Q&A with Diana, Global Head of Banking and Expansion at Wise

Banking and ExpansionLondon

My most interesting project has been our expansion into Brazil. It’s a massive project and learning experience for me, with lots of ups and downs. It’s such a different market in so many ways. But it was so interesting, understanding the regulatory environment, talking with partners and banks and learning from local customers.

The second is building a team. To me, the biggest challenge of becoming a team lead has been to understand how I can have an impact through others. And the amount of effort and dedication it takes to build others up so Wise can grow faster.

Why did you join Wise?

I needed to send money back to Colombia to pay for my student loan. I came across Wise and thought it was an amazing product, but I realised it had no presence in Latin America. I thought to myself – I want to build this product and help to bring it there. I found a position that aligned with what I’d done in my previous job as a financial lawyer, and I thought I could really bring value and build a career here.

I previously worked at a law firm in Colombia. I knew it wasn’t for me, and I was looking for something more exciting where I could have a bigger impact. Here I can see and influence how we build our product and have an impact on real customers.

In a nutshell, what do you do at Wise?

I lead the global Banking and Expansion team that helps take Wise to more countries around the world. We deal with financial regulations and partners to enable our services to be present in more countries.

Which stakeholders do you work with most at, and outside of Wise?

Within Wise, I mostly work with our Product Director of International Expansions, Sharon as well as different regional Product Managers. Together, we look into two things:

  1. Expanding — everything from prioritising new markets where our customers need Wise to operate in, to figuring out the regulatory requirements, such as obtaining new licences, and ideating what our product will look like to be localised. 
  2. Deepening our product in existing markets — this means developing faster, cheaper and more reliable payments. We work with Product Managers to understand why customers might not be using us yet, and then getting our product to a place where they do.

The Banking and Expansion Team also works closely with Compliance, Finance and Legal teams to fully understand new markets and make sure we negotiate the best contracts between Wise and banks or payment services possible.

Externally, our team needs to maintain great relationships with local regulators and banks or payment service providers. In my current role, I don’t do this as much as I used to. My job is rather to lead the team, and make sure we have strong bankers, who will then communicate with external stakeholders in their respective regions. Our Banking and Expansion Team is structured in a way that each team member leads our expansion and deepening efforts to certain regions and markets; they are the experts and decision makers, while my role is guiding, coaching and helping unblock.

What does dealing with financial regulators mean in your everyday work?

At Wise we strongly believe it is key to maintain open dialogue and a close relationship with Financial Regulators, not only in the places where we already have licence but also in those markets where we are doing early explorations.

When we are ready to prioritise expanding Wise operations to a new market, we do research on its regulation and payment infrastructure. Once we have a general understanding, we reach out to the local Financial Regulator and openly present and discuss what Wise does, our products, our plan to apply for the required licence in that market and what we intend to offer to customers there.  We usually ask for their guidance to make this process as smooth as possible. And once we’ve secured a license, or launched a product, we’ll keep this relationship ongoing, as we’re constantly growing and launching new products even in existing markets.

There are also instances in which our products or part of them don’t yet match existing regulations. In these cases we engage with regulators and policy makers to help them review and update the set of rules. Regulators around the world are open and keen to hear experiences and initiatives from companies like Wise driving innovation. 

Does this differ from working with payment service providers?

A little bit. We use banks or other providers to consume their services. To achieve Wise’s mission of money without borders, we need local connections to payment rails. So whenever we enter a new market, we’ll look for banks and providers that are willing to offer payment services to Wise and have the ideal technology and connectivity. In the Banking and Expansions team we negotiate the best possible terms for these partnerships, not only from a commercial point of view, but overall to ensure our operations with them are ideal. Just like with financial regulators, it’s key for us to maintain and continuously improve these commercial relationships.

What steps did you take to progress at Wise?

It’s a matter of finding a way to have an impact, quickly. It took lots of work with other teams to deliver projects. I see my career progression here as quite organic – you start helping others to deliver faster, and suddenly you realise you’re leading bigger projects.

My advice to others is to be proactive, build relationships across teams and find areas where your input will be valuable, without anyone asking you to do this. What helped me was to find problems nobody was solving and start owning them. I’ve never been satisfied with the basic job description I was given. I’ve always tried to do more. Not just because of it being a career move, but because I’m motivated to have more impact.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt during your journey here?

I’ve learnt to speak up. Everyone here is smart, proactive and ambitious. You’re not competing with anyone, but to be heard you need to get out of your comfort zone and be vocal, otherwise, nobody’s going to notice the value you bring.

What’s the biggest challenge working here?

First, keeping up with the fast pace. We have so many things going on – so many teams and projects. It can be challenging to understand what everyone’s doing and where the problems that you can have the most significant impact on are.

Second, autonomy. It’s the best thing and the biggest challenge. It can be a shock to a lot of newbies. Suddenly you have to make decisions on your own and figure out how your team lead can help you without telling you what to do.

Most interesting place you’ve used your Wise card?

Argentina. People there loved the colour of our card!

What’s your team’s fun tradition?

Our spirit animal is the honey badger – it defines us as we need to be fearless talking to regulators and banks, negotiating and often, making the impossible possible. So we use the honey badger emoji everywhere and share a video of it with new joiners.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made at Wise?

Trying to keep a currency open for a long time, and not making the decision quick enough to close it when the product wasn’t good enough for our standards. It can be hard when you’ve built something to take a step back and stop something you’ve worked so hard on. There’s so much pride in what you built. I learnt to be stronger at making decisions when things just aren’t working.