Payment Expert’s ‘ID Check: Payment Professionals’ offers insight from industry leaders and experts on how they got their start in the financial industry, from their early years in education, to how they have been able to climb the corporate ladder. 

Laurent Descout / credit: Neo

This week, Laurent Descout, CEO & Founder of cross-border payments company Neo, shares how his formative education years in France and the US helped shape him to the position he is in today, as well as how the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank challenged him and his company in a positive way. 

Where did you go to university and what did you study? What impact did this have on your current journey?

I studied for a master’s degree in economics and banking at Paris Dauphine University and then completed a master’s degree in international finance at Brandeis International Business School, Boston, Massachusetts.

In France, I had a great experience, learning about accounting, business law and programming which are all critical aspects of running a finance business which I do now. 

In the US, I had an eye-opening experience on how to position a business and ensure it grows. The environment at Brandeis also provided the opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions with students from a wide range of countries. 

Looking back on this experience, I’m extremely grateful, it has shaped what we do at Neo now, which is very much a global business. 

Were you part of any sports clubs or societies at university and has this influenced your educational and professional development?

I actually got into fitness after university around the start of my career. I now run or cycle for an hour per day no matter what. It has become a critical part of my daily schedule.

I have learned that sports and exercise is a crucial way to learn your limits and acquire discipline. It also turns out that running a business can be massively fatiguing and being sharp physically can help you cope with this.

Did you have any jobs outside of the industry before making your start in it and was this experience a motivation to get into the industry you aspired to be in?

I worked every summer from 16 years old in a range of jobs. During university, I sold newspaper subscriptions to students on campus and when I was in the US, I worked as a waiter. 

These early jobs are important in helping you to get out of your comfort zone as well as making essential pocket money. Through these entry-level jobs, you get to work with a wide range of people from different backgrounds than yourself and this helps you to understand how others see the world. 

What was the first job you had in the industry and are there any lessons from this you still draw on?

I started in Barcelona as an analyst in a Tax Leverage Lease firm. The role was very niche, technical and at times intense, but I had the chance to start under the leadership of a very bright boss.

This helped to garner some of the skills that I needed to start Neo. During my nine years in the company, I learnt the importance of mastering a topic matter and becoming a specialist. It is impossible to become a specialist in a certain area without putting the time in.  

Who was your biggest role model outside of the payments industry who continues to inspire you in your current career?

I am a big fan of Steve Jobs.

When was your first big break in the payments industry? Why was this such a significant moment for you?

The most significant moment for me was in June 2020 when our newly created IBAN multi currency account received its first dollar. That meant we had made a breakthrough in our account generation technology and that we could start competing with the big players.

Was there a moment you faced in the industry that really challenged you? How did you overcome this?

The Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) crisis was a challenge for us and the wider fintech industry but since has become a huge opportunity. While we were not one of SVB’s clients, there was fear within the sector that this would damage the credibility of the industry.

However, the banking crisis provided us with the opportunity to demonstrate and communicate that we have always been focused on putting our client’s funds in very safe places. This has improved our reputation and helped us attract new clients. 

Lastly, what is some advice you would give to an aspiring person looking to get a start in your respective industry?

As always, the best advice to aspiring people within the industry is to be proactive. Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty and prove yourself to be a doer.

It is important to show a willingness to learn and spend hours doing so and sticking to it. 

From my own experience, joining a start-up instead of a large tech firm can lead to more opportunities as you have direct access to the decision-makers in the firm and you can get involved in numerous different aspects within the business.