Interview: Rewire Co-Founder / CEO Guy Kashtan on Innovation, Fintech, Financial Inclusion, Entrepreneurship and Digitalization

December 07, 2020 in Community Leadership, Diversity, Entrepreneurship, Fintech, Leadership, Teamwork, Tech, Working Remotely, Finance, Neobanking
December 07, 2020 in Community Leadership, Diversity, Entrepreneurship, Fintech, Leadership, Teamwork, Tech, Working Remotely, Finance, Neobanking

An interview series spotlighting global tech influencers, disruptors, visionaries, and of course, innovators.

Rewire is becoming a global player in the cross-border banking arena. The innovative cross-border international banking platform serves the migrant community and seeks to offer a seamless way to make cross-border money transfers and international financial services for migrants.

Founded by a team of college friends and Microsoft developers in 2015, Rewire originated to solve problems with cross-border remittances. Soon after the Rewire team developed a solution for remittances, customers sent requests about opening bank accounts, storing value and obtaining debit cards. The team answered these queries, established strategic home country partnerships and broadened their services. Rewire customers receive a free international payment account (IBAN) and a free Mastercard debit card that works like a conventional domestic bank account. This financial agility helps migrant workers who often straddle two financial worlds — they pay bills where they’re living and working, but also often send financial support to people back in their home countries.

Rewire Co-Founder / CEO Guy Kashtan leads his team using a hands-on approach and social-minded outlook toward customers and diverse cultures within the company. I had the opportunity to catch up with Kashtan via email to learn more about his views on a variety of topics including the pandemic’s effects on his customer base; his vision for financial innovation; the importance of diversity, teamwork and networking; helpful advice from lessons learned during his career; book recommendations and much more. Our interview follows.

EKMH: How have Rewire’s clients’ needs changed during the pandemic and how do you expect them to change in the near and long term?

Guy Kashtan: The pandemic caused everything to shut down and move to digital. While the process of digital transformation was already in motion, COVID-19 definitely accelerated it. During 2020, our customer base tripled, which made us, as a company, face the need for internal changes such as expanding our customer support team by over 50%. Moreover, we needed to manage the entire company remotely as people started working from home.

More importantly, our customers had to educate themselves about the usage of digital tools for money management which we supported through extended support, guides, tutorials and live videos with customer groups. This is exactly where our company values really made a difference. Social good and financial education are core parts of our vision and business strategy. Customers and potential customers can consult with our community managers in their own language as we employ people from within the communities of our diverse customer groups. Potential customers can also join dedicated social media groups where other people in similar situations ask questions and consult with one another about finances. In addition to other activities, these efforts and initiatives resulted in nearly 40% organic growth.

The post-COVID period will be the real test for digital transformation in the fintech industry. I believe that a positive user experience and a unique platform that is tailored to the customer’s needs are what it takes for online banking to become the new standard for migrants across Europe.

EKMH: Why is financial inclusion and fair banking critical for innovation? How can more cross-border international banking customers be more efficiently serviced using Rewire?

Guy Kashtan: Banking technology that applies to the majority of the population is important because this development focuses on simplifying outdated banking processes and creating new ones that make sense. But when you develop something for the general population, what do minorities do? Usually, they would use specific features from multiple companies and financial institutions to answer their basic needs, resulting in higher cost, friction and lack of financial inclusion.

At Rewire, our vision and agenda is to include migrants in the financial systems. Our vision is about the bigger picture of accessible banking technology and about serving the needs of our audience. Once you think of your audience first, you understand their essential needs, their lifestyle, and the different solutions they use today – true cross-border innovation can be built specifically for them.

This is exactly what we do at Rewire. We understand the unique cross-border needs of our customers and create solutions that are tailored for their needs; solutions such as remittance, bill payments, payment accounts and insurance. That way, migrants can manage all their finances in one place instead of using multiple solutions for their needs while also accessing additional cost effective services.

EKMH: How does Rewire’s agility play a critical role against larger incumbents? Why did (and do) incumbents take their time adapting to tech innovations and addressing migrant workers’ banking needs?

Guy Kashtan: Rewire has a very unique focus on migrants while larger incumbents usually target the general population. It’s also a matter of a young startup that moves everything super quickly versus larger corporations that have a bureaucratic system in place.

Another important aspect is market education. Established companies already did something right. They taught their customers about the way things work and managed to set a certain trend. Taking all that hard work and customer loyalty, then changing your product is not as easy as you may think. The benefit, and the great challenge, of creating something new, is approaching a market that already knows how everything is done with a new, disruptive approach and solutions. This is also the most rewarding aspect because succeeding where larger incumbents once ruled, means that we actually make a difference in people’s lives.

EKMH: What’s your vision for Rewire? What problems do you anticipate as Rewire grows and how will you and your team address these changes?

Guy Kashtan: Our mission is to empower every migrant in the world to fulfill their true potential and build a better future for them and their families. We plan to do so by enabling simple and accessible cross-border financial solutions such as remittance, bill payments, savings accounts, credits and loans and more options, in a single financial platform for migrants.

One of our challenges is keeping our focus as we grow. While we openly state that our target audience is migrants who originally came from developing countries, for example, we see increasing demand for our products among locals in Europe. Of course we welcome everyone to join us and benefit from our products, but our mission is to continue developing unique solutions tailored to the needs of migrants. As an example, we enable social security payments in the Philippines through our platform, a very relevant solution for our Filipino audience, but probably less relevant for a native Italian.

EKMH: Rewire is currently hiring. What are your thoughts on diversity, front-end recruiting and retention when interviewing potential new team members? 

Guy Kashtan: I can honestly say that Rewire has one of the most diverse teams I’ve ever seen. Starting from our leadership, down to the sub departments – roughly 35% of our employees are of different nationalities and our workforce includes many women and LGBTQ as well. Our extremely diverse workspace is compiled out of African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, and European individuals who value inclusivity and diversity. Since diversity is such a highly visible value at Rewire, we manage to attract top talents who come from various backgrounds and are not only assessed according to their credentials, but also based on their potential and aspiration for professional growth.

EKMH: How did and do you use your network and ecosystem to chart your own career? Please share some advice about how jobseekers can learn to leverage their own relationships to grow professionally.

Guy Kashtan: The best advice I can give is: Do more of what you love. Founding Rewire was a group effort with former colleagues from Microsoft and college classmates. So for us, it was more about personal relationships first. My personal growth journey started from early entrepreneurship, to development, to managing products and eventually managing the company.

Whenever I encountered a crossroads, I tried to consider what’s best for the company first and then how to take the company in that direction. Whether charting your own path or your company’s path, I suggest taking a pause every once in a while to consider where you want to be in 3-5 years from now. Then, make sure that whatever it is you are doing takes you there.

EKMH: Given where fintech may be its innovation cycle, how can the sector stay nimble to ensure its relevance for the next generation(s)?

Guy Kashtan: I think that fintech is currently in its early innovation phase due to changing regulations around the world and the ongoing digital transformation. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that this is not a nimble sector. There’s a lot of caution around finance both on the customer’s side and on the company’s side. COVID-19 accelerated the move to digital solutions as there was no alternatives in many cases. Moving forward, I believe that this trend will grow but at a somewhat slower pace than in other industries. The key is to continue the rapid product expansion while understanding the regulatory climate in which we operate.

EKMH: What lessons did you learn from your best and worst investments (of time and/or money)?

Guy Kashtan: Our number one lesson is FOCUS. Today, our entire roadmap is strictly focused on migrants (B2C) – on how to develop products that will include them in the financial systems and create real value for them. We approach this mission with humility as we do not assume we know everything, rather we let our customers teach us about their needs and challenges. We learn from our customers by creating designated focus groups and by hiring employees from within the communities.

Another important piece of advice is that centering your efforts on the satisfaction and well-being of both your customers and your employees ultimately yields the best business results. If your employees are satisfied and understand the critical mission and impact of the company, they will make it their mission to advance your product so that your customers will get the most out of it.

EKMH: And last, but not least, which books, films and/or podcasts do you recommend?

Guy Kashtan: Everything by Dan Ariely. Starting from Predictably Irrational to his recent book Amazing Decisions. A great book with insightful thoughts about building a startup is The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Another recommendation is The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey, which offers a fresh and inspiring perspective about entrepreneurship. Last but definitely not least, The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim.

While this is not really “professional content,” I also enjoyed watching Black Mirror. There’s something about opening your mind to disruptive versions of the world that challenges everything you know about technology, morality, and sometimes even yourself.