Dit is Leaders in Finance: een podcast waarin ik op zoek ga naar de mensen achter het succes. Ik praat met leiders van nu en later over hun drijfveren, carrière en privéleven. Waarom? Omdat er meer gesproken moet worden in de financiële sector. Leaders in Finance wordt mede mogelijk gemaakt door Interim Valley, FG Lawyers en Bizcuit.
Jeroen: Welkom bij een nieuwe aflevering van Leaders in Finance. Deze week is George Pedra te gast, de CEO en co-founder van Finos. Alhoewel Finos kantoor houdt in Amsterdam, spreekt George geen vloeiend Nederlands en daarom zal dit gesprek in het Engels worden gevoerd. So therefore, this conversation will be in English. Welcome George, to the show!
George: Thank you very much for having me!
Jeroen: Absolutely! As always, great to be in your offices, because you are a guest in my show but I’m a guest at your offices here in Amsterdam. Finos is a Fintech company that focuses on integrity risk. It enables corporations and their compliance departments to securely share verified Know Your Customer data. One of their core products is the so called Finos Integrity Check, which is a means for financial institutions to raise the alarm and warn each other of bad actors that are trying to enter the financial services system. Finos was one of the nominated companies for the Blue Tulip Awards 2020 and in March 2020 they closed a 500k first funding round. George is a Canadian born who has been living in the Netherlands for 13 years. He has had a long career in the trust and corporate services sector, both in Canada as well as in the Netherlands. In terms of education, he holds a BA in Accounting & Finance and an MBA from Cornell University. He is 50 years old in lives near Hilversum. George, I would like to start with asking you, as for now, this podcast is still mainly Dutch-spoken. So it’s a novelty today, we are doing this in English. What made you actually come to the Netherlands?
George: That’s a good question. I was actually invited here for a role as the CEO for a mid-sized trust company at the time. And that came at the back of me doing that MBA with Cornell. So back then, it was really a consulting gig with that company and they said “You and your team did such a good job on it. Why don’t you come over here and head out the technology team and help us with our business?”
Jeroen: Was it an easy decision to actually move?
George: Yeah, it was pretty easy. The choice was any of their offices; they had offices in Asia, in Europe and in the Americas. And since I had already lived in the Americas, I thought “Well, let’s give Europe a try”, and specifically Amsterdam. That was really easy practically, it was a good fit to be in Holland. It was a very practical choice to come to Amsterdam as well as beautiful. So I had come here and checked it out. I hadn’t been here before, but it was gorgeous. I think it helped close the deal as it were. I was here in the spring and it was beautiful weather; it was hot and sunny and I thought “This is great!” Just signing on the line. But no one told me that was the two weeks of summer. It was pretty much those weeks in April and that was it.
Jeroen: Then it was raining afterwards.
George: Rain and grey. But joking aside, it was a smart option.
Jeroen: And were the Netherlands as you expected, apart from the weather?
George: Pretty much, yeah. Everything I had in my mind; my expectations were met. The people, the culture, the lifestyle; it checked all the right boxes in terms of work and life balance. It’s a lot better in that respect compared to Canada or most other large cities. I come from Toronto. It’s funny, when I first went to work from Hilversum to Amsterdam, the choice was made largely because of my experience in Canada. You can commute into the big city and work and live far apart. And back then, it would take me an hour and a half door to door from where I lived in the suburbs of Toronto into my office in Toronto. And here, it was half an hour. So for me, it was a huge improvement in lifestyle and stress. But then, when I told a lot of my colleagues that I drive half an hour, I got a lot of “Really? You live so far away? Oh, my God”. So it’s really funny, the perspective you take and your own point of view will change depending on that. And even now, when I look at a drive of 45 minutes, I’m like “Uh, it’s a little bit long”!
Jeroen: What are the things you miss from Canada apart from family and friends?
George: I miss a regular supply of maple syrup! And I do miss the wider fluctuations in the weather. I do miss an average 30 cm snowfall in the winter and I do miss consistently hot summers. Whereas here, it’s consistently sort of the same. It’s not too cold in the winter, it rarely snows and not terribly hot in the summer as well. With the exception of the past couple of years and probably into the future, unfortunately. But that is the biggest difference.
Jeroen: In the introduction, we spoke about your career in the corporate services sector before. What made you become an entrepreneur?
George: I’ve always had that in me, to be honest, since I was in high school. And that evolved into a lot of entrepreneurial ventures starting at a young age, even into university. It was then that my career took off when I left university, in the corporate world. So whether it’s banks, trust companies, venture capital firms, investment firms, you name it. So it was always there in the back of my mind. And a couple of years ago, the circumstances, the timing; everything lined up perfectly, I thought “I’ve got to do it now”.
Jeroen: Were you nervous about it?
George: Oh yeah. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t nervous!
Jeroen: What were you mostly afraid of?
George: Like every other entrepreneur, not hitting the marks, not making the cut. But my business partner and I, we mitigate a lot of those risks; we research the hell out of everything of course. And we wanted to make sure we didn’t reinvent anything, including good practices and how to run this kind of company. So we didn’t want to make new mistakes, we wanted to leverage other people’s mistakes. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job on that.
Jeroen: So you founded the business together, right? With one other partner?
Jeroen: How did you guys know each other?
George: We actually worked together for a number of years. I actually hired him back in the old days at the company, the first one I worked for here, ATC. So I’ve known him for well over ten years. And that’s the best business partner to have; you know each other very, very well.
Jeroen: And you are in a trust business. At the same time, this industry is getting a lot of attention right now in the last three years, but also the last half year. But it’s a trust business, and I guess also from a trust perspective, to win big clients for your business, they need to trust you. How do you do that as a small business?
George: Luckily for us, we have a solid basis of reputation. We come from the industry, so we understand their plight and what is going on. And also, the trends and challenges facing the industry. I think that credibility helps a lot with trust, especially as now we are selling back into the industry. A lot of times, these businesses, trust companies, they are not all that large. And a lot of them – as we know from our own experience – face a sort of onslaught of consultants coming in trying to sell them basically a solution to everything for a lot of money. And not a lot of them are successful. So we knew all of this coming in and our proposition was built around that; we don’t want to solve problems that aren’t real but also, we don’t want to just come in and charge like crazy and have mega projects. So it’s a more practical way of solving some of their problems. And we know firsthand what they are facing, not just from the business-side of things, but literally from the operational, technology. We could have come from them, literally, from every single office, they all share the same problems.
Jeroen: Could you describe who your current clients are and what they look like? But also, potentially what other clients could they be? Because my guess is that it’s not only in the trust sector, right?
George: We are starting with the trust sector, because we know it really well. So it’s a good point to get a good launch point, to get some traction. But more broadly, it’s a financial services ecosystem market that we’re looking at. And by ecosystem, I mean all the players in the financial space that require this problem to be solved. For example, some lawyers, banks as well. We’re having early discussions right now with a major Dutch bank on this topic as well. Because they all play a part in this pain of not being able to share CDD or Client Due Diligence information. That is essentially what we’re aiming to achieve and we’re starting with this integrity check, which is a critically important one in Holland.
Jeroen: If I’m a banker or another potential customer, what exactly am I buying from you?
George: You’re buying access to a platform that enables you to inform but also be informed of bad actors (in this case with the integrity check) in the ecosystem. So, for example, you can avoid taking on a client that one of your competitors kicked out for integrity risk. And that is huge. So you’re basically buying access to information that can save your bank from somewhat embarrassing acts. If it comes out later, for example, that you took on a client that had integrity risk, up until now, there was no way of effectively sharing that type of compliance information. Most banks and most trust companies – or all, for that matter – will scan publicly available information; the sanction lists and publicly exposed person lists, all of this publicly available information. But while the client is within their walls, they may discover something that leads them to conclude that there is integrity risk with this client. And based on that, they exit or fire; they get rid of this client. Now the client, like you said in your intro, is just out there and goes around knocking on doors trying to find the next bank or the next sucker, essentially. So there is information that each of these financial institutions has within their system that is not being shared which we think should be shared. And then the case of Dutch trust companies has to be shared now by law. So, what we are saying is that together, the financial ecosystem would be stronger by sharing this information about the bad guys so that the bad guys can’t take advantage of the missing gaps, the missing information between the different banks or compliance databases as it were.
Jeroen: I guess your platform becomes worth more and more the more customers are on there? So you need a critical point, I guess?
George: Exactly, yeah. It is a network effect platform. It’s like a fax machine, I always say: Imagine the courage it took to be the person to buy the very first fax machine. Then you have to convince your friend. Then, all of a sudden, it doubles in value. And so on, and so on. So in the beginning, there is a little bit of a steep curve. But most of our clients understand that. They understand that the value will come from time; we have to start now. You can’t get to the future without starting now.
Jeroen: Yeah, I can see that. And I guess if a very large player joins you guys, that also makes a big difference?
Jeroen: There is a lot of data coming in, apart from the legitimacy of the name of that client.
George: It’s the data. It’s being able to share securely and safely with the rest of the community. And with this particular potential partner, it’s also an entry point into a consortium that’s already being formed to adjust this problem. So it’s a strong entry point.
Jeroen: So you have mainly tech people in your team?
George: Correct, yeah.
Jeroen: Can you describe in easy wording what exactly the tech aspects are of all of this?
George: The one easy word that most people these days know is Blockchain. So a foundational part of our technology is Blockchain. We used to talk quite a bit about that up front, but then we stopped that. Because it is – in our view and the tech guys out there won’t like it – just a technology. So first we looked to find the right solution and there are elements of Blockchain that work for this particular problem. But there are others that don’t and for those parts, we really don’t utilize them. We focus on the parts that benefit us.
Jeroen: What element of Blockchain is so crucial for you?
George: The immutability of the transactions, so that if an institution flags a client that they exit it, that record is permanent, essentially. You can’t change it, you can’t dispute it; it’s a fact recorded in the ledger. And also the fact that you search, which is very important because if this bad actor comes to you and you search on the platform for this company, that record of searching is recorded. So there is an immutable record, you can go to the regulators and in the future, you can say “I searched on date x. I did my part and there was nothing there”. One of the other benefits of that platform of course is that example I just gave of “It wasn’t there”, but then the original bank maybe a week later actually flags it. And the current method of phoning, maybe they might call people. You will never know in the future if someone flags that same potential client that you had. Whereas, with our platform, the system will push this information to you, knowing that you had searched for it in the past. And that record is also recorded. So it’s the immutability foremost that is important to us in the Blockchain technology.
Jeroen: We spoke about you being an entrepreneur right now, is that something that you have always thought about when you were young and growing up? Or were your parents entrepreneurs?
George: My parents were blue collar workers and they espoused education and hard work. Which, of course, I fell through. They really didn’t want my sister and I to go into blue collar hard work. And they were Portuguese immigrants, that also added to it. My heritage is Portuguese. They moved independently to Canada, met there, got married. And then they pushed my sister and I towards education. They wanted us to be basically working in an office. Just to get away from working in factories and construction and hard labor. Don’t break your back, break your hands instead. Not in a bad way, but with writing a lot and being on the keyboard.
Jeroen: And education was an important value, what are other values you grew up with that are still important currently?
George: I would say hard work. And I think what has fed me in terms of my success has also been respecting people; having some compassion and empathy. And that has led to a lot of how I made decisions in almost all parts of my career. Whether it’s leadership roles and hiring people, managing people, making decisions, even negotiating with people, whether it’s contracts for labor or now for business, it’s having empathy or the EQ as they call it these days. Understanding where people are coming from.
Jeroen: Why did you go into the financial services sector?
George: That’s a good question. It’s a really funny story. When I was in high school, my first career choice was to be an architect. At my final year in high school, you had to start making course choices that would affect what university degree you would go for. Right at that point in time, there was a recession and I read a piece in the newspaper about how all of these architects are being laid off. And that just scared the crap out of me. I thought “I didn’t know that was possible! You become an architect and you just work forever”. So that kind of spooked me and it made me reflect when I was seventeen or eighteen about “What’s my plan B? What am I going to do next?” And I got some help from the school counselor, of course. All of my courses were in math, science and art, that’s pretty much it. And so, the art and the science were really why I wanted to go into architecture. But then I had to drop out of art and focus on science and mostly math, of course, for my business education. My art teacher was heartbroken. She was actually teary-eyed, because literally two months into my last year of high school I had to drop out of art to make room for business courses. She was not happy.
Jeroen: Do you still have some feeling with the architectural part in your personal life?
George: Yeah, absolutely. That’s where the work and life balance kicks in. I’m not designing buildings, but I do paint and draw and sketch and so on. So I’ve been doing that, more in the past ten years, I think. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve done it more here than I did in Canada, which is a shock. For me, anyway. But it’s all about trying to find that balance.
Jeroen: So you do it only for yourself?
George: I try to. I occasionally show it to people, but it’s reluctantly. I do share it sometimes. I’ll show you some work if you want, but it’s hard on a podcast to show you the work!
Jeroen: It’s difficult, yeah! You haven’t drawn your own logo, right?
Jeroen: Have there been any particular people in your life that have been really important in how your career and how your life has been shaped so far?
George: In my career especially. I’ve reflected on this before coming to this podcast. I was thinking about this and there has been a few people directly. I’m not one to point to or look to superstars or celebrities in terms of being role models. And for me, that’s because there is only one part of what you see and hear from people when you read about them or see them on TV or whatever. So it’s very one-sided and it’s very simple. So I try to avoid looking for celebrities to be heroes and role models. And I try – and I have – especially on the mentoring side. For my career, it’s usually been bosses or mentors that have had a profound impact on how I view the corporate world and my career and my skills and how I interact with people. Early on in my career there was one guy in particular, his name is Peter Doner; I’ll name and shame him, I don’t think he’d mind if he heard this. He’d probably get a kick out of it. We’re good friends still as well. But he was my boss ages ago. I think maybe five or six years after leaving university, so I think it was my second job, to be honest. And there were a couple of things. The very, very first one was the fact that he even hired me. Because on paper, I was not qualified but I applied anyway. On paper I was not qualified and his boss didn’t want to hire me. But I guess he obviously saw something in me and he said “You know what? Let’s take him on!” And then we had a great time, we produced a lot of excellent results and out of that came a friendship that has lasted to this day. His style was always about giving people a shot; the underdog. And based on not just feeling, but also the interpersonal connection that you have when you meet people and so on and also the work ethic. We worked hard but we played hard as well. So that was also important. Some of these things I still carry. I remember that it had a profound impact on me. And you know what? This is how it should be. You should be hired by people that believe in you. And a lot of people just give that lip service; you read about “People matter. Our company’s greatest assets are people”. But most of the times it’s not. It’s truly up to the individual, they can make a huge impact on you, like this guy did. He says “Let’s work hard together, but we’re also respectful and have a good time”. He basically showed me what it should be like to be a boss and I try to do that to this day.
Jeroen: One thing I found very interesting is when you said that you applied for something that you were not qualified for. Why did you do that?
George: Because I wanted the job!
Jeroen: Did you really think you could get it or not at all?
George: A part of me thought I could, if I was given a chance to make my case. The only thing that didn’t qualify me is because when I left university, I left with my bachelor’s degree in the county of finance. And instead of pursuing an accounting designation – in Canada, it was a CA – I chose not to and get right into the workforce and I ended up working for an investment firm. And one of the requirements was “You need to be a qualified CA; a qualified accountant”. And I thought “You know what? I know enough for this job”. Because I didn’t think the job technically needed to have the Chartered Accountant designation. And I convinced them. I said “I know enough about accounting. You can quiz me about it”. But I wasn’t going to be doing tax filings, they had their own accountants for that. The role was as a Financial Analyst, so my qualifications were sufficient. And I convinced them!
Jeroen: You’ve been leading teams; you’re leading a team right now. What’s your way to motivate people?
George: What I’ve always done – and thanks to Peter as well – is believing in them and letting them set their own pace or goals, knowing what the overarching objective is. So giving them room and trust. I always believe in trusting people until I have reason not to. A lot of people start off the opposite direction, where they don’t trust people. But I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. And also, stretch challenges. Also get people to sort of admit what they really can’t do and what is the most challenging part or how much can they potentially do and trying to push them towards that. But in a respectful and fun way, not the way that just breaks them.
Jeroen: When you start your day in the morning, what is the thing that motivates you the most?
George: Early in the morning when I get up, I think it’s just the start of a fresh spring in your day. It’s as simple as that for me. I see every day as a boundless opportunity. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day and I just see the huge opportunity in every day when you wake up, whether it’s sunny or rainy or cloudy; it doesn’t matter. I get up early, just by nature, just optimism.
Jeroen: And you also keep that optimism starting a company. We spoke a little about it earlier, but it’s tough thing, right?
George: Yeah, very tough.
Jeroen: Every entrepreneur will confirm that. But how do you deal with setbacks? Because you must have had many in your jobs, but especially as an entrepreneur?
George: Yeah. I think managing my own expectations from the beginning helps with that. And like I said earlier, doing a lot of research into what the failings were of others, so that I don’t repeat them and the takeaways, the tips. And one thing I kept reading and hearing was to expect a roller-coaster, an emotional roller-coaster and not to get too obsessed with that downturn. Of course, when you do, then it’s just a rabbit hole you may never get out of. And that’s where major depression can probably kick in and worse. So I keep that in mind whenever we have some downturns, some days aren’t the best, I try to remember “Oh, it’s just a downside. There’s going to be an upside. It always happens”. It’s literally a roller-coaster. And anyone that tells you that you’re always on a high is lying. It’s impossible. It’s just a fact of life, you regress back to the main road. Even on high days, you can’t always have high days, you can’t always have low days. You always get back to that steady state. And for us, what is important is that as long as that main is going in an upper trajectory, then we are fine and we’re good. Not to get too cocky when things go great; if we signed on a fantastic client and think that it’s great, that we are going to conquer the world. Of course, we want to, but it’s also realistic to say “As long as we keep moving upwards and forwards and not getting too drowned out or bothered by those downsides that will inevitably come up”.
Jeroen: I think on your website something is already called ‘Finos Global’.
George: Well, you know, it is a global problem. The bad guys don’t only hide in one particular country; they go everywhere!
Jeroen: That’s interesting! And from a perspective, once you’ve felt being an entrepreneur, could you ever work a corporate environment again?
George: That’s a good question. I read a lot about some entrepreneurs that say “I could never ever go back”. And I never say never. I’m not a kind of person that says ‘never’ to anything. I just don’t know. Could I? Sure I could, under the right circumstances and the right opportunity. For me, it’s all about the opportunity, if it’s exciting or interesting. And by this, I mean for example if in a couple of years we are bought out by a big company that wants to pull in our technology into their corporation or has an offering for their clients. It would really depend. It’s not just about the Euro’s, it’s also about the opportunities there to make change as well into further what we’ve built.
Albert van Zadelhoff: George Pedra heeft met Finos wel het interessant thema compliance aan de vork geprikt. Ik heb in mijn private banking praktijk de worsteling gezien met CDD en transaction monitoring. Daarom nu mijn vraag: Is het voorstelbaar dat met superslimme ICT en data mining een klant geen transacties meer hoeft te verklaren want het heeft het systeem al geconcludeerd?
Jeroen: This week it’s from Albert van Zadelhoff, he’s a Senior Manager at Tridos bank, the green bank. He says “George Pedra has a very interesting theme he is working on with his compliance products”. From his own experience, Albert has seen all the challenges with CDD, Customer Due Diligence, as well as transaction monitoring. His question is: Is it possible that with super smart tech and data mining customers would not have to explain certain transaction anymore to their banks because the system has concluded it already for them?
George: I think that even if it’s not available now, there is no reason technology can’t solve these problems with transaction monitoring, which is the focus of that question, I think. Transaction monitoring is more a nuance in the sense that I think the rules are also changing. What is being asked to be monitored, for example. A profile for every company has to be established in terms of expected cash flows. But the problem I have with all of these regulations – all of them – is that it’s based on what’s happening now. And what doesn’t happen enough is to think more like a bad guy. Because I think a lot of the times these problem transactions are not coming from bad guys but the problem transactions end up being caught in the net and it slows down a lot and it costs a lot to the economy, to legitimate businesses and so on. So yes, I think technology can help solve that problem; the transaction monitoring. But it would probably have to rely on a ton of data and also some AI. And that data might be a challenge, because you need to cast a wide net to grab this information. So the company profile, what’s expected, that’s not going to be easily accessible. It’s usually within a bank, for example. And then you have the web of transactions across all of their entities and so on that have to be checked against that. And there’s a lot of human detective work that happens around that. A lot of transaction monitoring tools do exist right now. But I think the gap will always be in trying to outsmart the bad guys. The bad guys are always going to try and find a sneaky way to get past that. You see that in the past when banks introduced rules around Euro or Dollar limits and deposits; 10,000. If you put in more than 10,000, you get flagged. Well, guess what they did? They deposited 9,000. Okay, well if they deposit 9,000 three times or four times, then they flag. Okay, guess what? They just do it less frequently or they go to different assets with the cash. So unfortunately, I think they’re one step ahead of these regulations. And it requires the banks and companies to think more than what is required from a regulatory point of view. They almost have to think like the bad guys. They have to think more creatively in order to jump ahead. And I think AI can play a role in that; trying to find these trends and different patterns in the noise and the data that can help with detecting the bad activity.
Jeroen: Great answer for the listener, I think. But we will hear back from him! One other thing I wanted to ask you that triggered me on your CV is that you had worked on the Cayman Islands. Dutch people have a very stereotypical view, I think, at least the people I know. What was your experience there?
George: It was awesome, it was great. And not for the reasons you would think. It’s not like the movies, other than that it’s beautiful and sunny. So from a lifestyle point of view, it’s great. I left because after a number of years, from my point of view, I didn’t want my career to be stuck, because it’s a really small community and there are only so many career opportunities there. I was there for almost four years, I think. You have to make a choice between basically: I want to line my pockets with as much cash as possible, because there is zero income tax there or enjoy life, leave the island and develop your career and go other places. Which is the path I took. But life there was great, I learned a lot. And when I talk a little bit what people probably expect it to be, it’s going to be movies like The Firm and to this day, when I watch movies and the bad guy talks about wiring money to the Cayman Islands, I just cringe. Because people know it, it’s easy to say. But it’s so not like that. When I was there managing a firm – people are shocked when I tell them that – the regulations there are so strict that even if I as a managing director of a firm there unknowingly accept a bad actor, a criminal of some sort who’s trying to launder money, I’m liable and I can go to jail. Even if I do it unknowingly. So as much work as I did and then someone still snuck in, I could still go to jail. And jail in the Caribbean is not where you want to end up. So it was an eye-opener for a lot of people. In the beginning, yes, it has its origins in not so good activity, but everyone was painted with that. And I could tell you lots of bad stories about that – but that happened way before my time – that I heard about. But when I lived there and worked there, it was all in the open up. And a lot of people think it’s all shady. But then, people also say that about every jurisdiction financial system.
Jeroen: Including the Netherlands, probably.
George: Including the Netherlands! In the US, for example, people don’t realize that Delaware – it’s not a jurisdiction per se – have their own laws and regulations that companies can take advantage of as well. And is that right or wrong? I think it’s a whole other podcast. But I have very strong views about this entire thing, because I think every law and regulation serves a purpose; it’s there for a reason. And this argument of a moral choice between doing something versus the legal choices is a little bit too simplistic, because also as a company, you have a fiduciary duty to your shareholders to do the best for the company. And sometimes, that means making sure that your structure is efficient is the best thing. And you could be liable again, unless they change these laws to say “Well, don’t do that” or “Harmonize taxes”, if it’s tax-driven. Because in the Cayman Islands, a lot of people don’t realize that one big part of the business there has to do with pension assets. A lot of pension funds, if they are not set up in structures that are allowed and permitted in places like the Cayman Islands, a lot of individuals would essentially have their pension assets taxed twice. Once when they earned it and the second time in the pension fund, if it is not in the jurisdiction that it doesn’t tax a pension fund, for example.
Jeroen: As I said in the beginning, we also have a teaser and a pleaser. On the teasing side, I’ve written down that the business of knowing your customer ultimately should not be done by commercial entities like Finos, but should just be done by governments.
George: We’ve heard this several times and we take the view that this kind of work shouldn’t be centrally controlled. It’s pretty scary if all this data is centrally managed. And this is the risk, especially when you’re talking about CDD information and profile information about companies. In a way, intuitively it may sound right for a government to do that, but I think you also don’t want that much concentration of information with any kind of body. We, on the other hand, do not have access to the data, because we use Blockchain it’s decentralized as well. So the information is spread out amongst the participants on our network. We take a stronger view towards decentralization of this data. And it’s not just the CDD world; it can also apply to other parts of government surveillance if you will. Now with people talking about data protection with respect to these apps that can help track and trace with COVID-19, I think it would be probably smarter to use technology like Blockchain to help achieve some better level of security than a central registry where this information resides. I think to have a central registry of information is pretty scary.
Jeroen: On the pleasing side, are there any particular books that have been inspiring for you? Or books you recommend to people?
George: Well, I’m a business books nerd. So I prefer those; that’s usually what I read. Occasionally, I’ll read some fictional books, not only the non-fiction. On the business book side, it’s really just the regular staple stuff like Good to Great. It has been a powerful book to me, especially the top level five leadership. And more practically for my business: The Lean Startup. It helped us a lot with how we should go about building up our business.
Jeroen: Could you give me an example of that? What are particular things you took out of that?
George: From The Lean Startup, the biggest one is just getting out of the building. A quick anecdote, don’t hide behind Excel-sheets building. We hate that. I’m really good at it. I can build an Excel-model for any scenario, for anything. It’s a strong skill that I’m embarrassed to have, because I think it doesn’t reflect reality. You want to get out there and test things. You have an apotheosis, go out there and test it. Get out of the building, that basically is the key take-away from that book. Have an idea and then just do it. Just get out there and do it. It doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands or millions. Five data points already is better than zero. You don’t need five hundred or five thousand. Start small and just do it.
Jeroen: Other books?
George: When I started my career in technology and operations, The Goal was a must-read in university and it kind of stuck with me. It’s a very heavy read. But it’s kind of fun if you’re an operations nerd. And the take-away from there is ‘Cash is King’, no matter what you do. For me, when I was doing operational improvement projects in companies, this book stuck in the back of my mind all the time. Because if you can’t improve cash flow, then why are you improving this process or whatever it is that you are trying to improve? From a fictional point of view, I don’t read a lot of fiction. I usually just watch movies and enjoy my quiet time that way. But when I do pick up a couple of books, things that come to mind in terms of comedy; they are usually funny books. Confederacy of Dunces was an old one that I read a long time ago. It’s based in New Orleans and it’s really, really funny. And recently, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window, I thought that was really a good laugh.
Jeroen: Absolutely funny. Swedish, I guess?
Jeroen: Where do you see Finos in a few years’ time? Is there a strategy, do you want to sell this business at some point or do you want to become global?
George: I’d like our company to go global and expand. Now we are working in Holland, of course. But we already have some projects in the Channel Islands and we’re starting discussions on a global project with their origin in Luxembourg. In a couple of years, I’d like it to be more global; reaching out beyond Europe into the Americas as well in Asia and the financial power centers. And then for our company itself, I’d like to nurture the company and continue to let it grow and see what the final point is. It’s hard to imagine. I look at the data, I know the most likely exit scenario is a corporate acquisition, not the IPOs. I think those are nice for newspaper headlines, but very rare. I think the reality is some sort of corporate acquisition. But even if that isn’t happening, I think there is plenty of room for growth for our company globally.
Jeroen: I was going to say that one thing is for sure: your market is big enough.
George: It’s big enough, yeah!
Jeroen: It’s huge, right?
Jeroen: If you look back at yourself a long time ago or people that start in the financial services industry today, what are things you would recommend? Do you have tips?
George: I wish I had someone to give me these tips when I was younger. I would say two things. Don’t be afraid of change. And by change, I mean anything, including changing jobs, changing companies, changing countries. And the second one is the latter point and that is international experience. Especially in finance, in this world, it is really interconnected financially. You can’t avoid that. I think it’s impossible not to benefit from an international experience, whether it’s somewhere else in Europe or in Asia or North-America. The more diverse experience anyone brings to the tables is not just better for the company but also better for you as an individual to grow. I know that even though my background is Portuguese, moving to Holland also really brought my understanding of other cultures – and other countries as well – and my appreciation for how people attract each other in business because of that. You often develop myopic thinking if you stay within either the same company or the same job or the same country. So I think change is important, not just for your career but also for your life satisfaction. But it’s not in everyone’s DNA and I can appreciate that. I know change scares most people. It’s like a deer caught in the headlights as we say in Canada. You just freeze if there is any kind of threat of change. So most people are okay with just sticking with how things are. But if you have a little bit of an appetite for change, I think you should go for it. Change your job, your responsibility; not just changing your job for the sake of changing your job, but aim for different and varied responsibilities. Start in the front office, go to the back office, go to the middle, go to managing people. And if you are young especially, try and have as much varied experience by the time you hit about thirty. Because then your career will hit a certain trajectory that you probably want to stay on. So up until thirty, you have that luxury in that room to play around and see what you like and try. I think the saddest thing is if there is untapped potential. If a person thinks they belong in a certain role or function and they stay there just because they didn’t challenge themselves to try something different and they could’ve found out that maybe their strength lays somewhere else. And they would have prospered even more, personally and from a career point of view.
Jeroen: You are building a business, which is definitely an intense process, I’m sure. How do you combine that with your personal life?
George: Well, the balance is difficult. But I do try and just chill. From a health point of view and mental. For me, it is just habits and routines. It’s too easy when you run your own business to work 20 hours a day. And I know in some places, in some corners of the world, like with Musk for example; he brags about how he sleeps two hours a day or some ridiculous thing. He sleeps at the office. I don’t think any good can come from that, personally, in the long term. But also for your organization. That’s just bad news waiting to happen. So balance for me is: I get up early, I do my exercise. I try to get the physical part taken care of early in the morning. In the evenings, I just try and disconnect digitally. Less tech a couple of hours before going to bed, so I have a proper night of sleep; as much as I can, still working on that. But I think it takes effort and that’s really what it’s all about. Connecting with family back home, I’m not the best at that. I’m really not, and I try hard. So for me, it’s definitely an area of improvement, as my sister and my parents would say. I need to get on Face-time more often.
Jeroen: I don’t know if they often come to the Netherlands?
George: Not often enough, it’s a big trip. And certainly not these days.
Jeroen: What is the thing you are most proud of in your career so far?
George: I think the number one thing is building the teams that I have built and showing and helping some people – or basically all the people that I work with – find their maximum potential and joy in what they are doing. So really, it’s the people part of what I’ve done that I’m the proudest of. The operational and technical, everyone does that. It’s fun too, of course. But I think I get a lot of joy looking back at some specific cases of people that have accelerated. Again, because I replicated what I said earlier, what Peter did. And I really shine light on potential underdogs when they applied for roles and brought them on, helped them develop their career, coached them, whatever it took. I spent time and money and attention on them and not just looked at them as a producing machine. It’s more the human attraction; that I take a lot of pride in. I’m really, really happy about that.
Jeroen: That’s great to hear. Before I thank you for your time, is there anything I’ve missed or you think I should definitely have mentioned?
George: You covered a lot! No, I can’t think of anything. In these challenging times, it’s kind of cool to see that you are set up here in my office, knowing that you normally do this in the studio but with COVID and the challenges, it’s a pretty cool set up!
Jeroen: Thank you, that’s great to hear. It was lovely to have you on the show, thanks a lot for your time and your openness to talk about all of these different topics. Both from the business as well as a personal perspective. So thanks a lot for that!
George: You are very welcome, my pleasure!
Dit was Leaders in Finance. Elke week weer een nieuwe aflevering, elke week weer een mens achter het succes. Ik vind het belangrijk om te zeggen, deze podcast zou er niet zijn zonder onze partners: Interim Valley, FG Lawyers en Bizcuit.