Prepaid Financial Services prepares for IPO, predicts mobile future

Noel Moran, Valerie Moran, and Lee Britton discuss the origins, challenges, and future of one of Europe's most successful fintechs


Prepaid Financial Services is one of Europe’s fastest-growing fintech companies. Founded around a kitchen table in 2008, the business has specialised in prepaid cards and payment technology. From its first contract for 5,000 cards, today the business has issued over 6.5 million cards across 25 countries, and is gearing up for its IPO. Noel Moran, Valerie Moran, and Lee Britton discuss the founding the company, the strengths of a deliberately diverse workforce, and the evolving trends in the fintech industry.

European CEO: Noel, what pushed you to create PFS? What was the original vision and drive?

Noel Moran: Well, the initial drive was I thought there was a gap in the market – in the UK market – for small to medium sized corporates, small businesses that wanted 10 cards, 15 cards, 20 cards for corporate expenses, for travel, for per diem – whatever it was. There didn’t seem to be anyone servicing that market in the UK, back in 2008. And that was the original concept and idea.

We’ve obviously moved away from a kitchen table now, and a one person office! We employ a significant number of people now, we’re across four different locations. We have a range of products and services, and we’re live in 25 different countries. So there’s been significant growth over the course of 12 years.

European CEO: You have had 11 consecutive years of profitability – what have been the challenges you’ve faced on that journey?

Noel Moran: There’s different challenges throughout the journey I guess, you know? In the initial days it’s financial. We’ve also done it a lot differently from some of the other companies – we’ve never taken in any money, any investment. The plus side of that is, we still own the company now – but the down side of that is, in the early days, it’s obviously a struggle to survive!

And then it moves on throughout the years, it becomes different, you know. You’re trying to scale up, you have growth, you have a lot of clients, you’re trying to develop the technology.

If we look at where we are now, we have challenges with Brexit obviously on one side – so that has been a recent one, you know. 85 percent of our business is actually in Europe, it’s outside the UK. So we worked with the regulator in Ireland over the course of 18 months, and we obtained a licence there in Ireland, to make sure there’s continuity of business.

So, you know: different challenges, changing constantly.

European CEO: Valerie; as the business has scaled up, you’ve been central to expanding the team, and you’ve spoken extensively about the importance of diversity to the business. Tell me about the team, and what strengths that diversity has brought.

Valerie Moran: Well, the strengths that diversity has brought in has been innovation. Because PFS is located across four different locations, it has been of extreme importance to create a diverse culture, and one of inclusion as well.

That in itself has actually benefitted the company in the sense that the markets that we wanted to tap in across Europe, we’ve had staff that have given us local knowledge about how people work. Because sometimes when you’re doing business, you have to basically adjust yourself to how people operate, and then you understand the business requirements in those particular countries. And that has helped us to be innovative in the spaces that we’ve been looking to tap into.

We’ve tried to give that entrepreneurial spirit to our employees. We have a culture within our business, a sense of belonging to all our staff. We want you to be part of our team, we want you to be part of our growth – hence the inclusion is of esteem essence. And that is one of our strategies and our polices.

Lee Britton: Mmm – it’s a good thing, really – because the business really encourages a lot of the business units to also be entrepreneurial. I think that’s really been the success, or one of the main successes for us as PFS, is seeing our staff drive different ideas into the business, and take it in areas that may not have been apparent to us. So we’re open to change, we’re open to innovation. And I think it’s the culture throughout the company, basically.

European CEO: Tell me about your clients; where is the demand coming from today?

Lee Britton: That’s a good thing for PFS, because we’re not sector specific, and we’re not country specific. So it’s from everywhere.

The whole industry has changed from where it was 10 years ago. So today it could be a bank that’s looking to launch a product; it might not want to run it on its own platform. So we have a number of scenarios where we act as the technology partner – and actually as the issuer, the name behind the card, although it’s the bank’s brand on the front of the card.

We have fintechs that are coming up with ideas that we think are brilliant. And we can provide them also with the regulatory capability to issue that product, and to support them. We know how hard it is to get into a market, so we would be keen to support innovation and potential new products.

We looked at the schools market, when we had our innovation fund. What the younger generation had as ideas for payments were absolutely brilliant, to be honest. Probably the most enthusiastic thing we’ve ever been involved in. So that was a massive thing for us. And we learned a lot about innovation, and where we could see future trends.

European CEO: And Noel, what do you see the future holding for PFS, and for fintech in general?

Noel Moran: Yeah, so, it’s an ever-evolving industry, and it’s moving very, very fast. So you know, if we just look at what has happened over the last 10 years, we started out with cash, and cash moved to plastic, and there’s talk about cash disappearing, and I actually see cash disappearing and cards disappearing. I think everything will move to mobile over the course of the next five or six years.

I think it’s also a generation thing – I think millennials are actually using mobile apps, and they’re banking on their phone. They don’t walk into banks any more, they don’t carry cash, they don’t even need cards. So I see a lot of it moving onto mobile payments, and we’ve put a lot of time and investment into that over the course of the last two years. So we’re well positioned, hopefully, to be able to cater for it.

European CEO: Noel, Valerie, Lee – thank you very much.