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December 16, 2023

Engineering Principles for Leading a High Performing Fintech Team

Explore the essential principles of leading a fintech engineering team. This article dives into the unique aspects that distinguish finance engineering teams, focusing on aligning with company values and prioritizing innovation, security, and customer value.

Namrata Ganatra

Namrata Ganatra

Engineering & Product at Pipe

From my experience leading finance technology organizations at Meta, PayPal, Coinbase, startups building fintech products from the ground up, and now at Pipe, I’ve observed unique aspects that set finance engineering teams apart. This article shares insights and principles that guide these teams in aligning with company values while prioritizing innovation, security, and customer value.

First and foremost, every engineering team should embody the company's mission and values. In fintech, this alignment goes beyond mere adherence – it requires integrating additional engineering principles to focus team efforts effectively.

Security First: A Non-Negotiable Priority

Fintech isn’t just about innovation; it's fundamentally about trust. Security is integral at all development stages, requiring a culture where every team member prioritizes it.  Adopting a 'Security First' approach means considering security at every stage of the software development life cycle. It's about creating a culture where every team member, from developers to QA engineers, is conscious of security.

This principle aligns with practices at top firms where cross-functional collaboration ensures customer funds and data are safeguarded against ever-evolving threats. This principle is essential in a sector where a study by PwC found that 51% of surveyed companies had experienced fraud in the last 24 months.

Build Value: Customer-Centric Development

Building value means constantly asking questions such as, "How does this create more value for the customer?" or “How does this benefit the customer?”. This principle is central to fintech, where customer trust and satisfaction are key to success. It involves prioritizing features and innovations that solve real problems, enhance user experience, or provide significant benefits to customers, rather than developing technology for technology's sake.

One Team: Unified Towards Common Goals

The 'One Team' principle emphasizes collaboration and unity. In fintech, where multidisciplinary skills converge, fostering a team-oriented culture is essential. This means breaking down silos, encouraging open communication, and ensuring that everyone understands how their work contributes to the team's and company's objectives. Coinbase did this well, where most projects were often cross-functional, and the way we made decisions was putting the company’s goals first rather than individual teams' agenda.

API Driven: Facilitating Cross-Team Communication

In the world of fintech, APIs are the linchpins that enable systems to interact seamlessly. An 'API-driven' approach facilitates clear and efficient communication across teams, allowing for modular development and easier integration of services. It enables teams to expose data and functionalities through well-defined service interfaces, ensuring scalability and flexibility. Pipe’s successful API integrations exemplify this principle, ensuring modular development, scalability, and flexibility.

Explicit Tradeoffs: Customer-Focused Decision Making

Making explicit tradeoffs involves considering the customer's perspective in every decision. This principle requires articulating the costs and benefits of engineering trade-offs clearly and thoughtfully. In fintech, where decisions can significantly impact user experience and trust, understanding and communicating these trade-offs transparently is crucial. For instance, opting for comprehensive testing to ensure high-quality features and reducing user friction, even if it means slower rollout, prioritizes user experience over speed.

Automate (1-2-3 Rule): Efficiency and Scalability

The '1-2-Automate' principle is about efficiency. If a process is done more than twice, it's time to automate it. This approach minimizes human error, reduces operational overhead, frees up valuable resources for more complex tasks, and ensures consistency.

Automation is a cornerstone in fintech, allowing companies to handle large volumes of transactions securely and reliably. One example of the best way to implement this principle is having a tighter feedback loop with customer success teams and Risk and Compliance operations teams to understand and analyze their manual workload.

With Advancements in AI, It has become much easier to automate manual operations. Every fintech company looking to incorporate AI into their roadmaps should start with automating manual processes that directly impact customer SLA and experience. 

Conclusion

Leading a fintech team effectively requires a solid grounding in these core engineering principles. Security, value creation, teamwork, API-driven communication, explicit trade-offs, and automation form the backbone of successful fintech operations. By embedding these principles into the team's ethos, leaders can navigate the complexities of the fintech landscape while driving innovation and maintaining customer trust. As the fintech industry continues to evolve, these principles will remain critical in shaping its future.

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