Q&A with Ben James


Who is Ben James? What is your background?

After completing an engineering degree at Leeds University, I joined GE Capital full time in sales and operations, having worked in that department throughout my university life part-time. After leading the UK operations team, I moved to marketing and P&L management, ultimately leading the UK insurance P&L before moving to Switzerland where I had a global role looking after credit based insurance. This included looking after all GE businesses in the Swiss market. I worked in the IPO team for the spin out of GE Capital and GE Money Bank which created Cembra Money Bank, the leading consumer lender in Switzerland. Post the IPO, I continued to manage insurance and marketing P&Ls whilst also taking on responsibility in M&A. This is where I saw the opportunity to create TP24.

So how did TP24 come about?

During my corporate career, I spotted the opportunity and gap in the market for a lending solution that was not only answering a long-term relationship for the client (replacing the bank) but also being able to distribute large credit lines. The FinTech space was very hot but focused on small tickets and tactical, unsecured cash. The large opportunity was in the medium ticket space, $300k-$5mn. Factoring and invoice discounting was dominating that space but the market was not being innovative. It was only looking to digitise and reduce costs in order to increase margins. No one was innovating at a product level to try and solve customer issues. So through customer led innovation and a re-engineering of the security structure to enable banks/funders to step back into that space, we were able to create a unique product.

What do you find challenging about being in the financial services industry?

I think traditional models and traditional distribution are the most difficult parts of trying to scale a FinTech. You have very large incumbent companies with products that are very difficult to move. We have an innovative product that is super customer orientated, much safer for the bank to use, much more efficient on their capital usage and placed at an advantage of the insurance companies. Ultimately, we deliver a far more superior product for the customer yet it is still really difficult to get that across to a bank, the right team or people and to get them to buy into that. The challenging part of the financial services industry is that it is still very stuck in its ways. The key way to attract the customer base that we look for is through those banking relationships because it is one of trust, it is not tactical short term cash where customers are googling for this.

What has been the most enjoyable of running TP24?

The interaction with people. We have managed to hire some outstanding talent in all of our markets and I get to interact with these guys every day. Whether it is a numbers review or a branding campaign, the plan for the next geographical expansion, a product idea or raising money. It is so diversified that everyday I get up and I don’t think “oh no, I have to go to work today” I think “what is going to happen today, what challenges are going to get thrown to me, who am I going to interact with, how well did our teams do last week?” It is just super exciting stuff.

How do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?

Work life balance is very important and I am doing a pretty bad job at it to be honest. I have 3 children, all under 4 and a wife that works full-time, and we have no help at home and no family around. So work life balance is extremely difficult but I still manage to pick up the kids from school most days, bring them home, feed them, put them to bed and then open the laptop again.  It works and it has been like that for a few years so I am kind of comfortable in that rhythm. I think one thing that I like is that as a business we are pretty good at switching off on a Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday I am not typically bothered and I don’t bother my team and then Monday morning we are back at it. I think that is very healthy as there are a lot of businesses that don’t do that. There are a lot of businesses where at a certain level at a bank there is an expectation to work on a Sunday and that is just a cultural thing. Our culture is one of balance and trying to keep a good mental health. We offer lots of support in that space. We have no fixed hours nor working hours. If they want to get up late and work later or finish early because they’ve finished what they needed to, they can go do that and everyone knows that. It is the culture of the business to be flexible. Mental health is important to the business, it is something that all the founders have struggled with at some point or another such as anxiety. We appreciate that we should be upfront, talk about it and it should be high in our agenda to make sure there is a healthy balance for our people as well.

How do you operate TP24 around the continued covid environment?

COVID is challenging for all businesses. I think the beautiful thing about the TP24 credit line model is that it grows and it shrinks with the business. Through COVID we saw receivables drop but the supply side of the business was also lower, in which case a lot of these things were self liquidating. The companies were just slowly paying down their credit line to be in line with their receivables book. As soon as they switched back on, and for a lot of Swiss and Australian businesses that has happened already,they had immediate availability in their credit line to be able to draw that to support their growing business. With traditional products such as at a bank however, typically in an environment like COVID those credit lines are getting cancelled and they are getting cancelled quickly. This is putting a lot of businesses under pressure and in some cases putting them into bankruptcy. Then once the pandemic is over and the general economic situation improves and those companies want to borrow again, this is not happening quickly with traditional solutions. There are a lot of boxes that need to be ticked to get these credit lines back in place, if they can even be put back in place at all. Whereas with our solution it is instant; instantly back, instantly able to use it and instantly there to support them.

What exciting things are you working on at the moment?

The most exciting thing by far is the PayLater project, I really like that and going into the B2B PayLater space is a great opportunity. It is a space we know really well, GE was big on this space, in a more traditional way though. We know how operate in it, the pitfalls, how to commercially make it work. I think PayLater gives us a product that can span geographies without any issues and allows us to be able to push that technology out as service, Lending-as-a-Service. It is going to be a huge revenue generator for us. The bit I like the most is our unique structure on post origination pay later. I am not going to give too much detail on that as it is proprietary but I think it is going to be globally unique and it is going to be incredibly exciting for large corporates and midcaps to be able to take advantage of this type of product.

Other than that I am super excited about our crypto project, we are developing a tokenisation platform for mezzanine debt. If you look at any of the platforms for tokenization, it is typically equity based stuff. Nobody is playing in the debt side and if you drill down and talk about mezzanine style debt, whether it is for real estate or lending to corporates or consumers, it is probably the hardest debt you can raise globally. It is the most fee-ridden and expensive debt. If we can create an easy access platform with a standardised approach to raising mezzanine debt for global lending businesses and for crypto investors to be able to access solid returns for real world assets, I think it is going to be very special. It is again a hugely scalable solution.

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