Listen: Colin Walsh, CEO of Varo Money, on Building a Career in Finance
"Colin. Thanks for having me up to your office here in San Francisco looking forward to speaking with you. Thanks great to meet you yeah. You're the CEO founder of Viral Varo money which is Challenger Bank will get into what that is and what that means and all that stuff but we usually start off earlier in the career where you got your first job what you were taking where you an entrepreneurial person where you have finance person like when did you start to become the guy yard lay. My very first job was six. Actually so I was a was I was a child actor. Believe it or not so many many years ago but then fast forward further my life I graduated college and went to g capital capital so and I don't know that I ever really thought I'd become a banker international services but I looked at a variety of opportunities right out of right out of college login. This seemed like a really good one. It was a management training program and I came an opportunity to kind of get deep into understanding processes operations marketing geting business development and so after a couple of years. I was running a PNL and it was fun. You know I had a lot of lot of responsibility. Um uh-huh and then I did a bunch of things after that went to American express the first time then came out to the west coast landed at Wells Fargo and I spent spent nine years at wells doing a variety of different things running marketing and sales for for one of the divisions than I actually started the first online consumer credit business wells fargo so when from a powerpoint to a two billion dollar business in two years so the the team at wells was pretty happy about that and then give me give me other responsibilities and then the person who actually hired me at wells brought me to the UK where I spent a number of years I at Lloyds Banking group Iran of a variety of businesses is all the cards and payments businesses and then we had the financial crisis head and then I stepped out of my day job to actually run the integration of the second largest bank in the UK retail bank and so had a interesting time sort of a sewing those two banks together in the heat of the financial crisis and then took over the deposit business the retail business in their mortgage business so you know here we had like some thirty percent market share in the UK and we're in the middle of a financial crisis prices so you can imagine I spent quite a bit of time with the regulators and the government and trying to look at policy look at how to really focus on safety and soundness of the banking system awesome and so then the last kind of big job I had before starting Varo. I went back to Amex in Iran the consumer business across Europe well. I mean it sounds like this g. e. job was like pretty formative and setting you up to build these banking businesses because like these weren't like front office speaking speaking jobs like you're running businesses for banks it really was and I think the sort of learning a little bit about how to run a business and how to sort of take commercial responsibility for for all the decisions that you have to make in even though at the time you know it was a relatively small business. I think it taught me some of the skills required to think about growth to think about product to think about operations to think about risk united say though that throughout all of those experiences it really brought me very close is to customer and and think he is these are all consumer facing businesses consumer and small business and and it helped me start to develop a deeper level of empathy empathy for problem so we're trying to sell for customers and I think over the course of those years it also helped me start to form the seed of what ultimately became borrow which is how to create a bank that was going to be very differentiated that was going to really try to move the needle. Oh in a in a fairly profound way for consumers and we can talk more about that yeah I mean so you've had this pretty prolific career working for many different banks and starting businesses Mrs Within these banks and have your own startup. Is it similar starting a startup within a bank and going out and just like something from from scratch or what is that like it's totally different so when you're inside of big company and you can pull resources. You've got big budgets. You you can make phone calls and people you know. You're representing a accompanying. So you know vendors lineup to to sort of do business with you. I think at the very early days of you know I guess you know having been around around and had a pretty good so network. It was helpful but it is very different. When you're the guy doing all the work I remember in those early days. You know it's like I I had no staff to draw draw upon so if I had to get something done you really had to rely on yourself and then start to bring people in to help focus on step one step two step three and it's really you know when you're building something from scratch. I mean it you know and I did that a little bit inside as you mentioned you know like when I was at wells when I built that consumer credit credit business. I really did start out as a powerpoint but I had all of Wells Fargo sort of draw upon to get it done and you have to be much more resourceful and much more scrappy when you're starting. I'm from scratch and also only kind of take it in little chunks at a time because if you look too far ahead it's just daunting because you know when you think about. Abu They go back to those early days. which really wasn't that long ago? It was three and a half years ago. We'd be having this conversation at my living room so it's it's come a long way. We now have over two hundred people bowl and the business is growing so rapidly but it is about thinking about. Where do you have to be next week where you have to be two weeks from now. Where do you have to be a month from now. What are those proof proof points that are critical in order to kind of go from from where you are to where you need to get to and and you do sort of take it in bite size chunks right so throughout your career. Aaron in finance and banking. was there a defining moment when like the Varo idea hits you and you're like this is. There's a huge problem here that I'm Gonna I go off. I think there were a few of those I mean so a couple examples that I've used in the past is when I first arrived in the UK the office of fair trading had had regulated default fees which these fees I had the credit card business in other a couple of other businesses at the time and and basically these were like late fees or over limit fees and anyhow it wiped sixty million dollars off the pianowski okay so here's my okay. I'm in my six week new country new job. You know I get get this message from my team saying by the way we're going to miss our plan by sixty million pounds and so fortunately I knew my boss from she'd brought me over and I said okay well. Let's yeah. Let's have a look at how we're going to deal with this. I got the team together and very very resourcefully. You know they came up with a whole series of ideas around how we were going to close this l. gap and but as I started to go through them I realized many of them you know while well intentioned really could be harmful for consumers and that you know things like changing payment hierarchies and increasing cash fees and things that were just if you think about people who are living paycheck to paycheck or living on the edge like they started dating crew all this additional cost could actually really harm their financial health and and so I I looked at that and said wow like that. That's not those that's not good revenue like this is actually not a good thing. I was thinking about more broadly how the system works in in a when when banks and other financial institutions have to close a prophet gap you who who pays the price for that will the consumer and so I went to my boss at the time and said look you know. I think there's some of this that we can do that. I can live with myself as but the reality is is we're going to have we're going to have a shortfall so either. You'RE GONNA cover it to your other business units or you're GonNa send me home and find somebody else who cover it and and fortunately she kept me and and I said look we'll we'll find a way to make this up but we want to do it in the right"