Lynda Horgan

How to build trust at a fintech

Scaling legal
November 17, 2020

Bud GC Lynda Horgan explains how in-house legal teams can work more effectively by establishing trust internally, with the wider business, and externally - with customers.

Startups, by their nature, have to overcome a trust barrier with their customers. 

This is perhaps most pertinent in our sector. Fintechs are still a relatively new concept, so the hesitation customers may feel towards trusting startups as opposed to traditional banks with their money and data, is understandable.

Legal has a key role to play in helping the business overcome this external trust barrier - but lawyers also have to battle that dynamic internally, and gain the trust of their colleagues. Legal has long held a negative reputation for being the department that says ‘no’ - the bad guys who act as a bottleneck and slow down commercial growth.

So how can fintech lawyers change negative perceptions internally, and help the business establish trust externally? Here’s what I’ve learned from my time at Bud.

We try to educate everyone on legal, risk, and compliance issues so it’s not seen as a box they need to tick off a ‘to-do’ list

Internal trust comes from... 🤔

1. Alignment

I expected there to be negative perceptions of legal when I joined a startup - for lawyers, it often comes with the territory. So we got out ahead of the problem and set values in the legal, risk and compliance team to combat this from day one: never say no, always suggest an alternative solution, be a facilitator instead of an inhibitor.

These simple values really emphasize the value we can bring to the wider business - colleagues now view legal as a source of knowledge as opposed to approaching us for ‘the dreaded legal and compliance sign-off.’ Instead of a blocker, I become a trustworthy business partner.

Colleagues trust legal more when they see that the work I do is critical to the business. The commercial team, for example, is geared towards closing deals, but it’s legal’s job to make sure everyone is also conscious of the regulations that govern how we operate at a fintech. That’s why we deliver continuous, digestible training sessions every second week on various topics, from sanctions, to regulatory updates, to financial crime.

We work hard to make these sessions as practical as possible, and adapt them regularly to suit the audience and the environment. It’s especially important for customer-facing teams to get up to speed with the big issues in fintech; in early-stage discussions, clients will ask about safeguards Bud has in place, so teams need to have the knowledge to effectively answer these questions.

We try to educate everyone on legal, risk, and compliance issues so it’s not seen as a box they need to tick off a ‘to-do’ list, but is instead ingrained in business processes from day one. We also stay up-to-date and share knowledge on case studies on data protection or customer identification, so everyone understands the seriousness of these issues.

By aligning with the business and sharing knowledge, legal can provide a better insight into its day-to-day workload, and help establish trust between teams.

2. Early involvement

It’s also important for legal to get involved in the decision-making process at an early stage. When Bud launches a new product, legal is involved in this process from the outset. The business conducts kickoff calls to discuss an upcoming project, and we need time to think over its impact from a legal perspective, so we’re planning ahead and can enable other teams to succeed. Working proactively with the design team and developers means legal is never a final consideration at the finishing line; instead, we’re involved from the get-go.

The collaborative culture helps us connect with the wider business - we have opportunities to engage with other teams, through training and casual meetings. We provide training on legal matters, but also receive training on product and technology, so we have clear insight into what other teams do and how the business operates. And every week, I have a coffee with new colleagues to hear more about their job and what they do.

3. Transparency

There are many opportunities for the legal team to showcase their work, and ensure everyone in the business can see what we’re doing. New joiners get an ‘introduction to legal’ session, in which I explain legal’s role and how we get involved across the company. We also have roundup meetings at the end of every sprint, where each team communicates their current workload and challenges.

This being a scaleup, we use the same collaboration and task tracking tools as our colleagues across the wider business. We have legal, risk and compliance Trello boards that anyone can access, which is great for alignment, but also visibility - colleagues can understand where the real pinch points are, and can be a little more flexible with their time frames when approaching legal on a minor task.

External trust is built through... 🤗

1. Know-how

Legal’s main focus in helping Bud to build trust externally is from a security and regulatory perspective; it’s incumbent on us to keep up to date with the latest developments, and constantly assess the regulatory environment.

That’s the main challenge for fintech lawyers trying to help the business build trust with consumers - the business is developing products to enhance the customer experience, but the regulatory landscape is always changing. Reading, interpreting and applying that information can be time-consuming, especially when you add daily legal work into the mix of tasks legal needs to complete.

We often go straight to the source, speaking directly to the various regulatory bodies to get the latest updates. I spend a lot of time interpreting and taking pragmatic views, but this know-how is essential.

2. Branding

When it comes to overcoming a trust barrier with potential customers and clients, branding can make all the difference. One of Bud’s fundamental values is to “make the complex simple” and this directly relates to how I approach my role on a day-to-day basis.

By pushing our brand, our technology, and the values we heavily associate with our company, we can create an atmosphere of reassurance so customers can feel comfortable trusting us with their financial data. We strive to be the best-in-class with our technology, and this perception makes it much easier to build trust with customers and the wider market.

3. Robust protections

We try to be as robust as possible with the way we approach transactions with clients and customers. All our subcontractors have suitable policies in place to protect them and the business, and we’re open and comfortable with discussing these policies and answering any questions our clients may have.

We’re quite uncompromising with how we set up safeguards for the business; we have an extensive due diligence process everyone goes through - from our clients, to our suppliers. From there it’s simply a case of monitoring how everyone manages that knowledge and information - all our policies are built from the ground up to consider the wellbeing of our customers and potential clients, but also the employees at Bud.

Remember that you have the power, as a legal resource, to address and challenge issues if they crop up

Know your business ✨

Being stuck in a bubble of law and regulation is one of the biggest pitfalls for lawyers in fintech trying to establish trust in the business. Having a commercial view is super important; if you know your business inside out, can collaborate with other teams, and find workable solutions to problems, then you’ll be able to build trust internally.

And as for external trust, customers will be open to taking your business seriously if you take their concerns seriously too and treat them as human beings. Always remember that you have the power, as a legal resource, to address and challenge issues if they crop up. Having that visibility can help the business build trust, and succeed in the long run.

Lynda Horgan is VP Legal at SoftBank Investment Advisers

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