A conversation with Samantha Nel
When you are a startup, mitigating present and future risks is essential in a small, but competitive, market. P^werFinance Treasurer Samantha Nel reveals how she helps manage the risks to maximise the business’s growth, as well as how you go about building a treasury function from scratch.
Describe your role at P^werFinance?
Carving out and building the treasury function at P^werFinance has been an incredible experience. I love nothing more than rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in, so I would say my role can be (and has been) pretty diverse. The treasury function is about balance sheet management and centralising the management of certain risks that exist across the business, from liquidity and funding, to interest rate risk. Accurately pricing and managing these risks across all areas of the business is critical to the effective operation of the organisation.
The treasury function is responsible for ensuring the business is well capitalised and well-funded, something particularly important for a growing startup. To ensure a new business like ours continues to see growth, developing and implementing an appropriate funding plan is vital. Ensuring we have a diversified source of investors and implementing the organisation’s liquidity risk management framework is a key focus in the near term, so I work closely with our different teams to ensure I can effectively advise on the financial implications of strategic and operational initiatives.
Working at a startup is very different to the types of organisations I’ve worked at in the past. There’s a lot of overlap with other areas of the business and a lot less hierarchy, which is great. You need to open-minded and willing to help get things done even if they’re outside of your formal job description.
How do you help P^werFinance achieve its objectives?
I’m ultimately responsible for building and putting in place the right treasury for the business, and to do that you need experience. My ability to appropriately assess and manage risk and communicate strategies to different stakeholders has been built through more than 20 years’ experience in financial markets. Leveraging those past experiences, both wins and mistakes, to think tactically will help us drive the business forward and carve our niche in the market.
Outside of financial expertise, what other skills/experience help you as Treasurer?
Communication is a key aspect to the role. To manage stakeholders and pitch the right strategies, it’s very important to understand who your stakeholder is, what their needs are and how they like to work through an idea or strategy. You also need to be able to communicate complex policies to people who have varied levels of knowledge and expertise in a way that enables them to go away and either make decisions based on that information, or relay it to other stakeholders.
What did your former colleagues think about you leaving the traditional finance sector for a startup looking to shake things up?
I think a lot of people were excited for me, recognising and appreciating the opportunities in building a completely new treasury function. Most people know I love a challenge, which is why I love my new role. Leaving a large bank, in a very stable division, during a pandemic may have seemed strange or even crazy to some, but I think growth and new challenges should be a key part of everyone’s professional development.
And my experience at P^werFinance has far exceeded my expectations – and they were high to start with. The knowledge, the different skillsets and enthusiasm of the people I’m working with now is amazing, which really helped in deciding to leave the traditional finance sector.
How important is it in your role to have good relationships within the New Zealand financial sector?
I think that should be important in any sector. It’s highly useful for understanding the environment you are working in, and for me specifically, it’s essential to understand our customers on both sides of the balance sheet. Like any business sector, relationships naturally lead to opportunities for your organisation that can help grow customer bases and expand your insight of the market, so they should be nurtured. The benefits can also be personal ones – making new friends, understanding your own career aspirations, and creating professional opportunities for yourself. The opportunity to join P^werFinance arose because of the existing professional relationship I had with a previous colleague as an example, so it pays to always put your best foot forward.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
Being open to change, and not pigeonholing yourself into a role or path. Nobody knows everything, and you don’t know what you don’t know, so be open to new ideas, mindsets, and outcomes.
One question I really dislike at job interviews is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” If you asked me five years ago, my response wouldn’t be what I am doing now. Backing myself and being open to new opportunities and challenges has been the best thing for my career development.
How has your previous experience shaped what you are doing now?
Whilst treasury is very much a specialist area, it is broad. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of different functions and you engage with so many different areas across an organisation. I have purposefully moved into different roles within treasury so that I gain an understanding of different areas, work with different people and learn new things. That is what has ultimately paved the way for this exciting new Treasurer role for me and helped shape what I am now doing.
How would you describe the team at P^werFinance?
Everyone is consistently so positive and passionate about their sectors, and P^werFinance’s overarching mission. If I had to use one word, I would say ‘camaraderie’ best describes our team, which is what a startup needs. We have a good balance of blue-sky thinkers, idea generators and people that just get things done across the different areas. Couple that with the experience, professionalism and drive we all possess, and I would say we have the perfect team.
What are you focused on for the next 12 months?
There’s a lot to do! However, my two main priorities are ensuring we have the right technology for our core banking platform, and selecting the right business model for P^werFinance and specifically how that relates to the treasury function. This means putting in place the right technology and operations to act as the cornerstone of the business, and building our commercial and funding and liquidity models, including putting in place the right governance framework and policies to support those models.
In addition, developing our treasury reporting capability to key recipients across the business will be key as we start communicating financial strategies with all types of stakeholders both internally and externally.
Marketing a new business and building trust is a serious task. P^werFinance Chief Marketing Officer Charlotte Kent-Johnston explains the challenges and rewards of launching a start-up doing new (and sometimes very complex) things, what her experience has taught her about achieving cut-through, and her ambitions for the P^werFinance brand.
Building a technology platform from scratch that allows businesses to craft their own financial structures to better support their businesses is a big undertaking. P^werFinance Development Team Lead Isuru Palliyaguru discusses the process for building a unique platform from the ground up, developing software in the fintech space, and why P^werFinance presented an opportunity too good to pass.