CTO Sessions: Adam Clarke, Fnality

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? “The metaverse. It’s not as authentic as real-life social interaction, it’s an idea that takes social media to an incomprehensible level.”

Headshot of Adam Clarke, CTO at Fnality

Name: Adam Clarke

Company: Fnality

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: July 2019

Location: London

Adam Clarke has 20+ years’ experience working with corporates and start-ups in technical roles from developer to CTO. He has worked as an architect in several large investment banks focussing on treasury. With a particular interest in progressing technology in new and interesting ways, specifically providing solutions that are scalable, reliable, and decentralised, he has experience of building operations teams to support such systems. He brings knowledge from several industry sectors including banking, insurance, and retail.

What was your first job? At 13 years old, I had a paper round delivering the Sunday newspapers on my bike. I used the money to buy a printer.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, although I knew I wanted to work in a technology and engineering field. My priority was to become a helicopter pilot, but the path to achieving this was complex so I chose to stick with computers.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Southampton.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After graduating in 2000, I spent almost eight years at Roke Manor Research as a Business Sector Manager where I worked on the first implementation of Java on a mobile phone, and the design and implementation of the congestion charge technology for TfL. From there I moved to Pulse Innovations where I worked on innovative and cutting-edge products for engaging sports fans on the internet and enhancing TV productions, which included Hawk-eye, the ball-tracking technology.

In 2010, I moved into finance – delivering global cross-functional software projects for UBS and later holding multiple roles at JPMorgan Chase. In 2015, I then joined Direct Line where I was the lead architect working on a large transformation project. Two years later, I took a role as Head of Architecture and Technology at Debenhams where I spent a further two years before joining Fnality as CTO.

I currently hold roles on the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance Core Spec Working Group as Co-Chair and Member Council, as well as a Non-Executive Advisor to Mindscape Group and Code Untapped Partners.

What type of CTO are you? I like to think of myself as a CTO that drives open standards. I believe that whatever is being built should be a modular tech stack to ensure everything is pluggable and replaceable as needed. My approach offers a flexible and agile way to achieve the broader vision of the company in question.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Distributed Financial Market Infrastructures (dFMIs) and how they can enable an on-chain wholesale exchange of value in central bank money.

The reality of this technology took a huge step forward last year when The Bank of England announced a new type of account, the omnibus account, which is now open for applications. This marked a major market milestone as the new account and its pre-funded structure not only allows innovative payment models to emerge by setting out clear access requirements but also safeguards monetary policy implementation with eligibility criteria.

At Fnality, we’re working to combine technology, legal, regulation, and innovation together to create world-class products. The announcement of this account opens up the full potential of our Fnality Payment System (FnPS) to offer wholesale banks a simpler, faster, safer, and more resilient/risk free system for managing digital payments.

While this may seem perfect for us, it is not the omnibus account that is important but the wider vision that it carves out for the UK’s financial ecosystem.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? The metaverse. It’s not as authentic as real-life social interaction, it’s an idea that takes social media to an incomprehensible level. We must remember that there is a genuinely real world out there, with many experiences to appreciate and be present in that are as or, in most cases, more important.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I pride myself on being a leader that brings together a community of passionate people, leveraging the right technology and aligning with the strongest partners to realise technology’s potential. Over the past 12 months, we’ve built a team of some of the brightest minds in tech, and we are on a journey of iteration and evolution to making the Fnality vision a commercial reality in 2023.

The best part is that we’ve built the strong foundations we need to continually improve financial markets around the globe.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Financial markets are slow, fragmented, and siloed. However, this isn’t what the world needs from its financial institutions. A future-facing financial system must be built for the digital age. This means speaking – and listening – to the users of today’s financial systems, from businesses to banks. At Fnality, we’ve done this and what is clear is that there is a collective ambition for a simpler, faster, safer, and more resilient system; one that can move and settle money quickly and efficiently, with minimised risk and much more transparency.

As we get closer to decentralised finance (DeFi), banks are becoming much more efficient so the end-user is catered for faster. This reduces costs, which grows revenues. Driving change based on reduced risk and creating frictionless markets for consumers, the financial system is much more efficient offering more liquidity and so the experience for the customer is massively enhanced.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? As we’ve not yet launched the FnPS, we’re in a period of testing. This approach allows us to build a network of use cases ahead of our launch in 2023.

Most recently, we ran a successful proof of concept with fintech’s Nivaura and Adhara in collaboration with NatWest and Santander. Together we executed the first cross-chain pilot debt transaction on public Ethereum and the FnPS. This showcased the benefits of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) in offering near-instant settlement in capital markets and payments and took us one step closer to the 2023 launch, which will enable wholesale payments in real-time with near-instant settlement in a central bank money-backed digital cash asset.

Nivaura provided the automated workflow platform and integration with public DLT for asset creation, settlement, and payment administration. The Ecosystem TestNet that facilitated the payment leg was developed in collaboration with Adhara whilst NatWest acted as dealer and issuer in the pilot, with Santander fulfilling the role of investor.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? At Fnality, our organisational structure mirrors the systems we’re building. This mindset is called Conway’s Law and it means we have an innovative team that reflects the decentralised system they are working on. All Fnality employees have mutual accountability across the entire organisation, this is how we achieve our vision and meet our business goals.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? To build decentralised markets you need a decentralised organisation, utilising decentralised technology. As mentioned above Fnality is embodying Conway’s Law, we’re building a product that meets a very specific goal, so we don’t have any problems in this area.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is a consumer-focused strategy. This will ensure you’re building the products consumers want and that you do it in an efficient way.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role of the CTO has changed a lot in the last two years – CTOs are now stepping into Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) roles. This is because businesses are trusting technology to drive the change needed by the organisation, for CTOs who are focused on building technology and enterprise tech this provides an opportunity to take a wider remit in their organisation.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Being asked to be a non-exec advisor for Codeverse. It was a real feeling that I had amassed enough knowledge and experience in my career to be genuinely helpful to a growing organisation as an advisor.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I stayed in the same organisations for quite a long time – spending roughly 10 years in my first two jobs alone. After that, I took a variety of IT contracting across different sectors where I was able to learn a lot more, a lot faster. So, I would have moved around more to enhance my understanding and knowledge.

I would also have started my career a little later, instead, taking a gap year after university to go see the world. I always encourage people to go travel the globe – now, 22 years into my career, I’ve not seen half the world. I will but it will be a different experience.

What are you reading now? Career wise, I’m reading Architecting Enterprise Blockchain Solutions by Joseph Holbrook. It’s an important insight into how blockchain is useful to the world. Personally, I’m also reading Paul Simon’s autobiography, The Life.

Most people don't know that I… Am a qualified helicopter pilot.

In my spare time, I like to…Experience the rush and adrenaline of flying a helicopter – a Perspex bubble with a V8 engine.

Ask me to do anything but… Never ask me to jump out of a plane. I’m terrified of heights, learning to fly was my effort to conquer that fear and having spent so long learning to stay in the air, it seems counterintuitive.