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Fireside chat: HSBC & Callsign

Digital Identity Customer Experience Banking & Finance

As part of HSBC's Fintech Founders series, Catherine Zhou (Global Head of Ventures, Digital Innovation and Partnerships, HSBC) sat down with Zia Hayat (CEO and co-founder, Callsign) to discuss HSBC's relationship with Callsign as both a client and investor.

Watch the episode below to hear why getting digital trust right is so important in this digital age and how accountability is vital if we are to have any success.


You can read the full transcript below:

Catherine:

Hi Zia, very nice meeting you today. Before we dive into a few questions, for those who don’t know you at Callsign, would you like to introduce yourself?

Zia:

Thank you, Catherine. Hi, my name is Zia Hayat, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Callsign. Callsign is all about helping people to identify themselves simply and securely, ultimately enabling accountability in this digital world in which we live.

Catherine:

Thank you for participating in our Fintech Founders Series. From both an investment and M&A perspective, digital trust and identity management is such a hot topic right now, what do you see as the market and society forces that are contributing toward this?

Zia:

I think it’s something that is near and dear to my heart and for many years, I’ve felt that the need for trust is going to become increasingly important in the online world. Even the most basic of users of the Internet can see that the level of abuse of services and systems that are there for good purposes has turned into a pandemic, and ultimately this boils down to: can you trust some other party that you are dealing with that’s asking you to wire some money to purchase some goods? Or something along those lines. So, from a societal point of view and therefore a market perspective, it’s unfortunately all of the bad things that we are seeing in the press today from fake news to fake reviews, to fake purchases of goods and people being tricked into wiring money that they shouldn’t actually be wiring. These are the things that I think are unfortunately driving this market and this space to become something that’s very important.

Catherine:

Well said – especially as we all know, the pandemic has worsened digital trust among the communities that we all live in. So coming out of the pandemic what are the opportunities that you see are really driving the growth for the market?

Zia:

Clearly, we’ve all changed the way in which we live and the way in which we work, and I don’t think any relief for us from the pandemic (because we’re all been jabbed and hopefully are now safe) is going to change that. I think people are going to continue to do more and more things remotely. And of course, as we do more things remotely as good people, unfortunately bad people will all continue to do more and more things remotely because that’s how they capitalize and win themselves.

As a result, the market in digital trust and identification therefore I think will continue to be big and grow.

Catherine:

Absolutely. Stay with the changing marketplace, evolve with the good and stay ahead of the bad is the only way to go and that’s very consistent with what we are doing at HSBC as well.

Talking about HSBC and working with us, we’re both an investor and global client of Callsign. What is like working with a global bank like us?

Zia:

Well, I guess talking about society, banks are a representation of society and probably no more so than HSBC. It has been a very accelerated learning curve for us because many of our deployments to date and many of investors have been concentrated in one geography. Whereas HSBC is very diverse – it is spread around the world and has many different business units from insurance, to retail banking, to commercial to private banking etc. It is like working with many different parties as I say, that’s a reflection of society and we want to help protect society and so, it’s challenging but good.

Catherine:

Yes, working with a very large global organization has its rewards and some challenging aspects. Rewarding in terms of the degree of complexity, really stretching you and your capabilities to grow exponentially in a very short amount of time. And it’s also challenging as you have lots of regional, global, functional, and various business units that you have to work with – and it’s not easy.

As an investor it is our job to help you navigate this efficiently, we like to act as a Sherpa so that your technology or other Fintechs' technologies can find the right home and the right use cases more quickly.

Zia, you have a very interesting go-to-market approach. It’s typically very common to go to the lower end of the market, but you have picked the opposite end and have chosen to go after very large enterprises. Tell us, why did you choose this approach?

Zia:

When you think about the world’s money, all of our money – we have it in our banks (or bank accounts as individuals) there are probably in each geography a handful of institutions that effectively account for those geographies. Our view has always been to do something on a macro scale and to do it in a way that is scalable. In effect, working with banks for us is the quickest way – believe it or not – to help protect society. And, as I mentioned earlier on, to help other bits of the economy, whether it’s merchants and e-commerce or healthcare providers or other such entities and so it provides us with credibility and gives us good learning (as we mentioned earlier on). Working with a big bank is always a very interesting and challenging learning experience. But then ultimately, that puts you in good stead to protect the rest of the world which is what we want to do.

Catherine:

Zia let’s switch gears a little and talk about you as a founder and entrepreneur. You have experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic. Not just with respect to the clients you have signed up, but also you have opened three new offices in three new continents in the past eight months. What is the biggest personal learning in this process?

Zia:

On the latter part of the question, in terms of what’s my biggest learning, I think communication, and communicating with your colleagues, your family with anyone you are (or want to be) involved with, clearly is really important.

What I mean by that is in the past we could communicate with each other by walking into the office. You see someone, and maybe by the way they are slouched over their desk you know they may have had a bad day or night at home. You give them a pat on the back and try to cheer them up and you can just tell by their body language how someone may be. But in this post-pandemic world, clearly you can’t see people; sometimes people turn their camera off. Even if they are on camera, there are all the mannerisms we got used to picking up before in the physical world that you just do not have (through a camera). For me, communicating with people, being nice and polite and good with people and understanding that they may be in situations that you cannot grasp because you are not physically there with them, where previously you could just pick up on things is very important. So, I’d say the biggest thing for me is just evolving the way in which you think about and therefore deliver your communications, whether they are written or over the telephone or video conference like this.

Catherine:

Yes, absolutely. Such a foundational learning to talk about the right form of communication at the right time. It is something that we really don’t think too much about, but it is super, super important in this hybrid world that we live in. It is a balance between the in-person interaction plus the digital interaction that’s becoming more and more real and that bonds us together. That’s a really invaluable lesson that we can all learn.

Zia:

Clearly the bank is a big group, we’ve got access to senior people such as yourself and the leadership team which has been immense, it has been profound for myself and other members of the team because we are able to tap into people with experiences within (and beyond) the bank. Where previously we would not have gotten that. I’d encourage any founder, start-up CEO / COO etc. to look to try and work with a group such as HSBC.

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