Q&A- Startups

7 Questions with James Varga of DirectID

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, both at work and leisure.

I founded DirectID in 2011 with a mission to create convenience, offering new products and services for business and consumers alike using the identity and data that we have with our bank accounts to make our lives, in a digital context, easier.

I simply love being involved in a startup, building things, solving problems and if at least in a small way – changing the world. A bit of a startup junkie who loves working with great people, teams and companies and believe that together as an industry we are stronger than individual companies.

Being involved in startups for most of my adult life I’ve become very iterative in my approach to life. Whether it’s cooking (my personal passion) or anything else we all have an opportunity to constantly improve ourselves and become better people. Maybe that’s why I find habits, psychology and biohacking such interesting topics.

As a believer in a consumer centric world where we own and manage our own data I enjoy getting involved with various groups – fintech related or not. I’m involved in a range from Trust in Digital Life, Fintech groups such as Fintech Scotland and the Fintech Delivery Panel and others. Above and beyond all of that I believe in the huge opportunity for bank data (Open Banking / PSD2) and the global potential it has. This is why I’ve been campaigning for it over the last 10+ years now.

2. Which product or service do you offer, and who are your competitors?

We build products based on bank data, which helps firms onboard their customers quickly, and gain a fuller understanding of them.

DirectID’s suite of products assess bank statement information, affordability and income, allowing our customers to make more informed decisions, faster. This lowers operational costs and enhances customer experience.

Our B2B product, DirectID Insights, helps businesses overcome challenges such as risk, compliance and fraud. It offers a real-time and comprehensive guide to their financial lives, providing solutions such as Income Verification.

The platform connects to 11,000+ banks globally, and is a leading supplier of Open Banking services in the UK.

The business is authorised by the FCA to provide AISP (Account Information Service Provider) services to the UK market.

3. How did you get the business idea and take it from launch to the first customers?

The idea came years ago when while working with a Personal Financial Management tool I realised that there is even more value from just the data we have with our bank accounts. Financial services provides a global trust network that we can leverage, as individuals, to be able to prove we are who we say we are in a purely digital context. Adding the data on top of this was even more exciting as the data is trusted – it comes directly from your bank. This was before Open Banking as we know it today and also GDPR.

Today we find ourselves in the middle of this space. Originally we started as an identity service, a digital passport, owned and operated by the individual as a self-sovereign service. However a few years ago now we realised that we were still too early for the market (timing is critical to any startup) so we had to pivot. We took the same value proposition but packaged it as a B2B service in a way that the industry (and especially the larger organisations) were more likely to buy it. Along the way we helped establish Open Banking in the UK and now campaign on a global basis for Open Finance and personal data.

In terms of establishing ourselves in the market I’ve always viewed it as climbing the ladder. There are many reasons for this from the risk adversity of larger banks through to the regulation centric nature of the industry. We started out with small, then moved to medium and now power a number of larger banks and institutions – we have climbed what I call the ‘fintech ladder’ as going after the elephants from day one is just too risky. The added bonus has been working closely with like minded companies eager to disrupt the space and truly understanding their use cases and the market need.

4. How have you financed your startup? Any lessons would you like to share from the fund-raising journey?

We have taken on funding over the years from angel investors to VC’s as we have grown the business. There have been many lessons along the way and it’s not the easiest thing to do at times – especially like now with the global pandemic. Bootstrapping for as long as possible and at least to initial validation makes a huge difference as does looking for pains that investors can relate too – and finding investors that relate to your pains. Anyone looking to raise money should map out their future as once you take on funding – you are more than likely going to take on more and it’s not always predicting what might happen over the next 10 years of the typical startup journey. Beyond that understand who you are talking too – do your research; know your numbers; clearly describe what it is you want to achieve and as always: practice practice practice!

5. What’s your ask/ how could our network help you in the next 6-12 months?

Both myself, the company and team are passionate about bank data especially in the context of credit risk, affordability, fraud, etc. We are always looking for opportunities to work with partners and customers alike to bring these use cases to market and build a global bank data network. The ask simply put would be to get in touch if there is a need, an idea or collaboration! The next challenge for Open Banking is for it to be adopted in meaningful ways that create impact for us as consumers – that’s a challenge for us as an industry that we can all work together on.

 6. Which key trends and opportunities should we be watching in (European) finance?

Open Banking / PSD2 becoming Open Finance is now trending quite strongly to credit risk. Not just in customer onboarding but throughout the credit risk lifecycle which includes portfolio management and collections & recoveries. In the next couple of years I think we will also start to see more conversations around consumer identity and the use of bank data but my own belief is we have to start to think about this differently than we do today – we have to think about it as a utility and not something that we own – at least for a large part of solving the pain.

Continuing the journey to empower consumers with their identity and data is the only way we are going to overcome the challenges of privacy, security and risk (fraud, etc). This isn’t a technical challenge but a behavioural one – we have to find reasons, as individuals, to do it. Or more interestingly – maybe we should just have it without knowing we have it until the day we want to control and see it.

7. What’s on your bookshelf/ reading list, and what’s your favorite place for a coffee or a drink?

I would love to post something interesting about my reading list but the truth is I don’t seem to find much time for books. I listen to podcasts and the odd audio book (usually at 2x speed) but I have found that talking to there people and sharing experiences is the most effective. As a hard core foodie – that’s a different story. I’m always looking for a great bite (doesn’t have to be expensive) and love the exploration of food and cultures. In Edinburgh – Fazenda is a favourite; London it would be Goodmans and anywhere else something sharing such as mezze or tapas. Combine that with a warm evening, good company and a drink (or 5) and now your talking!