Founder Interview: Aritra Chakravarty – putting the “fin” back into fintech

Founder Interview: Aritra Chakravarty – putting the “fin” back into fintech

29th March 2019 by Michaela Salomon

A current account, smart budgeting tool and investment manager all in one app; dozens, is creating a fairer banking model, to make saving easier and more rewarding for all.

We sat down with founder Aritra Chakravarty to find out more about the company seeking to change personal finance, forever.

What inspired you to build dozens?

The problem with banks today is that with the amount of data and the amount of deposits they sit on, they have absolutely no incentive to help people save. Their business model is completely reliant on credit; lending people money. The only reason they want depositors is so that they can lend out to more people and make more money. So, after 13 years in banking, I decided to rethink the business model from scratch and make sure that at dozens we are aligned with people wanting to save. Today Project Imagine, the parent of dozens, is not a bank, but licensed as an e-money institution and an investment firm, and as such, is able to offer current accounts as well as investment products to UK customers.

What differentiates dozens from other challengers?

A number of key things. Firstly, it is our ‘spender to saver to investor’ journey, and bringing all of that together in one app. This means consumers won’t need five or seven different apps to navigate day to day spending all the way to the pension pot, they will be able to see it all in one place.

The second differentiator is that we are looking to put the ‘fin’ back into in fintech. We’re not afraid of creating new, innovative financial products, like the 5% per annum fixed interest bonds and more coming down the line. We are also not shying away from the tech; we’ve got our own orchestration layer, we built our own balance engine plus the 800-screen native apps for iOS and AOS, all in less than six months. But we don’t think that’s enough to sustain a competitive advantage. With the financial products however we are confident that we have a genuine advantage that competitors will find hard to emulate.

How have you seen the banking industry develop over the last few years?

I think banking has actually developed a lot in some ways and in other ways, has remained quite the same.

It has developed alongside the evolution of regulation in order to catch up with certain behaviours in banking, so that bankers’ incentives for risk taking do not overpower the safety of customer deposits. With markets constantly moving, these changes signal that banking is an industry that is constantly progressing.

What’s not changed is that fundamentally banks are still a platform for depositors, (people with surplus cash), to meet borrowers, (people who need cash). The tech to run this kind of platform is incredibly important, but has not evolved much and is incredibly difficult to change. So the incumbent banks aren’t able to offer the seamless experience customers have gotten used to elsewhere.

The organisation of banks has also not changed; there are product silos and reporting lines are split by skill sets. As a result, those responsible for customer segments are usually more propositional, so they may talk about the bank’s brand and the offering, but they don’t actually make product decisions, which means that tailoring products to customer needs is incredibly difficult. The kind of decentralized decision-making system most companies aim for is almost turned on its head, and all of the decision making is monopolised at the top, meaning there is only a very limited amount of decisions that can be heard and decided on.

How did your previous career provide the foundation for dozens?

I’ve had quite the haphazard career. I started off in M&A then moved to capital markets. My role was specifically in the equity capital market space, which is where you deal with a lot of entrepreneurs doing IPOs and you see what kind of IPOs sell and what kind of companies you need to build in order to get to that stage. I also traded stocks and issued convertibles, and then I worked in principal M&A, so buying and selling banks for the HSBC group. I then moved to a strategy role, where we had to do a massive clean-up. That was a really good first-hand experience of what not to do when it comes to things like KYC and AML, and really understanding how important regulations are. Finally, I moved into a digital role, creating digital products for services that were only sold offline before, and built a team from scratch to 300 people.

Moving across all of these very different functions, across global financial centres including London, HK and NY as well, gives me a solid understanding of banking, which really helps for what we’re doing right now.

What has been your favourite moment of the dozens journey so far?

Besides the smaller obvious stuff like when you get excited about getting your first team members or an office, I think my first favourite moment was meeting our community members in person. Meeting these people, seeing how committed and excited individuals that were not part of the team were to our cause, without us paying them for their time or involvement, was the first time that it felt almost like the idea got life.

The second big moment, again skipping through the moments when we got the license and the tech started working, was actually seeing a map of our first thousand customers. We made a big commitment to not just focusing on London and Shoreditch, but to go out across the UK. And seeing that we’d managed to get across most corners of the UK, even with the first thousand customers, was really, really cool.

What was the best piece of advice that you received prior to setting up your own business?

Around the time that Nadella took over Microsoft he started a big project around scoring managers on human capital, rather than just scoring them on typical metrics. So how many people they had recruited, how many people they had retained, and how many people they had mentored into senior roles would then determine how valuable they were to the company. We have a pretty particular hiring process at dozens; we don’t look at CVs, we bring people in and have a group chat, and then all of us form a view. What that means is that whilst the intensity starts from the recruitment process; once you’re in you feel like part of a team right away, which creates implicit trust. I’ve spent a lot of time recruiting the right people early on, so that it’s much easier to scale after that. It’s striking just how many corporates, and even startups, miss the point of how valuable people are.

What makes you excited for Monday morning?

Of late it’s been the community and the customer feedback. Reading through what’s come in over the weekend, if I’ve actually managed to stay off the phone over the weekend, then it’s the first thing on Monday morning. That really does excite me, it’s like having a pulse on what people think about your baby and that’s pretty cool.

Where would you like to see dozens in a year’s time?

In a year’s time I would like to be in a place where the business model and the product market fit are proven beyond doubt. A place where there is a reduced dependency on luck, and it’s down to us managing operations, service levels and basic growth initiatives. And hopefully with 50,000 or even 100,000 customers rooting for us.

To find out more, visit the campaign here.

Michaela Salomon

Michaela Salomon

Campaign Support Team

Digital Agency Kent