NMI’s Payment Playbook Podcast – Episode 4: Nium Chief Product Officer Robin Gandhi
As we continue our deep dive into embedded finance, our guest this week is here to talk to us about some of the most critical components surrounding the embedded world beyond just payments.
Nium Chief Product Officer Robin Gandhi is willing to guarantee one thing when it comes to the ever-evolving embedded finance trend: “You can’t stop this train!” As a cross-border payments company, non-financial organizations looking to monetize financial services can embed Nium’s API into their tech stack to provide them access to various financial products.
When it comes to the future of the embedded journey, Robin will be the first to say that the momentum is not slowing down and is, in fact, only speeding up. We spend time discussing who gets disintermediated in the embedded journey and what it means to the industry as a whole. Spoiler alert: according to Robin, “You don’t get disintermediated unless you’re just not paying attention.”
Tune in this week to hear Robin talk about all things embedded finance, including the main ingredient (an integral part of the embedded journey) and the one thing that has the potential to slow down its momentum.
Greg Myers: Hi, Robin, and welcome to this episode of the Leaders in Payments Podcast where we’re going to be focusing on embedded finance. So welcome to the show.
Robin Gandhi: Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Good to be here. I’m excited to have this discussion.
Greg Myers: Great. Me too. So tell us a little bit about your current role in Nium. And a little personal and career background about how you got there.
Robin Gandhi: Yeah, so I am the Chief Product Officer here at Nium. I’ve been here since January of last year. So, I’ve been here for about a year and a half. Yeah, if I went through all my personal and career, we’d be taking a lot of right and left turns. But I’ve been in the payment space for a while. I was at Adyen for about six years, which is kind of where I really got deep into payments. I was there from 2014 to 2020. So really, when we were pretty small company here in San Francisco, and just globally. And over the course of that time, you know, I managed to have a number of different roles that I kind of took on from acquiring to issuing, partnerships, data, so the whole gamut. And then I ended up leaving Adyen right around the time of the pandemic and I went to a enterprise travel company called Tripactions, which is strange time to join a travel company. But it was pretty exciting because we were building out payments infrastructure and a Spend Management offering. And it kind of gave me the opportunity because travels down to basically be able to build something pretty, pretty unique. And that product is doing extremely well. But I came over here because I think that the flip side of what Adyen was doing. And Adyen for those of you who may not know it does global merchant acceptance. So, like being able to buy a pair of Nike sneakers or taking Uber anywhere. We kind of do the flip side here at Nium, right, which is basically being able to send money to those Uber drivers or being able to send money to Airbnb hosts, or anyone who’s a contractor or supplier, or anything else in between. So yeah, that’s a little bit of what I’m doing today and how I got here.
Greg Myers: Okay. All right. Well, let’s talk a little more about Nium. So, you explained a little bit about what the company does. Maybe if you can peel the onion back a layer and give us a little more detail about the customers and the size of the company and sort of your target market those types of things.
Robin Gandhi: Yeah, for sure. I mean, look, in the end, like I said, we’re kind of doing the flip side of the coin, which is basically moving money out, rather than accepting money. And so that basically means that what we’re really good at is basically being able to send money from point A to point B, we are focused on enterprise businesses, and we’re a straight payments infrastructure play, right? So, we want other businesses to build on our infrastructure. And if you think about like, what we’re doing in general, right, we’re basically saying you want to move money from point A to point B, how can we basically have as much geographic reach? So that’s one thing that we focus a product team on. And then also, how do you get payment options reach right so like, can you transfer money via to a bank account, which most banks can do, but then how can you do it over a wallet? How can you issue a card? Basically send money outbound, like a Visa Direct or Mastercard Send transaction? And then whatever else comes after that, right? Like maybe it’s sending money via crypto, right. So, like, that’s kind of what we focus on. And I guess like if you think about the main areas that we mean types of customers that we’re targeting today, it’s really financial institutions, or PSPs. Its travel customers, a lot of them being OTAs. And then payroll platforms. So, payroll platforms like Rippling, papaya Global, companies like that, and then spend management, right. So, companies like Mesh, sip and others, right. So that’s kind of what it looks like, in terms of who we’re powering, basically, to get money from essentially a business to another business or a consumer.
Greg Myers: Okay. And is it mostly international type payments?
Robin Gandhi: A lot of it is international, I think if you look, our bread and butter is really international. And I think one of the reasons that customers come to us is that we’re also focused on real-time payments. And so in as many markets as we can offer real-time, one, we’ve seen volume on those corridors grow the most. But yeah, it’s basically like, hey, I have money in X currency, and I need to get money out in y currency. And the faster you can do it, the better. And so like, that’s where especially, like the US is obviously moving to FedNow, hopefully this summer. But there’s 30-40 countries outside of the US that are already on real-time, which kind of is nice for us to be able to create a network in which companies can move money through our system and get it to where they need to go as fast as possible.
Greg Myers: I would assume it’s somewhat of a challenge from a product perspective to build something from a regulatory license perspective for so many different countries. I mean, do you run into that as a challenge?
Robin Gandhi: Yeah, no, I mean, like, look, that’s the hardest challenge of this. Right. I mean, I think that building tech on top of the licenses is relatively, the more easy thing to do, right? I mean, you can get great engineers and get great product managers, but getting licenses and getting the regulatory stuff right, is the hardest part. I mean, for me, I came on, we had 11 licenses that cover 40 countries. And then we’re continuing to build into more regions and more countries that we can kind of go direct. But this stuff, it takes time, right? And you look at our team from a compliance and regulatory perspective, it’s pretty strong. And you kind of need it to be that way, in order to move money in the way that we do. Because there’s just a lot more scrutiny on moving money this way. Like if buying a pair of Nike sneakers, generally, regulators don’t really care. But if you’re sending money to somebody, then there’s like, terrorist financing, there’s sanction screening, there’s money laundering, and so like making sure that you get that right, and that you can convince regulatory bodies that like you do it well. It’s not easy. And luckily for me, Prejean, who founded this company really spent a lot of time just getting that part right. So yeah, I mean, that’s the hardest part for sure.
Greg Myers: Right. Well, what would you say differentiates Nium in the marketplace today?
Robin Gandhi: Yeah, I mean, I think one is like this geographic reach in real-time that we do extremely well. I think if I were to go back to my days when I was at Adyen, and I were to ask any of the Ubers, or Upwork. And I would say, hey, how do you get money out? Most of them would kind of groan and say, like, oh, man, it is so hard. And I think what we do really well is we kind of take the transaction all the way to the last mile. And having that end-to-end connectivity really allows us to do more than you can get from a lot of other providers. And then we’re basically saying like, Hey, who are we servicing? And what can we do better for each of them? Right? So, like, one thing that we’ve been talking about recently has been like, how do we service payroll customers really well. I think it’s important to be able to say I can move money anywhere as fast as you want, but then like, that can get commoditized right? And that also means that you’re not really driving additional value. So then, in the payroll segment, we say, Okay well, what do you care about as a payroll platform, right and what are your underlying customers care about? And ultimately, like, they basically help to pay contractors and employees around the world, and people need to get paid on time in the amount that they expect. And so we’re basically creating products and tools that allow these companies to basically say, hey, like, I’m going to be sending payroll on day 33 days before I’m going to send can I send you like the list of people that I’m going to be sending money to so that if they are going to hit a sanction screening hit or money laundering hit like I know ahead of time, and if it’s a problem, then we’ll stop it but if it’s like, hey, the first name and last name match, and I kind of need a birthdate. I’ll send you the birthday before payroll so that somebody actually gets paid the amount that they expect on time, right? So, stuff like that is what we’re doing right. So, I would say to answer your question, more simply, what are we really doing? It’s like one, let’s just get that geographic and payment optionality right. But then let’s really look at our individual customers and like broad strokes with the customers and what they want. And then how can we give them more than just moving money? How can we give them stuff that really causes them pain within the payments process?
Greg Myers: Well, as someone who has been in payments for a while, I’m sure you’re very familiar with some of the terms like embedded payments and payment facilitation or payfac or integrated payments. To me, those are all buzzwords that have now been around for a few years. And what I want to talk about a little bit now is how do we look at the world beyond just the embedded payments? So, to me, the next logical step is embedded finance. So, products beyond payments. So how do you view or how do you define embedded finance?
Robin Gandhi: I mean, I think you’re right, it’s been a really buzzy word. And I think like, inherently, when we talk about embedded anything, we’re basically saying like, How can I provide a financial service for something that isn’t really a financial service, right, so like, or is tangentially related to financial service? And I think like the two things that I talked about spend management and payroll fall into that bucket. So, when we talk about embedded finance, what are we really saying? We’re basically saying, okay, can you generate a virtual account for me in a certain place for me to basically move money to somebody else, like, that’s the infrastructure that we provide. So, where somebody else would embed us into their stack, to be able to do something that’s not truly like finance as their key business? So, whether it’s embedded finance or whether it’s embedded payments, it’s basically like, Okay, can I find infrastructure in there that allows my overall experience to be cleaner, better, more sticky? Can I get access to it using some of the API’s that infrastructure companies like us are building? And to me, that’s what embedded finance is, and like, people talked about banking as a service and all these other things. And I think they don’t really mean anything. The question is what is it that you’re trying to achieve? Like, are you and this is one of the things that I said, when I when I got here? I said, because we used to talk about ourselves as banking as service. And I said, what does that really mean? And I think that when we started peeling the onion, then we said, okay, well, you know, it really means that we’re going to create virtual accounts in certain areas, like we’re going to create virtual accounts around the world. And then we’re going to pay out to certain people either in the bank account or into their wallets. And then we’ll also do issuing and so I said, You know what let’s stop calling it banking as a service. Let’s call it for what it is, right? We do issuing payouts and funding mechanisms and it’s just a lot easier to understand. But then like, how to use it use it for like, a lot of these solutions that aren’t using us today, which is like, hey, we’re built payroll, what are they providing? They’re providing regulatory cover, or they’re thinking about what are the tax implications with an employment law in a certain region, they’re providing a ton of value added services around being able to do payroll anywhere in the world. And what we’re doing is we’re saying, okay this is not core to what you do. But you can embed this financial product within your service and just make it a lot better.
Greg Myers: Right. So, you mentioned API’s? So, sort of the next question around that is, how has the trend of what I’m going to call modern day API’s helped to facilitate this movement towards embedded finance?
Robin Gandhi: I mean, I think it’s integral to everything that’s embedded finance, right? Like, because in the old days you wouldn’t be able to build any of this stuff, if you didn’t have modern API’s, right?I mean, I think a simple example, that’s not us, right? Like is if you think about what Modern Treasury has done, right? They’re basically putting a modern API layer on top of traditional bank API’s, which is almost crazy to think, right? It’s not that banks don’t have API’s, but they’re generally more legacy API’s. And Modern Treasury has managed to build a business, being able to say, hey I will provide a modern API on top of a legacy API so that all of these next gen tech companies can build great products on top of that banking infrastructure. So, it’s kind of interesting, but I think that in the end modern API’s are integral to everything that we talked about around embedded finance, or whatever we call it.
Greg Myers: Well, in this world of embedded finance, who do you think gets disintermediated? Is it the banks. is it ISOs? Is it both banks and ISOs? And an overall? What does it mean to sort of a traditional payments company or sort of the traditional payments industry? How do you kind of view that? What do you think it means to the industry as a whole?
Robin Gandhi: I think in the end, I think it’s less about disintermediate, you’ll get disintermediated. If you don’t see like, where things are going, if you are, let’s say, let’s say a bank, right, because I just talked about a bank from a Modern Treasury perspective. I think inherently in our system we work with a ton of bank partners, we work with a lot of regulated entities, regulatory bodies, we work really closely with governments, right. So, we’ll work with the Singaporean government, will work with, we have an EMI in Europe and select, we’re deeply embedded in the EU, we inherently going to continue to work with pretty much all those players now who gets disintermediated if you’re not willing to partner, then I think there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to become irrelevant, right. But inherently, the services that we’re providing, are somewhat still, like connected into the networks, the banks, the regulatory bodies that exist today. And I think they exist for the right reasons, which is to keep the ecosystem safe. So, it’s kind of like, you don’t get disintermediated unless you just aren’t paying attention. If you’re not paying attention, you’re definitely going to get disintermediated because then you’re going to say, well, I think I know, a better way and or I think that these fintechs, or these, like modern API, embedded finance, whatever you call them, are never going to make it and then you’re standing around waiting to figure out like, Okay, what’s next? And everyone’s moved past you. But that’s kind of what I would say, I don’t know what you think. But like, I mean, that’s, that’s what I would say is probably, that’s what I see is happening already, anyway.
Greg Myers: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s kind of true with any newer trend in the industry, or new product, or whatever. I mean, I mean, I’ve been in payments for 20 years, and I think the first year I was ever in it ISOs we’re going to go away. Well, here we are 20 years later, and there’s still a role for ISOs in the payments industry. And I think, to your point, the ones who have survived, or they’ve been the ones that have adapted and offer the new products, and have figured out a way to build a business around it, and I don’t think this is going to be any different, right, they’re going to ISOs are going to figure out how to offer insurance or credit cards or bank account, whatever they may be the ones that are going to be successful, we’re going to figure out how to do that. And then when it comes to banks, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, the ones who just kind of sit around and don’t do anything, obviously, they’re going to get disintermediated. But I think you’ve got plenty of players out there in the space. Like you’ve already mentioned, some Modern Treasury, even the things you guys are doing, that’s going to keep the banks relevant. So that’s kind of my view on it.
Robin Gandhi: I mean, unless you’re sitting on your hands, you’re going to be fine.
Greg Myers: Exactly. Yeah. So what do you think the future of embedded finance looks like? where do we go from sort of where we are today, which in my view, payments is integrated or embedded, some companies are starting to offer some other products from an embedded perspective. But I think there’s a long way to go. But what do you think the future looks like?
Robin Gandhi: I think there’ll be more product sets that you’re not seeing today that are going to continue to get embedded. And I think the line between a tech company like us and a bank is going to probably start blurring. Right. We have a whole bunch of licenses, we continue to get more licenses. And at some point, then you say, okay, well, what do you do with those licenses? And what additional services can you provide? And you know we’ve obviously seen what happened with BNPL. BNPL is not going anywhere. I think it got overhyped. And I think it’s not like BNPL is going anywhere tomorrow. But like, I think there’s probably some companies that may not make it all the way through. But I think then in our world you probably see things like credit, you already see a Stripe is offering credit offering, you know, Marketo bought a company to do credit. So, I think you’re gonna start seeing companies like us, that have a whole bunch of licenses that are tech forward, that are basically going to say, hey I gave you the basics of what you could do from an embedded finance perspective. Now, I can take that and like up at another level, with the financial products that I can offer, because I now have the regulatory constructs the compliance constructs, and I have the licensing to allow me to do it. And I think that’s what we’re going to see a lot more of over the course of the next few years. And I think that’s where we want to play as well.
Greg Myers: Okay. And in your mind, is there sort of anything that keeps this trend from becoming a global trend?
Robin Gandhi: I don’t think you can stop, After this training, I really like I think it’s everything that we just talked about right now, right is that you have modern API’s that allow other companies to build into this, I think the only thing that can prevent this from moving forward or something that could kind of stop it a little bit or put it on pause, is if you have too many bad players in the system, right? Because on some level, this is the same reason that I’m saying you have to work with banks, you have to work with regulators, you have to ensure that you’re maintaining the integrity of the system. Now, if some regulatory bodies or some tech companies become too loose with the way that they do things, and then it causes issues within the ecosystem, then there’s going to be a blowback, right, similar to what we’re seeing with crypto, right, where it’s going to be hard to come back from this blowback like it’s going to take a little bit of time. And I think the same thing will happen with embedded finance, if the companies that are providing the infrastructure, or the underlying banks or license holders are like creating havoc within the system. So, I think that’s what can stop it. But it probably won’t stop it forever, right? Like, this is a way that things are moving in. And I think a few bad actors could kind of put it on pause or put it on ice. But I think this is the way forward.
Greg Myers: Yeah, I tend to agree with you. Well, Robin, we’ve covered a lot of ground so far, obviously covering what you guys do a little bit of your view of where everything’s headed a little bit about embedded finance, is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Robin Gandhi: No, look, I mean, I think it’s an exciting time to be in this space. I think, like, I was just telling a few folks like this market is huge, and especially around b2b payments. I think there’s so much more innovation that is going to happen, because a lot of folks were saying hey, what do you think is interesting about Nium? And like, how do you see it different from your days in Merchant acceptance at Adyen, and I was like, we’ve been digitizing merchant acceptance and consumer for a long time now. But b2b payments hasn’t really had that. And it’s a massive market. And it’s not like, it’s not like we’re going to change the whole thing overnight. But when you have that big of a market, and there hasn’t been that much change, over the last 20 years, the same way that we saw on acceptance and consumer, I think there’s a lot of opportunity. So, it’s going to I mean, this is why I’m excited to be part of this space. And I think that it’ll be interesting to see what companies like us and others will do is, yeah, there’s a lot of opportunity for us to grow. But there’s also a lot of pain points that that you see companies having over the last few years.
Greg Myers: Yeah, totally agree. Well, Robin, I really appreciate your time. I know it’s very valuable. So, thank you so much for being on the show today. I really appreciate it.
Robin Gandhi: Yeah, of course. Thank you. Thanks.
Greg Myers: Right. Absolutely. And to all you listeners out there. I thank you for your time as well. And until the next story.
00:02:01 - Robin's Role at Nium and Professional Background
00:03:50 - About Nium
00:08:13 - What Differentiates Nium
00:10:32 - Embedded Payments Defined
00:13:43 - Value of Modern APIs
00:14:55 - Who Gets Disintermediated? Banks? ISOs?
00:18:08 - What does the Future of Embedded Payments Look Like?
00:19:52 - The Global Opportunity