10 Questions with Hussein Ozbek on Payments and life at Freemarket
I’m the Customer Due Diligence Manager and Head of Onboarding for Freemarket. As part of this I manage and train a team of Know Your Customer (KYC) analysts and administrators. The team are primarily responsible for new prospects and businesses that sign up to the Freemarket platform from various verticals – financial institutions, online merchants and payment service providers, gaming enterprises and the digital asset space (crypto).
Once a prospect becomes a client, we’re essentially responsible for the oversight of that client, to ensure they’re acting in a compliant way and we’re meeting our obligations to regulators, auditors, and bank partners. We do this through ongoing client risk assessments and periodic client reviews. It’s important we do this to insure against potential organisational risks.
What’s your background?
I’ve predominantly worked in financial services, with a 20-year tenure in large corporate institutions such as investment banks. Within those institutions I had roles covering operations and risk, for a wide range of products such as equities, fixed income, securities lending, and credit risk.
My interest in payments evolved with the rapid expansion of the fintech industry and its associated possibilities. It was then I took my role with Freemarket. As a start-up, I knew it was a fantastic opportunity to be part of something big – while we often end up in places by accident, I immediately knew this was a good accident.
What attracted you to the payments space?
I always loved being part of the banking industry, so I was sure I wanted to stay in financial services – it’s so vast I knew I could challenge myself by growing my exposure and learning new products.
Despite working for banks, I hadn’t crossed over into payments. Having joined Freemarket, it has quickly become apparent how big an industry this is, with so many layers.
The industry is constantly evolving in terms of technology, the emergence of blockchain, and competing with traditional banks for market share. I knew the industry would continue to advance at a fast pace, and I was really drawn to that exciting environment.
What do you think Freemarket’s ‘magic sauce’ is?
It has to be the talent. The business has brought in passionate, diverse, and experienced leaders to drive the business forward at different levels which is critical for growth. At the same time, we’ve recruited a lot of young talent who have the right attitude to learn and grow with the company - I see no barriers to their progression. It’s this combination of people which builds a positive work environment, boosts productivity, and has fostered great innovation.
As a maturing business, we have managed to make business decisions quickly to keep ahead of competitors and regulatory changes. Where technology is concerned, it must be fast-paced and our strategy and capabilities must be able to turn quickly, in some cases daily, not just reviewed year by year. Ultimately Freemarket is built up of a great group of individuals with a vision for success.
If you could go back in time two years, what advice would you give yourself?
Change is key. Don’t fear it, embrace it.
No two days, weeks, months, or years are the same in our industry, with business and client requirements changing daily. It’s imperative we’re committed to embracing new obstacles so that we continue to service clients quickly, efficiently and safely, while also developing our own skillset. This willingness is a key ingredient to success.
What would you say are the biggest challenges in the payments industry today?
As we drive the business to meet the shifting demands of the digital world, we must be wary of the opportunities this presents to criminals. Eurojust have reported that money laundering cases have doubled in the last six years, with this expected to grow further by 131% from 2022 to 2027. This proves we need to be equipped to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, and stay one step ahead of new techniques fraudsters will inevitably try to bring to market.
What’s your favourite thing about working for Freemarket?
Freemarket isn’t like any business I’ve worked for before. Unlike big corporates, you’re not siloed into a department where you don’t see the full mechanics. At Freemarket, those barriers aren’t there, and you converse with different stakeholders every day. Communication is open; not only does that harness a great work environment for experienced managers, but also colleagues just starting out in their careers. Everyone can develop quickly, be part of the business and feel heard.
What’s your favourite thing about the Freemarket platform?
The platform is the driver for everything I do day-to-day - my favourite thing is how easy it is to navigate your way around it, both internally and externally.
Instead of buying something off the shelf, we’ve built something that does exactly what we envisage. The talent of our Tech team means we can continuously evolve the platform on a weekly basis, giving us the capability to change the platform to meet client needs, as well as our own. It’s this industry-leading infrastructure and technology services offering security, resilience and stability that set us apart from the crowd.
What do you predict happening in the payments industry in the future?
The new cashless world is upon us. A few years ago, it seemed to be on the horizon, but the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated it much faster than originally projected – we’re closer to becoming a cashless society every day. Last year, UK Finance forecast that by 2031, notes and coins would account for only 6% of all payments made in the UK.
This change in the industry has meant consumers and businesses have had to shift to digital channels faster than anticipated – there’s now a bigger drive and demand for seamless trading capability and faster payments.
What’s something people don’t know about you?
Something that always surprises people is that prior to banking, I had a career in the prison service. It’s an unknown industry to people, so often raises a lot of eyebrows!
I found it to be an incredibly interesting environment and spent several years working closely with inmates, local authorities, police, barristers, and judges. I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot – it certainly broadened my exposure to the Prison Service, Probation Service, Youth Custody Services and the UK Judicial System. It also taught me how to alter my approach when dealing with people’s different emotions and needs.
While it’s certainly a very different role to the one I’m in now, there are definitely similarities and transferable skills. I’ve gone from managing people in the judicial system and convicted criminals to helping businesses tackle criminal efforts. Essentially it all comes down to two things: managing people and managing risk.
To find out more about Freemarket’s unique formula for real-time settlements and how we can work together, contact us today.