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Human-Plus-Digital: Solving the Customer-Centric Equation

George Jagodzinski (00:00):
Today, we learn about consistency and authenticity. What human-plus-digital means in the payments and foreign exchange world. Sat down with Alfred Nader, the North American President of OFX. He shares stories from his customer-centric culture and how they not only stay consistent in their promise but how they innovate. And how do they balance investments into digital? Please welcome, Alfred.

Announcer (00:22):
You're listening to C-Suite Blueprint, the show for C-suite leaders. Here, we discuss no-BS approaches to organizational readiness and digital transformation. Let's start the show.

George Jagodzinski (00:36):
Alfred, thanks so much for being here.

Alfred Nader (00:38):
Thanks for having me.

George Jagodzinski (00:40):
What I've loved about your journey is you talked about, in some of your prior companies, how you invested in digital to really remove some of the human effort. And now, you're at an organization where you're investing in digital still, probably more. It's not to remove the human, it's still layer on the human. And I'd like to start with the human question there, which is, what's that mind shift been like for you as you've gone through that transformation?

Alfred Nader (01:04):
It's been great, and it was one of the reasons why I came to OFX because when I was speaking with our CEO, Skander Malcolm, he had this vision of human-plus-digital. And if you read any of our investor material, we talk about that a lot. But you need to invest in digital because everyone has a smartphone. Every single person wants to be able to do things as they're waiting in line for lunch or commuting. So we invested in that since the beginning of our company. But the human aspect is so important. Our clients can make payments on their system 24 hours a day. We've invested in our infrastructure and our human infrastructure where we have employees around the world answering the phone. We're not outsourcing. We have actual OFX employees sitting in our major centers that are answering the phone 24 hours a day. And we continue to invest. As our client population grows, we continue to hire more people.

George Jagodzinski (02:07):
So as leaders, we always have to push and pull the levers of investment and return to figure out how things balance out. It's a simple equation to say, "If we invest in this part of digital, it's going to remove this much effort. We'll have X amount of savings." In your human-plus-digital world, how do you figure out what that measurement is? How's that work for you?

Alfred Nader (02:29):
The easiest way is for us to look at our back book of clients. When clients start working with us, do they stay working with us? And we have data showing that once we have a client in the door and they see what we bring to the table, they're more likely to continue with us. So the other day, I wrote a card to a client in Arizona who had been a client of ours for almost 15 years. I sent him a note congratulating him and thanking him for his business for the last 15 years. And I'm really proud of those moments, that someone has been with us for 15 years. And in the cross-border payment space, there's a lot of new entrants, banks are always popping their head up again when they decide that it's once again a profitable segment. But this gentleman has been with us for 15 years, and we really appreciate that. So I can look at it in the numbers, and I can look at it in the tenure of our clients. When our clients have been with us for over a decade, that means we're doing something right.

George Jagodzinski (03:36):
That's fantastic. Data doesn't lie, but you have to look at the right data.

Alfred Nader (03:40):
Yeah, you need to look at it. And it's just the proof is in the data. When people tell me that, that's when I look a little closer because I want to know the context behind all of that. Absolutely.

George Jagodzinski (03:51):
So I'm going to get a little selfish here because the way you're describing OFX and how it's different, we talk about ourselves the same way, and I always pride myself on these surprise and delight moments that we have. But where we struggle, and I'm curious if you've struggled with this or how you attack it, is I feel like everyone in every industry says that they do it differently, and it's like, who do you believe? And it's not until you actually get them inside, then they probably become an advocate. But do you find yourselves getting lost in a sea of other voices, or how do you differentiate yourselves out in the market to truly explain to people how different you are without them experiencing it?

Alfred Nader (04:25):
Oh my gosh, that was so well put, "In a sea of voices." That's such an interesting question because I'm sitting here in San Francisco, in case you can't tell by the tie-dye wallpaper in our office, our North American headquarters are here in San Francisco, and I'm working and competing against companies who have ball pits, ping pong tables, sushi, M&Ms, I mean, everything is free, and I can't offer that. I don't have ball pits. I don't have ping-pong tables. I don't have an arcade. I don't have a slide.

And what you're seeing now is a lot of these companies are cutting back. They're not offering all this free food anymore. But what I think is extremely important is that we treat our employees well, above market during periods of instability and periods of boom because I believe that if you treat an employee well and with respect and if you show actual concern about their life and their professional development and the benefits that they receive and their work-life balance all the time, regardless of the economic cycle, they're going to remember that and they're going to stay with you because I want employees to stay.

I don't want an employee to come here, work for two years, and leave because we spent a lot of time and investment on that company. I want an employee to come here, start their career in this industry or continue their career in this industry and, if they wish, to grow within the company. I'm able to point to any department and I'm able to say, "That person started over here on the consumer team. That person started over here in the operations team, and now they're leading this team." No, I don't have a ball pit, but I pay for 100 percent of your health insurance. I don't have sushi nights, but we have plenty of drinks, Pepsi products, in the fridge. I'm a Pepsi guy, sorry. And I can have you talk to a number of employees who have gotten many promotions and have developed their career working here at OFX.

George Jagodzinski (06:33):
It's amazing how long consistency and authenticity go, a hell of a lot longer than ball pits for sure.

Alfred Nader (06:39):
And authenticity is what it's all about. I'm obviously biased. I love working here. This is the best company that I've ever worked for, and it starts at the top. Skander Malcolm has hired a team of global business people, people who know what it's like, and if you have happy executives, it just filters down. He spends a lot of time, he's the only person I've ever heard of, that does skip-level reviews. So before he does my annual evaluation, he speaks to all my direct reports to find out what it is that I'm doing well and what it is that I need to work on. And the first time that I saw that, I was a little scared, I was like, "Oh my God, I'm not sure if I like this idea." But I bought into it, and I thought it was a fantastic job because I'm obviously not the finished product, and anyone that thinks they are the finished product, he encourages me to get better, and in turn, I do the same thing with my employees, and they do the same thing with their staff. So it's a great cycle.

George Jagodzinski (07:45):
That's great. Man, the skip-level is so valuable. And there's an interesting point you made is that that first one, you're like, "What is this?" And what I found is people will hold back. The only way to truly make those skip-levels valuable is you need to put in the time and, again, consistency to do them over time. And once you've done it enough and done it consistently and bring your values to that meeting, then the good stuff starts to come out of those skip-levels. So it's certainly not-

Alfred Nader (08:11):
Yeah. I mean, I've worked at companies where I didn't even receive a performance evaluation. I would receive something in my email, I'd read about it, and that was it. It was never a one-to-one.
George Jagodzinski (08:23):
I love hearing real stories from the streets. I'm curious if you got some top-of-mind human-plus-digital stories at OFX that you could share?

Alfred Nader (08:32):
Yeah, I'll tell you one that happened a couple of months ago. So I have a rule. Anytime I travel for business, I need to get at least one business card because if I'm traveling for business, I need to show ROI on that trip. And I started doing this early in my career, and I just never stopped. It helps that I just like talking to people. But I was in Australia, I was flying to Australia where our headquarters are over in Sydney, and I started speaking to a gentleman in the immigration line, and he was American, and we started talking and he was telling me that he became an Australian citizen and he moved his whole life over.

He asked me what I did, and I told him, "I work for OFX." And he says, "Oh, I'm a client." And I was like, "Oh, really?" He's like, "Yeah, that was the scariest moment of my life, and you guys made it so easy." I was like, "Oh my God, tell me about this because this is perfect. This is what we work for." He was like, "I was buying a house in Australia, and it was the largest transaction I was ever making in my life. I was sending over a significant amount of money, and you guys were there to walk me through the process, to tell me what documents I needed to provide, and I had you on the phone, and everything went smoothly. My money got there in a day, I was able to buy the house of my dreams, and I will always speak highly of OFX."

So it was something that could have been scripted because it was such a genuine interaction. And I told him, I said, "We work every single day hoping that clients feel what you felt because we really take every single dollar that people send with us very seriously. And the fact that you were able to just encapsulate all of our hard work into a few sentences, showing that fear, just really just made my day." I told him, I was like, "You're giving me goosebumps here. I really appreciate that." So he and I still keep in contact over LinkedIn. He's someone that has been in the industry for a while, but that was a happy customer sitting in line at the immigration over in Sydney. So that's one example.

George Jagodzinski (10:49):
That'll get you out of bed in the morning, those types of stories.

Alfred Nader (10:52):
It's so much fun. I like to carve out time every week to go in and listen to calls. So I log on to the system, and I'm listening to calls, and it makes me happy. We have a staff here in San Francisco. I hear them speaking to people, answering questions, calming themselves because when people are sending their money, it's scary sometimes. You're sending money from point A to point B. You hear stories from back in the day where it would take two weeks for money to get there and with us. You're getting it usually in 24 hours, if not less, but you have a human being to talk to. You don't have a chatbot who's answering your questions in a monotonous tone. You're speaking to human beings, and we try to hire people that speak different languages so that if you're more comfortable speaking in your mother tongue, we have French, we have Spanish, we have Swahili, we have a number of Arabic. We have a number of our staff that can speak foreign languages, and we can help you.

And for us, it's both for companies and for individuals. So it's not just individuals that we service. Sometimes one of our corporate clients may get a call from their supplier in China at 12 o'clock at night, and they need to get on the phone with their provider, and guess what? Their bank's closed, but we're open, and they can actually speak to a human being. So that human-plus-digital is something, it's part of our DNA. And now, where the economy is starting to flutter just a little bit, we have some of our competitors that need to invest in the human element, but they can't afford to right now. We already have that infrastructure and just continue to strengthen that.

George Jagodzinski (12:37):
Yeah. You don't want to be late on that investment because it takes longer than you think, that's for sure. With such a customer-centric culture, I'm curious if there's any frameworks or process, or tricks that you do to keep your team grounded in who the customer is and who the human is you. Like you said, you listen to calls, do you have that across the company? Do you have stories up on the walls? I love those real tangible ideas.

Alfred Nader (13:09):
Yeah. So I believe in overcommunication, that's something that's really important. One of our gentlemen by the name is Steve Sargent, he used to be the chairman of our board, he told me once that, "When you think you're communicating enough, you're not." And I always kept that in the back of my mind. We obviously have monthly all-hands calls where we're going through the previous month's results. I also started something where it's, “Ask Me Anything.” Obviously, I'm in San Francisco, so I need to adopt. But recently, we just had a merger where we acquired a 200-person company based in Edmonton. And the “Ask Me Anything” sessions were so important just to bring reassurance to these people about the new company. They now have a new company. They have a new logo. They have someone new that's paying them every single month.

And that gave them an avenue to ask questions directly of the executive in the region. And it's something that a lot of the leadership here in North America, and globally, also do as well. I mean. Now everything is virtual, but we have an open-door policy. My calendar is not locked. I don't have my EA controlling it. If somebody wants to book 10, 20, 30 an hour with me, they can go on my calendar and book that time. And we'd love to share successes. So if most of our teams have team chats that are happening throughout the day, they're sending snippets of good phone calls, of what good sounds like, a positive client review that took place where someone is praised. And we're always sharing that. And in our industry, as well, there's a lot of fraudsters out there, and I love celebrating when we're able to catch a fraudster. We used to have a Fraud Wall of Fame where we used to just slap it up on the wall saying, "I just saved my client a million dollars. I just saved my client $300,000."

Those are things that happen every day. And again, it's that human element. There was a guy up in Edmonton, I was listening to his phone call, and he sent it to me, and he was so excited, "Alfred, you've got to listen to this phone call." And it was one of his clients was making a million-dollar payment over to Eastern Europe, and this gentleman was looking at it, and he thought it was weird, I was like, "Why are they changing from this country to this country? It doesn't make sense." So he gave him a call and said, "Hey, listen, can you do me a favor? Can you please call your vendor on the phone in a number that you've spoken to him before, and make sure that this is right because something sounds strange." And it wasn't right. Someone had hacked into our client's supplier's email and was sending out false bank information. So that human element, that may not appear in my financial statements, but that's a hell of a return on investment if you ask me.

George Jagodzinski (16:22):
It sure is.

Alfred Nader (16:23):
We saved a client a million dollars.
George Jagodzinski (16:25):
I'll take that ROI any day of the week. And I love the fraud wall. It's like the next generation of the bad checks on the wall behind the bar kind of a deal.

Alfred Nader (16:35):
You see, for your international listeners, they won't know that in the United States, we still have paper checks, which is another story for another day.

George Jagodzinski (16:44):
One nugget that you said in there that I really loved, it really resonates with me, is that people sending around, "Here's what good sounds like." I can't tell you how many times I've been burnt because people are not aligned on what good looks like or good sounds like, and you just end up with frustration on both sides in that scenario because we recently had our all hands and what I was talking about is, “Good isn't we did the job. Good is a person on the other end has this emotional response where they say, ‘Oh my God, I didn't know that it could be that great.’" And I think that that's so powerful.

Alfred Nader (17:19):
Yeah. I'll add to that. So I meet with every new employee at the company within the first week of them joining. If you start in North America, you're going to speak to me. It's good and bad, but really, it's important for me to meet every single employee. And one of our new employees up in Toronto, he told me, "This was the best onboarding experience I've ever had because, on my first day, I had recordings of calls showing me what good sounded like. This is what a good prospecting call sounds like. This is what a good ‘know your client,’ KYC, call sounds like." So he was able to really start off knowing, "All right, this is what I need to aspire to." Instead of guessing or anything like that. So as long as we keep on, and we will, because, again, it's part of our DNA, but we keep on putting our employees first and lifting those up to show others how great they are, I think we'll continue in the trajectory that we're going.

George Jagodzinski (18:26):
Oh man, I just took a note for myself. I definitely meet with everyone, but it's on their 30-60 plan, so sometimes it's too long. I think I might force myself up to one week based off of what you're saying,

Alfred Nader (18:39):
Someone asked me, "How do you have time to do that?" And I said, "This person is choosing to work at the company I lead. I have time for them." They have a million different companies that they can work at, and they chose to work here. That means something to me. And if someone can't take 10 or 15 minutes to say hello, to get to know them, to answer any questions that they have about the company, then I'll scratch my head on that. So yeah, that's very important to me.

George Jagodzinski (19:12):
On overcommunicating, which you talked about earlier, I couldn't agree more. And we do an eNPS survey with our employees every quarter, and that's been a common theme. And we're not even that big that I feel like we're communicating, and we're not. I'm curious if you have any frameworks that have worked with you. I've started leaning more towards a, you've got to say it three times, maybe in three different places. I think that that's working for me. But I'm curious if you have any guidelines or frameworks you've been leveraging.

Alfred Nader (19:39):
I have one-on-ones with my direct reports either every week or every two weeks. We have weekly leadership team meetings, and once a month, we have an extended leadership team meeting where it's my directs’ directs that come. And it's just really important that you are driving home those key points that you want to accomplish. Every year I make my personal KPIs public. I said, "Look, this is what I'm going to be evaluated on this year." And I make sure that every single one of my direct reports shares at least one KPI with me because we're in it to win it together. And then, if everyone is very aligned there from an evaluation perspective, that tends to trickle down. What I found is I really pay attention to engagement surveys. Some people love engagement surveys, some people detest them. I love them. I'll read every single comment, every single one, every single year.

And you have to listen to those. And if someone is saying that they don't know about what's happening, then we need to fix that. And the easiest way to do is to overcommunicate. So talk about it in your one-on-ones, you talk about it in your leadership team meetings, you talk about it in your extended team meetings, and you make it a focus, and then the managers will then make sure that those messages trickle down. But probably next month, when my KPIs are finalized during the all-hands call, I will show them, "Look, this is how I am going to be evaluated for this year." And there's no ambiguity on what direction we're going in.

George Jagodzinski (21:28):
I'm curious if you're able to share, what is your focus on digital right now? What's next? What are you leaning into?

Alfred Nader (21:35):
Yeah. So the payments industry is a fascinating industry because it's global. So in a sense, my job is to make sure that money gets from point A to point B. My other job is to make sure that my clients are protected from any exchange rate fluctuations. My job is to make sure that all of my clients are able to do their job in an easy way, in a productive way, in an efficient way. So when you're talking about digital and efficiencies, we're talking about integrations to systems. We're talking about automating manual processes. We're talking about plugging into local clearing networks so that money can get there faster and cheaper than what people are used to. And as more countries evolve and invest in their payment infrastructure, and that includes the United States, by the way, who is behind the curve on a lot of things, our clients are going to see the effect of that.

And a lot of it will be behind the scenes. I was listening to a phone call a couple of months ago, and someone said, "Yeah, my supplier sent me an email saying that he got payment the same day that I sent it." He's like, "Did you guys change something?" And a lot of these changes that we're making, our clients don't even see because sometimes I'm doing a good job when no one's calling. That means payments are getting moved across. But if they need it, we're there, which is really important. So that's where we're looking at really as far as investment in digital. It's infrastructure, more sophisticated APIs, integrations, and also integrations with partners, financial institutions, insurance companies, so that their clients can benefit from a smooth payment experience.

George Jagodzinski (23:28):
Yeah. What are the challenges? What are the boulders in the way to get there?

Alfred Nader (23:34):
When we're in financial services, we get put into groups. So right now, with what's happening here in the United States with Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic, people say, "Well, why should I use you if I'm using my big bank over here? Can't what happened to Silicon Valley Bank happen to you?" Or if you look what's happening with crypto right now and every day that you turn on the news, someone's getting indicted for this, that, or the other thing. I don't touch crypto. We do not touch crypto in any way, shape or form, but it's the same license. It's a money services business license, so I get lumped into that. I had a regulator walk by here the other day, and I was showing him around, answering questions that he had, and he was telling me, and he was new to the IRS, He said, "I wasn't expecting this."

And I was like, "Why?" He's like, "Oh, because I've been going into a lot of crypto shops, and it's literally two guys working in a room." And I was like, "No." And I walked him through our entire infrastructure just to educate him. So the regulatory environment, even though we do everything the right way, we keep very constant and up-to-date communications with all of our regulators. We try to go above and beyond what they're asking for because we can see the trends and where things are going. But getting grouped together with some of the other players, I would say, is a cloud in the sky. And then the others, my answer's very different than it would've been three months ago because before, we were competing against companies who weren't worried about profitability. All they were worried about was top-line revenue.

So when you don't have to worry about profitability or positive operating leverage or, because we're a publicly traded company, showing your investors quarter on quarter, year in year growth, running a business is very easy. But it looks like the carnival has ended for a lot of them. Now, a lot of companies that were gaining market share by making zero or negative margin are now increasing fees across the board. OFX has continued charging a fair rate always, and we're seeing a lot of clients coming back from some of these newer entrants. So that had been a definite cloud in the sky, and now it's less of one. But you can never stop innovating because the moment you stop is when Ubers appear and destroy industries. I'm sure that there were a lot of unhappy candlemakers when Edison was around. There's a lot of unhappy cab drivers when Uber came around, but they were solving a problem that people weren't answering. So we're always innovating.

George Jagodzinski (26:27):
Nice. Yeah. It sounds like that combo of innovating on top of that consistency that you have is just going to play out well for the long game, right?

Alfred Nader (26:36):
Yeah. I mean, look, we're a 25-year-old company. We are here for the long run. Our strategy doesn't shift with the wind. We're very clear with our investors and with our team what our strategy is. Even during the pandemic, we kept moving forward, and we grew during the pandemic. I was amazed at how prepared we were. Every single person had a laptop even before things started getting shut down because our Chief Operating Officer, Mark Shaw, he saw the writing on the wall. And I don't know how he did that because I thought it was amazing. But he started ordering laptops before the supply chain issues. And everyone in the company, we had around 500 people at the company at the time, everyone at the company got a laptop within a month. And then a month later, things started shutting down. But we were ready. It was amazing.

George Jagodzinski (27:32):
That's great. Your whole story's inspiring. I've already got some homework items. I love to finish these episodes on a fun question back to you, which is, throughout your life, personal or work, what's the best advice you've ever received?

Alfred Nader (27:46):
It was by Dr. James Ferrer. I used to intern with him back in DC when I was an undergraduate, and he said, "Success is measured by attention to detail." And I never forgot that. So it's spending a couple of minutes rereading an email you're about to send, going through a deck before you present it just one more time to make sure that comma isn't missing or that what you're trying to put forward is coming across clearly. That's one that has always stuck with me. And he was a great man that hired a long-haired kid from Nebraska, and it was my first time in an office, and he really took the time and showed me the way.

George Jagodzinski (28:38):
That's interesting because what's funny is I feel like a lot of times I witness in attention to the detail, excuses being made for that. "Oh, they're a big thinker, they're not a details person." Or whatever. But I do find any time I see someone getting too far away from the details, it's just bad stuff starts to happen. So that makes a lot of sense.

Alfred Nader (28:58):
And it's something that's really important because you can never spend too much time on the fine things. And look, if you spend an extra two minutes rereading an email, life's going to be okay at the end of the day. You're still going to have time to take your kids to soccer practice, to swim practice, to meet up with your buddies after work. It's just your product is more polished, and that's what it's all about. Your interaction with the client is clear and concise, and that's important

George Jagodzinski (29:29):
Wise words. Alfred, thanks so much for being here. I really enjoyed it.

Alfred Nader (29:32):
George, awesome seeing you again. Thanks for having me.

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