go attract more customers and compete with the big banks.”
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Make sure you have the right strategy.
If a fellow business leader would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
Whether to bootstrap or VC is situational and highly dependent on the business and your goals. Are you trying to accelerate and grow fast? Get your product to market? For WireFX we asked ourselves, “What do we truly need as a business?” It made the most sense for us to bootstrap the company to build the platform, test, and get to market. We are now approaching the crossroads of deciding whether or not to take funding as our next phase. This funding strategy walks hand-in-hand with our valuation strategy.
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
My advice for those looking to get an optimal valuation is to start early. As I alluded to previously, your valuation strategy should align with your funding strategy. Think about your business goals and the steps and phases you will progress through to reach those goals. For WireFX, bootstrapping allowed us to put the lowest cost of valuation on the business in the early stages. As a next step of valuation, we were able to build out technologies, sign new clients and strategic partners. We are now in the stage of rolling out customers and generating revenue that will take us to our next level of valuation.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
For me it begins and ends with that “number one principal”- have the right strategy. If you are at a standstill, it is time to revisit your strategy. When I arrived at a then eight-year-old fintech company the business was successful, but it was flatlining. It was through a revaluation of our strategy that we realized horizontal and vertical opportunities. As a result, we went from a $30 million valuation to a $1 billion valuation in just a few years.
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Be careful in what and when you invest the company’s money. There is an incredible amount of “hype” in the financial industry. The type of hype that makes you feel like you must be a part of it today. Crypto, real-time payments, really exciting things that will absolutely be important. Unfortunately, these things do not happen overnight. You can spend a lot of money chasing something that won’t hit the market for a number of years. In the financial industry it is not just about a great idea. For you to be successful you need to have enough participants sitting on both sides of the transaction.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
First, practice patience. As I shared earlier, the finance industry moves very slowly. I began my career in finance and midcareer, I changed industries. When I returned it was like walking back on to the set of the same television show — little had changed. At WireFX, we are working with financial institutions that are still looking to automate and digitize their processes.
Second, being successful in finance and fintech is not just about a great idea. A great idea will never be more than an idea until you develop your strategy. This leads me to my third point: strive to grow your horizontal and vertical strategies and assure you have built the right technology to support them. At WireFX we specialize in cross-border payments, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking at other verticals or payment types as we scale and grow.
Next, measure your success at a frequency that is motivating and helps the business move forward. In large established companies you look at your quarterly and annual growth, but in the startup world even quarter by quarter is a forever definition of time. At WireFX if we were to measure ourselves day by day then it would be an incredible roller coaster of ups and downs. We start the week by targeting, “What are we going to accomplish this week?” and on Fridays we ask ourselves, “Are we better positioned than we were at the start?” This keeps us nimble, engaged, and continually focused on progress.
Lastly, build a great team. I have been a part of a number of startups, and I have worked with some great people, and we were successful, but the culture here at WireFX is the best. Having the right people helping drive the business creates an amazing culture, camaraderie, and we are all focused on changing the world together.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As I mentioned earlier, the finance industry can be a roller coaster of emotions. If you are fortunate enough to have built a great team, lean on them. In startups I like to think the swim lanes disappear. Yes, you have expertise, but everyone plays the whole field. This means when you need to take time away, do so. Your team will not only support you but will continue to drive the business forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Put people first. The world of finance can be serious, stressful, and so number focused. Yet, at the end of the day it is a people business. I enjoy connecting with our customers, partners, and our team. Without the people at our financial institutions and fintechs, we would not be here so remember to put people first.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.