Interview: Roderick Simons, CTO of Yolt
Born in 2016, Yolt is a fintech venture at the forefront of Open Banking with over half a million registered users and most recently launched in Europe.
Roderick Simons, CTO at Yolt, gives us an insider’s view of what it’s like to build a smart thinking money app from the ground up.
As CTO, what does your day to day role entail?
First and foremost, my role is to ensure data security. My work revolves around maintaining the high security standards that are necessary to provide the strongest possible protection for our users’ data. Security is often at the forefront of user’s minds when downloading money apps, so we have to ensure that this element is fool-proof, rigorously stress-testing bank level security, using physical, electronic and operational measures.
Then comes the more creative side to my role, which is focusing on the business’s partnership strategy. We are always looking to build relationships with like-minded organisations so that we can give our users a comprehensive and holistic view of their personal finances. What is being created in the money management space specifically, is an ecosystem of organisations that all want to make consumers lives easier.
I predict that these types of connections will explode throughout 2019 as more platforms become interconnected to provide users with the best and easiest possible user experience when managing the likes of money, insurance, pensions, housing etc.
Finally, I also spend a lot of time coaching our staff and hiring new talent – we have hired fifteen people in the last couple of months alone. We have more than thirty engineers and that number is rising all the time. As with any fintech, it is vital to source, hire and nurture this talent in order to keep the business moving in the right direction.
Where did the idea for Yolt come from?
Ultimately, it was the changes in banking legislation that really sparked the idea for Yolt. We wanted to create something which would harness the transparency of Open Banking and PSD2 and simplify personal finance management once and for all.
At the start of my career I was responsible for building ING’s mobile app, which was used by around four million users. Following the success of its launch, I was presented with the opportunity to join Yolt, and tasked with building a pan-European smart money app from scratch. I didn’t hesitate when making my decision!
Whilst Open Banking hasn’t necessarily been the “big bang” in the UK that was first anticipated, we are already starting to see really healthy competition in the money app space and this is filtering across all types of financial services, whether it be mortgage, savings or pensions-related. The next couple of years will be vital for Open Banking and I genuinely believe we are on the edge of a revolution here. As more consumers get onboard with the initiative, the more its potential will grow – so watch this space!
What has been your biggest challenge in building a money app from scratch?
The biggest challenge was managing the system’s scalability. When you are creating a platform to potentially support millions of users across Europe, things can get very complex. This is the really exciting bit though too, as you’re both consciously and positively impacting more and more people’s lives.
How do you overcome that?
By using data to inform our decision making. We are a data driven company and we always make sure everything is measured very carefully. This is particularly important when it comes to talking about scalability and coping with the ambitious user growth targets we have.
The usage data that we collect and monitor is hugely influential towards our decision making, as it shows the volume of users coming through our systems. This information enables us to forecast how many users we are able to handle and what actions we need to take if the numbers are not in line with our predictions.
What has been your biggest achievement since developing Yolt?
It is not my achievement, personally; it is the achievement of our whole team! From a project that started in 2016 with just four people passionate about changing the way people manage their money, to building a smart money platform at the forefront of financial technology with over 500,000 registered users and live in three countries.
It’s a really exciting time as we continue our ambition to create one digital ecosystem and become the only money app you need on your phone. Over the next year we will continue to build our partner platform, Yolt Connect, and we are already testing the next phase of Open Banking – payments.
However, I think a recent proud moment for me personally has been accepting the Dutch Java user group Innovation Award for most innovative Java project in 2018. This award recognises both the innovative stack which we use and the efforts of our brand and marketing team that have brought us to the success we are today.
As the app grows, how do you see your role as CTO changing?
As we grow it is hugely exciting to see how the team expands. Recruiting more quality talent is just one of the fantastic aspects that my new remit will include. As we grow, I will take less of a role in the day to day operations and move my focus to business scalability.
What would be your top tips for looking to start a similar venture?
Developers should always go live with a new app as quickly as they can. For example, Yolt was launched in four months to a small audience of 20 friends and family members. The lessons we learned during these early stages were invaluable. Many of the assumptions we had made prior to launch were actually proved wrong, which helped us to make crucial changes before entering for mass market.
It’s the real user testing where hypotheses are proven or disproven and it is this vital stage that provides you with the building blocks to create a product that is not only fit for purpose but one that will meet the needs of potentially millions of people. Having said this, it is still important not to rush to market without a complete product – stay in closed beta for as long as necessary.