Francois du Toit is Senior Vice President, Global Head of Product Technology at WEX. He has held several global technology leadership roles at other payments and fintech companies, including Finastra, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs.
In our conversation, Francois shared what he enjoys most about the payments sector and discussed the challenges of balancing long-range vision with day-to-day activities in global roles. He also offered insight into what he feels is the most important ingredient for a successful merger or acquisition — culture fit.
I stumbled into payments from fintech about 15 years ago. The thing about payments that ticked for me was that you build products, put them into the market, and then see people actually using them.
I get a big kick out of deploying software, being part of a product development team, and getting customer feedback about how those products changed their lives. Maybe it made them more efficient at work, allowed them to scale a process, or gave them access to something new. I get a buzz out of that experience.
The payments sector is increasingly becoming the stitch in all of the ecosystems. Payments tech is the base layer in all ecommerce networks nowadays, enabling companies to be nimble, flexible, and global. In some cases it might be a full end-to-end service for a customer, and other times it’s purely a routing layer helping get the payment to wherever it needs to be.
It’s also just unbelievable how the payments sector has evolved. Fifteen years ago, who would’ve thought we’d be talking about AI-driven workflow payments and tap-and-go experiences at gas stations? New methods of payment are always coming up in this industry. Being able to scale and meet the needs of those market changes is really exciting for me.
Global strategy is usually about making sure everyone is generally traveling in the right direction, but how you implement that direction locally isn’t always as clear. In a global role, it’s essential that you balance the demands of the local teams with that global strategy.
It’s very important to have a long-term view on where you’re trying to be. I typically engage with local business or technology leaders to make sure they see themselves in the global strategy. In other words, what are we doing globally that is going to be of use to them locally?
When I get involved in a new global role, it’s often because the previous strategy didn’t work or it wasn’t well-executed. Execution is critical, but you also have to make sure that you think about taking your stakeholders along with you.
I typically divide my long-range plan into three tangible deliverables (or “horizons”), and they all build on top of each other. You can’t get to horizon two if you haven’t delivered on key outcomes for horizon one, for example. This way, you keep everyone locked in on this longer-term plan.
With this approach, in true agile terms, you’re burning up to a target state, but you’re delivering every year, every quarter, and every six months. Because you’re delivering something of value to a stakeholder, you have continuous support as you develop that global strategy and roll it out.
It’s a delicate balance of long-term vision, being grounded in solid strategy, great software design principles, but then also thinking about local delivery. Delivery is king and will eat strategy up every single day of the week if people feel like they’re funding a global team and not getting any benefit out of it.
In my experience, five-year plans are not good. They’re actually quite detrimental to short-term (and therefore, overall) success because they force you to deliver every quarter.
Companies love to talk about five-year plans. Instead, I like to think about: what are we doing over the next three years? And, more importantly, what are we doing in the next six months? What needs to be true in six months for us to say we’re tracking on a longer-term plan? Those bite-sized outcomes are really key to overall success.
The mistake I often see folks make is moving to a global workforce (I’m not a fan of the term “offshoring”) simply for cost savings. In the short term, you’ll get your savings and probably an annualized lift, but you’ll have very dissatisfied employees in year two, three, and four. You won’t be able to sustain this model, or grow — especially in a dynamic and complex industry like payments.
I’ve found that everybody wants to own an outcome — they don’t want to be just a cog in the wheel. The local team needs to feel like they have skin in the game and a path to success. Maybe they only own one of five steps of the process, but at least they own one outcome.
When I was with a previous employer, we did global workforce outsourcing that got very clinical and factory-oriented. We were like, “This particular task gets done a hundred times a week and therefore must be done over there in that location.”
This approach worked from the standpoint that it delivered on a business outcome: reduced cost and standardized service operations. But we ended up with very disenfranchised employees in those far-away locations. Ultimately, we addressed this by identifying a piece of the strategy that could be executed by a local team and we let them own it end-to-end.
I’ve seen unbelievable success with this approach. Give a local team guidance, embed leaders, embed program leadership, and embed solution design architecture for example, but give the team the local power to deliver.
There are a couple of things that have helped me in that area. On the workforce front, it’s super hard, but vital, to have a global resource strategy.
You need to be balanced with what you need to have close to your customer and what you can afford to develop anywhere between your customer and the moon. That is driven by where you can get talent, any economic points you want to hit, global support, and coverage.
Once you’ve built something and it’s released to production, you have to care for and feed it until the day you decide to sunset it. So you need to think about the end state when you design.
Step one is get your resourcing right. A global workforce strategy is vital to flexibility, and it usually takes a while to develop. It may take a couple of years, or at least financial cycles, to get that operating. You need to have the right balance of high-touch experience close to your customer, high-touch experience where your global resources live, and understand how to leverage that global resource pool.
Step two is get your design right. In the payments sector, we have lots of wonderful technology in production that was built 20 years ago. The world still operates on much of that technology.
When you think about flexibility and the ever-changing velocity of new things coming at us, grounding your new product designs in modern software design principles is fundamental. You’ve got to be thinking about how to separate your application context and your data context. And, obviously with AI coming along, that has turned a massive spotlight on how you’re managing data.
It’s important to think about the design of your software with flexibility in mind. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, computer systems were expensive and therefore application, tech, software, and data were very close together. But today, we can leverage modern software designs, design principles, and modern software. Think about how your business functionality will be designed with change in mind.
When I go in to do an evaluation or an assessment on a potential acquisition target, my first priority is to understand what we’re trying to achieve from a business perspective. Like, are we buying technology, a customer segment, or market share?
My role in the acquisition team is to assess the talent of the organization and the technical elements of the asset we’re acquiring. Sometimes there’s great people and great market share with technology patterns that do not align with our philosophies.. Other times, there’s tech that runs and operates but has hit a ceiling will be very costly to integrate into the broader company operations
It’s been my experience that the culture you’re buying far outweighs the market, the company value, or the technology. I’ve been through acquisitions where the people culture just didn’t fit — those were not successful acquisitions. In cases where the folks didn’t integrate well, we struggled to get to know their product and to figure out how to get the assets we needed from the deal.
At the end of the day, a company is run by people and relationships. If you don’t get that right and that cultural fit isn’t there, it won’t be a successful acquisition in the long run.
First, you’ve got to trust your gut. Second, speak to people — usually C-suite and one level below — and be open and honest about what you’re trying to achieve and where they fit in the big picture. If you’re acquiring a company and your intent is to assume their customers and get rid of their assets, you’ve got to be honest about that.
This is easier said than done. Sometimes those deal room conversations are complicated. But try to, as best you can, assess the culture. Try to gauge if you’ll be better off together and, more importantly, if the acquisition will enable you to deliver more value to customers.
If you have strong architecture coupled with strong people leadership in technology and strong operational support experience, you’ll get an excellent leadership team conversation about how to build great products.
I think you’ve first got to build a leadership team that’s fully inclusive, meaning different backgrounds, diverse thinking, and different perspectives. It’s important to have a leadership team that spans a range of career maturity; you might have some new entrants as well as some tenured leaders. Maybe there are some leaders who have been grown from within the company and some external talent that’s been inoculated into the leadership team.
I invest a ton of time into getting to know my leaders, what’s important to them, and what they need to own versus influence. Then, I try to find ways and opportunities for that to happen. I tell my team, “channel your inner Francois.” This means, understand what we are trying to achieve as a group, be able to run the elevator pitch with the CEO as to what we are trying to achieve, and be knowledgeable about each other’s work. To do this, you’ve got to build a culture of trust and openness.
Discover the most popular libraries for enabling Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in React Native apps, allowing them to interact with Bluetooth hardware on iOS and Android platforms.
CRDTs, or conflict-free replicated data types, is a concept that underlies applications facing the issue of data replication across a […]
We explore the fusion of TensorFlow and Rust, delving into how we can integrate these two technologies to build and train a neural network.