From project managers, subject matter experts, product owners, mentors and team leaders, our team managers wear different hats. Their experience of working on payments products for almost and over 10 years within Maxcode has led them to achieve a unique understanding of what is innovation, what makes a product work and achieve success, and what are the secret team ingredients to create the perfect mix of a payment development team.
Today you get to meet Mădălina Nechifor, our team manager with a background in software development, who witnessed payment innovation first hand and is here to tell us all about it.
What is your professional background and how did it, in your opinion, help you better understand payment products today?
My professional background relies on a technical layer, which I have worked on building and strengthening in both my college studies, as well as in my role as a developer for 7 years. You probably have heard before that being technical savvy is an advantage in a role as team manager, yet for me it was the secret into getting the perfect glimpse into both perspectives. On one side, it helps a lot in translating business needs into actionable technical insights for teams, while at the same time knowing the potential technical challenges or opportunities leads to valuable discussions with the client, right from the start.
More so, I had the opportunity and the advantage as a developer to work on several projects focused on payments, invoicing and digital identity. For example: building the insurance platform for a well-known Dutch bank through our partner Tjip, working on the billing platform for ING – which was an amazing opportunity, and last but not least building tools and working together with the people that have changed the market with solutions such as iDIN, iDEAL and eMandates, our partners from Currence and the Dutch Payments Association.
My experience with the Dutch Payments Association was probably the most memorable, valuable and forming for my path, going from a developer to a team leader and team manager. The benefit of having a strong and trail-blazing association as a partner is the amount of information you get to reap from your interactions with them. This way, I got to understand in depth the protocol and the communication between parties in the iDEAL, eMandates, as well as iDIN schemes – helping me understand not only what I was building, but rather what I was developing and who was I doing it for. This has opened an appetite for discussions, for knowledge and for the business side of the products that has led me to where I am today. And in my further experience in managing and coordinating projects in fintech, I discovered how to use my knowledge as well as to switch the perspective and consolidate my position in bringing the right insights to clients and their businesses.
How do you feel that the payments market has changed in the past 5 years? What are the main challenges that come with those changes?
The payments market has taken a big step towards convenience in the past years, something that is visible and that has influenced how products are being built in the years to come. This convenience though would not have been possible without the support of the increased technological capabilities, which have grown and adapted to the ever-changing market in need of innovations.
One of the biggest moments of impact in the past few years was probably the moment PSD2 was adopted and implemented as a directive within Europe, which brought the dawn of a new age, that of open banking. In the time leading up to that moment, and continuously after that we have noticed a shift from what was up until then a closed model of the traditional banking landscape, to an open one, where data is shared between entities within the banking ecosystem, with authorization from the customer. Of course, in order to do so and to enable this new open system, existing players had to up their game, while new actors and players became not only available, but also necessary in order for the system to work. Which meant a new competitive realm, a completely different one from what we had before, where innovation and technical capabilities played an integral part.
The payment service directive has definitely redefined the way we look at payments – incumbent banks have opened their payment services to other companies, and we welcomed a wide range of new Third Party Providers, which are now allowed equal access to customer account information and transactional approval. These new players have now joined the ranks together with traditional payment service providers and financial institutions, to provide the convenience that was so long needed.
However, it is not always smooth sail – new changes and innovations often bring business and technical challenges, for both old and new players on the market, especially when the pool of competition has been opened and one is so eager to stay on top.
For example, APIs have become the technical mean to allow banks to comply with the new regulations and to become open, which means new security requirements and an elevated authentication factor that would enable a higher level of security to the bank’s customer, even under the new directive. Banks and traditional financial players have been thus pushed to upgrade their systems in time in order to remain relevant and still maintain compliance, with the help of their technical teams (who also need to upgrade their technical skills to stay ahead).
New players have equally encountered challenges, one of the most pressing ones being time to market – for small companies trying to reach the market and stay ahead competition, timelines are short, the development process is fast paced, and continuous releases are needed to measure concrete feedback from the market. Within Maxcode, we were directly exposed to this switch in way of working, compared with traditional players, and we used our agility and our way to adapt to find the perfect strategy that would guarantee a timely presence on the market of the product.
What has been the biggest innovation that you witnessed in payments since you have been working within Maxcode, either business or technical?
There are many innovations that have become landmarks of the financial market in the past years, yet one that I have experienced first-hand (and I am proud of being part of) is working closely on developing applications and tools around iDEAL (Dutch’s most popular online payment method) for Currence.
iDEAL has started from the beginning as a revolutionary idea, and it has been inspiring to witness how Currence continuously invests in maintaining the innovation behind this solution, with December 2020 being a pivotal moment, when the company has announced that iDEAL “is being radically revamped”. That means the modernization of the underlying technology and adding new services that will bring value to iDEAL as a product.
In partnership with Payconiq, Currence is currently in the process of adding value through new technological capabilities and, most importantly, building a central access point that allows existing as well as new parties in the iDEAL value chain to connect faster. From an innovation perspective, this access point becomes pivotal, as it allows even more parties to become invited within into the ecosystem, broadening the current value chain of acquirers and issuers.
Why it is an innovation? Because with this new iDEAL payment service providers and merchants will be able to connect to iDEAL more easily, creating an open ecosystem that enables value added services (VAS) by external parties under a trusted scheme (these services will not only be developed by Currence but also by affiliated payment service providers).
Why it is an innovation worth mentioning? Because we look at a solution that has changed the payments experience in Europe and the Netherlands, who faced a risk of becoming obsolete in a new competitive environment, yet who has embraced technical innovation and is now strengthening its position on the market with improved UX, improved security (e.g. SCA) and improved integration (replacing legacy XML with APIs). Plus, a new Test Automation Tool, where we at Maxcode had the pleasure to participate in a tender proposal that engaged our analytical and creative thinking.
From my point of view, innovation comes in different forms, and it can indeed be a new and revolutionary idea, something never before seen, completely new. Yet I believe that the most important form of innovation stems from adaptability and finding ways not only to remain competitive, but also to keep the unstoppable force that will expand in the finance market for years to come.
What is the secret of a well-oiled fintech development team, in your opinion? What are some of the skills that are needed in fintech software development?
There is rarely a ‘secret recipe’ for a perfect team, as it always comes down to learning, patience and communication within team members. Yet in the years I have worked on fintech products, I have noticed that there are certain skills that can help you achieve success and build a strong and ‘ideal’ team.
First, you need business knowledge or the mindset for in-depth learning of the business. Fintech is not the place to build products out of sheer intuition, and being curious, asking questions, understanding the why behind the requirements is not only a nice-to-have, it is a must. It can make the difference between a product that is built and a product that is successful. Which leads me to my second point: a close collaboration with the client should be paramount, and it should be enabled by a team manager and sustained by the team. The client should be present, available for questions, first one in at the demos and most importantly constantly getting feedback from the market to validate or adjust the direction of the project.
This is where empathy kicks in – it is very easy to create a gap between the client and the team, especially if the work is done remotely and the meetings are online. Yet it is simple details that make the difference, and that can help create a strong team, together with the client. What I noticed in my work as both a developer and as a team manager is that passion for the product is easily accessible and it is something that is found in all of us – we all want to help, we want to create a change, to be a consultant and to offer advice and alternative solutions to potential issues. In order to access that passion a team manager needs to help both the client and the team to find and embrace the common goal.
Evidently, another part of the equation is a strong technical background and a technical lead that can set the technical direction of the project, from architecture that can accommodate future business needs to strong knowledge on security and privacy (e.g. stay informed, understand regulations and ensure continuous compliance). And even though we tend to only look behind the curtain, what users see is extremely relevant, so a strong UX is highly important, as it ensures the retention of the users with convenience and straightforward flows, while conveying security at every step.
Last but not least, one needs an agile mindset before diving in to get the work done. And even though Agile frameworks have been long debated, and some might believe that they have become rudimentary, my view in having an Agile mindset can be translated through an organized flexibility. Yes, there will be companies that will need different ways to set up shop and development, and there is never a one-size-fits-all solution. Yet if the team starts from the beginning with the goal of adapting, communicating and prioritizing, with the benefit of having both a successful product as well as a happy team, then I believe that the goal has been reached.
How do you think that the future of fintech in Europe will look like?
It is hard to predict a perfect image of fintech in Europe, yet I believe that the future of payments will be affected by three main factors. The first one is the intense competition over financial services, and the way it contrast or is complemented by collaboration in the market. With the dawn of Open Banking, new actors appeared in the industry, offering similar needed services in the web of open finance. This massive competition in offering fast solutions and being the one chosen by users sparks interest in innovation (bringing new capabilities and smooth usability) as well as collaboration with partners that can enable a faster emergence of the solution on the market, as time is of the essence.
A second factor is definitely digital disruption: innovation in the financial market is given, as well as influenced, by the evolution of technology – think about biometrics and the wave it spun a few years back in the sector of financial authentication. New technologies, as well as their adoption, will offer more convenience to users as well as add more timber to the fire of the intense competition we previously tackled. The more new technologies you adopt, the better your customers will feel about your product.
Last but not least, the two first factors – competition and digital disruption – spin around the same element, which is the thing all companies strive for, and the hardest thing to obtain: trust. You can have the most innovative solution and fight to obliterate your competition, yet without the trust of your users you will be back to square one. Trust is something that will only gain more power, as customers are increasingly aware (or wish to be aware) of what happens with their data, the fees they pay and the rights they have on the market. As a new payment service, your cool, new and innovative idea might not be enough to obtain that trust that you need from your users.
This is why collaboration is key, especially if you have just started making your way through the industry: fintechs will need endorsements from traditional actors, such as banks, which they initially competed against, in order to tap on the trust they have already built in the many years since they have been active. Such a partnership will assume a deep dive from the part of the incumbent players into the security and organization of the fintech, making sure that they have the proper education on phishing, malware and ransomware. That means having the right system into place, with trainings and guidelines for employees that will respect the trust the user is granting onto the product.
In addition, where the endorsement or partnership with a traditional player is something that is not considered by a fintech, laws and regulations will lock in security standards, and, in the end, increase trust in the new products and services on the market.
In the end, the glimpse we foresee of the fintech industry in the future will be one of competition over new technological innovations, high regulations and intense security protocols, all working together towards offering convenience and gaining trust. And with more trust and more digital users, we might get to see that utopic vision of all online payments come to life.
About Mădălina Nechifor
A graduate of Computer Engineering and Automatic Control, Madalina Nechifor has grown from being a .NET developer into a Scrum Master, Project Manager, and now Team Manager. A strong believer of servant leadership practices, Madalina is always keen on ensuring the success of each project by understanding the business needs of the client and translating them into valuable, actionable insights for the team.
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