Two tattoos peek out from under her sleeve. One spelled the word freedom and the other, an image of a tiny bluebird.
While shaking hands with Sue Britton in the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto, Canada, these etchings struck me as unusual for the founder and CEO of Canada’s leading FinTech Innovation Advisory Firm.
What’s more, Britton’s business card, a design with three small interlocking arrows cut-out in the center, seemed equally unorthodox. Who designs open-air spaces into the most expensive real estate area of a plain white business card? Someone who makes room for new ideas, inclusive leadership style, and a provocative approach to business and technology norms in the banking and financial services industry.
Meet Sue Britton and her award-winning company, Fintech Growth Syndicate (FGS). In 2019, it won FinTech Advisory Firm of the Year with accolades that called it ‘revolutionary’ and ‘business from the outside in.’ Both are fitting descriptions of the energy behind the growth strategies it provides for financial institutions and tech incumbents to meet changing consumer needs.
FGS’s success is especially impressive when you consider the number of tech companies struggling to find space in a market dominated by Canada’s big six banks and a few large credit unions. The banking stronghold exists in frameworks that include everything from high-priced payment processing fees to regulatory protection costs from a historically risk-adverse industry; making it tremendously challenging for companies like FGS to break in and succeed.
The Motivation Behind Britton and FGS
Ironically, this explains, in part, why Britton walked away from a 25-year career in senior management to risk everything by starting her own business. She saw an opportunity in the financial industry struggling to keep up with “new players, new technologies and innovative solutions” and believed she could help incumbents be just as innovative as start-ups and leverage their biggest asset – their customers.
When I asked Britton about her earlier work, she described them as valuable experience and steppingstones for insight. But they also helped her identify and eliminate outdated models and infrastructure that could weigh a company down. Because technology is changing the rules, keeping up with the way people and companies do business means shifting your mindset.
In January 2016, FGS was founded to “walk the line between today’s money and tomorrow’s tech.” Even the language on the FGS website seems to challenge norms. Phrases like “addicted to discovery” and “silos are dead but our minds are not” are fascinating, including my personal favorite,
“FinTech is more than data and algorithms, it’s a business of relations. After all, B2B is still Human-to-Human.”
Technology Forged On Human Values
This speaks to a very human quality at the core mission of FGS: solving human problems in new ways that meet our changing needs. This speaks to Britton’s business logo and building a company that is nimble, adaptable and all about value-driven solutions. If this sounds simple and hardly revolutionary, it’s not when you dig a little deeper.
Britton’s common-sense approach to problem-solving in the FinTech world revolves around innovation and a willingness to explore new ideas at the risk of failure. The company’s tagline: There’s always a better way. This sets Britton apart. Innovation is expensive and many leaders won’t give their employees room for this kind of entrepreneurship. Britton discusses this idea in her podcast series, The Disrupticons. Not only does Britton host the show, she invites the brightest minds to share their thoughts on topics like AI, blockchain, and digital banking.
For most, Fintech companies make sense only if we understand that everything in the financial industry that needs to be digital has a place where everyone feels safe. “Leveraging more technology” with a value-driven approach is critical. Doing this isn’t easy unless you are a fixer.
Which is what Britton learned to be in her earliest childhood memories. The youngest of three sisters, she was influenced by her father’s role as a thirty-year executive with Xerox. He encouraged her to be curious and to learn to be a problem-solver. Britton’s first job working in hospitality for the Four Seasons Hotels set the tone, followed by a stint with Broadridge Financial, where she learned to see what wasn’t working and to look beyond the problem for a product solution.
Exploring a wide array of different industry opportunities became a hallmark for Britton, who says she fell into the technology space. “Timing is everything,” when it comes to employment. And, for Britton, success came by following her curiosity and her learning skills. New growth and opportunities followed, making this great advice for anyone entering the workforce or considering an industry change.
Britton Got Out of Her Own Way
But for Britton, the plan worked until it didn’t. Before starting FGS, Britton’s job satisfaction and confidence fell to an all-time low when her confidence started to wane from unhappy roles that demanded deference to the chain of command and tolerating abuses of power toward women.
Thankfully, Britton realized how these confines were undermining her sense of self-worth. She knew it was time to get out of her own way and to start her own firm. The founding principles of FGS are built on kindness, honesty, respect, professionalism and entrepreneurship. These principles drive innovation and the leadership Britton expects from herself and her employees who know and care for each other’s happiness and growth.
Early in the initial months of starting FGS, Britton found herself the only female in a session with former bank executives discussing FinTech and why the banks were unsuccessful at innovation. After sharing her informed views, it was suggested that she be careful how she talks to those who have more knowledge than her. That was the last time she accepted gender based treatment.
This makes leadership personal for Britton, whose husband Gary spent twenty plus years at home raising their family of three boys and dogs named Ori and Bear. Britton says her work-life balance was and still would be impossible without Gary, who now works in an official capacity for the company as Chief Culture Officer. Whether it’s delivering gifts of toilet paper and treats to employees during COVID or helping someone resolve a personal issue, Gary ensures everyone feels appreciated and valued. Britton’s life truly is a solution-driven, win-win value proposition for all.
It’s refreshing to know leaders in the tech world haven’t lost sight of technology’s purpose. When Britton heard President Barack Obama’s speech to the Class of 2020, she was inspired by the words, “You don’t have to accept the world as it is.” The freedom tattoo on Britton’s arm speaks to this truth and the courage it takes to live a value-driven life. The colorful bluebird on Britton’s arm represents hope and the power that comes from knowledge and enlightenment.