An Interview With David Curtis
We sat down with David Curtis to discuss his experience moving from Financial Services into FinTech. From working at Blackrock to joining the Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management team as the ‘Head of UK Institutional Business’ for 16 years, David has made the recent move to BondIT as the ‘Head of Global Client Business’.
BondIT is a Series B company founded in 2012 who provide portfolio construction technology and AI-driven credit analysis for fixed income. BondIT’s scalable technology platform leverages machine learning and data science techniques to provide optimized portfolios and analysis without sacrificing flexibility. 85% of AI fails and if you look at the reason why its fails, it is because most computer scientists are working in isolation. BondIT operate in the overlap of the Venn diagram where they combine fixed income portfolio managers, data scientists and technologists to work together. You need both: context and computation.
David Curtis, Head of Global Client Business at BondIT, oversees just about everything commercial in the organization. From how they attract new clients and relationship building to commercialisation strategy, product strategy and pricing.
Why move from Financial Services into FinTech?
David initially learned about BondIT from one of Goldman Sachs’ technologists. He pointed out that, while Goldman was very strong in technology, particularly in asset management, this Israeli scale-up was 3-5 years ahead of them. He was astounded by how a relatively small firm of 50 people could have developed more advanced technology than a company of 40,000.
Because of COVID-19, David was forced to pause working activities from his office space at Goldman Sachs and work from home for a year and a half. During this time, he realised how much he was capable of outside the organization. This realisation made him less apprehensive of the transition to a smaller enterprise and just simply doing what he does exceptionally well with less infrastructure. David is doubtful if he would have discovered that without COVID, or at least not as quickly.
His observations about the working behaviours between BondIt and Goldman Sachs was that they were very similar in both companies. Employees are hard working and intelligent people whilst also being very commercial. When David spoke with his mentor before making the transition, he advised him not to limit himself. Simply speak up. David became involved in as many activities as he could at BondIT when he started. The initiative to express ideas and opinions was warmly welcomed, as the business was interested in hearing about other people’s perspectives and valued the contribution.
After moving to a FinTech, David experienced how easy it was to do everything. Tasks were bring completed more quickly and efficiently which was thrilling.
“Yes, you must bring people along with you on the journey, and there will be obstacles and prioritisation, but it is so much faster than the old bank.”
Were there any reservations about the transition?
There were some reservations but close to none. The reservations that did prevail were ones which exist in all job transitions.
Questions that David asked himself include:
- Would the culture of the firm suit me?
- Are the other employees smart and productive?
- Will I enjoy working with my colleagues?
In relation to compensation, a common reservation for people considering moving from a large bank to a scale-up is in regards to the decrease in salary. He stated that participation in growth increases whilst fixed salary decreases. David had always been incentivized to perform, so he reasoned that it might not be all that different.
What is the biggest surprise about working for a FinTech?
Before starting his position at BondIT, he knew that technology had an unbelievably profound potential for change. The biggest surprise was that the potential was even bigger than he had ever imagined.
“The power of technology has yet to be explored. We are just touching the surface of the true potential it brings. A revolutionary change is coming through profound disruption and the technology is already here to achieve this. It just needs to be tapped into.”
What’s the biggest challenge?
Prioritisation and effective resource allocation. In conjunction with the sequence in which resources are allocated, these 2 are the most major challenges for the company. There are numerous things the business could be doing right now, but how do you decide which one to accomplish first? That’s the hardest decision. In terms of knowing what to prioritise, he stated:
“Sometimes we have to tip toe to see where success is and then lean into that success.”
This is a more effective process than being so certain and diving straight into something. Technology leads to surprising outcomes and opportunities because it’s implicitly new.
There are a lot of similar challenges in both Goldman and BondIT but there’s more urgency in FinTech because change is occurring so quickly. You want to capture that growth as much as you can. In a start-up, it’s not like you have a stable back-book of revenue that is just chugging along. Investors’ expectations are very high. Therefore, the timescales for success and the pressure to satisfy expectations are much greater.
Why shouldn’t you be afraid to move from Financial Services to FinTech?
Advice that David would tell people is to trust their skillset. There is no need to be afraid if you trust that your qualifications and unique characteristics are valuable. It obvious that there is a revolution going on with the adoption of technology. Fintech start-up’s hit $121.7B in total funding. There is plenty of investment in FinTech, but the relevant skillset is required. If you bring the right skills and vision, there is much less risk then you would expect in being part of this innovation.
“The risk is staying in legacy rather than moving to growth and exploring this opportunity.”
The Perfect Candidate
If you’re sitting in a business and seeing routine, mundane and error-prone functions thinking this task would probably be better off being automated, you are aware that technology is coming for you. If more than a smaller percentage of your work isn’t adding value, ie just moving data from one source to another, then watch out! This is an unassailable path of progress. If you had asked what Henry Ford should’ve built, people would’ve responded: “A faster horse”. You might not be able to see it immediately, but have a deep look and discover better ways of doing things. Then embrace these because they’re an inevitable conclusion. FinTech is that unavoidable destiny.
On the topic of Ageism, the average age of an employee in FinTech is 29 which highlights the dominance of young talent in this industry. Nonetheless, both young and older people are capable of amazing things. David brings practices from his previous career as well as market contacts. He also recognizes that his younger colleagues understand the technology and the potential but that was the same in old bank. He would always listen to what junior employees had to say because it’s diversity which is invaluable. Both new and more experienced employees are valuable. There is a role for everyone in FinTech.
Passion. Interest. Application. These are what employers look for and career history ca be less important than it may seem. BondIT are doing something purposeful. People who can see that and want to participate in it are welcome regardless of their background.
Advice for someone moving to a FinTech?
- “Don’t be interviewed, interview them.”- If they have finished interviewing you but you haven’t finished interviewing them, let them know.
- Continue to speak with a company and have many conversations with them. Look for consistency, vision, and confirmation that people in the business are seeking the same goals. Use external data points to validate what you hear.
- Perform your due diligence. Consider it as if you were investing your own personal equity in a venture and wanted to ensure that you were making a good decision. You can only blame yourself if you don’t put in the effort.
“Follow your instinct. You have unbelievable, unexplored potential and FinTech is crying out to use that resource. Trust yourself.”