DueDil Live is a new series that showcases the practitioners of transformation and innovation within the SME financial services market. So far, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of industry leaders as they seek to disrupt this fast-paced industry.
In episode five of the DueDil Live series, COO Denis Dorval welcomes Julie Ashmore, CEO of Rapid Cash at NatWest RBS. Julie and her team are one of a number of pioneering organisations working with DueDil to transform their products and services, enabling them to offer more holistic and flexible solutions as they look to disrupt the finance sector.
Speaking to Julie, we had the opportunity to hear about her role within Rapid Cash and to learn more about how the organisation is working with FinTech such as DueDil to scale and flourish.
Julie, you have an interesting background. Could you please tell us a bit more about how you become CEO of Rapid Cash?
It’s been a 34-year journey. I was originally at NatWest for eight years and then found myself working for the Bibby group where I felt very at home. And while I was there, I set up a business in Poland, which was my first experience of setting up a new business. And that’s how I learned about how business fits together.
It’s fascinating to see how people leading in transformations have rich backgrounds and diverse experience. To transform something you clearly need to have had exposure to many different aspects of business. Does that sound like you?
Definitely. If people asked me to describe myself and my career, I’d say I’ve been a chameleon. I specialise in the finance sector and SMEs but I’ve had a varied career. Moving on from Poland, my first real introduction to FinTech was when I led a global change programme with Bibby. I experienced a big organisation and tech partners coming together to transform a business. And I suddenly realised that I was passionate about tech and how it could ultimately transform the experience for the customers. It’s always been about customers for me.
We love talking about tech here, but tech with a purpose. It has the power to change things. So you have a rich background and expertise in financing particularly with SMEs. Tell us about your journey at Rapid Cash. You joined almost a year ago as CEO, but what was your motivation?
I was working for a competitor and I was intrigued about what a top tier bank was doing creating a FinTech. I felt that finally we could get into a position where a bank could really transform SME lending through tech. A turning point was meeting the owner of our FinTech partner Waddle. I realised they were blending the benefits of the bank’s brand and infrastructure with the entrepreneurial spirit of FinTech.
What's been your journey as CEO of Rapid Cash? I believe you joined just before lockdown?
Yes, about ten weeks. It’s been hard to maintain momentum but we’ve done well and, as a digital business, we switched to home working seamlessly. I’ve been particularly proud of how we’ve helped our customers during this time. We've innovated to help our customers as they adapt to the new way of working and providing new products. This is where our product and tech meant we were able to give these customers a significant increase in their limit in 24 hours.
If there’s one thing digital has really changed it’s speed. So tell us a bit about your mandate at Rapid Cash and how you’ve helped it scale up.
I can’t take full credit, but I was brought in to transform the business from starting up to scaling up. And something we’ve been working on is lack of flexibility in terms of products available and getting access to those products quickly, which has been a major challenge. And we have really transformed that. It seems incredible that businesses are waiting months for banks to make decisions. The process was very burdensome for the customer. But at Rapid Cash we’ve cut that down and we can offer the most flexible solution within 48 hours.
Going back to FinTech, I understand that you've built your own stack and you’re just leveraging the trust and reputation of the NatWest group. Or is there a way that you're leveraging the technical structure of NatWest?
We’ve done our best to protect the innovation from the bank culture, which can mean things take a long time in terms of developing the idea and testing it before going live and failing fast. Within NatWest ventures, we are able to test ideas quickly. So I’ve mentioned Waddle, which is integrated within our family, and we’ve used their tech to create a proposition that offers the customers what they want. We innovate together.
Talk to us about the failing fast idea. It’s clearly important, because you have to take risks, but it’s hard to get people to accept that.
I think it’s important to take the emotion out of it. It’s happened to us with a recent product, which we confidently put live to some test customers. But it wasn’t working. What we did was look at it and made sure we could analyse where it was failing. And we discovered that the core was right, but the elements that were overlapping were too restrictive. Being able to identify whether it was the whole system or just a small issue that is fixable was important so you don’t throw away a good idea. We’re still working on it, but you do have to learn from it and then continue to build.
I think you’ve touched on something very important. The way you build things now needs to be a bit different, and to be able to detect issues without breaking the whole process is important. So tell us what you think are the next steps from here for Rapid Cash?
At the beginning of the year with my mandate I needed to scale the business, so that’s been the biggest priority while looking after our customers. So the questions have been: does the tech work? Can we lend securely? Do customers want what we’ve got? And getting feedback has been important. That, coupled with the challenges and winning the award for innovation, is something we’re proud of.
As we wrap up, how do you see your market five years from now?
I think we’ll see increased flexibility and more products such as Rapid Cash that can offer a working capital solution to customers’ needs for a greater match of the products. And the use of technology will continue to evolve. And also I think we should recognise that a lot of SMEs were forced to innovate this year, so customers will expect the financial sector to do the same, and will be less tolerant of waiting in the future.