Paul Hoare

Q&A Tuesday with Paul Hoare: The Promise and Pitfalls of Financial Technology

Paul Hoare is a founder, innovator, and entrepreneur involved with multiple startups in emerging technology. After beginning his career in engineering, Hoare transitioned into finance and now serves as a COO or advisor at companies on the bleeding edge of today’s economy. We spoke with him about the tech-driven evolution of business and what it takes to keep up in a rapidly changing world.

How are executives using data to improve and expand on their traditional roles? Do you have any examples from your own experience?

I’m a black belt in Six Sigma, so numbers are everything to me. That’s not true for everyone. Some executives won’t take the time to step back from a situation to understand the information beneath the chaos. So let me give you an example. You could do Excel gymnastics all day long with getting pivot tables and the like to basically say whatever you want them to say. What you miss is the opportunity to see the bigger picture in the data and make some reasonable guesses based on the confidence interval or the leading indicators. What’s changed is really the ability for executives to understand the data presented to them and the imperative to do the same.

What sorts of technologies do you rely on to get quality data?

For me, everything always comes back to Access, or more importantly, Excel. Beyond that, we spend a lot of time crafting our own data sets based on the questions we want to ask or the data we have at our disposal. Every company does it differently, in terms of the tools they use and their overall approach.

Paul Hoare

How do you decide when a problem needs a technological solution and how do you decide when the technology in place isn’t up to the problem at hand?

We do a cost-benefit analysis or what’s known as activity costing. First, we ask: Is there a technology available right now that can solve our problem? Then we ask if it’s off-the-shelf or we need to invest some “tech effort” of our own. Next, we look at whether it will make our lives easier by scaling upward or integrating with some other software we use. At the end of the day, the most important feature for us is ease-of-use. It needs to be super simple. Complexity on the back end is fine, even expected, but we don’t want a lot of noise on the front end with something like endless drop-down menus, for example.

You’re involved with an AI-driven product. How do you think automation can improve companies internally?

The fuel for the AI is data, so the more data, the better, particularly in an industry that must be data-driven. Frankly, though, it’s not an easy world to navigate. AI really comes down to the quality of data going in and the quality of the ruleset that governs it. Without getting too into the weeds, the potential is immense, but it’s not easy either.

That points to an issue lots of companies face: wanting to leverage new technologies but not knowing exactly how, when, or what to choose. Do you have any advice for companies struggling to select the right technology?

In my opinion, not being a first adopter when a new technology comes out can be a good thing, depending on your risk appetite. If you’re in an industry where one mistake could be catastrophic to your brand or company, then I wouldn’t be a first mover. Until there’s extensive testing done, it’s better to sit back. That said, it’s different in every industry.

What’s key to success for today’s companies: talent, technology, or something else?

The key is to understand your product and how it fits with your consumer. Normally, you’ve got an idea for a product and then you do survey and market research to explore what the potential demand actually is. However, that’s all based on a hypothetical product that no consumer has ever actually tried. So rather than trying to reverse engineer a product from what people say they want, I advocate for building the best product possible and then figuring out how a market aligns with that. You want to be over-delivering on day one. After that, be nimble, be open to change, and be willing to follow the product roadmap wherever it leads.

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