‘Always chasing the next big idea’ – Valerie Moran talks to Business Leader

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Valerie Moran

“What I do today is not just a job. It is my passion, my dream and it is personal,” says Valerie Moran, the first black female to make the Sunday Times Rich List.

Business Leader spoke to Moran at the beginning of April, the day after the sale of fintech giant Prepaid Financial Services (PFS) – a firm she worked to create alongside husband Noel.

She talked to BL about her career, her successes, and the ambitions she has left to fulfil.

CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF YOUR LIFE AND CAREER TO DATE?

My career did not start off in fintech or reflect what I do today. I am a qualified systems analyst by profession. I worked in several other industries over the years that gave me great experience and discipline in many other areas of my career. I began working in fintech in 2007. PFS started with Noel and I working from the kitchen table.

I have a very busy lifestyle as my day starts at 8.30am and continues until around midnight. I manage several other businesses outside PFS on a day-to-day basis.

YOUR FATHER HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS A ‘SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR’ – TO WHAT EXTENT DID HIS ACHIEVEMENTS SHAPE YOUR OWN BUSINESS MINDSET AND AMBITIONS?

My father was orphaned as a young child and as a young man he was determined to work hard and to be successful – that was his ambition. Because of his upbringing, he never took anything for granted and nothing was a given for him.

His mindset was always focused on educating us in several disciplines. One of them was that you need to be self-reliant and independent. From a very young age, he always advised us to work hard and make a success of ourselves. He definitely lived by this, as he worked tirelessly to run his several businesses.

His ambition allowed me to appreciate his success, self-belief and perseverance.

YOU LAUNCHED PREPAID FINANCIAL SERVICES WITH YOUR HUSBAND DURING A GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS – WHAT MADE YOU SO CONFIDENT YOU COULD SUCCEED AT SUCH A DIFFICULT TIME?

When PFS was founded it was during the recession. At that time, my husband had resigned from a company that had just gone into administration. He had been working on the idea of building PFS as a new business venture.

The idea to set up PFS only took off when I joined him. It was taking a chance on an idea we both believed in and we could see the potential in. However, potential did not mean success – it meant ‘hope’ for us. We decided that we would pursue the idea and work hard on growing the business and giving it our best shot.

We basically asked ourselves, ‘what could be the worst thing that could happen?’ – as an entrepreneur, you cannot start thinking on a negative leg as that just hinders your potential. If you cannot believe in yourself and your own product, then how can you expect to sell or make the next person believe in you? This is where self-belief was very important.

EVERY SUCCESS STORY INCLUDES MISTAKES AND SETBACKS ALONG THE WAY. WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT?

In the early days of the business, one of the mistakes was trying to do 20 jobs as one person. This was a stretch and I lost my focus in some areas of the business and missed opportunities.

As the pressure of trying to keep everything afloat catches up with you, it is very important as an entrepreneur to focus on your strengths.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED AND OVERCAME TO ESTABLISH AND GROW THE COMPANY?

We started our business during the recession with no capital injection. We scraped through to build the business in the recession in the early days. We sought investment at the time and no-one was willing to invest in the business as we were too small. That meant every penny counted and had to be used very wisely.

HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARISE PFS TODAY?

PFS has become the definition of a modern, innovative fintech. Its portfolio of dynamic payment technology solutions encapsulates the best that electronic money can offer. With our cutting-edge technology and agile approach, PFS is capable of delivering bespoke solutions that suit and meet our client needs and requirements. We provide payment solutions to clients across 24 different European countries. Today, we work with NGOs, MNOs, challengers, local authorities and a comprehensive list of corporates.

WAS IT A DIFFICULT DECISION TO SELL WHEN THE OFFER CAME ALONG?

When we started off the business, we always knew at some point we were going to sell the business. However, it was not about just selling the business to anyone, it was about finding the right partner. Our partnership with EML is one that has many synergies on both sides and one that brings greater value to us both.

YOU ARE FINANCIALLY SET FOR LIFE – WHAT CONTINUES TO DRIVE AND MOTIVATE YOU IN BUSINESS?

What I do today is not just a job. It is my passion, my dream and it is personal. My inspiration comes from seeing the expansion of the business year-on-year and how we continue to surpass our targets. Providing a learning curve for our staff is gratifying.

YOU MADE HEADLINES LAST YEAR FOR BEING THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO MAKE THE SUNDAY TIMES RICH LIST. ARE YOU PROUD TO CLAIM THIS DISTINCTION, OR DISAPPOINTED IT’S TAKEN UNTIL 2019 FOR A BLACK FEMALE TO MAKE THE LIST?

My first feelings about the article I would describe as bittersweet. I was delighted with the news and it was a huge recognition of my success. It was a historic moment in my life as I was the first black woman to make the list.

However, the bittersweetness was the sad realisation of the absence of black women on the list. It immediately brought questions to my mind about why and how.

It has made me look at investment opportunities with ethnic female entrepreneurs and assisting where possible.

YOU HAVE SPOKEN PREVIOUSLY ABOUT BEING BOTH ‘THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM’ AT TIMES IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER, AS WELL AS BEING ‘THE ONLY BLACK PERSON IN THE ROOM’ AT OTHERS. WHAT CHALLENGES HAS THIS PRESENTED FOR YOU?

13 years ago, when I started, there were very few women in technology. Hence, most of the conventions or meetings I would have attended, I was the only woman at the time. There were so few women in the room of any race.

There were occasions when getting my voice heard was a challenge and that was frustrating at times.

The lack of women of colour when I started, to share ideas, network with and also learn from, was another challenge.

13 years on, women from all different races and backgrounds are taking on careers in technology. Whilst the numbers do not compare to our male counterparts, women are taking on careers in technology and today there are many other women to learn from and be inspired by.

WHY IS THERE STILL SUCH A DIVERSITY GAP IN CERTAIN BRITISH BUSINESS INDUSTRIES? AND,  WHAT CAN BE DONE TO CLOSE THAT GAP?

There have been many factors that have led to the diversity gap. Change of mindset from management has not yet moved on in some companies. If companies could embrace an open mind with their recruitment policies and hire on merit and practice equal opportunities, that would be a start.

Creating and encouraging training programmes to mentor those who may not have the right qualifications but have other valuable skillsets and identify potential within the business.

Embracing employee engagement programmes that directly address the inequalities within each business.

Employers should value the differences amongst their employees. Shared ideas from diverse teams leads to greater innovation.

YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVELY TRYING TO INSPIRE OTHER PEOPLE FROM MINORITY BACKGROUNDS INTO THE TECH SECTOR. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?

When I started the business, the focus in our recruitment policy at PFS was to create unbiased policies without prejudice. For me, it was being able to work with anyone from all walks of life. Recruiting staff that had the right skillset and based on merit. That meant appreciating individuals for their capabilities and not where they are from.

Today, we are proud to have a large workforce of nearly 45% ethnic minorities across all our offices in the UK, Ireland and Malta. We have successfully built a diverse culture in our business.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO SOMEONE ELSE LOOKING TO LAUNCH A BUSINESS IN THE TECHNOLOGY SECTOR?

Technology is very fast-paced. Today’s hottest trend is yesterday’s news. It is an evolving sector where you need to constantly look at keeping ahead of your competitors. Basically, never resting on your laurels and moving on to the next best idea.

WHAT AMBITIONS DO YOU HAVE LEFT TO ACHIEVE? WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR YOU?

I currently have an acquiring business that employs 60 staff members. I will continue to expand the growth of my other business with the same passion.

I recently restored the stables and grounds of our stud farm and I am trying to get planning permission to restore the listed building on the farm. The dream is to turn the listed building into a hotel.

Finally, I am also trying to get planning permission to build a six-storey building for a fintech centre. My outlook is very busy. If I can get to achieve all of the above I will retire.

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