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Ibrahim Dusi, 'Super App' CRO

Former Capital One banker takes Americas role as U.K. financial upstart Revolut goes global

Friday, April 22, 2022

By Katherine Heires

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The race is on to be the most sought after financial super app, simplifying access to a full array of banking, credit and other services via mobile devices. Revolut, founded in London in 2015 as a fintech offering money transmission and foreign currency services, has since broadened its product line and built out an infrastructure to take its super app global – with a risk management function in place.

In February, Revolut announced the appointment of Ibrahim (Ibo) Dusi as chief risk officer for Americas. Dusi spent the prior eight years with online lending platform Happy Money, most recently as chief risk and revenue officer, and 10 years before that with Capital One in business line and credit risk roles. The latter included oversight of underwriting and credit risk performance for prime installment loans and an overhaul of the bank’s credit policy framework.

Now with 18 million customers worldwide who perform more than 150 million transactions a month, Revolut launched in the U.S. in 2020. Digital banking services are offered in partnership with Metropolitan Commercial Bank, though Revolut has taken steps toward obtaining a bank charter of its own in California. Also included on the service menu are Mastercard and Visa cards, commission-free stock trading, cryptocurrencies and foreign exchange, and travel insurance with Allianz Partners.

23576_040_7x7_IbrahimDusi-1Ibrahim Dusi: “It starts with people.”

In July 2021, looking to propel growth in the U.S., India and other international markets, Revolut raised $800 million in a Series E funding round. That resulted in a $33 billion valuation. Revolut was praised by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as a job-creating fintech success story and an exemplar for his “roadmap setting out how we will ensure the U.K. sector remains competitive, forward-looking, and dynamic.”

In a recent interview, Dusi, who is based in Southern California and reports to group CRO Pierre Decote in London, described the approaches and challenges of managing risk at a fast-growing and potentially category-defining financial services enterprise.

What are the risks that you are tasked with overseeing?

It’s hard to answer that question. As we launch new products and services and expand into new geographies, the risk profile of Revolut evolves as well. That is why it is important for me, as a risk manager, to keep up with the development of new products and services so that I can monitor what new risks are emerging and then mitigate them. We are always monitoring [new product offerings] to detect risks. That is the challenge . . . The risk profile changes every single day.

Can you describe a specific strategy?

I will talk about how we scale up our efforts and break it into three parts. It starts with people. As a hyper growth company, it’s important that we hire A-plus people. We’re different from a big bank where you can have some C players. To maintain a high growth rate, we cannot afford to have B or C players. We need experts across all domains, best-in-class employees.

Second, I am a big believer in process and asking, “How do we design systems and processes that allow us to manage risk while we continue to grow at a hyper fast rate?” Before launching any new product or service, we explore all risks associated with it. We put in place the necessary controls and enhancements.

The third piece is to make sure we are monitoring any inherent risks that remain on a real-time basis. This is where we often inject some form of automation, AI or machine learning, as it is the only way we can actually continue to grow all the services we provide while also managing risks. (See Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Grow in Financial Services – with Caveats.)

What about the downside of AI?

There are always risks associated with AI, how it might lead to bias in underwriting. In my mind, that is a top risk, and a secondary risk would be making sub-optimal decisions. This can be controlled by employing proper model validation and governance practices. At Revolut, we have a skilled team that independently validates AI models on a regular basis.

Tell us about your team.

We have about 20 on our Americas team, as well as additional resources. We are continuing to grow and have several open positions, including U.S. chief compliance officer and head of risk in Mexico and Brazil.

What qualities do you look for?

A-plus players – people who are not afraid to challenge the status quo and are looking for the best possible answer, asking if there is a better way of doing this, or a better product we can deliver. We also look for team members who have empathy for all customers and focus on customer outcomes, as well as “getting things done.”

What lessons did you bring from your previous positions?

At Capital One, one thing I learned is that many people see marketing and risk management as very different domains. If you look at most Wall Street banks, you have marketing and risk management often at odds with each other. At Capital One, the philosophy was that risk management starts with marketing. It is a function of who you are marketing to, and the product features being promoted. The quality of applicants and how they engage with you are among the most effective risk management levers.

At Revolut, my team is building a very close relationship with the marketing, product and operations divisions. We like to engage at the early stages of product design. Instead of coming in at the 11th hour and just saying “no,” we can mitigate risk early on, and this leads to better outcomes.

Any other lessons that you’d like to highlight?

One that I learned when I first arrived here [from Turkey] is that there are a whole set of problems with the way credit is handled in this country. I was a graduate student, had a bank savings account and an assistant teaching job. I had income, but no one was willing to give me credit. This challenge still exists, and I wrote about it in How the Pandemic Changed Credit Scoring and Why It's Time for a Change.

Fortunately, today there is data, and technologies such as Plaid and Yodlee, that can help companies such as Revolut access bank account information and manage credit issues in new ways that effectively address these challenges.

What does the future hold for the super app, and for those managing the risks?

I certainly hope we will continue to have human risk managers, as I love my job. I see technology and data as enablers and helpers. I also believe that, at the end of the day, the human judgment and experience that risk managers bring to their work is very difficult to replace with technology.

At the same time, I am very excited about the future of Revolut and believe that with our use of technology, we will be able to meet our customers’ financial service expectations far better than other players.

 

Katherine Heires is a freelance business journalist and founder of MediaKat llc.




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