Founder of Zopa urges leaders at inaugural Leasing Foundation tech innovation debate to challenge the status quo

alexander james

Leasing leaders have been urged to challenge the status quo and actively search for new business ideas as they define the future of finance, during a new forum designed to inspire innovation in the industry.

James Alexander (pictured), co-founder of disruptive finance company Zopa, the world’s first peer-to-peer lender, said executives needed a single-minded drive to see ideas succeed.

Speaking at the inaugural Leasing Foundation Innovation Initiative breakfast debate, he added that perspective is critical.

“If you stand in the present and look forward, you can just see barriers and obstacles; if you stand in the future and look back, it becomes apparent what has to change,” he said.

Business leaders can drive change through a focus on encouraging and supporting ideas and developing a broad perspective on their markets by engaging with customers and employees more closely.

He also said it was important to go through the customer experience to understand what their journey feels like first-hand.

Alexander quoted global business consultant and former leading auto executive Thomas Stallkamp to highlight the importance of developing an innovative culture within a business, saying: “The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other.”

Zopa stands for Zone of Possible Agreement, the mutual point at which buyer and seller can reach a deal and Alexander developed the online platform as co-founder to match investors directly with borrowers. Since 2005, it has lent more than £4 billion to half a million borrowers and generated £250 million interest for investors. In December last year, the business expanded further with the launch of a banking arm.

He is now a director of an open source think tank and advisory, which has provided strategic and innovation advice to some of the world’s biggest companies, including Apple, Mastercard and Facebook.

During the Leasing Foundation event, hosted at the Holborn branch of industry innovator Metro Bank in London, delegates heard from a panel of experts about the challenges of driving innovation, particularly in relation to reducing friction and speeding up service to customers.

Panellists included Karima Haji, director, Auto Novo, Ben Sher, managing director, Cloud Lending Solutions, Matt Hicks, commercial director, Codat, Justin Fitzpatrick, chief executive officer, DueDil and Martin Bartlam, partner with DLA Piper.

They highlighted that companies and suppliers need to adapt to customer demands for faster buying journeys with minimal disruption or administration, while still being compliant with changing regulations and legislation.

However, a poll during the meeting showed that legacy technology is seen as one of the biggest barriers to change, along with internal resistance to altering business strategy.

The problem is, experts warn, that by the time businesses become aware of a market change they need to respond to, it may already be too late to take action to maintain market share.

Delegates heard that small steps can help; focus on individual ‘pain points’ for the customer and introduce change in increments, instead of trying to fix all the problem areas at once.

zopa forum

Consultancy Bain and Co points to the internet retail giant Alibaba in China as proof that a disruptor, in this case a technology firm, can succeed quickly on a large scale in financial services.

Over just four years, Alibaba’s repository for leftover cash from online spending became the largest money-market fund in the world, through its Ant Financial unit.

Ant Financial has since moved further into consumer credit, with at least $95 billion in outstanding loans reported during 2018.

The Leasing Foundation debate was led by Ylva Oertengren, the chief operating officer of Simply Asset Finance.

Following the event, Mike Randall, Simply Asset Finance chief executive officer and a member of the Leasing Foundation’s core strategy group, said: “The breakfast event was a great success – both in terms of interest from the industry and the calibre of the speakers and panellists. All tickets sold out three weeks before the event, which goes to show how important innovation – or the search for it – is to the industry.

“The Innovation Initiative is a specific network for forward-thinking companies that wish to understand the benefits of emerging technologies – something that is critical for the asset finance industry in particular, because, as we know, our industry is behind the game.

“We hope that this debate inspired attendees to think differently about the challenges in their businesses, how to drive things forward, how to innovate and help the whole industry change its perspective.”

For details of future Leasing Foundation Innovation Initiative breakfast events, visit its dedicated LinkedIn site.