Small businesses are excited about fintech – 42 per cent believe alternative providers can offer a better service than traditional banks. And they aren’t alone. As customers flock to fintech, so too are seasoned executives from traditional financial institutions.
In Caary’s own executive ranks is Chief Financial Officer, Sabrina Pilbauer, whose career spans some of the world’s largest financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, Bank of Canada and Bank of America.
We had a chance to sit down with Sabrina and satiate our curiosity about this major career move.
“The Caary platform is a bit like “cat nip” for accountants: when doing research for my interview, I got the value proposition right away.”
Q: What motivated you to join a fintech startup?
People have often told me that my skills and attitude make me well-suited to work in a startup. I’m someone who likes to be nimble, get the job done and enjoy a fast-paced environment, which is a good fit with a startup. So I thought, well why not see if that’s true?
When I heard that Caary was looking for a CFO with expertise in credit cards and the financial services industry, it was very appealing to me. The Caary platform is a bit like “cat nip” for accountants: when doing research for my interview, I got the value proposition right away. I kept thinking, “This is exactly it!” I was not really looking for a position, I was working as a consultant for the IMF, but I could see the opportunity.
Q: What has been the best part of the transition from corporate to startup?
The best part has been the ability to accomplish so much. We can accomplish things at a fintech that would take a Canadian bank years, just based on how decisions are made and their risk appetite. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but when you have a great opportunity in the market, if you take too long to deliver the product, chances are somebody will get there faster than you. I’m very impressed by what Caary has accomplished so far.
Q: You have the unique perspective of being CFO of a small business whose clients and target clients include CFOs of other small businesses. What has this taught you about the market?
I’m in a very unique situation as CFO at Caary! I play my role as CFO, but I also see myself as the advocate for other CFOs. When we’re preparing a business case or discussing a new feature, I will say to myself, “If I’m not convinced, then we have a problem, because I’m our target.” It’s important for me to see the value and think, “Yes, that’s the way to go.”
Also, my role has given me a greater appreciation for what our clients need to be successful. In a large organization you have teams of people reconciling reports and very tight controls around spending and processing. You don’t have any of that in a small to medium-sized enterprise. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t managing the same risk, it doesn’t mean that you love spending hours putting reports together and digging through the information. Small businesses must be enabled with the best industry tools, and I’m happy that the platform we’re offering will help with that.
“When you see how many small business credit applications are rejected, it’s clear the segment is often misunderstood and that credit worthiness isn’t being properly assessed.”
Q: How do you think fintech is uniquely positioned to support SMEs in Canada?
Fintech is disrupting how we address the needs of certain segments, like SMEs, that are sometimes underserved. When you see how many small business credit applications are rejected, it’s clear the segment is often misunderstood and that credit worthiness isn’t being properly assessed. We have the tools now to do a better job and to address the needs of SMEs. And that’s where fintech is really helping.
I think the fintech sector is able to innovate at a much faster pace than large organizations. But I don’t see fintech and large institutions as always competing. Some large financial institutions acknowledge that they are not as nimble or innovative as what we see in the fintech space. And they’re more than willing to collaborate or see how they can benefit from what fintech is offering. There’s an understanding that fintech will never operate like a bank, and a bank will never operate like a fintech. I think it can be a win-win.
Q: What advice would you share with others who are considering a similar career change?
I think looking at a startup from the outside can be quite intimidating. Especially for women, who are quite underrepresented in fintech and startups in general, and I hope that we change that dynamic soon. When I accepted the position, I was as excited as I was terrified. On that note, I will take the opportunity to thank John and my colleagues for integrating me so well and so quickly in the team.
It’s true that startups are a lot of work, and you have to be really committed and believe that you can make a difference. But what people sometimes don’t appreciate is the collaboration. The Caary team is so active and involved. It’s about solving issues together rather than saying, “This is my job description.”
If you want to be in control of your job and love the work that you do, startups are ideal because in many ways you can shape the job to fit you. It’s very different than starting a new position where the job is defined and you quickly know what to expect. Startups are about what you want to give and what you want to receive. And I think the more you give, the more you receive.
Sabrina is a seasoned finance and business leader. She was an external expert with the International Monetary Fund, led the financial operations function for the Bank of Canada, and held leadership positions at Bank of America.