“We are thrilled to announce a significant milestone in the expansion of Wallester's global footprint with the appointment of Julian Brand as the CEO of the newly established Wallester UK,” says Sergei Astafjev, CEO of Wallester. “With an impressive track record in the financial services industry, Julian brings a wealth of experience and a visionary approach to the company, and is set to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of the UK market.”
In this exclusive interview, Julian Brand unveils his strategic blueprint for Wallester UK, detailing his top priorities for the branch and sharing valuable insights from his rich professional journey. Dive into our conversation with Julian as we explore his visionary plans for Wallester UK, uncover the motivations behind his career decisions, and the promising future he anticipates for the company in the dynamic UK market.
How did you initially become acquainted with Wallester, and what factors sparked your interest in the company?
I've been aware of Wallester for quite some time now. It has evolved from a startup to what I'd call a 'scale-up.' Over the past few years, I've observed Wallester through industry media, commentaries, and its presence at trade association events. This exposure sparked my interest in what Wallester was accomplishing and what it could achieve in the future.
Last year, a close friend of mine, a well-known figure in the fintech industry, suggested that I explore opportunities with Wallester, as they were looking for a UK representative then. He pointed out that besides their promising solutions and strong potential, he thought the company culture would resonate with me, and looking back on it, he was spot on.
Following this recommendation, I met with Dmitri Logvinenko and was immediately impressed. Wallester's approach stood out to me, especially in building robust fintech solutions and laying down solid plans for the future. From the very beginning, it was apparent that there's a deeply ingrained culture of excellence at the company. Wallester emphasizes doing things correctly and building a solid foundation for future growth rather than rushing the process.
For me, this struck the perfect balance between growth and development at a sustainable pace, which I found incredibly exciting. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to become the CEO of Wallester UK.
What aspects of your new position as CEO of Wallester UK excite you the most, and what key priorities and objectives have you set for the company's future?
The aspect that excites me the most about my new role as the CEO of Wallester UK is the challenge it presents. Challenges have always captivated me, and in this role, the excitement is amplified by the opportunity to explore the limits of the venture, if there are even any.
As for my priorities and goals, they are closely aligned with the company's strategic vision. A primary objective is to secure all the necessary UK licences, including authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to operate as an Electronic Money Institution (EMI) and as a Visa Associate under Wallester's primary Visa Principal membership. Achieving this in the next year is critical for introducing Wallester's White-Label solution to the UK market and enhancing Wallester Business in the UK and beyond.
To enable this, our immediate goal is to establish a business that is ready, willing, and able to operate by the time we apply for the necessary licences. This means having our core functions, processes and controls in place beforehand. We'll start building our team in the near future, focusing initially on compliance and control functions, which are key to managing areas like risk, anti-money laundering, financial control, etc.
Once we obtain the licences and our business grows, we'll turn our attention to developing more commercial resources and expertise, particularly in business development and client support. Investing in our team's growth and development is critical; however, this particular aspect of our expansion will likely be a focus for 2025.
I want to create an environment where all of our team members feel valued, motivated, and engaged, I really want to mirror the corporate culture of Wallester's other offices. Overall, our efforts will be balanced across our teams in Estonia, France, and the UK, ensuring a unified and integrated approach to growth and development.
Could you please elaborate on your professional background and the key experiences you've had prior to joining Wallester UK?
I began my career as a lawyer, and in fact, I still am one. However, quite soon after the start of my career, I pivoted more towards the financial services industry, where I've since taken on various roles. My initial start in the industry was with BNP Paribas Group, a mature banking environment where I learned the success benchmarks for financial organisations of all scales.
After a number of years, I joined FleetCor, a U.S. corporate payment specialist company. It was a radically different environment, with a disruptive business model and a focus on high growth. There, I learned to challenge norms and see things from new perspectives. However, though successful and enjoyable, FleetCor's acquisition-based model wasn't fully aligned with my personal career aspirations.
Subsequently, I moved to Edenred, a company where I've spent the last ten years, until the end of last year. Edenred is a very successful French listed company with businesses around the world and in particular is the global leader for employee benefit solutions. My role was in a division called PPS, an EMI, Banking Services provider and Card issuer in the UK and EU. PPS, similar to Wallester in its early days, developed its own processing technology and scaled up rapidly. We launched a variety of successful fintechs as agents, including many well-known brands like Tide, which grew quite significantly in partnership with us.
Throughout my career, I've handled many company functions, such as legal, risk, compliance, HR, CSR, audit, and general management responsibilities. These roles varied with the evolving focus of each business that I had the pleasure of being part of.
As of January 1st, I joined Wallester UK as its first employee, excited to integrate my past experiences and best practices with Wallester's strengths. As I commenced on this challenge, I took a little time to reflect on everything I have learned from the many valued colleagues, leaders, clients and partners that I have worked with over the years so that I can try to bring with me the best of all of these professionals that I have been so lucky to know.
Given the complexities of entering the UK market, what specific strategies will Wallester UK employ to establish its market presence effectively?
Entering the UK market does have its complexities, but we are poised to start from a position of strength once we secure our licence. Wallester already has a solid foundation and an array of robust products, which is an excellent starting point. However, the key to our success in the UK market will hinge more on our mindset and approach rather than just our foundational strengths.
I see our strategy being driven by a threefold passion, some aspects I've touched upon earlier, yet they are worth reiterating for their importance. Firstly, a passion for our customers; this involves a steadfast commitment to understanding and exceeding their needs and solving the challenges they face. We aim to consistently focus on customer satisfaction, ensuring that their requirements are not just met but surpassed.
Secondly, a passion for our solutions is vital. We aim to maintain and enhance the culture of excellence and innovation that Wallester is known for. Our goal is not necessarily to invent new products but to ensure that our existing solutions are the best available in the market. This commitment to quality will help our products stand out as top-tier offerings.
Lastly, a passion for our people is critical to our success. A business is only as good as its team, and we recognize the importance of having a highly engaged and satisfied workforce. Our goal and my personal mission is to create an inclusive company culture where employees love their work, collaborate effectively, and contribute to Wallester's growth in an enjoyable and sustainable way. This approach has been successful in our Estonian and French branches, and we are committed to replicating this in the UK.
In essence, these three passions - for our customers, solutions, and people - are more than just values; they are part of the essential DNA of successful global companies. By nurturing these qualities, we believe Wallester UK will not only enter the market effectively but also thrive and grow sustainably.
Can you share some insights into your personal life and interests outside Wallester UK?
I live in Cheltenham, located in the southwest of England. Cheltenham, known for its horse racing, hosts several significant festivals, and I reside just half a kilometre from the racecourse. You can really feel the energy and excitement in the air from all the cheering crowds on race days; it's incredibly recharging, and I love every second of it.
Family is a central part of my life; I have a wife and three children — two girls and a boy — who understandably consume a good portion of my time. Outside of family, my passions are running and exercising. I've set up a small gym in my garage equipped with a running machine, stepper, bicycle, and other equipment to accommodate this, especially given the frequent rain in the UK.
Discussing personal interests in the UK invariably leads to the topic of football allegiance. In my case, I support two teams. Firstly, Liverpool, as my mother is from there, and so in some way it is obligatory. Secondly, I follow Oxford United, a team from my hometown, although they are a smaller team in the third tier.
Apart from these interests, I'm also dabbling in a small-scale house-building project with a friend. It's progressing slowly, and while we don't expect to build a property empire, it is still an enjoyable and educational experience.
Why Wallester? The reason I'm drawn to Wallester and see myself working here for the next decade is deeply rooted in my belief in the company's people and culture. What strikes me most about Wallester is its no-nonsense culture focused entirely on excellence. Trust is a cornerstone value for me, and I quickly realised that Sergei and Dmitri were individuals I could enjoy working with and trust implicitly. For me, trust is a non-negotiable in any professional setting.
Wallester's foundation is another critical aspect that resonates with me. It's evident that the company has been meticulously built on solid foundations that support growth. This approach parallels my house-building project, where a sturdy foundation is crucial before construction begins. Without a solid foundation, any structure, be it a house or a business, is at risk of collapsing.
What also impresses me about Wallester is its clear and robust strategy. The company knows exactly what it aims to achieve and, just as importantly, what it will not pursue. This clarity and focus are vital, especially in the highly competitive UK market.
I'm excited about Wallester's potential for success. I believe we can become a well-known name in the UK and EU and make a significant impact globally. I'm eager to contribute to Wallester's growth, particularly in the UK sector, and help create a lasting legacy. I see a future where Wallester is recognised as a major player. I am enthusiastic about being a part of this journey, helping to shape Wallester into an outstanding company.
Shaping the Future of Wallester UK
As we wrap up our engaging conversation with Julian Brand, it's clear that his appointment as CEO of the UK branch marks a new chapter for Wallester, one filled with promise and potential. Julian's unique combination of strategic insight, extensive industry experience, and a visionary approach ideally leads Wallester to a strong foothold in the UK market. We look forward to witnessing the transformative journey Wallester UK is embarking upon under Julian's leadership as it strives to redefine the fintech experience in the UK and beyond.
Stay tuned as we continue to deliver updates and in-depth analyses of the advancements and breakthroughs Wallester UK is achieving with Julian Brand at the helm.