Elisabeth Dana is the founder and CEO of new London-based Fintech Infinity Circle. She is an ex Wealth Management banker at Barclays and has been profiled as one of the new female tech leaders leading personal financial management into the new era. In an interview with Davis Mukasa she recounts arriving in London from France, trying to make a name in London’s financial district, and giving it all up to set up her own Fintech company.
“So, I’ve been in financial services almost twenty years – my whole career. Interestingly enough though, my undergrad was Political Science and Journalism. So I guess that just tells you that the way I’m wired is: I like people and I like communication. And that’s what I’m about. In fact, finance and banking just found me somehow. If when I was 18, somebody had told me you were going to be a banker for you know, three decades, I would have laughed and said get out of here.
So, I’m half French, half British, and have been in the UK now since 2006. I started in financial services in Paris. And then I did most of these almost twenty years in big banks.
When I moved to London, with my son, who was barely six at the time, I had no job at all, which was a very interesting way to do things. Most young people first get an assignment, and then move. You could say I did it the wrong way around.
I started in corporate banking. And then from there, I kind of really went all around the houses: I was in the commercial banking, investment banking, but what I was really trying to achieve since I left Paris was to get into wealth management.
But this was hard because these bank divisions were only really interested in people who already had big books of clients. And when I moved to London, with my son, as a single Mum, I literally knew one and a half people. Myself and my son.
Now I have a good network, people say “Yeah, you know, she knows everyone”. But that’s not how it was at all. But I was, I guess, resilient. Because in financial services, wherever I went, ninety-five percent of my colleagues were guys. I was a woman in a male environment which I turned around to create an ‘edge’. Somehow I always managed to turn it to my advantage rather than find it a liability thankfully.
And so finally in 2009, I managed to move myself into Wealth Management at Barclays which is where I felt at home. But I still had no contacts. So I had to build up my clients from scratch. I slowly built them up from nothing to forty good clients through perseverance, coffee and a lot of late nights. I was never given any clients, I had to hunt for them. So I quickly became seen as this hunter. It’s quite funny now looking back because I was actually quite a novice. But I was certainly determined and willing to get things done.
“I had to kind of get out of my comfort zone and for years and years, I would literally go out and network every day, five days a week…
…wherever I could meet people. Wherever potential clients could be. Yeah, five evenings a week for, I’d say for five years. Five years of solid hard networking!
So I’d started off only knowing one and a half people but five years later, I had to choose which events not to attend on any particular night as I couldn’t squeeze much more into my evenings. On many nights I’d have to go to three dinners. I kind of became good at doing all of that. Even if it didn’t come naturally at first. I learned how to actually enjoy it and thrived at doing business at the same time. There, I learned an essential element to being very good at what you do. It seems simple but you need to love it. And I learned to love it. And I became very good at it. I learned to love it then learned to convert meetings into business and clients quite quickly.
“The value of my client book had got to a billion and a half dollars”…
By the time I resigned from Barclays, I had built a solid book of clients, about forty key client families based all around in the world. That’s about three-hundred individuals that I looked after. The value of my client book had got to a billion and a half dollars. I had apparently become this rare female success story in the City, ‘overnight’.
But I decided to leave. I think there were a lot of things that happened at the time, but I think the big one was the itch of turning 40. I thought, you know, “what the f#ck?! Am I going to be this banker… a soldier in a big bank for what, another twenty years?” You are often overpaid, but not necessarily paid so much that you can pack it up and leave when you want. So you can’t really leave feeling happy or secure. Most people would just roll with it. Why would you leave this very gilded and comfortable golden cage? By that time, I had a team of seven people working on my book of clients who were doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so I was left to, you know, to kind of schmooze and wine and, and do the travelling bit. I couldn’t complain. In fact, it was pretty cool considering where I was several years ago. It’s probably the entrepreneur in me but I wanted to build something myself. I wanted to build something new and exciting from the industry I came from. So I left. But it wasn’t an easy decision.
To Infinity and Beyond…
In 2016, I started Infinity. The vision from the start of the entrepreneur journey was to ally the things I really loved – technology, investing and working closely with clients. I wanted to create something different built on what I knew and what I could bring.
In December 2018, I incorporated Infinity Circle in London. It is a simple but sophisticated marketplace where goods, services and investments across asset classes are traded in a secure private way. We’re building our platform to be simple and transparent to use for a type of discerning user, with the highest security protocols: where users, clients, counterparties, products and services are vigorously vetted to ensure integrity and robustness. We’re aiming to finish the development by Q3/ Q4 in 2021. It’s been a fun and challenging journey and like everybody else, the last year has been tougher, but we’re looking forward to launching at the end of this year, shaking up the industry, and opening it up to a new breed of financially-savvy modern individual.”