Samir Desai

Super Payments' CEO on how legal can enable C-suite

Business ops
March 17, 2023

In this series of interviews with legal's key internal clients, we learn all about what effective collaboration looks like, what 'excellent' looks like, and what ultimately they want from their legal colleagues. Read the whole collection here: Enabling The Business

Samir Desai CBE is the CEO and founder of Super Payments. Super Payments is a fintech looking to transform online payments and deliver a more rewarding shopping experience. Samir was previously the CEO of Funding Circle, and is still a member of the Board.

Before you worked with lawyers, what was your perception of them?

I always thought lawyers were incredibly hardworking, and experts in their field.

What’s your experience been like, working with lawyers?

I quickly realized that good lawyers become your commercial partners, especially in a deal situation. Banks may have an incentive to get the transaction over the line as soon as possible, but effective lawyers are in your corner.

A strong legal team is willing to be unpopular with people … User experience is key but sometimes you need to do what’s best for the business

Were you in charge when the business hired its first lawyer at Funding Circle? What was the turning point that led to that hire?

I was; Funding Circle was a lean business at the time so we worked with external counsel.

As we scaled we brought on a Head of Collections, for businesses that missed payments or defaulted on loans, who played both roles.

You need a legal background on collections but we eventually reached a stage where we needed a dedicated lawyer to help with this - the workload for our Head of Collection became too much.

I was also managing transactions - we reached a point where we needed a lawyer who understood the business, could structure transactions, and could help us internally.

What soft skills do you think are important in a legal team?

Legal needs to have a low ego, and be able to collaborate with others. Saying ‘no’ is fine as long as they also help colleagues understand the why behind it.

A strong legal team is also willing to be unpopular with people - there’s a lot of regulatory compliance that they need to deal with at a business like Funding Circle; we need to follow certain processes and make sure we’re not overstepping the mark.

User experience is, of course, key - but sometimes you need to do what’s best for the business, which may conflict with what other teams might think.

It’s the lawyer’s job to explain the risks, and lay out the consequences of going forward with or ignoring it

What can legal do to enable you to enable your business to grow?

A commercial mindset is a must-have. I value lawyers who:

  • Understand how to make a tradeoff between mitigating risk and what is needed commercially
  • Understand contract compliance
  • Don’t take a purist view - but rather meet in the middle to get the job done
  • Appreciate the tradeoff, the context and are able to respond appropriately

It’s the CEO’s job to balance the risk and figure out whether the task is worth doing. It’s the lawyer’s job to explain the risks, and lay out the consequences of going forward with, or ignoring, it.

And what would poor collaboration look like?

A situation where legal can’t provide a strong assessment of the risk as opposed to just saying yes or no. They need to know where the line is, and when to step in.

It’s also just as important to know when not to step in; when to enable teams by letting projects run their course.

How should legal support the business through challenging times?

It’s invaluable when legal can help us plan for bad situations. For example:

  • Knowing what obligations there are if something goes wrong
  • Making sure decisions are optimal for the longevity of the business

Legal also needs to make sure we’re tackling these complex challenges in the most human way possible.

Find out more about what business leaders expect of their legal team - read the collection in full: 'What the business wants from legal in 2023'.

Samir Desai CBE is the CEO and founder of Super Payments

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