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Earlier this year, when the FDIC approved fintech start-up Varo Money’s application to become a national bank, Thibault Fulconis’s latest CFO career chapter suddenly appeared to make perfect sense.
Still, it was only two years ago that Fulconis’s entry into the land of fintech start-ups no doubt raised a few eyebrows among his former colleagues at BancWest Corp., where he most recently served as vice chairman and COO.
“I was coming from a position where I had about 3,000 direct reports when I was COO to an entity where I had three people reporting to me,” says Fulconis, whose banking resume, rich with senior leadership roles, spans nearly 30 years with roots inside BancWest’s parent company, BNP Paribas.
While certainly not the first banker to find a door-of-entry into the realm of fintech start-ups, Fulconis, in light of the FDIC’s recent approval, became the first CFO of a fintech start-up that is able to hold customer deposits—much the same as in the world he left behind.
Until recently, fintech firms have partnered with community banks to actually hold customers’ money, while start-ups like Varo have traditionally handled only the consumer interface and mobile app technology portion.
Who better than a seasoned banking leader to help architect a finance function capable of responding to the breadth of consumer activities on a national scale? “When I arrived at Varo, we were at version 76 of our financial model. Now, a year and a half later, we are at version 180,” says Fulconis, who routinely expresses his fondness for Varo’s nimbleness. –Jack Sweeney
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Guest: Thibault Fulconis
Company: Varo Banking
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
CFOTL: After 30 years in the large banking environment, what attracted you to Varo?
Fulconis: Well, you may not know that Varo is the first FinTech to have obtained the (regulatory approval) to become a bank, a full national bank. And so in the next 12 months my first challenge is, “Okay, let’s open a bank.” And that’s what attracted me to Varo. You don’t have the occasion to open a bank from scratch every day. So it’s a bit of a dream come true. You have to build everything. So you don’t have the old legacies and the old systems and so on. You can build from scratch. And you can say: “Okay, let’s design something that would make for a really great finance function or risk function. So that’s just a fantastic opportunity.
So we’ll be opening our bank. And on top of that, we’ll be opening a bank with a few million customers. So we already have human customers. So we’ll be opening a bank, and we’d better have that bank work in both systems, work very well from day one. So that means that you have to have an asset liability management system in place, a regulatory reporting system in place. And of course your general ledger is your consolidation tool and so on. So that’s a big endeavor, but that’s a lot of fun. As you can imagine, we are doing a lot of stress testing on our data and what’s happening.
CFOTL: How has COVID 19 impacted your efforts?
Fulconis: So of course, COVID has, unfortunately, some dramatic impact on people’s lives and, and sometimes very tragic. But overall, when you look at the impact on the American population, it has completely shifted the way we consume and the way we live, at least for a period of time.
So for us, we tried to understand those trends. We tried to understand, okay, what’s happening. Are people shopping more online? Yes they are. … And at the very beginning of the crisis, you had a big peak in groceries, people going shopping, just making sure that they have the food and the goods that they needed to live on. We saw that data and then we see people returning to a more normal life and starting to consume a little bit more online and expand their spend. So that’s really interesting to see that in the data, in the real life data.