An interview with Ben Heap


FST Media: What are your business and digital priorities for the next 6 months?

Heap: For H2, we are investing deeply in the fintech space, so we make sure everything we do has a strong focus around digital or new distribution channels. For us, we have just started a new round of accelerator ventures with five new companies that have come into the program, which we are very excited about. They cover a variety of areas from lending to wealth and payments and we have high hopes for where those businesses are going. Our focus now is on those programs and we are working hard with them to get them into a position where they can grow.

FST Media: What technology or innovation is currently the biggest game changer in the finance industry?

Heap: There is a lot of innovation going within wealth, which can be broadly bracketed as robo-advice plays. What we think is more exciting is the innovation going on in the insurance space. It’s mainly offshore to date, but there is starting to be some of that innovation to the insurance scene here in Australia. We think there is real potential for some really game-changing business models in insurance here in Australia over the next year or two.

FST Media: What is the most significant challenge to growing fintech?

Heap: The big challenge is that it is such a new space – only two years ago it was something people really weren’t talking about. Now we have a range of people with really great initiatives, like Stone & Chalk and the Federal Treasurer’s Scott Morrisons’ initiative of setting up a financial advisory group and now, there is a much greater level of understanding of the opportunities of fintech. It has really come onto the radar in the last couple of years which is terrifically exciting for us and our role in explaining what fintech is about becomes less of an issue. Now, the challenge is about taking this positive momentum and to now find exciting new start-ups that can grow into big businesses. We strongly believe there will be businesses that grow in the fintech regime over the next decade which will become top 10 Australian companies. Our challenge is to find them and help.

FST Media: What specific insight does H2 bring into the wider Asia-Pacific fintech sector?

Heap: Asia-Pacific represents enormous opportunity for Australia in respect to trade, and fintech happens to be a sector in which Australia has genuine comparative advantage. We have a strong financial services framework and we have a real innovative nation that underpins financial services, so the opportunity to take Australian fintech into the Asian market is not very real yet. I have previous experience working with UBS, which gives you a strong understanding of different marketplaces across the region. With the support the government is giving here through Austrade and NSW Trade and Investment, there is a good platform to take our fintech into overseas regions, especially Asia-Pacific. It’s a very long term plan, but an investment we feel is worth making.

FST Media: How can banks and fintech start-ups work together for mutual innovative benefit?

Heap: Innovation can broadly categorised as disruptive and enabling – enabling innovation tends to be B2B solutions and things that help banks and insurers become more effective. There is incredible innovation going on in the big banks and also within the start-up community that supports their continued knowledge and improvement. We are optimists about that and it’s an important place to be at. Truly disruptive and game changing innovation is the businesses ideas that come from the outside and bring an entirely fresh perspective, without the constraints of any existing business models. We equally believe that fostering the independent start-up community is also a part of future innovation and fintech success here in Australia. 

FST Media: What is the ideal innovative ecosystem?

Heap: A couple of things have a really important role to play here. The idea of centralised hubs for businesses is really important and Stone & Chalk have been a tremendous test of this and arguably, the best example of a fintech hub anywhere in the world. Broad stakeholder support through the government and also from industries is really important and the Budget was very strongly committed to the fintech environment and scene. The industry needs backing from initiatives like Stone & Chalk and similar start-up collaborative groups, like those in Melbourne. The start-up community has really arisen and initially, there was a lot going on in different garages and offices right across the city and even the country, so it’s important everyone now has this central hub to work from. The key for all of this to work is a cultural change; getting it into entrepreneurs minds that this is really a good use of limited time and the right thing to do. In the idea of the governments mind, this is worth committing dollars and time and resources to.

FST Media: What is the next big thing for H2 and how will you measure its success?

Heap: We are going to focus on the current round of our accelerator and then in the second half of the year, we have some really interesting options in terms of expanding the accelerator, expanding the scale of what we are doing here in Sydney, or even taking our accelerator into overseas markets. We have some quite interesting discussions with a number of potential cities in mind to go to. That is what we are focusing on making some decisions on in the second half of the year.

The other thing is looking at really following the best businesses we are invested in as their journey goes on. Because of that, we have fantastic support which also leads to new investors.

FST Media: How do you build a culture of innovation in your team?

Heap: It is very self-sustaining culture,  so to get that, we are looking  across our organisation at embedding it in everything we do. We have a small team at H2, which is full of entrepreneurs and that really creates that innovative environment where everyone is constantly hungry for new ideas and the getting the leading edge. This is a characteristic we search for in the best entrepreneurs we look to back. Once you have that embedded, it becomes very natural and you can keep chasing that future.

FST Media: What is your earliest memory of your interest in innovation and technology?

Heap: I have been interested in innovation since my teenage years. It’s changed in that timeframe, but it’s something I have always had a passion for and I’m always looking for new ideas and new ventures. It really has been with me since childhood!

FST Media: What career would you be in if you worked outside the financial services?

Heap: That’s hard to say and I am not sure I know, but probably a fireman! I’ve always wanted to be a fireman, but they won’t take me now because I’m over 28!