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By Eleanor Bennett

Interview

6 min read

For the next instalment in our series of interviews asking leading technology specialists about their achievements in their field, we’ve invited Vaibhav Sinha, CTO of BlocPal,

Vaibhav has been a disruptor behind driving financial inclusion to underbanked areas through innovative technology and payment processing solutions. With more than 22 years of experience, Vaibhav is a leader in the global technology industry.

Tell us about the business you represent, how did the idea come about to found your enterprise? What is the vision?

BlocPal is a digital transaction platform that makes open banking and other financial services more affordable and accessible to users worldwide. We develop flexible, scalable, and modular products while complying with all local regulatory and legal obligations. We ensure that transactions remain secure and that the platform is highly scalable while keeping costs at a minimum. We promote financial inclusion through our blockchain, biometric-based banking services and inexpensive micro ATM devices in India, Mexico, Canada and other regions in Asia and Africa.

About 5-6 years ago, I was chatting with my colleague and CEO of BlocPal, Nick Mellios, about the severe hardships faced by farmers in rural India as they deal with ‘loan sharks’ who charge exorbitant interest rates. The lack of affordable and accessible financial resources creates an unhealthy dependency on these unscrupulous providers for a service that is much needed in rural India. We knew right then that this was a worthy cause for us to work on.

Our vision is for a world where barriers like access to credit and banking services do not come in the way of uplifting the current vast swathes of humanity from poverty into prosperity and sustainable living.

What notable IT challenges have you overcome?

There were a few. We knew we were building a global system that had to scale for millions of users and billions of transactions so we had to find the fastest way to go to market while architecting such a scalable, distributed and multi-geography, multi-currency platform.

We also needed this entire stack to have a low overall maintenance cost so we could pass on all the savings to our users. On top of all this, we had to architect a system that was modular enough to allow us to integrate with hundreds of service providers across the globe.

Thankfully, we have been able to accomplish all these objectives that we set for ourselves from the beginning.

What are your plans to expand your service?

BlocPal is currently working in many communities to drive financial inclusion. Through our retailer network, we are able to reach more users in areas with limited access to traditional ATMs or banking institutions - like remote rural and semi-urban areas in India. In addition to our core financial services like cash withdrawal, money transfers and payments, we continue to work hard to launch new digital services based on demand from our users - like savings or investment plans, micro-loans, insurance payments and convenient purchase of bus and train tickets.

For example, In India, we recently launched a new service enabling users to buy digital gold for as little as 5 cents directly from our app. Gold is considered to be one of the most important ways to save and build wealth in India. We’re actually the first app among our competitive segment in India to offer this very convenient service.

Our team is passionate about offering many more opportunities that help people build wealth through affordable and accessible digital services. We have invested significant effort in building our own BPAL blockchain to help us achieve this vision. Our chain is currently being used by some of our own enterprise apps in a more private manner but we are planning to open our chain to all users later this year. We believe our users like the transparency and assurance of having their wallet balances, for example, stored on our public blockchain.

It’s great that we can mature the features of our blockchain by first using it ourselves with our own apps.

Our chain already supports tokenized assets and we are now expanding it to allow intelligent 3rd party asset transactions in a way that will be compliant with local regulatory requirements. For example, we intend for users to be able to transact peer to peer on our chain, but with the same compliance controls in place as with traditional payment rails. In the longer term, we also expect to make BlocPal’s platform available as an ATS (Alternative Trading System) in Canada to help us enable the trade of tokenized securities worldwide.

Being the CTO, what do your day-to-day responsibilities look like?

One of the most important things that I have to do is figure out the priority of various developments that we do across our global team. This needs coordination between our sales, operations, business and technology teams.

Keeping myself abreast with the latest advances in technology is also something I actively work on every day. I try to spend at least an hour each day reading and experimenting with something new.

Lastly, active coding. I try to spend a fair bit of my day coding parts of our products - backend, frontend, wherever help is needed. That also keeps me in touch and aware of the challenges faced by our development teams.

What advice would you give aspiring CTOs and entrepreneurs?

If I had to give one single piece of advice, it would be that focusing on hiring the best talent possible is extremely important. Rather than focusing on size, focus on the quality of your development team. Good engineers are hard to find but once you find them, it is a joy building product with them. Whether you are a CTO or an entrepreneur, do not hire in a hurry. Make sure that the people joining your team are not only talented but also have the right attitude and team spirit to work collaboratively - or alone - when needed.

How do you think the role of the CTO has evolved in the last five, ten, fifteen years?

It used to take a lot more person-hours to build the same product fifteen years back than it does now. We also have a plethora of productivity tools, open-source solutions and cloud deployment options available at our disposal now. Staying abreast with tools and technologies so you can help your team decide on the right platform for developing and deploying applications is also a little more important now - just because there are so many more choices available these days compared to fifteen years back.

Combined together, a tech leader now has to spend more time selecting the ideal combination of tools and people needed. I had to spend a lot of effort in expanding the team fifteen years back whereas now, I can build more with fewer people.

What new challenges are CTOs facing today?

Covid has completely changed the way we hire and retain software developers. Almost all software companies now compete for the same global talent pool - there's no geofencing anymore. To attract and retain the best talent, we have to offer exciting and challenging work as well as take really good care of our team.

A side-effect of this is that we have to be even more attentive to our security policies and infrastructure. Remote work means more remote access to source repos, deployment infra and many other systems. Prior practice to safeguarding these using a private network or air-gapped networks does not work anymore.

What do you see as the hottest trends within your industry today?

In technology, Machine Learning is breaking new ground everywhere. In our case, it is helping with our KYC process, cash optimization across our fintech partners and a few other critical places that are in the works.

In fintech, the trend for open banking APIs and DeFi is allowing non-banking entities like us to offer more and more banking services powered by apps and innovative hardware devices.

Do your technical teams or do you use log analysis as part of your role? If you do, how do you find this helps day-to-day operations?

Yes, we do. It is a critical part of our active monitoring of services and troubleshooting issues. We are currently working on getting to a stage where our tools can create a log trace of any issue originating from the user’s mobile or web app, through our APIs, application servers and right up to our datastore or external APIs. This integrated trace would allow us to identify and resolve issues faster.

What can we hope to see from your business in the future?

We will keep working towards our goal of expanding financial inclusion, literacy and empowerment across the globe in a sustainable and practical manner. You will see us offering more services in our existing markets like India and North America. You will also see us invest in growing our business together with strong local teams in Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.

We are very proud of what we’ve built and achieved so far but are confident that our best is yet to come.

If you enjoyed this article then why not check out our previous guide to the best Kibana dashboards or our roundup of the best open-source logging tools?

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