Matt Oppenheimer is the co-founder and CEO of Remitly – the mobile-first provider of money transfers and financial services for immigrants. He tells us how he started his journey, what inspires him, and what technology he can’t live without.
Describe your role and your journey into fintech. How did you get here?
My journey started just over ten years ago when I was Head of Mobile and Internet Banking Initiatives at Barclays Kenya. While in Kenya, I discovered how difficult it was for my close friends to send and receive money from loved ones in their home countries. I also saw firsthand how far these transfers went for basic necessities like food and clothing when they finally received them. That’s when I felt there was a need to transform the transfer room.
While working as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Highway 12 Ventures, I started laying the groundwork for Remitly. Remitly was launched from Techstars Seattle, an accelerator program for startups, in 2011 and since then we have served 5M+ customers in 2300+ corridors in more than 20 sending/originating countries worldwide. All of this has contributed to significant growth for the company, allowing us to continue to innovate and scale as a business that transforms the lives of immigrants around the world.
Who was your childhood hero and why?
I met Desmond Tutu in college and even before then his compassion and what he did to end apartheid in South Africa really impressed me. When I met him, he was so human and full of grace; it felt like we really connected. It felt like I was the only person in the world when I met him, even though he was such an iconic, impactful leader.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Fall in love with a problem, not a solution”
For me, the problem I witnessed in Kenya was the friction in the payment system that had a profound impact on sending and receiving money to and from loved ones. My first solution was to build an aggregator site that compared remittance services, but soon discovered that this would not solve the problem. I wanted to solve the problem and so I went to the right solution. By their nature, problems can develop over time and require varying degrees and iterations of resolution. As an entrepreneur, it can be difficult if you fall in love with a solution that doesn’t have a problem.
What was the last book you read – and how long ago did you read it?
The last book I read is A good supplier is one who goes by Jason DeParle. It is about the immigrant journey, specifically the Filipino immigrant journey. It is fantastic. I read it a couple of weeks ago.
Name one piece of technology you couldn’t live without and tell us why
WHOOP! I love running and try to do at least one marathon a year. WHOOP gives me a whole new perspective on my body in how I recover from the daily stresses of life and training. A healthy body supports a healthy mind and my WHOOP strap helps me manage sleep and recovery.
Who do you look up to in terms of leadership and mentorship?
I look up to so many people and I’m very, very lucky to have so many great mentors. One person in the fintech space that I look up to enormously is Nigel Morris, who is the director of Remitly. He is the co-founder of Capital One, he is the managing partner of QED Investors. They led our Series A and I feel so lucky to work with them. Nigel is a fantastic operator, a fantastic person and a fantastic manager – the kind of manager I want to be.
What is the biggest challenge/advantage you have faced to date in the fintech industry?
The biggest challenge I see in the fintech space today is around the banking and payments industry’s ability to innovate without eroding the trust that is inherently important when it comes to money. Financial services must be treated much differently than any other industry that has been disrupted by this delicate concern.
Lack of understanding stems from this challenge. Many of today’s disruptors are fast-moving and not attuned to the nuts and bolts of payments and banking. The complexities are endless, but they must all be understood. Otherwise, it can lead to an increased chance of error and, as a result, loss of trust.
Is there a personal achievement from the past 12 months that you are particularly proud of?
As I mentioned, I usually run one marathon a year, but I didn’t run one last year. And I’m actually proud that I didn’t. I’m proud of myself for exploring a wider range of physical activities, including cycling and pilates. I’m proud of the fact that I branched out because it was better for my body to do a variety of exercises like Pilates, yoga and cycling.
Describe yourself in three words
Empathic, determined and global.
What inspires you in Fintech today?
What inspires me in fintech today is everything that happens outside the US and Europe. We are certainly seeing an increase in focus outside of these markets. I think investors are seeing the opportunities in Africa and Latin America and in Asia, and there are some really amazing things happening there. Additionally, I believe investors are finally seeing the potential and supporting entrepreneurs in these markets as a result. Some examples include NuBank in Brazil and Chipper Cash in Africa.
What’s next for Matt Oppenheimer?
Achieve the vision of transforming the lives of immigrants and their families by promoting the most trusted financial services on the planet. Creating more accessibility and fairness around the world undoubtedly creates change in the world – and that’s what we at Remitly are on a mission to do.