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A former NASA programmer is using the skills he learned working with a space robot to change the way finance companies adopt new technology

Business Insider 2020-03-25 20:01:00


  • The financial services industry has seen rapid changes over the past five years, with new fintech startups and legacy institutions offering a wide range of novel products and services.
  • Many of those offerings rely on cloud platforms and software as a service, such as that designed by Berlin-based Mambu, which has a team of 200 spread across offices from Singapore to Miami.
  • Mambu CEO and former NASA software engineer Eugene Danilkis told Business Insider how his global team - and the platform it provides - reflect an agile approach to innovation that is transforming the future of banking, finance, and team collaboration.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As a leader of the software-engineer team working with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA in 2005, Eugene Danilkis had one specific task: Make sure the 50-foot robotic arm attached to the International Space Station was ready and able to perform vital functions for the astronauts working thousands of miles above Earth.

He knew he needed to focus on three key things to succeed.

First, his team had to function well in a highly distributed fashion - not just internationally, but extra-terrestrially. Second, their code had to integrate seamlessly with the myriad other systems and processes that made the ISS run smoothly. And finally, all of it had to work reliably for the $150 billion research operation.

Danilkis brought those principles to the financial industry when he cofounded Mambu in 2011 to provide core banking services to global financial institutions and fintech startups.

Here's how Mambu's team - and the platform it provides - reflect an agile approach to innovation that is transforming not just the future of banking and finance, but also how international teams collaborate.

Building a 'naturally international' team

Mambu's team of more than 200 people is spread between offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Singapore, London, Romania, Miami, Syndey, and Dresden, with some remote workers located in another half dozen or so countries.

"We wanted to build a relatively international team from day one, because it's a lot easier to build something that is naturally international and naturally used to remote work, than build everything that is siloed in one office and slowly try to introduce that," Danilkis said.

Even though team members are spread out across the globe, Danilkis said they make a special effort to foster strong connections with in-person meetings and frequent video conferencing.

"We also like a bit more of a hybrid model in the sense that while everyone is remote, we do make sure that teams meet up in person on some sort of regular basis," Danilkis said.

"For us, what's been really beneficial is trying to find the right balance between what you do in person and what you do remotely, and how frequently you do it," he added.

A flexible team behind a flexible platform

Just as banking has traditionally been centered around physical office spaces, the usual approach to financial software has typically consisted of large, integrated systems designed to work in a relatively closed or monolithic fashion.

That makes introducing new services or features extremely difficult, but Mambu's team and platform reflect a philosophy the company calls "composable banking."

"It's the ability to easily combine and pull apart the different systems and the different companies you work with to bring your service to market," Danilkis said.

Using this ecosystem approach enables tech and fintech companies to be successful, he said, because it allows them to focus on the elements they want to build themselves and source the rest from other providers.

Rather than having to build core services from the ground up, companies can more rapidly develop new products and services for customers.

"If you take that and compare and contrast it to how traditional banks are built, it's really night and day," he said.

Improved security from an agile approach

Security concerns are paramount in the financial industry, and the distributed, composable nature of Mambu's product and team allows the company to effectively manage security in a way that doesn't interfere with innovation.

"There are a lot of technical measures that you can put in place that actually reduce the risk and exposure," Danilkis said. "You can put much stricter and tighter controls around the people with the highest risk, and still give others a lot more freedom around how they operate and the tools they use."

Compare those granular measures with legacy systems whose security depends on severely restricted user profiles or physical infrastructures, like intranets or USB locks.

"As soon as you start putting blanket statements on everything, you can obviously grind a company to a halt," Danilkis said. "You need to have controls in place, but if you get carried away with them, then you're potentially just halting the entire innovation of your company."

The financial industry is still in the earliest days of a decades-long transformation, one that Danilkis said will involve increasingly fine-grained segments based on customer demand, similar to the growth of the tech sector.

"At the end of the day, financial services are very tech-driven - it's basically working with data," Danilkis said. "Companies need to look and operate a lot more like Google and Amazon does internally than they do like a brick-and-mortar store."