#FPD: How to build a career in financial product with Sandi Samantaray of Thredd

In this episode of #FintechProductDiaries, we had a chat with Sandi Samantaray, the current VP Product Strategy at Thredd. Sandi’s career path began in India, where he served as an IBM developer, writing codes for banks. After graduating from university, he joined HSBC via campus placement and eventually relocated to the bank’s development centre in Chicago, USA. A fintech veteran, Sandi lived through the global financial services meltdown in 2008, witnessing both the highs and lows of the banking industry firsthand. This experience laid the foundation for his later career, as he began to explore how products are built from the inside out.

After nearly four years with HSBC, Sandi transitioned to the Nordics where he worked for GE Money, and then Discover Financial in US, followed by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). From RBC, he made the leap from traditional financial services to fintech, joining Digilytics AI, a UK Mortgage Lending AI specialist. Upon leaving Digilytics AI, Sandi joined Wonga, one of the UK pioneers in short term lending. Despite the company’s ultimate insolvency in 2018, Sandi’s experience there taught him the value of crafting compelling messaging around a product. The failure of Wonga, he believes, was a lesson in the power of positioning and risk management.

In his current role, Sandi is a VP of Product at Thredd, formerly known as Global Processing Services. Renamed in April 2023 to reflect its role in weaving together the different ‘threads’ of the next-gen global payments ecosystem to drive the growth of electronic payments.

Sandi’s journey through the complex world of fintech product management has given him a unique perspective on how to bridge the gap between business goals, technological development, and customer needs. He sees his mission as figuring out the “art of the possible” in terms of the product roadmap, learning, unlearning, and relearning as the landscape of fintech continues to evolve.

What does it take to lead a fintech’s product management organisation, what are the key challenges in the industry, and why is a blend of generalist knowledge and a deep, vertical skill set vital for success? Discover the answers in Sandi’s full story below.

Tell us a bit about your career journey so far. How did you end up in fintech product management?

I initially started as an IBM developer, and I used to write codes for banks. My first role was straight after university — I joined HSBC as part of a campus placement in my home country, India and then I relocated to the bank’s development centre in Chicago, US. It was an exciting, but also achallenging time because it was around the time of the global financial crisis, caused by several bank failures, most notably Lehman Brothers. It was a worrying time for many, but thinking about it through the lens of an innovator, it was also a time of great learning for many. By this, I mean analysing what works well and what doesn’t. I firmly believe every challenge presents a learning opportunity.

I thus spent quite a lot of time with banks, especially being a developer and business analyst. That’s how I gradually moved to product.

I often get asked by developers “What’s the way to move into the business side of a company?” The truth is, there’s no silver bullet to that question. It’s more about you either hustle up and you learn the tricks of the trade, or you just go straight into a management programme and come out as a strategy person, and then join as a product specialist. In my case, starting as a developer helped me learn the tricks of the trade and really understand what goes into building a product.

After nearly four years at HSBC, I moved to the Nordics and spent time with GE Money. Then I joined Discover Financial Services where I helped them develop their Discover products platform for Discover cards, which are more popular in the US but we’re starting to see them more here in Europe too. Following my stint at Royal Bank of Canada, I relocated to London and that’s when I made the transition from traditional financial services to fintech by joining the UK Mortgage Lending AI specialist, Digilytics AI, followed by Wonga, and then taking us to where I am today, Thredd, where I have been for nearly 5 years now.

What was your move like from traditional financial services to fintech? Did you experience any notable difference in your product role?

The difference is more qualitative rather than quantitative. By qualitative I mean the approach you’d take to solve a problem in the first place. For me, it’s always been more about understanding new technology first than me being part of a bank. This has made my transition from banking to fintech easier. At a fintech, like Thredd today, my main goals are always around how fast and secure I can actually build and develop products. This is not always possible at large, traditional banks which can often suffer from bureaucracy and politics in the organisation.

After Digilytics AI you joined Wonga — one of the UK pioneers in short term lending which unfortunately went into insolvency in 2018. What was your role like at Wonga? And what do you believe was the main reason for the company’s failure?

Wonga was a fascinating company. The challenge the company ultimately faced was one of reputation. It didn’t have the best reputation in the market, and it became symbolic of Britain’s household debt crisis. I joined the company in 2016 as their Head of Risk Decision Systems, around the time it was reviewing its business practices in response to the FCA introducing new regulation on the payday loans sector. By that stage, Wonga’s reputation was badly tarnished, meaning trying to turn it around was a Herculean task. In the face of the price cap introduced, ultimately, it ran out of capital and fell into administration.

But again, I always knew what I was signing up to when I joined them and it’s a shame the company couldn’t turn things around quick enough. One of the main takeaways from the whole experience for me was that irrespective of whether you have a great product (Wonga’s product was really good with some good tech behind it), it’s actually how you craft the story and the messaging that matters the most.

Messaging is important as it impacts your reputation and how you are perceived by the public. For example, today, if you look at eight out of ten of the so-called “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) companies, they fundamentally do the same thing.

Nothing has really changed in terms of the core product offering. The key difference is in the way BNPL is packaged and positioned to consumers and regulators so that it is better understood, supported by stronger risk management due to the existing regulations in the space too, of course.

Also, sometimes it’s not the right time and sometimes, products need to fail so that they can reincarnate in another, much better way.


You’re currently a VP of Product at Thredd which recently rebranded from GPS. Can you share more about the idea behind Thredd?

Our rebranding to Thredd marks a new era for our company as we begin the next phase of our growth with a brand new product roadmap designed to meet the needs of tomorrow’s innovators. We have been at the forefront of the entire paytech / fintech movement for over a decade. We are the payments processing engine behind the early starts of famous success stories, for example, Monzo, Revolut, Starling, Curve, and Zilch, just to name a few. And those are just the UK. We’re also the engine behind the likes of Paidy in Japan, acquired by Paypal in 2021, and Treezor in France, a banking-as-a-service (BaaS) provider acquired by Société Générale in 2018.

As our customers have grown, we have grown, and today, Thredd sits at the heart of the global payments revolution, processing billions of transactions annually across 44 countries for the world’s leading fintechs, digital banks, and embedded finance providers.

At Thredd we are payment nerds, we have spawned a whole ecosystem of players that have gone to build their own companies. We’ve been there, done that, and we are now looking at where we could go from here. The name Thredd has thus come very naturally. It’s weaving payments magic and being the thread between all our partners and the rest of the fintech ecosystem, or should I say the “fabric” of the fintech ecosystem, is what made us “Thredd”.

What about your role at Thredd? What is it all about?

So firstly, we see enormous opportunities to modernise the payments tech stack to support money movement worldwide, and we are investing in Thredd’s global platform for the long term. Which is terrific news for someone like me as VP Product Strategy, as that means we continue to recruit the best brains in fintech, who share our vision for the future of payments. As well as develop incredible new products aligned to the needs of fintech innovators. Our product roadmap has been completely transformed in the last 12 months, and its accelerating by the day.

I work with an amazing team of product managers who are developing various products, such as digital wallets, APIs, onboarding mechanisms, interfaces, authorisation systems, risk and fraud, the payment engine.

My day-to-day role mostly focuses on figuring out “What’s the art of the possible in terms of the product roadmap” and iterating that. The roadmap evolves constantly as we take an agile, partnership approach with our customers. As their roadmaps evolve, ours evolves with them. We collaborate with our customers to ideate solutions and explore how we can bring them to market quickly, safely, and cost effectively. It’s incredibly exciting. Some of the ideas on the table right now are truly transformative, and we love playing in the sandbox with our partners to experiment and see if we can turn our ideas into a reality.

What’s the key trait needed to succeed in fintech product management?

My journey has been full of trials and tribulations. Fintech, unlike traditional financial services, is a very dynamic sector. Every day, we are seeing new ideas, developments, and challenges. So, the key is to stay true to what and how soon you can develop that understanding. I believe in a mantra that I’ve practised all my life about “learning, unlearning, and relearning”. This means that if I cannot unlearn what I learned ten years ago which is not relevant anymore, so that I can learn something new, I shouldn’t be in the product space. To work in product, you have to be open-minded and ready to kill a product you might have once loved because its no longer the best solution on the table.

Whilst the basics of financial products stay the same — it’s all about moving money in and out — the ways of enabling those movements is changing. We used to have just cash, then moved to cards and digital wallets. Now people are gradually moving to various forms of peer-to-peer transfers. Take Apple, for example, who just launched “Tap to Pay” on iPhone in the UK.

As a product manager, you have to stay on top of these trends and changes in the sector. You also have to stay true to what you know. This means that you have to be a generalist in your knowledge horizontally, but you also have to have one strong skill vertically. So, depending on the type of product you would like to specialise in, you need to have that skill vertically,and really understand that product. In other words, you could be a generalist in marketing, pricing, strategy, and sales, but you’d have to be knee-deep in that one product domain that you want to pursue.

How is fintech evolving in 2023?

I see a lot of movement around consolidation. Many companies in the fintech space are getting acquired...and many companies, unfortunately, are not making it. But this might be a good thing because companies with real firepower and innovation in their DNA could make great movements toward meeting those changing consumer trends we mentioned earlier.

There is a big shift from consumption or need-based to frequency-based payments. Previously, the consumer would buy a certain product because of a usage or need that they have already developed in their mind prior to the purchase. But now, we see a lot more frequency or impulsive buying behaviour, especially with the rise in “BNPL”.

Good product management is about teamwork. It’s like soccer and any other team sport and it’s a very soft skill oriented role. — Sandi Samantaray, VP Product at Thredd

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