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Home Fintechs Exclusive: Interview with Ian Johnson, Managing Director (Europe) at Marqeta

Exclusive: Interview with Ian Johnson, Managing Director (Europe) at Marqeta

“Making money is fundamentally important. But you can do it differently. We focus on helping our customers to grow because if they grow and they become successful then we are successful as well,” says Managing Director (Europe) at Marqeta

Founded in 2010, Marqeta has re-engineered how payment cards, virtual cards, and mobile authorisation products are developed and deployed. The Marqeta platform, built from the ground up without legacy infrastructure is the world’s first fully-documented, open API issuer processor platform. Adopters include leading financial service businesses, as well as e-commerce, retail, and social media brands.

Ian Johnson, Managing Director (Europe) at Marqeta, has given Everly.eu an exclusive interview in which he shared how the company has managed to build up a strong position in the market, in addition to lots of useful insights on the fintech environment.

As the Managing Director of Europe at Marqeta, Ian leads a rapidly growing team based out of London, bringing the company’s Digital Banking Solution and modern card issuing platform to the next generation of payments innovators. During his time at Marqeta, Ian has worked with Fintechs across Europe such as AplazameTwisto and Yapeal, helping them to quickly build and launch card programmes. Ian has well over a decade of experience in the fintech and digital payments space. Prior to joining Marqeta, Ian was European Commercial Director at WEX.

Could you tell us more about your previous career experiences and how you came to join Marqeta?

When I began my career journey, it’s fair to say that I didn‘t really have a plan to specialise in payments and fintech. I guess I fell into it but have been completely hooked ever since. I joined via a legacy technology outfit and at a time when people were just starting to talk about e-commerce, so quite a while ago.

Nonetheless, it was the beginning of a fascinating journey in payments, which are such an integral part of everything that we do. Ultimately, for any web transaction to work there has to be a payment at the end of it. So for me it was very much an opportunity to be in an industry that will always be relevant and useful. Early on, not long after I started working for Atos, I figured out that the processes between providers and banks were archaic and change was sorely needed.

I stayed at Atos for a long time and enjoyed it (nine years) but then I wanted to learn more about the start-up environment. So I joined a company called Oxygen Finance, which specialised in supply-chain finance. It brought me much closer to the payments process and taught me lots of granular details about the sector and its workings. It certainly helped me achieve the start-up experience I was looking for. But there were pros and cons to that experience. Sometimes it’s perhaps best that you don’t know the things that happen behind the scenes in start-ups (laughs). Especially how close some can get to not being in business anymore! Anyway, at Oxygen, we made a deal with Worldline. And part of that deal was for me to go and work there for a year. But Worldline was a huge company and I once again found myself yearning to be in a position where I could truly influence the process.

I then joined WEX, which was my first experience working for an American company and where we decided to focus our efforts on travel payments. At the time, the travel industry was one of the biggest industries in the world and virtual payments were really taking off, no pun intended. Before that experience, I used to think of cards merely as physical pieces of plastic but I quickly learned about the amazing potential of virtual products.

And then I heard about Marqeta, which I felt would allow me to take advantage of some of the exciting innovation opportunities that were emerging in the payments industry. The rest is history.

In the Fintech industry, there are dozens of minor companies that can get suddenly big anytime. What is your take on that?

I would say there are plenty of innovations and smart ideas coming from lots of different countries. Particularly from the central and eastern European region, which many organisations tend to overlook. That’s why we decided to stick as many pins on the European map as we could. Right now, we’re seeing a wave of new banks and fintechs all around Europe which are really pushing things forward.

And do you believe that every successful start-up is eventually going to become a corporate?

The word corporate often has negative connotations and many people imagine such businesses as very large organisations that don’t move quickly. It doesn’t have to be that way. Take, for instance, companies like Klarna (and indeed Marqeta), which have a very different ethos about how they work with their employees and customers. I firmly believe they will become big organisations but I don’t think they will become the kind of organisations that focus purely on profit like your typical large corporate.

Yes, making money is fundamentally important. It is the only way you can stay in business and serve your customers. But you can do it differently. And you don‘t have to do it the way the huge corporates have been doing it so far. At Marqeta we focus on helping our customers to grow because if they grow and they become successful then we are successful as well.

Could you elaborate on what Marqeta’s core proposition is and what makes you different from your competitors?

We have a modern card issuing platform that is certified by Visa and Mastercard. And we want to make it as easy as possible for customers who want to launch and manage card programmes themselves. What makes us different is our totally modern tech stack and fully-documented open APIs. If you go on our website and provide just your name and email address, you can have instant access to your own private sandbox where you can start to build. And none of this involves commercial conversations with us. You can go straight into the sandbox and start building – and see if your idea will work. If it will then let’s have a conversation about creating a relationship.

Conversely, if you look at traditional banks, one of the biggest challenges they are experiencing is that their services are run on legacy platforms. We wanted to avoid creating a situation where our customers have to be payment card experts or integrate with a legacy system to be able to issue cards. Because they shouldn’t have to – that’s our job. Their job is to build a great product with a great UX that is going to sell.

Now you are rolling out Lending 3.0. How did you come up with this idea?

We are able to use the same technology to service multiple industries and right now companies in the lending industry are really benefiting from the rich data that our platform allows, in terms of enabling informed loan decisions and spending controls. Lenders have realised that if they use a card product and put a virtual card into their app, it works better than many other solutions. For POS lenders, there’s no need for a relationship with the retailer, and consumers are able to get a real-time lending decision and make purchases in the moment at the point of sale. This is just one of the benefits of Lending 3.0.

So this way you are providing the lender with data so they can adjust the credit score? Do you also enrich data that goes through open banking?

That is correct, the lender knows much more about where the loan is being spent. But yes, we are also looking at data enrichment in terms of open banking, something lots of great companies are doing too. Initially, services in the fintech industry were bundled but that tendency is changing. So we view our role as being the best in the industry from an issuing perspective and we bring other services to our customers only in cases where we believe they can add real value for them.

The lending industry is becoming more and more crucial. And lenders need to feel that their risk is being managed effectively. Current lenders have a very different perspective to the lenders of the past. It’s not just a financial instrument.

How does the COVID-19 situation affect you? SMEs were affected by the crisis a lot, how did you deal with that?

SMEs are clearly a vital part of what we do. If smaller businesses were not supported right now then many of them would cease to exist. However, some of the modern lenders have a role to play in terms of helping to support them. From my perspective, earlier this year many fintechs delayed launching programmes, in order to focus on operational matters.

That said, certain challenger banks seemed to be engaged in a bit of a competition around “which one can release the most features”, which may not have been especially useful. It was also unclear whether there was consumer demand for those features. But now fintech companies are taking a steadier approach and focusing on sticking to their business plan and profitability. Many fintechs are SMEs and for those in the lending industry, the question is not whether their business will be relevant during the crisis but when the crisis ends, will they be in a position to take advantage of the new landscape.

And what would you say is the future for Marqeta?

It’s a very exciting one. There’s been a great appreciation for our open APIs and sandbox approach to issuer processing. This gives us the confidence to continue investing in the platform optimising the developer experience.

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Jan Cerny
Jan is an innovation enthusiast and Fintech news reporter. He specializes in news distribution, social media, and content analysis.

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