Of all the UK fintech firms launched in recent years, WorldRemit is surely one of the most compelling. The online international remittance firm was founded in 2010 and now handles roughly 74 percent of all mobile money transfers globally, according to its chief technology officer Russ Thornton. Its user base is growing by 60 percent year-on-year and is projected to reach 10 million by 2020, he tells Techworld.
The service is largely used by migrants to send money to loved ones around the world and it is this mission of helping ordinary people, plus the complexity involved in delivering it, that attracted Thornton to the role back in February 2017.
"We have about 25,000 permutations of getting money from point A to point B, 10 different payment providers including banks, credit card providers, Apple Pay etc, and 60 percent of our transactions are done via our mobile app," he says speaking with Techworld by phone interview.
The focus for the tech team is on ensuring customers can get everything they need done with as few clicks as possible. "Unlike Amazon and other companies that want a lot of browsing from users, we want ours to come on, quickly send money from A to B and then get on with their lives," he says.
Thornton's job is to manage the 75-strong engineering team and oversee the complex technology stack that underpins many millions of transactions, across a huge range of transfer methods and in hundreds of different jurisdictions.
"We are roughly 99 percent in the cloud," he explains. "We've got a couple of legacy integrations with banks set up in 2010 which will move over into cloud this year. We do a mix of our web, app and mobile tech in Microsoft Azure, then a lot of our big data components sit in AWS."
The team picked the best-in-class cloud services based on the needs those vendors were best at addressing and then created their own code to bring it all together securely.
Any tech company worth its salt seems to be at least investigating if not actively using some form of artificial intelligence as part of their operations – and WorldRemit is no different. It has released its first machine learning algorithm to catch fraud, with the second in its sights.
"We're catching more fraud with fewer transactions put on hold than our existing solution," Thornton says. "Ultimately if we put a transaction on hold customers are inconvenienced and have to contact us, so we want to avoid that. We expect machine learning can help us to reduce a significant amount of friction for customers while catching more bad guys."
In terms of tech priorities this year, the firm is also investing in iOS and Android development, investigating how to use chatbots to help improve customer service, overhauling its website to make it more intuitive and looking at how to expose its platform as an API.
"Regarding our API, we've had a lot of interest from not only third party networks but social media sites and banks as well, who may not want their own remittance department, but can offer services 'powered by WorldRemit'," Thornton says.
Thornton has a slightly unusual story for a CTO – he was originally an orchestral conductor and moved to San Francisco in 1999 to further his conducting career. "I fell into computers to pay the rent," he explains. He moved to the UK over two decades ago and has since held a series of CTO jobs at Aegon, Legal and General and others.
Thornton says there are parallels between the two jobs.
"I found I was very good at bringing lots of different musicians together to form a whole, but not great at one thing myself," he says. "It's the same with being a CTO, using different lenses to look at tech and how it enables what you're doing. In many ways I am the chief orchestrator of tech at WorldRemit."