Spending most of his corporate life in big financial institutions and companies hasn’t prevented Arvind Rao from mingling among start-ups — he now leads one as CTO. In fact, he has found it all quite “charming”. Above all, people remain his primary focus.
“I’ve always wanted to get into fintech and so far, it has validated all the learnings in my early years,” says Arvind. Having 20 years of experience in SME banking within emerging markets, he is no stranger to the process of bettering a small business with best practices gleaned from mature businesses. “That has become very relevant to what I’m doing today.”
“There are things you take for granted when you work in an established company. In small start-ups, management experience is needed in all areas. It is very important to understand the entire business well,” he adds.
Validus Capital, a peer-to-peer lending platform that specialises in crowdfunding business loans from accredited and institutional investors for SMEs, started in 2015 and has provided S$280 million (US$203 million) in funding so far. Arvind, who joined the team in May 2019, feels his years working in the SME banking space has put him in good stead.
“I think the entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of the ins and outs of consumer business grounded my career as a banking technologist. For a business that is so tech-driven like finance and banking, the ability to know what happens on the other side is one of the defining skills I have acquired.” says Arvind.
"People bring technology to life — we are the architects that define what technology ought to deliver"
People drive technology
Despite his title as CTO, Arvind remains focused on people. “People bring technology to life — we are the architects that define what technology ought to deliver,” he states. Even if the inherent purpose of a technology company is to reduce human footprint, Arvind says the core of any company should always be the people. “We use technology to scale the business, but I am very aware that people will ultimately drive innovations in technology.”
With that focus, he has a very clear vision with regards to what he wants in his people. “Attitude is definitely a key value I look for, and the commitment to our common goals must be strong. Other intangibles like hard work, attention to detail, curiosity and team spirit are also important. Complementing all that will be the technical skills to support the objectives. Someone with the right skills but wrong attitude could be counter-productive,” he says.
"There is a lot of talent looking to make the switch to fintech companies where there is buzz and excitement. "
Arvind keeps himself closely aligned to business partners and stakeholders while remaining engaged to core technology skills. “Technology is an enabler in helping us to meet our strategic goals. In the way I lead, I’ve always paid attention to detail. I live by example, and expect that every member of the team does the same.”
Using centres of excellence to build innovation
To a start-up like Validus Capital, finding the best talent is critical. “We want quality professionals because the number of people we can have is limited, unlike in big companies,” says Arvind. To him, the best way to organise the company is to build centres of excellence where the talent is located.
“Our challenge is to identify where these centres of excellence should be, and subsequently drive the innovation across all markets,” he says.
Finding talent in Asia, he says, is not difficult. “There is a lot of talent looking to make the switch to fintech companies where there is buzz and excitement. There is a strong work ethic here and this is complemented by skills.”
While the buzz around the fintech industry continues, Arvind remains focused on core traditional values in his team because ultimately, human capital is what moves the technology and the company ahead.