Interview with Mr. Eugene Danilkis, CEO of SaaS cloud banking platform Mambu
Digitalisation and the cloud have transformed the way in which financial services are offered. But ensuring that the technology translates into good customer experiences takes a combination of expertise and vision. Here, Eugene Danilkis talks about his company’s Mambu SaaS platform, through which banking organisations can offer the full gamut of financial services to their customers.
Good day, Mr Danilkis! To begin with, could we talk about what constitutes a typical workday for you? What might we find you doing during the course of a normal day?
The only thing typical about any day is that I’m always working to align the many parts of a rapidly changing business with our strategy and vision, which can mean many small (or big) decisions. In practice, that might mean interviews with key candidates, talking to customers, partners or prospects or looking at product and tech decisions which have a business impact. The most fun part of any day is working side-by-side with my team on exciting challenges, and the least fun part is saying no to great opportunities (be it people or business) because of other priorities.
Did you always envision a career in fintech?
Fintech didn’t exist at the start of my career. I studied computer science and started out working as a software engineer. I met my Mambu co-founders while working on a Carnegie Mellon University Masters degree project – investigating how modern technology can help financial services access hard-to-reach markets. At the same time, cloud technology was disrupting industries, with internet and smartphone access to financial services becoming the norm, even in remote regions. Our idea was to bring lending and banking technology into the 21st century via a cloud platform flexible enough for any market opportunity.
You’ve expressed an interest in technology and its intersection with human cognitive interaction and design. Can you elaborate on why you found this idea particularly engaging and how this carries over to the work your company does?
By looking through the lens of both technology and customer experience with financial products, we saw a new way of leveraging digital, mobile and online capabilities. It’s not just changing how financial products are distributed, but rather changing the entire experience with financial products – from how they behave, to how they reach customers and interact with money. We thought that the space had a chance to be completely revitalized. So we set about building a platform to enable institutions to do just that. Rather than creating a customer-focused product in a particular market, we saw the opportunity for that revitalization of financial services, which started as the fintech movement and became the global fintech era.
Mambu started with servicing microfinance institutions and fintech start-ups, and the company now works with 200 banks and financial organisations in over 65 countries globally. How does it feel to be truly “self-made”?
It feels great. I am so proud of what we have built, from the days of working out of coffee shops and trying to persuade the industry that cloud was both better and safer than the alternatives. It’s now a decade on, and while I was there from day 0, we had so much help along the way: the early investors, customers who took a chance on us and the Mambuvians who joined the new kid on the block with big ideas. And while I hate to use such a hackneyed term, we’ve only just begun to change the market. There are still billions of people that we hope to impact by empowering our customers to offer better banking experiences.
With investors prioritising business potential over the technology, it comes as no surprise that tech start-ups are a harder sell. What key aspects of your services do you emphasise in order to win clients in that arena?
Mambu is a SaaS platform, meaning we can support customers of any size, everywhere. This allows us to serve inbound and partner-driven requests and deploy solutions that fit the needs of customers in any market. This ability to enable flexibility and scalability is a core advantage of cloud-native technology. Digital banking platforms also create a competitive advantage through execution, differentiation through design, faster time to market and brilliant customer experience.
You’ve also mentioned that it is sometimes easier to get 100 million from investors than to get your first million. Did the hurdles of the fundraising process alter your vision for the company in any way?
What has changed about the company vision is the emphasis on the complete ecosystem. So much more is possible now, as the entire fintech landscape has matured and evolved since we started. Our original vision was to create a platform that enables others anywhere in the world to build great financial services and banking experiences for customers. This vision for the platform has remained the same, but now the matter of what and how we deliver that has evolved alongside the company and the industry as a whole.
Apart from raising capital, do you recall any other obstacles you had to overcome in order to get where you are today?
As a tech company first and foremost, we can never take building a mission-critical platform for granted, which means addressing challenges of all sizes along the way. In addition, building operational maturity to service world-class organisations and their needs while being small was certainly a stretch, but it made us better and stronger.
Under your leadership, Mambu has successfully transitioned itself from a rookie start-up to a fully fledged unicorn player. What would you say is the company’s biggest edge?
One of our great advantages is the ability of Mambuvians to set ambitious goals and build impossible bridges, backed by a listening-first growth mindset. We, and the industry, have changed so much and so quickly but I feel we embrace that change and see it as an exciting challenge and opportunity for personal, professional and company growth.
“Mambuvians” operate on a “team-first mentality”. For people who may not be familiar with this concept, what does it mean? How do you incorporate this way of thinking in your corporate culture?
There are a lot of people in different roles from different cultures, working all over the world. It’s been this way from the early days. Now we have to pursue our vision of where we want to go by setting principles of how we want to get there. It’s not simply being prescriptive by painting a path of ‘how’, but instead communicating our path for success and establishing a set of principles that are important to us – like culture, sustainability and great customer experiences. And then we determine the amount of autonomy we give our leaders in pursuing that path. We do certain things centrally as a group and that is true everywhere, and other factors, such as the region, decide on the level of autonomy – be that 30 per cent, 70 per cent, etc. – that makes sense for the global vision. In the end, we want to empower leaders to leverage their strengths in particular areas aligned with a One Mambu mindset.
As an industry leader in cloud banking and fintech, you have customers that serve over 51 million end users. That seems like a huge quantity of data. With concerns about the vulnerability of the cloud, how do you assure clients that their data is in good hands?
We work with partners like AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud who adhere to the strictest levels of security, in order to make sure customers and data are secure, and meet all regulatory requirements. We also invest heavily in our own information security, both within the product and also across our teams and operations.
Speaking of the digital space, remote working has elicited a certain level of interest from cybercriminals wishing to exploit any gaps in the cloud. Did Mambu have to do a dramatic rethink of its plans for the future or has it been a question of adapting them to the new circumstances?
It was relatively simple for us. Being cloud-native means we do not have to be on premise to work or deliver our product to customers. We have also always embraced a liberal remote-work policy, so we had existing security measures in place to ensure that all employee and customer data is secure. But we always keep vigilant and pay close attention to the details consistently.
Mambu also prides itself on its unique and sustainable approach to SaaS cloud banking. How much of a role does sustainability play in the company’s initiatives?
Mambu aims to be a responsible corporate citizen who makes a positive impact on the environment and communities in which the company operates, and creates shared value for society. Everything we do today has an impact on tomorrow. Deciding where we want to work, how we want to live and how we consume has a compounding effect on our joint future – for better or for worse. We are proud to be part of the solution, which is why we work continuously at shaping our mindset and practices around sustainability.
Our focus areas include:
i. Environmental footprint
Recognising that climate change is the number-one present-day challenge that is already disproportionately affecting people around the world.
ii. People and communities
Supporting Mambuvians in achieving their very best within and outside of the formal work environment, and empowering our communities to become more resilient to the rapidly changing world around them.
iii. Impact finance
We started as a solution for microfinance organisations to offer their services digitally in areas where traditional banking wasn’t available or accessible. Since then, we have expanded our reach and provided our cloud-banking platform to non-profit customers who support their customers on a range of impact-focused banking solutions.
What would you say are the most significant challenges facing fintech start-ups today? Do you think the government could do more to facilitate things in that regard?
I think governments are already stepping up and getting involved. We have seen more and more fintechs take advantage of ‘warmer’ environments set up by governments hoping to either stimulate growth, build a fintech hub or both. Berlin, as an example, was a great home for us; it also helped nurture N26, Zalando and SolarisBank.
What can we expect to see from Mambu in the coming years?
Our growth and change journey has only just begun. There are so many areas we are exploring and moving into – like non-banks providing financial services as part of their offerings to expanding the functional and technical breadth of our platform to enable clients to bring more products to market in more innovative ways. We continue to delve into partnerships that help us deliver new and creative products to customers. This is an ever-evolving market so we cannot predict how it will change, only that we will, too – and we know that, as a company, we are agile enough to be ahead of the evolution.
Eugene is the co-founder, CEO and driving force behind the rapidly growing Mambu SaaS banking platform. Eugene leads a team of over 800 Mambuvians in 15 countries while growing Mambu to be one of Europe’s most valuable enterprise SaaS companies. Eugene brings his background in computer science, design and entrepreneurship to find impactful opportunities for technology in banking and financial services around the globe.