Make Payments Painless With Adrian Smith

Adrian is passionate about getting stuff done with deep experience in digital channels and a track record in designing end-to-end customer journeys for both online and offline touchpoints.

Upon returning to New Zealand in late 2020, Adrian is now the Head of Product at BlinkPay, a Māori fintech startup that designs digital payment solutions based on Open Banking NZ APIs.

02:01 - Glenn: Give us the two-minute life story of Adrian Smith as it means to where you are today?

Adrian: Kia Ora, Tēnā Koe Glenn, So I am Adrian. I am a Māori boy born and raised in Hamilton.I have spent my whole career pursuing building digital products and services. Back in 1995, when the interweb made its way into Waikato University Computer Labs, I kind of looked at it and I thought and I said to the lads, I said, I think this thing's going to change the world around us and not everyone shared my enthusiasm for it. But I've spent the last 26-ish years pursuing this, write my thesis on it and everything.

More recently, I've spent the last 14 years doing big bank transformation in the UK, where I worked for Lloyds Banking Group, as well as the director of Barclays Business Bank. And so, I came home in March and then on my return to New Zealand, I kind of looked at the financial services industry and thought to myself, Oh, we're a little bit behind the times. And I met some really cool people from BlinkPay and the founder in particular, Daniel Karehana, and he started talking about open banking and I was like, ‘Oh Bro I built that years ago.’
He’s like, ‘Yeah, well, we're still trying to figure it out.’ And I went ‘oh, I'm not sure I want to go back in time.’
And then we kept on chatting because he's very, very good on relationship building. And so, we kept on having Kōrero and then eventually got me to see it through the lens of ‘since you've really built this before, you kind of know where the puck is going to.’

To quote the great Wayne Gretzky, right? You know it, always skate where the puck is going. He's like, ‘So you know where the puck's going to go?’ and I'm like, ‘I suppose, if you put it that way.’ He’s like, ‘So you could potentially help us avoid some pitfalls and maybe shortcut a few of the things.’ I went, ‘when you say that, well, yeah, I can see that.’ And so, yeah, I actually ended up buying into him the individual, because he's quite a charismatic in an understated way kind of guy. And I said, ‘you know, I believe in you, bro, I’ma come join the crusade.’ And so, joining Blink Pay for me is a case of I wanted to give back to New Zealand having spent a lot of time overseas and in particular, I wanted to contribute to Māori. And so, this felt like the easiest way to achieve both those goals.

04:19 – Glenn: Tell me a little about Blink pay or tell the audience a little bit about BlinkPay

Adrian: So, for us, you know, we're trying to create what I refer to as connective tissue. We're trying to connect the banks and the billers and the merchants, and we're trying to bring them all together into a single ecosystem.
And at the moment, New Zealand is building open banking APIs, which is that connective tissue. And so, what we're trying to do, my shorthand, my tagline for it is we're just trying to make payments painless.

And so, we consider ourselves a fintech, although if we took a narrow definition, we’re actually a pay technology company. We just focus on payment capabilities at the moment, and we're trying to find better ways to help Kiwis make payments and say, when we say better, we're trying to find ways to remove friction.

We want the experience on the glass whether it be on a mobile app or a desktop computer. We want it to have the least amount of clicks, the least amount of cognitive effort possible. And so our kind of central thesis is if we can put a solution as close to the problem as possible, we're probably going to make a difference.

And so, kind of our flagship product is our bills product, whereby we ‘recreating relationships with the billers and the banks to actually take the bill and put it in your online bank in a meaningful way.

So, and this is pretty much the origin story of the company, so years and it's about seven years ago, I think it was Dan was trying to deal with some bills and invoices and the paper, and he was looking at his desktop and he's trying to go to his online bank and just trying to manage his cash flow. And in a very typical Māori response, he's like oh this is Hōhā man, must be an easier way of doing this. And so that was kind of where it started with an everyday human problem of I'm trying to manage the stuff I'm having to switch context between paper and screens and calculators and, why can't this all be together? So, I can just go, Yep, go, no stop.

And so that's the genesis of Blink Pay. That's where it started. And so, since 2018, Dan and the team prior to my arrival had been working very hard to build new payment capabilities that try and bring the solution as close to the problem as possible.

06:30 – Glenn: Can you give a use-case scenario of what a user journey using BlinkPay would be for your customers?

Adrian: Well, what I'll do is I'll talk to our primary use cases around billers, like a big one and then what I'll do, I'll answer that use case second if that's okay?

Glenn: Yeah, absolutely.

Adrian: So, let's assume so personal experience. So, I get my Vodafone bill via email, goes in there and then do I file or not? That’s a decision point for me.

And then I had this whole moment of, Oh God, I have to do something about this. When do I do something about this? In 17 days. I've got time. So, then I file it, or not, then have to try and find it or not. And then I then try and then go, Okay, and how do I pay this thing?

So now I'm going from a I'm trying to go through my bills, my email, and then trying to then log in to my online bank or my mobile upland then I'm trying to find that biller as a beneficiary or recipient if I set them up and then I'm trying to figure out, okay, how much I have to pay, so I'm trying to figure all these things out.
And so, what bills does is it basically does this thing where we have a relationship with Vodafone and we say, right, we want to connect the Vodafone data up to your bank. And so, for argument's sake, let's say it's BNZ. And so, we then sign, we signed a bilateral agreement with Vodafone and say BNZ. And then within that bilateral agreement that then allows us to then feed the bills from Vodafone and to BNZ, until their customers’ accounts are banked by BNZ.

Well, what does that mean in practice? I can go into my online bank and I'm doing, organizing my life, and I've got two bills dashboard that says in one place, here are all your bills and I've got sitting within that list. Well, here's your Vodafone bill. It's actually due in six days. Would you like to pay now? And if the cost looks about right? You go, oh cool, so you hit pay confirm, bill paid. Done, Done like a done thing.

Another variant on that. If you are a bookkeeper or a case study manager, you’d have the ability to say, well, actually, that's due in six days, I'm going to see that at the future date of six days. So just happens in the background and have to think about it. And I can just make that as pay and move on with the next task in my activity.

Coming to your simple use case that you sort of suggested one of the things you're looking at and a sort of a merchant or a smaller business type of level is, I am generating an invoice.

So, Glenn Marvin, the plumber is coming around and fixed the sink and you say, now I'ma send you an invoice, and I'm like sweet as. So, you generate your invoice on whatever platform makes sense to you. Maybe it's like a Xero or something like that.. You then send me the invoice. And if we've indicated properly, I'll get an email that'll ever pay now on it or something like that, I click that pay now and then I have the options to say, all right? Would you like to pay from using your bank account, using these rails? And so you go, Okay, I'll do that. So, you then, you follow that you give consent to actually use to pay from your bank account in your bank account?

And then I can just go, pay Glenn Marvin and everything's pre-populated, so there’s no user errors around incorrect account information. I'm not typing in the wrong things. There are no issues around misdirected payments, I hit go, and because it’s built on open banking APIs, part of the API is then established. Is there available balance or not? Well, actually there is in the receiving account on the outstanding account. Okay, cool. hit send, and so the money goes. There’s no dishonored payments. It all happens in real time because your APIs give real time the directions of what's going on and everything happens real time.

10:20 – Glenn: How Integral are things like customer interactions and feedback and things like that and what sort of part do they play in planning and prioritizing development and identifying issues within the product?

Adrian: So, it's really interesting because if you're not talking to your customers often, then you're missing a trick, right? Because essentially, if you're in the technology game like we are, we're always trying to strive for what's known as product market fit.

We’re trying to develop a product or product set or a new product that best fits the needs of the market. You can't guess that in isolation, if you are guessing you’re missing the mark or Oe te maka, as we say in Māori.
So, what you what you ideally want to be doing is? In the case of our business which is B to B to C, we have a slightly odd model whereby, our customers are actually other businesses, but the actual end users are someone else.

And so, we have this two-tier strategy, right? So thankfully, our initial focus is on the larger businesses. So, we have, you know, two or three key people within a large business and sort of as a policy, because I'm the product guy, I want to be talking to them as often as possible. So, I try to talk to at least one customer every day. But on an average week, it's once every second day. I’m talking to customers and I'm constantly asking questions to understand.

And then once we start to understand from a qualitative perspective, what does an ideal solution look like? We then start to design it up with our customers and we start to do Co-Creation sessions to try and figure out what makes the most sense and then ultimately, we then try and take that out into the labs and try and test with actual end users. We'll say, look, we think this might be useful and helpful. What do you think? And then we then dispassionately let them have a go at it and we try and then assess kind of the level of interaction.

And of course, if you've ever done qualitative testing lab, you know that what people say, what they don’t always align. But what it does do is it helps you refine the solution you're trying to build. I mean, if we are really clever, really smart, we then try and then take whatever our refined solution is and then put it into a quantitative setting.

So, the business I came from in the UK, we had a beta version of the app where you could basically put code in there, get out in the wild with real customers, thousands of real customers and get actual live feedback on is this any good or not? Does that make sense?

12:41 – Glenn: What sort of questions do you ask and what are you trying to achieve as part of that feedback process?

Adrian: It's really interesting. one of the things I learned doing user experience testing is you ask someone, hey, what do you want to like aaahhhhhh? A better horse, aahhhh? Whereas if you ask a very different question, we used to say, well, what kind of the key challenges that you're trying to deal with? One of the struggles your pain points. What’s the pebble in your shoe that irritates you? What are the things that you've had to design? you know, very unique and potentially, rigs together solution is just to get a jury rig to get around the problem.
And so ultimately, when you ask questions to try and understand kind of what the key challenges of people are trying to do, what are the goals, what are they trying to achieve that then allows you to then start to understand potentially where you can generate new solutions or refine what you have? So, it's very much a focus on what are the things that they're getting tripped up by.

Because if you're going to try and design a solution to an existing problem that has existing solutions, then doing something that's marginally better doesn't really… won't get it done. You typically, you know, the behavioral sciences there needs to be at least nine times better, this is going to be the work for me, agrees in the lead startup.

But if you're doing something that's brand new for the first time, just finding where people fall over and then solving for that can get you a long way down the path.

14:07 – Glenn: How often is it that you have been in an environment where you find people are asking questions that are predetermined to try and help engineer an outcome that they already want?

Adrian: It happens a lot and I think it sounds like you know that as well. one of the things you've got to be wary of is the echo chamber. Or you just ask questions to validate what you think, you know? And one of the problems I've seen was that in my experience, working in large organizations is often times people only trying to find anything that validates their hypothesis.

And so oftentimes you find people have got solutions that they're looking for problems for which I found really irritating, we got a solution. What's the problem? We've got a solution. Yah, but what’s the problem? And always trying to, you know, retrofit a problem to the solution you've already built has never worked my experience.

Someone, I'm happy for someone to correct me and take this up with me and separately, but I've never seen it work. And so critically, it's about having an open mindset like you need to be asking to understand, not asking to validate what you think you know what's the point in talking to anyone?

15:22 – Glenn: In those larger organizations, how hard is it to actually drill down and analyse that and get information that is both thematic and relevant to help you make those decisions?

Adrian: interestingly, in Barclays, when I was there in the U.K. when I first arrived, we had reasonable analytic capabilities. But I would suggest that at the time when I joined in 2000, when was that, 2011? It wasn't as close to the industry, the top line top end of the industry.

And so thankfully, I was in an organization that works really hard to maximize its use of data to turn, we had this phrase, can we turn data into insights like can we do something actionable with this thing? And so thankfully, we had a really progressive organization that spent a lot of time bringing in the right skillsets and the tools.

Actually, we had too many tools that was part of our problem. We had so many tools, but what it meant was we had a lot of really clever guys, you know, big brainiacs trying to crunch the day. And you're right, at some point you get to a piece around analysis paralysis. You have so much data that it's really hard to see the wood for the trees. And so that happens. And there's lots of really cool models and capabilities that deal with that. But for us, we try to stay as focused as possible on kind of the core problems or challenges and journeys or products sets that we're trying to solve.

So, trying to solve real life problems and in particular one of the things that we orientated around was trying to address complaints around when things and work that really helped keep us focused around looking at the right datasets and not getting lost in data.

I think the big risk that many large organizations come across as they get swept of the idea of more data is better. And so, then these attempts to acquire the party's data to build really complex models. But in my experience, making that all work constantly together is a difficult thing because a simple thing like a carriage return can throw out a data model because all of a sudden it does not compute, does not go. Crunching, all the data is a bit of a challenge, and obviously there are better tools that’s coming out every year.
The secret sauce to success with a lot of organizations is not just what they do, it's the culture behind it and how they do it. And you alluded to it at the start in and around, coming in with a charismatic Māori founder organization, you wanted to come back, reconnect with the roots, make a difference, make an impact.

18:10 – Glenn: How important is that, not just to you, but do you think it is to the future of the success of the business, incorporating that Māori culture?

Adrian: As a Māori first technology company in a Māori fintech, as Dan likes to call us, we have a really strong sense of values born of tikanga and driving the way we think and act and behave so as an example.
I think most New Zealand organizations, which is really cool, by the way, actually have Māori values, which I think is brilliant. And for us, we have this really key idea that, you know, culture = values X behavior.
Like if you can say this is our value, but then you behave in a way that it's opposite. Like you might say, how we value integrity, but we don't keep our promises, then that doesn't really stack up. And so, we tend to lean towards this idea that it's good to have a stated value what we stand for. But it's also equally important to articulate how you go about that day to day.

And so, as an example, we've got one of our one kind of key values from a culture perspective is, Mahitahitanga, the idea of being a supportive team. And you know, our tagline of “the what it is,” basically means we're kind, we're family oriented. We’re compassionate, we're welcoming. We show humor. There’s a high trust environment. We're countable, open, and transparent.

And then, the how part, the behavior part is in which we show this when we are communicating early and often we're offering to help each other. We’re listening. We treat others how we want to be treated. We laugh every day. Bunch of Māori's, we it's very hard to not laugh at least once per meeting. And we always assume good intent, right? So, you know, sometimes people will come out the same problem with very different lenses.
And so, the whole idea is we assume that whatever position they're coming from, there’s really good logic and context that says this is the way to go. And so, it's our job to then try and listen to it, understand it. And so essentially, what Dan has inculcated as part of the BlinkPay team is this kind of this slightly hapū based, family kind of worldview on sort of, if you're going to be in our little tribe, then we're going to take this approach, and this is how we're going to behave and be.

Glenn: I love that man. And you know what? I don't know. I could probably count on one hand, people in other organizations that when I asked that question, can actually articulate their values because all too often in the corporate world, those values are words on a wall.

Adrian: Yes, yes. And we felt similar to the Bushido code, right? It’s about living this virtuous life of this is what we stand for, and this is how we do it, and we really wanted those things to connect.

And so that that's the end threaded throughout the entire organization. And so, we’re constantly trying to find ways to lift each other up and challenge each other in constructive ways, but also recognize that we're all in this together. We’re all trying to achieve similar goals.

And what helps, too, is because we are a Māori company, we're mostly Māori. We have a similar internal belief system that also holds. That means that we can communicate ideas very quickly with subtle eyebrow gestures. And we, we can also stop an overly convoluted conversation with a single word.

I was having a Kōrero the other day with one of our key customers, and I asked a question that sort of asked the individual in particular to articulate some of the challenges they had with another supplier. And he just looks at me and goes, Hōhā bro, that moment. All of us think, OK, move on. There was no need for a long-winded answer or an over explanation as to what the challenges we're in a politically or diplomatically correct way. Just said, Hōhā bro. And then we move to the next point.

22:35 – Glenn: Do those cultural values and beliefs have that flow through in regards to how you design the product and the process that you’re going through to actually do that user testing and what are the outcomes that you’re trying to affect?

Adrian: So, it does translate because when we go to approach the conversation, we try to approach conversations in a respectful way. So, a part of tikanga is when you are in a hui, in a meeting, and then you basically get up and introduce yourself who you are, why you're here and your background. And so, whenever we are in meetings and sessions, we do that to try and help orientate both ourselves and others in the meeting, especially if we knew to it or someone else is new to the meeting then gives you a sense of everyone's perspective where they're coming from, which then allows you to then frame up the responses to something that makes sense, right?

Because the worse is when you’re sitting there and I might be talking digital product, digital product, digital product, and some guy turns around and says, ‘digital product, stupid’. And I'm like, what? And then you discover that that individual actually has no understanding whatsoever, that mere expertise and in something related to the Kōrero, but not crucial in that moment.

So having tikanga to guide us in the value system to help us then address that is a really useful way of doing things. And to your point around talking to customers because we seek to understand, we’re always forever asking as many questions as possible and giving people as much space to articulate what's going on. Because every conversation or every Kōrero we have, we're getting vital information is to ways that we can improve what we're doing our product set to try and enhance the product market fit that we're trying so hard to get and to try and make things as painless as possible.

And so, it's interesting. Some of the most, some of the most insightful things have come from throwaway comments or a Hey, have a look at this and then you look at it for one intended reason. And then, you see that actually, there is this unintended thing over here that's happening. That actually, that actually might be the point. And so, it also helps to engage in that Kōrero, that dialog. Ways that you potentially might have to pivot the product in order to better meet that of the people you're dealing with.

So, it's very much a case of we like to collaborate as often as possible and co-create. And that's a very big part of culturally what we're trying to achieve. We’re trying to do things in harmony. one of the things about Māori, we all get very excited about is, we’re not really into terraforming that which is around us .We move and try and sort of fit in and work with in an organic and together symbiotic kind of way, and so, it generally tends to pervade itself. When we engage in conversation, in Kōrero.

25:57 – Glenn: I'm interested in supplier diversity and what it actually will end up meaning for the end user because I think if we stuck in thinking and one mindset in one way and working with limited options. Your cultural bias just will automatically restrict the options that you end up having and the outcomes that you get. So, I'd be really keen to hear from your guy’s perspective, how this supply diversity can enrich not just the supplier experience, but the customer experience.

Adrian: Yeah, absolutely. So, for us, it's about diversity of thinking. And often times, and sadly, we Māori, we over index in a number of ways that aren't flattering. And so, if you're trying to design a solution for various aspects of society, for me, it's logical to include those people in the consultation process.
You know, with the greatest respect to other parties, you’re out there doing the sort of thing if you're trying to design solutions to people, you're not talking about who are impacted by it. Chances of it being off the mark are pretty high.

And so, from a from a diversity perspective, having that diverse thinking, it also then introduces ideas or concepts you may not be aware of. So, when I was engaged recently by a previous employer, I was asked the question around digital identity.

And so, what does that mean from a Māori perspective, I said, well there’s a few issues, number one from a digital identity, if someone's taking a snap of my face and I've got moko on.

And then they could potentially get reused without permission because someone says, well, I've taken the photo. I now have the ownership of that. No, that moko on my face represents my whakapapa. My people, my relationship to my iwi, to the land, to the whenua, no, you don't just take a photo and then own that. No, that doesn't work that way.

You know, another thing, a real simple thing right, we’re looking at sort of storage of data, and like a photo database, for instance, on a Marae situation. You would never put pictures of the hāmate, the dead with the living. It’s one of those tikanga things that, I won't bore you with all of the background story to it, but living and dead doesn’t… We don't really like that. And so, the idea of putting photos in a database where it's kind of clumped together? No. So, you know, pretty simple solution. Well, let’s partition it out and give people a flag so they can identify those who are living from the dead, and you can then partition that information out.
Another thing we're not fans of. If you just ask is our data, which is part of our own essence, our wairua, um being taken and stored overseas, that’s like us being taken from our own land. Yeah. Again, something we be like. AWS cloud services Australia. Probably not.

And so, these are actually some really cool local Māori initiatives actually dealing with that. In and around data sovereignty. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, one of a really cool, really cool guy, actually, I won't name drop him, but there's a really cool guy who's recognize that fact. He’s actually been building databases for Marae, so they can then store whakapapa on site in situ.

And it's again, it's something that's peculiar to maybe peculiar to us Māori, but it's one of those things where you're unaware of it. But what would you do about it? How would you solve that?

29:49 – Glenn: And how important is it to build up that trust so that you can get that unfiltered feedback, because I've seen it so many times that you can spend an hour with somebody and you can ask all sorts of questions, and it's the last five minutes where all the gold comes, where they just release.

Adrian: Yeah. So, my personal viewpoint is if you want… people conduct business with people. And so, in order to do that, there needs to be a level of trust. Otherwise, if you don't trust them, when you have to do business with them, right? And so, a critical part of building relationships is building trust and robust relationships. And how we go about that is critical because if you have a trust and robust relationship, then you know, you can answer pretty much any question, ask any question and get an honest reply.

And I think this is where I find myself quite anomalous coming back to New Zealand financial services industry because the banks, they don't generally tend to talk to transparently with each other because obviously there’s com, you know, commercial law potential and considerations and impacts. But I roll up and I've done banking for a long time and I'm not in banking and so quite happy to have a dialog with me because I'm not really the competition. I'm just someone who gets it.

And so that ability to get to, you know, it's like the old iceberg analogy, right? Where the tip above the water is typically what you see and all the interesting stuff beneath the water. And so, for me, it's always asking what I refer to as the OR question. And what else does anything else? Anything else to think about always trying to just get beneath that surface level understanding or what's top of mind. Because oftentimes it's I've found similar to yourself. It’s typically the third or fourth idea is actually the big one.

31:54 – Glenn: What’s the best way for people to find out more about BlinkPay and what you guys do?

Adrian: Yeah, absolutely. So, if you go to our website, also on LinkedIn, at the moment, we've got three products that we're building on open banking rails and APIs. So, one of them, as we call, is BlinkPay Now and it's a debit product and allows you like a payment gateway to connect to a payment gateway. Pay now and then carries all that information. And then you sign into your own online bank and then you make the payment from your online bank. But we carry all the data in there for you, so you don't have to think about that part, so slightly different to some of the other solutions out there which take your bank information and then kind of do it in their own space, which we find awkward and uncomfortable.

And so, we prefer to say, look, we're going to send you over here. You can log into your own bank. That's where you're going. You’ve sent the payment from there, but we'll just pre-populated everything for you. You just have to hit go.

So that's kind of one of our key products and our other marquee product, which is coming out next year, is what it's called enduring consent from the API industry, which is the ability to set digitally a recurring payment. So, which will then enable new payment methodology so you could set up a subscription payment, which is obviously the Holy Grail of digital income, you know, Netflix style subscription. You can do that in minutes on your digital device also has the ability to do variable recurring payments.

So similar to direct debit payments go up and down, you'll make that payment for you if you want to set up that way, but also has the ability because it's set up digitally, you can amend it very quickly. And if you go through the whole process of resetting up the direct debit and doing the ten days stand down, which is currently in play. So yes, that in our bills process three key products that we're working on at the moment.

Where to find Adrian Smith
Amotai Network:

Māori translations:
Kia Ora - Hello
Tēnā Koe - Thank you
Oe te maka - off the mark
Tikanga - reason, purpose, motive.
Kōrero - conversation
Hōhā - boring, tiresome, wearisome, tedious, exasperating, irksome, annoying, vexatious.
Mahitahitanga - working together
Hapū or Iwi - kinship group, clan, tribe, subtribe - section of a large kinship group and the primary political unit in traditional Māori society.
Hui - gathering, meeting, assembly, seminar, conference.
Moko - Māori tattooing designs on the face or body done under traditional protocols.
Whakapapa - genealogy, genealogical table, lineage, descent - reciting
Whenua - country, land, nation, state
Marae - where formal greetings and discussions take place
Hāmate - dead, deceased
Wairua - spirit, soul

Bushido is a moral code which comprises of samurai attributes and behavior and is of Japanese origin, regarding warrior attributes and principle as code of conduct to live life. The virtues include righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honor, loyalty, and self-control.

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