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A podcast Series With Chet Kapoor

Season 2 · Episode 6

“A Letter to My Younger Self” with Goldman Sachs Global Head of Transaction Banking

Hari Moorthy, Global Head of Transaction Banking at Goldman Sachs, explains how he’s utilizing data and technology to reimagine a traditional industry. Leading with vision and conviction, he built a 350-person team in just 18 months. Hari also shares excerpts from a letter he wrote to his younger self. 

Published April 20th, 2021  |  18:19 Runtime

Episode Guest

Hari Moorthy

Hari Moorthy

Partner & Global Head of Transaction Banking at Goldman Sachs

View Bio

Episode Transcript

Narrator: Inspired Execution is a podcast featuring tech leaders from some of the world's largest enterprises and fastest growing startups. Hosted by DataStax Chairman and CEO, Chet Kapoor, each episode follows a leader's journey to scaling a massive business while inspiring their teams. Join us to learn about the experiences that have shaped them, challenges they've overcome, and the advice they'd give to their younger selves.

Narrator: Hari Moorthy, Partner and Global Head of Transaction Banking at Goldman Sachs, has led the company in creating its cash management software for corporate clients. Today, Hari shares how his team is using modern technology and data to reshape transaction banking and streamline the customer experience. He talks about the power of conviction and how practicing mindfulness can change your life.

Chet: Hari, thank you very much for joining us. It is a pleasure to have you on the show.

Hari: It's totally my pleasure, Chet. Thanks for inviting me.

Chet: You've been with Goldman Sachs for over two years. You were at JP Morgan for a while, and obviously spent many years at Goldman. Tell us a little bit about your journey.

Hari: It's external mobility at its best, isn't it? I began my career in FinTech before this industry was called FinTech. I spent nearly eight years in a payments company, and I joined Goldman Sachs for the first time in 2007. And if you remember 2007 and 8 were interesting years in the world of finance and banking. And I ended up being in the bullseye of that big financial storm that hit pretty much everyone in the industry. And then I spent seven years at various different locations and jobs within Goldman Sachs before I shifted to JP Morgan. And I'll tell you this thing Chet, that one thing I was super blessed with throughout my journey at Goldman and at JP Morgan was that I got to work with some of the best people in the industry.

Hari: Around 2018, I had this incredible opportunity. We all do a “what if” in our minds with our current roles. And I kept on thinking, “What are the list of things that we could possibly be doing in the industry, especially in the business payments?” And there came an opportunity in 2018 for me to create that with a clean sheet of paper–to build the whole new generation of a platform, a business model–and define a new generation of how we could do business payments. So that motivated me to come back to Goldman Sachs and it's been a two-and-a-half-year journey, but it's a phenomenal journey.

Chet: That's awesome. During this journey, what came easy and what was hard?

Hari: What I thought was hard came out to be very easy. It is assembling a diverse team that has a similar mindset in delivering this platform and this business with a sense of purpose and with a conviction that's deep-rooted that we could do this. We grew from a team of one to a team of 350 in less than 18 months. And assembling a team broadly across three different continents with some deep expertise in this business, some technological experience, some with completely different mindset and experience native of these industries coming together–that was massive. I thought it would be hard, but I was wrong. It was very easy to get that team aligned, motivated, and stay focused towards the journey in the last two-and-a-half years.

Chet: What was the struggle?

Hari: When we do something with a clean sheet of paper, a startup, you have a deep conviction that your path is right. And you have people who are smarter than you surrounded with a deep sense of conviction that it is the right path. But that's all you have for the first year-and-a-half until you have clients, until you have active users and active volumes in the system. So keeping that focus–not changing the roadmap, having the conviction you're on the right path because of the validations and the checkpoints you have–was hard. And you need to have the intrinsic motivation to keep going.

Chet: My three words have always been, you have to believe, inspire and execute– in that order. And that loop never stops. Right? You have to continue to believe, inspire, execute, and you have to believe when it is the hardest time to believe. Right? And so I think that's what you're saying, which is awesome.

Hari: Yeah. I think I would stress on the word belief here. To me belief is if you're woken up on a Friday night when everything is over and you're able to pump up the energy to do what you so believe in– that's when you have the deep rooted conviction. So then the belief becomes deep rooted conviction, especially the first few years of any startup or any enterprise that’s starting from scratch. It becomes instrumental and pivotal for the journey and the roadmap that lays ahead of that initial few years.

Chet: You did something that we've based the podcast on, which is give advice to a younger version of yourself. You actually did that. You wrote a letter to a younger version of yourself. Highlight a few points of what the letter says. And then what got you to do this?

Hari: Honestly, if I knew what I know now 25 years ago, I would have avoided a lot of mistakes and falls. But it's literally that. I've been a lifelong meditator. I've done this now well over 24 years, and life just teaches you a lot of stuff. And what you take for granted or what you think are sure victories are not really the case. And really what I wrote was what would I tell myself 25 years ago that if I had known then, I would have shaped my life in the last 25 years differently? And the number one thing is to be mindful. What do I mean by that? There are a lot of definitions and it took me a decade to figure this out, to be honest with you. In every one of our minds, there is a constant chatter that goes on. Just listening to that, understanding what your inner mind says goes a long way. It's the foundation of how we come to peace with ourselves and really how we start listening to others.

Hari: Imagine this: If you're not listening to yourself, if somebody else is talking to you, you're listening to the other person through your mind's voice– not in that person's voice. To me, that clarity was a big deal and that's precisely what I wrote to myself. And I wished I had known about it earlier. The other one is innovation. We often confuse innovation with imagination. Imagination with proper constraints–execution–becomes innovation. In other words, if we can't execute our wildest imaginations in a reasonable manner, then it becomes an imagination. It's not an innovation. Look, the other big thing is surrounding myself with people who are a lot smarter and very different from who I am. And in many ways I've been blessed with that surrounding the last 25 years of my professional life. But it just cannot understate the importance of that. If you surround yourself with people who can challenge you freely, there's an ideation that happens in meetings. Then you've really got a coherent well-thought out strategy that stands the scrutiny of others, and it allows everybody to buy into that vision and strategy.

Chet: The other couple of points you'd made in that letter was, "Every day is a new opportunity. Every day is a new day. And if you're having a bad day, just remember tomorrow's another day.” My personal favorite of your five big things in the letter to yourself was “happiness is a choice.” Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Hari: We have been trained mostly by ourselves that we have to do something to be happy. And upon the completion of the current work, we will become happy sometime in the future. But I just fundamentally challenge that assumption. Can we be happy first? Can we make it as a choice, then do the work that we need to do? Maybe the quality of the work is much better. And it comes back to the same notion of being mindful. Happiness is born by the fact that you are in harmony with your own mind's voice. And if your actions reflect it, you're in a much better mental state for you to be able to execute what you're doing.

Chet: It takes me back to a reminder that all of us should have, which is have a beginner's mind. Right? Because that'll get you far. Just because you've done something successfully it doesn't mean you start with the assumptions of what got you there before. Start with a brand new set, a blank sheet of paper. Your experiences are always with you, but start with a blank sheet of paper as much as you can because this experience is a different version of you.

Hari: Absolutely. And I think what's even more interesting, Chet. Again, it took a long time for me to figure it out. You know the answers. You know what's right and wrong. You just need to listen to yourself.

Chet: I would totally agree. Congratulations on the recent launch. You've been at it for two years. This is an entirely new business for Goldman Sachs. It is an entirely cloud-based, transactional banking platform. Can you tell us a little bit about it? And if you face the innovator's dilemma, how did you get through it? And I know it's not always visible, but how did you get through it?

Hari: Transaction banking at its simplest definition is checking accounts and payments for corporates across the world. So we all have a checking account one way or the other with the bank of our choice and we make payments in and receive payments into that account. It seems to all go well. But imagine there is a corporation with thousands of entities and each entity has hundreds and thousands of bank accounts across multiple countries and multiple currencies. You need to manage the currency. You need to manage the payments in, payments out. You need to balance your books. And you needed to be able to manage the liquidity, which is the lifeblood of any corporation. We are in the business of providing it. But as you can imagine– as many financial instruments have come about in the last three, four decades, this business and the business of transaction banking has remained constant.

Hari: People always needed a bank account. People always needed to collect money and send money and transact in multiple countries. So the business construct is not new. What has been new and what has changed is how the consumers of these services have gotten used to in their personal finance. With the revolution that's happened in the iPhone arrival and all of what happened in the personal financing industry in the 2010s, people have come to expect a lot more from their business accounts and payments. And here's a chance for us to reinvent it and do it from scratch in such a way that we keep APIs, data, cloud, big data, artificial intelligence, all at the center of how we think about this in the future. And part of what we aspire to do is not only build a system, a modern system and a platform, but we really aspire to build a banking-as-a-service platform.

Hari: In other words, we want to embed these services into the business processing of our client's core systems so that they can cater to their clients. It's an extension of what has traditionally been a bank or a banking account to a different stratosphere and different dimension. So we no longer have these boundaries and walls that are inefficient. Keeping in mind, we want to be absolutely controlled, compliant with all the regulations and compliance procedures. In effect, with better use of technology and better data, we could have a better compliant framework, better regulatory adherence to the systems that we have developed.

Chet: What technology are you most excited about from a business impact point of view?

Hari: The biggest one I'm personally excited about is use of data to guide decisions that are otherwise done by Excel spreadsheets and human minds.

Chet: The crude word would be automation, but that's not it, right? You're actually talking about making smart decisions, but if they are repeatable, then making sure the patterns are recognized and the data does it for you.

Hari: Exactly. And also give new insights on things that have not been thought of. What do I mean by that? It's one thing to repeat actions that have been performed by another human being. It's an entirely different thing to give new angles, new suggestions based on the patterns of the data that were not previously available.

Chet: Do you find the social aspect of what you just said– is it simmering in the background or do you think it's on the forefront? How do you get your teams to have the same conviction that you just talked with?

Hari: One of the easiest things–I actually thought it was hard, but it's not–is to assemble a team with a similar, deep rooted conviction that we could do something different in a traditional industry. In a big way, I'm blessed with a team that's a lot smarter than who I am and able to execute and even innovate ideas that are well beyond what we have even imagined when we started the program. So our problem is not conviction. Our problem, to be frank, Chet, is the number of hours in a day.

Chet: We're living in this pandemic. I should assume it has accelerated your business. How have you dealt with a sudden increase in demand? How do you deal with that?

Hari: A crisis validates your assumptions in many ways. We had a conviction that when we built this, it could withstand 10x volumes and an influx of sudden accounts and transactions. And the crisis came early March, if you will, well before we publicly launched our business in June. What surprised me and in some ways did not surprise me is that the systems just worked. Our processes just worked. So our problems weren't our platform or our systems, it's the human element, right? I mean, there are so many folks across multiple continents having to work from home with their relatives and parents to take care of and their friends who might be contracting this deadly virus. That was a bigger problem in my mind than the systems and processes and procedures. But what I was really surprised and inspired by, is the resilience that our team showed.

Hari: We launched this business in the middle of a crisis and we are performing as we were expecting and perhaps even better, despite COVID conditions and the lockdown that we have experienced across multiple different cities. I'm sure we have learnt a lot in the last eight months that we never thought that we would prior to that. 

Chet: Every which way you cut it, right– you can have a great vision. You can have a great mission. You can create the processes, whether you're going through a downturn or you're going through a crisis that is accelerating your business. It can happen both ways. At the end of the day it's about the people. Do the people have the belief and are they inspired to actually get through it? And it seems like you have exactly the right leadership team that is driving through this and taking the business to the next level in spite of everything else going on around us? 

Hari: Mark of a good, resilient leadership team, isn't it?

Chet: Yeah, it is, always. But it starts with the leader, Hari. You're way too modest, but it does start with the leader. Moving to the personal side, Hari, who inspires you?

Hari: I often get inspiration from folks who struggled selflessly to get what we have today. It is the Martin Luther Kings of the era, Gandhis of the era, and all those folks who fought for freedom everywhere, whose shoulders upon which we stand today and we do what we do. It's just such an inspiring era between the 1850s to 1950s. There is so much that happened to the world that allowed us to live the life that we live today.

Chet: Two phenomenal human beings. I think their advice will last us forever, right? They will continue to inspire generations and generations forever. Hari, this has been absolutely phenomenal. Thank you very much for taking the time. Great conversation, deeply appreciated.

Hari: Totally my pleasure, Chet. And what you're doing is phenomenal in that you convene these 20 minute, 30 minute conversations. And I'm a huge fan of the podcast you're producing. Well done and keep going.

Chet: Thank you.

Narrator: When you lead with strong conviction and surround yourself with smart people, you can accomplish anything. Keeping APIs, data, and new technology at the center of your product strategy will help you drive innovation and reimagine the customer experience. Most importantly, Hari reminds us to listen to our inner voice as it helps us find truth, peace, and connection in our personal and professional lives. 

Narrator: Thank you so much for tuning in to today's episode of the inspired execution podcast, hosted by Chairman and CEO of DataStax, Chet Kapoor. We have many more guests and amazing stories to come, so stay tuned. If you haven't already done so, subscribe to the series to be notified when a new episode is released. For Apple podcast listeners, please rate and review the show to help give it a wider reach to listeners such as yourself. And feel free to drop us any questions or feedback at inspiredexecution@datastax.com.