CTO Talk: Q&A with Victor Palau of Ebury

By Eric Johansson

Victor Palau is the CTO of Ebury, a fintech startup enabling people to send instant cross-border payments. The foreign exchange management company was founded in 2009 and has raised $123.5m of funding to date.

As such it is part of the growing fintech wave, which has enjoyed a lot of investment over the past decade. The sector raised $318.74bn in total in 2021, according to data from research and analysis firm GlobalData.

As CTO of Ebury, Palau is smack in the middle of this wave.

“Whether to enhance efficiency in the usage of financial services provided by existing financial companies or to increase customer retention through speed and convenience, startups are transforming the financial services and allied sectors by tech driven solutions,” GlobalData analysts wrote in a recent thematic research report.

“Ranging from digital payments to insurtech or from mobile banking to cross-border payments, startups aim to disrupt finance using modern technologies and innovative business models to attract various new-age consumers.”

In the latest Q&A in our weekly CTO Talk series, Palau reveals what he thinks the biggest trends will be in the fintech industry in 2022, what would surprise people about his job at Ebury and what separates hype from genuine innovation.

Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?

Victor Palau: My background is in operating systems. I worked at Nokia/Symbian on mobile OS before I moved to Ubuntu/Canonical to lead their commercial engineering efforts. I joined Ebury over three years ago as VP of engineering working closely with our previous CTO, Toby Young, before moving up to the CTO role last year.

What’s the biggest challenge for new CTOs starting at new companies?

Prioritising your time to align with the company strategy. It is easy to get distracted by technology hypes and in fighting fires, but as CTO I focus on bringing a longer-term perspective to technology, innovation and Ebury’s wider digital strategy.

How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?

Great question. I first try to understand what problem the technology solves and how it differs from previous solutions. I also look at its grass roots adoption, who forms the community of users and what they are using the technology for. That usually gives me enough information to see if it is something we want to get involved with.

Where did your interest in tech come from?

I have always been interested in technology, especially networking technologies. I love to see problems solved – not necessarily using technology, but it often helps to speed up the process.

What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?

Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Actively seek to surround yourself with specialists that can have a deeper understanding of subject areas than you. After that, listen to them and learn.

What’s the most surprising thing about your job?

The amount of junk mail that I receive from tech salespeople. It must have quadrupled – at least!

What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?

The biggest challenge to me is sustainability. It is not just climate change but the speed with which we are eating through this planet like termites. Technology simply has to be part of the solution as much as it is currently a major part of the problem.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?

A bank heist at an old spaghetti western town with my kids. It is a movie set in the middle of a desert in Almeria, Spain. The landscape is so bizarre that it is often used to film space movies.

What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?

From a technical point of view, I am hugely excited about Extended Berkley Packet Filter (eBPF). It is a Linux Kernel feature that allows safe monitoring and some interaction of real-time actions. It has the potential to change at a large scale how we monitor and secure networks.

From a fintech point of view, it is its increasing penetration into the mainstream. The initial startups are now becoming unicorns and large corporations that directly compete with banks, which is consequently attracting the attention of regulators and FAANG companies.

In another life you’d be?

A veterinarian. It was a close call when choosing a degree at university but I ended up in tech.