Payments people: Nina Mohanty

Lisa Golden
Lisa Golden, Digital Content Producer
28 Aug 2023
Bloom money co-founder and CEO Nina Mohanty

Payments people is our interview series celebrating payments and product leaders. We discuss the experiences that have shaped them and offer tips for navigating a career in payments.

This week we’re chatting with Nina Mohanty, the co-founder and CEO of Bloom Money. After working with companies such as Klarna, Mastercard and Starling Bank, Mohanty brought her payments experience to a new fintech venture. Bloom Money provides a savings club for immigrant communities that have traditionally managed and monitored these circles offline. 

In this interview Mohanty explains what she learned working for some of the biggest names in payments, how she studied the world of remittances and lending circles and why migrant populations are still underserved in the payments space. 

Tell us about your payments career journey so far

I fell into fintechs by accident. I was doing a master’s degree and looking for summer work. I wasn’t having any luck sending out my CV when someone said, “Have you considered Mastercard?”

I grew up in the 90s, I knew the Mastercard ads, but I didn’t actually know what they did. I thought they were a bank. They had a role on the digital acceptance team and I decided to give it a go. I pitched an idea about using their digital wallet (MasterPass) on a theatre app to order snacks and drinks during intermissions at the theatre. Of course, now that app does exist but at the time it got me the job.

I had no idea what the four-party model of card payments is. I had no idea what an acquirer is. I had no idea what a gateway is. It was really formative to jump in; it was really exciting for me.

After Mastercard, I worked on launching the Starling Bank current account, then moved to Bud, an open banking platform. They really believe open banking is going to change the world, and I agree. 

I then jumped into alternative payment methods at Klarna. It was an innovative place to work and posed an interesting challenge — how do you mix payments and credit? And how do people around the world prefer to pay? 

What did you learn about the fundamentals of the payments space?

What I learned across the board is that payments, and money in general, are highly personal. 

Even as an entrepreneur, it’s so funny because whether I’m paying for business invoices or sending my friends money for Taylor Swift tickets, there’s always this catch in your throat. Even if it’s people I’ve paid for years, I always need to check. Is the account number correct?

With the rise in fraud in the UK and all over the world, you may get a notice on your app asking who the payment is for, and if you meant to send it to that person. It’s all in red text and very jarring. It adds anxiety to payments. 

Then, on the other hand, you have one-click checkouts. It’s something I worked on at Klarna and there is no shortage of fintech companies trying to own instant checkouts.

The thing I’ve learned is that there needs to be very clear communication and a certain level of positive friction. We need it to reassure the human on the other end that their money is going to end up safely where it's supposed to be.

Adding friction to payments

Did you learn anything in these spaces that you wanted to bring into Bloom Money?

The thing that keeps coming back to me is the emotional aspect of payments. Early in Bloom’s journey, I learned that the highest volume day for remittances is Mother’s Day. Everyone's looking after mom. It rings true for me because I watched my father send money home through Western Union to his mother for his entire life until she passed away.

With Bloom Money, we wanted to look at where payments show up in the lives of immigrants. And obviously with immigrants, we often think about remittances. That was my starting point. 

We wanted to understand; how often do people send money home? How do they like to send it? Is digital taking over or do people still want cash in hand at a shop? Is there still a place for the hawala system and that informal sending of money? 

Bloom Money is a B2C fintech company serving immigrant communities, so those questions are key to what we do. Our mission is to accelerate the growth of generational wealth. But in order to do that, we need to start from the very beginning and look at the various behaviours, whether they are formal or informal, and how we can start to digitise them and formalise them.

Can you tell us a bit more about ROSCAs?

ROSCA is actually an academic term. It stands for a rotating savings and credit association, which is really what's written on the tin. It is a socially or community-led way of pooling funds.

So for example, a group of five people come together and we each decide to put £100 into a pot every month. In some countries it literally is people gathering and putting cash into a pot and it's often done between groups of women.

So we all put £100 into the pot, there's now £500 in there, which means that one of us can take that money and go and do whatever we want with it. 

Here in the UK that could be sending money home. It could be fixing the boiler, it could be getting the kids new shoes, whatever you might need to do with that money.

The next month, we repeat the same process until all five people within that circle have had an opportunity to use the funds in that pot.

It’s called different things around the world. My mother is Taiwanese and in Taiwan and China or Mandarin speaking areas, they call it hui or he hui. My father is Indian and in India we call these chit funds. But the basic mechanism is the same.

My grandmother was a trusted person in the village and so she would run the chit funds there. So I had seen this behaviour in my family

Then when I was in the UK working at the US embassy, I started chatting to a British-Jamaican man. I told him about how I was taking money out to send to someone else. And he went, “Oh, that's so funny that you do that. We do it, too. We call it pardna.” And so that’s when I started to realise a lot of other people were doing this too. 

And this is where the idea for Bloom Money comes in?

Yes. Our first product, Bloom Circles, is a digital version of these savings circles. We’ve translated these informal practices into a set of payment instructions. 

But then we had to think about cash, and if we wanted to form a partnership with PayPoints.

So I'm talking to payment nerds, right? That comes with a lot to worry about — anti-money laundering (AML), Access to Funds (ATF), and so on. But then there are also just basic debit card payments. And with that comes a lot of questions: do we allow for credit card payments? Do we allow for prepaid cards, or virtual cards?

We restricted Bloom circles to UK-issued debit cards. Right now we're actually moving towards Variable Recurring Payments (VRP). There is also the option to go with direct debit as well. 

My CTO and I, we're very bullish on open banking. We’re just so excited at the opportunity with variable recurring payments (VRPs) to do a bank-to-bank transfer and to set it up as an alternative to direct debits. It’s far cheaper and, in my opinion, far more secure.

ROSCA definition

What are the best and worst parts about working in payments?

The best part of working in or around payments is that it's integral. Everyone wants to be paid in a timely fashion. And they want to get paid safely and securely with as little friction as possible, but also at a fair cost.

I think the worst part of payments is that the movement of money carries a lot of baggage. Working in payments means that you are going to have to understand where the guardrails are. A lot of people are trying to innovate and bend those guardrails.

I have very mixed feelings about crypto and the future of a decentralised approach to payments. I think you have to know where the guardrails are from a regulatory perspective. 

Finish the sentence: Payments are done right when…?

Payments are done right when they are secure and delightful.

What is the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?

The worst advice I was ever given was someone saying, “That’s not in our remit. Don’t bother.”

That’s in direct contrast to the best advice I ever received which is: ask questions. 

They’re related. If you close yourself off to other teams, other disciplines and only think about your direct responsibility, it will lead to a poor outcome. Instead of this siloed approach, I’m relentlessly curious, always poking my head into things. 

The beautiful thing is that we as an industry, those of us working in payments, are very nerdy. We're very excited about moving things forward and speaking to people that are doing interesting things.

I have found that if you ask the question, someone will come back to you with an answer and be happy to explain to you why something is the way it is or and why they've chosen to do something a certain way. That has helped me learn and I think has helped me get to where I am.

What are your predictions for the five years in the payments space?

I'm really excited for the evolution of payments for small businesses. There’s an opportunity to make things a bit fairer, because small businesses bear the brunt of high fees.

Something like a merchant discount rate can be really high — for example paying up to 5% to the company that processes its card transactions. Small businesses tend to be the ones who may not have the resources to make drastic changes, but they might be most willing to try something new because they're trapped paying these exorbitant fees. 

I'm really excited to see where that goes, whether that's through open banking payments or closed loop wallets, like the ones offered by my friend Sophia Goldberg and her company Ansa.

Anything we should’ve asked you but we didn’t?

Yes — why migrants and why immigrants? 

We’re serving migrant communities, immigrant communities, diaspora — there are so many names for this particular group of people because this is a growing group of people. And in the next 20 years, we're going to see a huge influx of migration to Europe, which is why we're very focused on diaspora communities across Europe.

This is a community that not only moves themselves across the world, they also move money across continents and countries. And it is a huge, overlooked community because there's a misconception that they don't have money. We know by various remittance metrics that there are billions moving in and out of countries, especially from the Western world to the Global South.

And so we're really excited to be working in this space. It's why I quit my comfortable job at Klarna to build it, and I'm excited to bring it forward.

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