Daniella Lorenzo is the CTO of Toqio, the embedded finance startup. However, it is not the only newcomer in the sector vying for a slice of a market expected to be worth $138bn by 2026. It is also up against the likes of London-based Weavr, which bagged a $40m funding round at the end of February. In other words: the Toqio CTO and her team have their work cut out for them.
And that’s beside the fact that the fintech industry as a whole has prospered during the pandemic. You wouldn’t have thought that at the start of Covid-19. There was a slump in investment in the fintech sector in 2020. The value of the venture capital deals in the industry dropped from $35bn in 2019 to just $30bn in 2020. The number of deals dropped from 2,065 to 1,786 over the same period.
However, those figures jumped in 2021. Last year, fintech companies attracted $88bn across 2,528 deals, according to data from GlobalData. The numbers for 2022 look equally promising. By the end of February, the fintech industry had already raised $88bn in total across 312 deals.
Toqio and its CTO have also benefitted from the fintech funding boom: it raised a €8m seed funding round in July 2021. The Toqio CTO is now using some of that money to help expand the startup’s offering.
In the latest Q&A in our CTO Talks series, the Toqio CTO reveals what people get wrong about embedded finance, her penchant for scaring people and why she envies her dog.
Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Daniella Lorenzo: I’ve always been very ambitious. Since I was young studying was easy for me even if it wasn’t something I loved. I was moved up one year in school so I’ve always dealt with and moved around people older than me. I’m petite and was a tiny child then, but as my mum says, I’m direct and I don’t sit back waiting to see what happens, I like making things happen myself.
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I’ve always been passionate about teaching and sharing what I know, in all fields. At 15 I was a karate teacher for a group of four-year-old kids, imagine that. Knowing I can be someone who another person can look up to, being persistent, wanting to learn and taking ownership and responsibility of everything I did make me get to where I am now.
Whilst finishing my studies I started an internship as a developer, focusing on business logic. I moved around different projects until I grew into a more senior position and ended up meeting who today are my colleagues and co-founders of Toqio. I quickly moved into a management role and from there to my current CTO position leading the technology team at the company.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the fintech space right now?
I think companies don’t need more fintech providers, they need platforms that can assimilate fintech solutions that can fit their business model easily and efficiently. So the biggest challenge is being able to provide a personalised experience for the end-user, allowing all types of integrations and automatisation, while also allowing them to build the solution they are looking for in the quickest way possible – that will fit their needs.
However, this involves building a platform with high levels of security, especially around data, taking into consideration all regulations that need to be taken care of and having a technology that is constantly evolving, innovating and is also scalable. To make all this happen you need a very powerful team. Nonetheless, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to find people who have strong experience across all of these areas.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about embedded finance?
People think embedded finance is just about enabling payments, but it’s actually about creating long-lasting customer relationships in all financial aspects. Being able to improve customer experience and enabling them to execute their daily financial functions from one unique place is what empowers and gives meaning to this term.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
I’ve always had an interest in science in general, especially in computers. From a young age, I was very interested in opening devices and looking inside them. I liked to feel like a hacker even if I actually had no clue what I was doing. When we got our first internet modem, I was about 12. I remember it was during the summer holidays so my mum was at work and I opened up our computer tower and installed the whole thing before she got home. So, I would say I was born with a general interest in tech — the cartoon show Dexter and his laboratory also played a big part in my passion for it.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
I would say you need to make sure you build a team you trust, build a strong culture and make sure there’s a good working ambience that will allow you to retain talent, which is something very difficult to do nowadays.
Remember that continuous learning makes you strong and you will always learn something from everyone regardless of their seniority, so keep an open mind. Allow your team to make mistakes, it’s the best way to help them learn. Don’t feel threatened by hiring someone who is very good at something, if you think you know everything you are very wrong. Be a leader, not a boss.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
There are many surprising things about my job, and I’m sure you’ve heard repeatedly about a few of them so I want to add something that I’m sure a lot of CTOs or tech leaders will relate to. I think having to listen to people who are not technical making decisions for you will never stop surprising me.
It’ll amaze you the number of times I’ve heard “we can do X, that is easy”. People tend to look at a product and forget that behind what they are looking at there’s a huge technological effort and work and nothing is as easy or quick as it seems. Without a strong, secure and scalable technology there’s not an end product and it surprises me that people actually forget about this.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
A lot of technological challenges come to my mind, starting with security, going through
an evolution and finishing the skills gaps. But I think given the circumstances and the field I’m working in we’d have to focus on security. With emerging technologies, we have hackers trying to attack them and exploit them. But hackers aren’t the only problem.
Data in fintech is a very sensitive matter and people have big insecurities about using technologies when it comes to their personal information and privacy. Data breaches can cause big issues within organisations, so building strong infrastructures, fighting and mitigating security risks is and will continue to be a big challenge.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
Well, I’m from the Canary Islands, we have the second-best carnival in the world, and I love dressing up. I once borrowed my sister’s veterinary gown and built a decapitated body that I could fit on top of my head and its head on the side. I used a friend’s face to make sure the head had a decent shape and looked as real as possible and a neck with fake blood that made it look as if it was decapitated and bleeding.
I have to say I hate scary movies, I get really freaked out. But I love scaring people, it makes me laugh so hard – I know, I’m weird. Anyway, I built this body and head and took it to a friend’s house where we were having a friend’s night. It was late and I got the gown all ready, went around the house and suddenly just knocked on a glass door to get everyone’s attention, opened the door very slowly, threw the head in the room rolling and threw myself on the floor with all this blood running out of the fake neck. I can tell you I hurt my knees falling down on that floor but it was worth it! I laughed so hard, and it’s something we’ll always remember. We kept the head as a reminder and called him Willy.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
Innovation. Technology evolves at an amazing pace and we have to keep up with new technologies
constantly, this implies hiring the best talent out there and keeping up with technological advancements without complicating processes and increasing costs. We have to make good decisions and more importantly make sure they fit the organisational needs.
In another life, you’d be?
My dog Bella, I envy her life. She gets the most love at home, she sleeps when she wants, plays when she wants. What a life! She’s the most clever and persistent dog in the world, she would manage to sit on the Queen’s lap if that’s what she wanted. Also a fact, dogs are one of the few animals that don’t recognise themselves in a mirror. Imagine that! No clue what you look like and not care about it.