10 Questions with Sharon Whittaker on Payments and life at Freemarket
I’m VP of Commercial Operations at Freemarket, overseeing the Client Support and Implementation and Quality Assurance teams.
Essentially, I work across teams throughout the business to plan, direct and coordinate operations activities to improve internal processes and ensure the commercial team is well oiled and running effectively. It’s my job to establish efficient operations and cost-effective solutions that will meet the current and future needs of Freemarket. I also implement external processes to ensure an excellent experience for our clients when they have queries regarding their cross-border transactions and FX.
What’s your background?
I’ve always worked in the financial services industry; I started my career at Coutts bank at 18 where I was enrolled on their ‘accelerate and development’ program. From currency dealings and business intelligence to relationship management and insights, I’ve since managed multiple teams both regionally and globally for several banks, payments and FX brands. After the pandemic I felt it was time for a new challenge and joined Freemarket – the role here was an excellent opportunity for me to bring my experience to Freemarket’s commercial team and be part of their new and exciting journey. I think being ranked #12 in the Sunday Times ‘fastest growing UK companies’ in 2022 says a lot about how far Freemarket has come and the direction it’s going.
What attracted you to the payments space?
I loved maths so my careers adviser suggested I go into banking. I’ve been in the financial services industry for so long I can’t imagine being – or wanting to be – anywhere else. Moving into payments I found the space to be so incredibly innovative, and the speed of transformation is increasing at an exponential rate. It used to all be about cash and cards, but the growth of the internet has changed the payments world completely – it’s exciting to continue to be part of that.
What do you think Freemarket’s ‘magic sauce’ is?
We think on our feet and move nimbly, which is crucial for our clients. It’s such a collaborative environment; everybody brings ideas to the table and rank doesn’t matter. We pull together to tackle big changes in regulation and risk, coming up with the next solutions that enable us to continue delivering excellent service for our clients. There’s a reason 500+ clients have had a 90%+ retention rate with us since 2016.
If you could go back in time two years, what advice would you give yourself?
Build a community around you. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of surrounding yourself with people you can lean on to help brainstorm ideas, share knowledge with and learn from – it’s essential to both personal and business growth. Invest in building relationships at your workplace and at conferences and events. As your network grows, you’ll grow with it – it takes a village.
What would you say are the biggest challenges in the payments industry today?
It has to be not knowing what the industry will look like tomorrow. I can’t see the payment industry being what it is today via banks; technology will take over. There’s increased uncertainty around consumer behaviour, the economic outlook and regulations which can make strategic decisions complex – It’s unchartered waters. It’s difficult to predict the future, and while that’s exciting, it puts pressure on businesses to be adaptable and keep up.
I think the changes in risk are also a key challenge. Technology has advanced amazingly, but not as quickly as the criminals trying to take advantage. Financial crime has seen an increasing trend in recent years and continues to become more sophisticated and inventive. Fortunately, at Freemarket, our Risk and Compliance Team continue to implement new fraud prevention methods, but it’s a constantly changing game.
What’s your favourite thing about working for Freemarket?
Definitely the people! They make Freemarket what it is. All of my colleagues are passionate about going above and beyond to make our customers happy – I don’t think there’s anything more powerful in a business than that.
What’s your favourite thing about the Freemarket platform?
It’s simple, clean, and easy to use. I’ve seen plenty of platforms that are busy, which makes them difficult to use. The Freemarket platform is simple and efficient, with no pointless bells and whistles, so you can get to where you want quickly and easily. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but ultimately, it’s user-friendly and convenient. Our clients can log in, move funds and change currencies by simply pointing and clicking.
What do you predict happening in the payments industry in the future?
Retina payments? Who knows?! The rules will be torn up – the way we do international payments today will be a thing of the past. The FinTech space is an experimental environment with a lot of funding that continues to propel innovation further. Ultimately, consumers will drive the demand, but it will be up to the payments industry to keep an eye on that and ensure they’re keeping up with consumer expectations.
What’s something people don’t know about you?
I’m a marathon runner; I’ve raised over £35,000 for charity so far. I also have a gold medal from the 1994 World Irish Dancing Championships.
To find out more about Freemarket’s unique formula for real-time settlements and how we can work together, contact us today.