CTO interview: Steve Cook, revolutionizing banking infrastructure | by Ron Danenberg | Technical captains | April 2022

Steve Cook

The traditional banking system has legacy infrastructure and outdated applications that can sometimes be up to 40-50 years old. On the other hand, challenger banks do not want to build and maintain infrastructure and prefer to opt for SaaS solutions.

Form3 has found a way to serve these two opposing customers, they remove complexity and help customers through the final stages of their payment processing journey. Read the latest interview and learn how to spot the unique market opportunity and create products that work for a wide range of customers.

A career in commerce and some entrepreneurial experiences brought you to Hong Kong. Can you please tell me how you got to where you are at Form3?

I have worked in fintech for over 25 years. I started as a software engineer, but quickly realized that I liked working with people more than with computers. So that’s what I did most of my career. For me, it’s more rewarding and stimulating. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve spent time in Asia, running several businesses there.

I have been back in the UK for 7 years, which has a FinTech scene with plenty of capital raising opportunities and engineering challenges. It really is a place to be if you want to start a new business.

I am one of the co-founding members with Michael Mueller (CEO) and Mike Walters (CPO). We all come from a background in banking technology where we have seen the infrastructure and software maintained by banks. Both were very old and very complex. In a bank, my department had about 350 different applications on different tech stacks, languages, and databases (C#, Java, mainframe, Linux, etc.).

If you had to explain Form3 in simple words, how would you present it?

We saw an opportunity in simplifying banks’ existing IT infrastructure. We’ve eliminated a lot of the complexity, including the real-time payment infrastructure. There are many advantages for our customers because each system to maintain has a cost.

Screenshot from Form3.tech

Does outsourcing improve security?

Yes, especially in banking where banks are sitting on hundreds of legacy applications built at different times, sometimes 40 or 50 years ago. Keeping up to date with vulnerability management and keeping everything up to date is very complex and time consuming.

For example, with Form3 we have a lot of automation. Every few weeks we completely shut down and rebuild our entire environment to ensure it always has the latest patches.

Moving to a well-managed SaaS platform is a much safer option than maintaining it yourself.

Would you say you are a competitor to core banking systems like Mambu?

No, we focus on the part of the payment which is the last part of the process (FasterPayment, BACS, SEPA, Direct Debit, Pay confirmation, etc.). There are a lot of complementary FinTechs in the space, so we partner with companies like Mambu, 10x, ThoughtMachine and others.

Who are your clients ?

We have a wide range of different customers, both digital banks and traditional banks. For traditional banks, they have a lot of legacy technology, so there’s a really good opportunity for us. We also do a lot of business with non-bank financial institutions (Square, N26). If they come as a new digital bank, they don’t want to build a big legacy infrastructure and we partner with them.

What do you look for in developers when you interview?

We are on a mission to provide a critical service to banks, which must operate 24/7, often in real time. This is obviously a very sensitive area. The system design is very resilient, even in the event of a failure, and has tight SLAs. A lot of effort goes into designing for redundancy and resiliency. Our core underlying platform is a sort of multi-cloud Go microservices stack. So when looking for engineers to join Form3, we’re usually looking for those who have worked in distributed environments, rather than a traditional monolith. Often they do not have direct experience in finance.

And in terms of personality?

Another key element is that we have a highly distributed and self-contained team: all of our teams include both product and engineering, with the two working closely together. It’s really a DevOps pattern here. Each team is responsible for business needs, building automated tests, developing and running their service in production.

Again, that kind of feeds into the type of person we’re trying to find. We are looking for people who enjoy working with a lot of autonomy and who have taken on a lot of responsibility in their previous roles.

Screenshot from FORm3.tech

A funny story that happened during your career?

There is a story that sticks to my skin. Many years ago, I accidentally deleted a client’s production environment. We had installed a test system for a customer, but he then put it into production without telling us.

I was tasked with upgrading their test environment. Since I believed it was a test environment, I deleted it and reinstalled it. After that I started getting complaints from people around me that the system was not working. It was like 25 years ago when we didn’t have cloud saves or anything like that. In the end, the only way to fix the problem was to send someone offsite to fetch backup tapes.