Gagan Mehrotra wants more bankers to become entrepreneurs, but without necessarily having to quit the banking sector. “You have a Rolodex of contacts which brings in money for your bank, and you also have the opportunity to network and keep sight on emerging opportunities,” says Mehrotra, a banker who recently set up a fintech firm. “As long as your business venture isn’t in conflict with the bank – in terms of its activity and your time – I see no harm in leveraging your network.”
Mehrotra did just that when he started developing what is now Swink, a digital payments app, while still working as a Singapore-based private banker at JP Morgan in 2016. “I was lucky because my manager allowed me to work on it during my spare time. This approval was then grandfathered by my bosses at Stan Chart in 2017,” says Mehrotra, adding that his family were also supportive of his new business.
But how did Mehrotra even have the time to establish his company while still holding down a job? Finding a team of seven developers in India in 2017, all of whom had previously worked together, certainly helped. “Putting together a team with a similar mindset ensured that the product development went quickly,” says Mehrotra. “During the development stage my main involvement was keeping an eye on the progress during weekly calls with the team.”
But while creating the app was “quite easy”, ensuring it met regulatory requirements took longer than Mehrotra expected. “Being a non-tech person, I thought the main challenge would be writing code. I was wrong,” says Mehrotra. “Getting the various security and other certifications – from Visa, Mastercard and other partners – actually took longer.”
Swink was launched at the Singapore Fintech Festival in November 2018, and Mehrotra left Stan Chart in January 2019 to temporarily devote more time to the fledgling firm. He’s now further developing its strategy – including plans to sell the product to smaller Asian banks that don’t have their own payment apps – and will headhunt a full-time CEO from a tech background once the business is off the ground.
Mehrotra, however, is not your typical banker-turned tech entrepreneur. Far from being disillusioned with wealth management and wanting a permanent escape route, Mehrotra plans to return in the near future – either by joining another private bank (as a head of business) or by setting up a wealth management firm.
“I’ve worked in wealth for 21 years and still love it,” he says. “Being able to develop relationships with interesting, successful people – coupled with working in markets – makes it an addictive job.”
Still, Mehrotra says more bankers should run their own tech projects on the side. “And I think it’s also something banks should encourage. Pursuing a passion – like my passion for tech – can help keep bankers motivated.”
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