Payment Expert’s ID Check: Payments 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. 

This week, Cashflows Director of Partnerships Philip Harding details his bold decisions from moving across industries and why aspiring fintech individuals should always never stop learning. 

What impact did your university course have on your current journey?

Philip Harding, Director of Partnerships at Cashflows

During my time at Brighton University I studied for a Bachelor of Arts in Business with Law, and it was a fantastic experience. It provided me with a solid education but also supported my current career journey in more ways than one. Reflecting on my university years, two key elements stood out.

The first is that while I thoroughly enjoyed studying law, I quickly realised it wasn’t the right path for me and pivoted in a different direction. I did a similar transition during my career, taking the leap from logistics to payments. Later on, the move from a global corporate, where I worked for 12 years, to Cashflows, a smaller scale acquirer, felt like a similarly big change, although the sector was the same.

The second key element of my time at university was the social aspect. I wanted a career that involved interacting with people on a meaningful level. The energy I gained from these interpersonal connections solidified my desire to pursue a career where people engagement is a fundamental requirement.

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

As a student I played for and ran the university football team as well as playing cricket. I really enjoyed taking part in these sports as they taught me important lessons at a pivotal time of life, such as effective leadership requiring difficult decisions. 

Overall, my experience managing the football team at university helped me understand the nuances of leadership, people management and motivation. As a player on the field, I also came to understand why having the right people around you is so important, not just from a talent perspective but also through a behavioural lens – those who are willing to be a team player, have a positive attitude and put the team first are all equally important. 

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?

In one of my years as a student I was voted to represent the Brighton University Student Union as VP of Finance and Services. As a university with lots of significant budgeting challenges, this role gave me healthy insight into how to balance costs.

After I graduated, my first job was a sales role at a multinational company in the logistics industry. I spent five years there, learning all about sales methodology, account management and operating  within a large corporate. It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed but I realised that the industry itself was not one for me. 

I wanted a change and payments felt like a good landing spot as it’s an extremely innovative industry, relevant to all organisations, and has multiple disciplines to trial. What more could you want from a continual learning and opportunity perspective?

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

My first job in payments was as an Account Development Executive in a well-established payments company. While working for one of the largest brands in the industry, I realised how the sales principles I learned at the beginning of my career are transferable – so you shouldn’t be afraid to try working in a new industry. It can be challenging to learn the technical side, which ultimately does enhance your success, but that’s secondary to being effective in sales. 

As I began working in the payments industry, I realised how important it is to be patient. My first manager in the industry told me “Don’t try and eat the elephant in one helping!”. Payments can be complex, so you have to have the drive to learn but also be patient. The learning never stops!

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

I’m fortunate that a family member, my uncle, has always been someone I could go to for guidance, mentorship and advice when it comes to my career. He has an impressive career, starting with great success in the corporate world before transitioning to non-executive roles and chairing smaller businesses and start-ups. 

As he’s not in payments and has vast experience, he always approaches things with a fresh perspective, and his advice has been incredibly invaluable. 

The thing I admire most is how he demonstrates that it is possible to excel in your career while still prioritising family, friends and well-being, something that is essential for me to replicate in my own career. 

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

There are two major milestones that immediately come to mind. The first is my directorship. I was pushing for a team leader role for longer than I would have wanted, but showing patience, broadening my network and performing outside of my day-to-day tasks meant I was able to take advantage when the opportunity arose.

The second is my move to Cashflows. Having the chance to work in a smaller organisation has given me the opportunity to be a part of an innovative, fast-paced business which has been extremely exciting and allowed me to learn more about the world of fintech.

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

We had a year where we were flying; all the conversation was around how we could do it even quicker, better, and bigger. 

However, the following year we hit a number of challenges which appeared in conjunction with some major regulatory changes that took priority and had to be implemented. To motivate, lead and steer a sales function from an extremely successful year to one where capability was restricted was a real challenge. 

It took a lot of energy as I was dealing with items that weren’t necessarily driving a sales number – which wasn’t the business’s main focus at the time – but driving necessary operational change across our customer base, so it was tough. One thing that this experience taught me is it’s essential to build up trust and goodwill with your team as this is vital to keep them engaged, even more so, when facing challenging times.

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

I would advise anyone aspiring to join the fintech industry to be tenacious, resilient and willing to learn. The industry moves at such a fast pace, so those who embrace that will thrive. 

There are so many different aspects so don’t settle on one discipline; try different ones out to see which fits you best. I personally moved from card issuing to card acquiring so now have an appreciation for all aspects of the payment journey which has stood me in good stead. 

Currently, I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about Open Banking, Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) and even Artificial Intelligence (AI) in payments – the learning never ends. 

Another piece of advice is to network, network, network! 

There is so much crossover in the industry that a contact you made at an event 12 months ago might walk into your office as part of an exciting opportunity tomorrow, so take the opportunity to broaden your network whenever you can. This will not only help your current role but also your future career.