Product management has evolved and grown in almost every industry, including Fintech. With Fintech comes great responsibility. Building customer trust, and ensuring cybersecurity and data safety are at the core of product management in this space. So, what practices and strategies are needed to be a PM in the Fintech world? Extend Chief Product Officer, Orna Albus, shares insights on core strategies and practices for product management in the Fintech space. 

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Transcript

Dimitry Shvartsman

Hello product management world and welcome to another episode of product talk. My name is Dimitri Schwartzman and I lead the cybersecurity platform product management team at PayPal. I’m a strong believer that two of the most fundamental elements of a successful company are cybersecurity and product management. I’m especially excited about this episode as we will be venturing out more to the FinTech world, and focusing more on that space. My guest today is Orna Albus CPL would extend Orna welcome, great to have you. Can you please introduce yourself?

Orna Albus 

Hi, my name is Orna  Albus, I have been an extend now, about three and a half years, really excited with this discussion and talking about product management in general.

Dimitry Shvartsman

This is awesome. Great to have you. So tell me a little bit about your background, what made you choose product management as a career?

Orna Albus

Sure, I started actually my career after undergrad in consulting, I consulted for six years working with companies, small and large on their business processes. And I loved working directly with customers understanding what their wants are, what their needs, what they’re currently using, what’s failing them currently, and really understanding, you know, how do we evolve that into a new product for them. And so after six years of traveling both the United States and the world, I went back to business school and realized that I loved what I did in consulting, I just couldn’t sustain the travel portion of it.

And so that’s where I ended up at American Express during product management. And there are a lot of similarities between consulting and product management because you’re really looking to work with clients directly, and ask them, what are your needs. What are you using today? What’s not working? What would you love to have in a product, it kind of evolves from there. So that’s kind of how I ended up in product management. Here at Extend, we have spent the first few years of the product really working on the core. 

Orna cont.

And the core is helping companies use virtual cards using their existing credit line. So if you have a credit card in your pocket, you can log onto our website and enroll it and then send virtual cards on top of it for your business needs. And now that we’ve kind of created that core, we’re working on now creating other functionalities to really help customers with their business processes. So it could be additional card distribution. So how do I send my vendor card so they can make that charge directly? Card management?

How do I reconcile at the end of the day, all these charges I have? And how do I have additional metadata early on. So I don’t have to do so much coding and so much work at the end of the day. And then finally, expense management, I’m sending these virtual cards, my employees, I need to understand how they’re spending it ensuring that they’re able to spend with it. And so for me, this is the fun part, because we built that core functionality. And now we’re looking to expand on that and really meet the needs of those small businesses.

Dimitry Shvartsman

That’s amazing. I have about 60 different questions that I would like to go based on your answer. And I actually would like to split your answer into two, let’s call them streams. The first one focuses a little bit on your path, and kind of how you grew into product management. And then the other one, I’ll pause and we’ll get back to Extend and focusing on some of the product lines and how that comes together. So starting going or should I say going back to your career path.

You mentioned consulting, there are many different ways to get into product management. I’ve interviewed individuals who moved from engineering and those who just kind of stumbled into product management. I’m curious, is there a way to do this right? Or it’s more about focusing on the core values of what product management brings to the table, and then just pursuing that passion. What’s your opinion there?

Orna Albus

Yeah, I’ve hired a number of people with all different backgrounds, people who start off as engineers and kind of wanted to pivot out of there and didn’t want to just do so much coding, or you have people coming from customer service, saying, I’ve been helping customers. And I actually now want to build what I’ve been talking about and work from that path. And then you have people from marketing who are like, if you’ve been talking about this product, but I want to actually now be able to affect it and make changes to it.

So everybody comes from it from different aspects. I don’t know if there are actual product classes. I have to assume there is today, but that didn’t exist 20-plus years ago. So there are many different ways. But I think if you can get into an organization that has a really strong product culture, you’ll get that exposure to what that team does. And that will help you get that role that you may want in the product world.

Dimitry Shvartsman

How about some core capabilities? Would you say that there are certain traits of character or certain capabilities that you develop throughout your professional career that are a must for a product manager, or not necessarily?

Orna Albus

I think some of the core capabilities are kind of for any type of job is really an interest in what you’re doing every single day. Whether it be the product you’re working on or the people you’re working with, it’s just really important to have that interest. Research is super important. You have to research your customers, but you also have to research your competitive landscape, new technologies coming to the market, and things that are not necessarily directly affecting your product, but will one day potentially affect your product. So researching just in the general sense, and your competitors set as well. And finally, organization, being a product manager is part of the key things you need to do is, you know, balancing people’s wants and needs and requirements. And you just have to stay organized. With all those things. It’s actually very, very difficult.

Dimitry  Shvartsman

We’ll go back to the organization part because I have several questions there actually, more specifically around tooling that we see coming up more and more to help the product management profession. And I’m curious, about your opinion there. But actually, you’re coming around research. And I would like to use that to steer us to that second stream and talk about Extend a little bit more. Very refreshing when I was researching what Extend is doing as part of our episode, that’s a really interesting space to be in. What was the research? Going back to your comment about building the core, what was kind of the research that led you to focus on that core capability from a product perspective?

Orna Albus

I worked for American Express for six years, I worked for US Bank. And so also our three founders to three also worked with me at American Express. And so we all kind of had that background of the needs of small and medium-sized businesses out in the world, but we always focus it on one bank. And so you know, American Express had a very similar product in the sense that they were creating virtual cards for large markets. And we said, we know small businesses want this, but they don’t have that functionality available to them.

And so the market was there talking to individual customers and then seeing the likes of like bricks and ramp, who were much more focused on the startup world. But they’ve now expanded to small businesses, we knew there was a market because they were coming into it, and trying to compete with the larger banks on that, at that very similar, small and medium-sized businesses. And so between seeing the competitor startup and having our previous experience, I think between those two things, we kind of knew that this core product was a need in the market.

Dimitry  Shvartsman

So that is really, really fascinating, specifically the focus on small and medium businesses. And it takes me right away to customer acquisition because I know that, in that space, it’s quite challenging. You know, you’re big enterprises. But getting in front of small and medium businesses is a very different kind of landscape and a different kind of challenge from a product market fit. How did you tackle it?

Orna Albus

Customer acquisition is very difficult for our new company, because not only do you have to get your product in front of the customers, you have to get your name, nobody’s heard of you, nobody trusts you. And it’s a very difficult thing that we are constantly dealing with. For us, because we partner with banks, we kind of have a little bit of an edge. So we’re coming to a partner or coming to a client with a bank that they know with a bank authority using. And so you have that confidence and have that trust kind of embedded together, which really helped us in our journey.

But oftentimes we’re going to clients directly as well and telling you about our product, and it’s a difficult thing to say hey, let me tell you about a brand new product you never heard of go put in your credit card information in here, and then start just sending. It’s all just gonna work seamlessly. Oh, It’s very hard. And so we have focused actually, at the end of this year really started focusing on doing more marketing and more education of our customers. And it’s an uphill battle. But it’s one of those things that customer needs to see multiple times to kind of feel that you are a relevant company, that you’re a stable company, and that they can start that path of trusting you.

Dimitry  Shvartsman

Now I’m going to try and tie this all back together. So with that feedback that you’re getting from the customers, through marketing, and through your kind of trying to promote your brand name, how does that circle back into the research? And how does that affect your product management practices in the build-out of future products? If at all, oh, maybe it’s a completely different avenue, and not necessarily something that affects your product strategy.

Orna Albus

I wouldn’t say it affects our product strategy, I think what we try to use is like trying to use that platform to start interviewing customers and talking to them directly, and not just looking at their analytics or their spending data, but actually talking directly to our customers. And oftentimes, we’ll reach out to the customer, and they they are using our product, but then they’re not really you know, sure about this interview cycle, like they’re not used to working with small companies that want to reach out to them directly, and actually literally get on the phone with them. And so we’re trying to build out our brand name just so when a customer sees us, they’re like, Oh, yes, we want to talk to you, we’re interested in what you have to say to us.

Dimitry Shvartsman

With FinTech comes great responsibility. I might have borrowed that line from when modified it a little bit, obviously. And my background is in cybersecurity. So looking at that, and through that lens, how do you embed cybersecurity into your products, because we’re talking a lot about trust, and a lot of the customer’s trust. And to your point, hey, we’re brand new, please give us your credit card data, and it’s going to be great, and you’re going to enjoy every second of it. But how do you if at all, embed that? And do you promoted? Do you not? Obviously, there’s a lot of regulation, but is that a factor in your product management practices and strategy, or is that something completely different within the organization?

Orna Albus

We think about security in two different ways. So first, the bank that we’re going to partner with needs to feel that their data is going to be secure with us, it’s their end client data, and this is the most important relationship they have. And if they’re going to partner with us, they have to ensure that their customer data is not going to have any security issues. So I have a team of technology experts that really go out and ensure that our core is PCI compliant, and all the PII data is secure. And that is one of the things that the technology team just focuses on. And then customer, like I was saying before, really needs to feel secure when they’re entering their information in.

And we ensure that that data kind of is seamless. And we actually don’t store most of that data to ensure that at the end of the day, their customer information isn’t being isn’t leaked. But then the other thing we actually think about it’s kind of tangent to security is data leakage. When we are hosting a company. And people have different roles and responsibilities, we have to make sure we’re not leaking data that certain people aren’t allowed to see within the organization. So every feature we launched, we kind of put on the lens of data leakage and ensure that the proper people within an organization have the proper security rights.

Dimitry Shvartsman

So multifaceted approach from all your large partners, which are the banks, what you get in front of the customers, and obviously regulation, and then also internally, what you’re releasing all that goes through a cybersecurity lens, and there are different practices that are being applied. That is That is awesome. Definitely. I mean, again, coming from my background, I’m really, really happy to hear that. Going back and going back a little bit more to you and focusing on your career, if I may, your move between different companies, different sizes, you mentioned that you came from consulting, what was the most challenging aspect from a product management perspective, as you were progressing throughout your career?

Orna Albus

I think it’s every single job I had, I kind of expanded my toolset of what I can do and what I was learning. I think the most difficult thing going from junior to more senior is actually having a point of view, and being confident in that point of view, to you know, to lead meetings to lead conferences and things like that, to ensure that your voice is heard. As a junior person, you’re very much influenced by your senior leadership by the people around you. And you don’t necessarily have that point of view of what the product should be like.

But as you grow and become more senior, it’s very important to have that idea of where are you going as a product. What is your vision? What is your strategy, and become less tactical and more strategic in your work? And that is one of those things that I think people are continuously growing on, but very easy to become very tactical, it’s very easy to talk about what I’m building today. It’s much harder to think about the long-term vision and what’s the plan four to five years, because those are such unknowns, and it’s much harder to kind of Arctic relate that not just to your boss and not just to your team, but you have to articulate it to your partner to articulate to your end customers as well.

Dimitry Shvartsman

So I couldn’t agree more. And I think one of the biggest challenges as product managers across the board no matter what industry you’re in, is trying to identify the trends and what that two to three to four to five-year roadmap might potentially look like. But also what changes you’re going to have to do on the fly. So if I want to, if I would like to really double click on this for a second, what are some of the critical capabilities, or tools that a product manager should focus on developing, to be able to start seeing that vision around their product lines, which is much more future looking versus more tactical? Like you said, is there anything that is almost like a cheat sheet? If I may ask others of course, then the practice and experience? Is there anything else that can be applied here?

Orna Albus

Well, for me, it’s you have to choose where you’re going. Are you going to build it from the bottom up, you’re going to decide what those core functionalities are. And then that evolves into a strategy? Or do you start with a high level of vision and say, Okay, this is what I want my product to be. And then I go downwards and say, Okay, what do I have to build to achieve that? For either one of those? Internally, we use JIRA. And I have to say, in the last couple of years, they’ve done a great job of adding product management capabilities, their confidence, and their ability to link confidence to JIRA, they now have some product management, or I should say project management capabilities around Gantt charting, and organization.

And the fact that it’s all in one place has really helped us on the tactical level, execute much better. But it’s not a place where I can do high-level strategy or vision. It’s just too messy. And so those things really live in a PowerPoint, because those are the things that are storytelling, you have to tell people, this is the high-level vision, and these are the pillars that go along with it. And this is how we’re going to do some execution at a high level. And that can’t live in a Gantt chart that must live in some sort of storytelling capability.

Dimitry Shvartsman

So can I kind of if I tried to pick one would you say storytelling is one of the key capabilities that our product managers should have is one of the tools in their toolbox,

Orna Albus

You need to be able to tell a story and lead people along that path of how you’re thinking. So you’re able to get your executives on board to your vision, so you can get the company on board. So they’re in lockstep with the product team. It’s one of those qualities that takes practice and is not an easy thing to do. But it’s one of those qualities that if you’re able to execute on that, you’ll be able to bring everybody along in your journey.

Dimitry Shvartsman

I really hope by the way that some folks from JIRA are listening to and will be listening to this podcast because there are a lot of ideas here and what they can do to prove even further. But I do want to now go back to another point that you made and tie this all together again, around tools, we see a lot more tools and products that are coming out specifically focused to support and help product managers in their work. In my humble opinion, I think they bring value. But I think sometimes some of them still missed the main point of that story that we’re always tasked with telling. Are there any specific ones that help you stay organized, and on track, other than JIRA that you’ve mentioned,

About the speaker
Orna Albus Extend, Chief Product Officer Member
About the host
Dimitry Shvartsman PayPal, Head of Cybersecurity Platform & Product Management
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