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“It’s important to give agencies the opportunity to change the way they work for you and reach their full potential. It’s a respect thing.”

Welcome Abbie Daniels

Head of Communications for EMEA

TransferWise

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Abbie Daniels is Head of Communications for EMEA at TransferWise, one of the fastest-growing, profitable tech companies in the world. She discusses how TranferWise became a FinTech success story, how she executes PR and marketing across the company’s biggest markets, and what corporate communication looks like in the age of Covid-19.

Transcript:

Nathan Anibaba:

Abigail Daniels is the head of PR, EMEA at TransferWise, one of the fastest growing profitable tech companies in the world. She has responsibility for telling TransferWise’s story in their biggest markets, with key countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and the UAE. Abigail Daniels, welcome to ClientSide.

Abigail Daniels :

Oh. Thank you very much for having me.

Nathan Anibaba:

You graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2007 in English literature. What did you think you were going to do with your degree at that time?

Abigail Daniels :

Actually, I’m one of the rare people who always planned to go into PR. So from university, yeah, I was always dead set on a career in PR. But I suppose probably different… Less of the B2B that we’re talking about today. I was actually really keen to pursue a luxury travel or luxury brand type PR and did lots of work experience through uni in that sector. And then, yeah. Came to fintech a bit later on.

Nathan Anibaba:

For a long time, you really wanted to become a journalist. How come you didn’t end up going ahead with the plan?

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah. So before uni, I worked with the BBC as a young reporter. I guess it was an internship I did with them for a year reporting on local youth events in the Cambridgeshire region. And it was an amazing, amazing opportunity. I actually noticed last time I was at the BBC that they’re still running this program and would hugely encourage uni students to go for it.

Abigail Daniels :

But, yeah. I found it really tough. The spotlight is very much on you in that kind of broadcast arena and, yeah. A lot of pressure to get a lot of stories out. And also I think when you’re young and you’re working your way up, you don’t necessarily have a huge amount of control about what you’re writing about. And it’s all very much dictated by the kind of publication that you’re working for. So I knew that I definitely wanted to work in an arena telling stories in the press. But I pivoted to PR a bit later on.

Nathan Anibaba:

You worked at two stellar agencies, Hotwire PR and Fishburn before joining TransferWise. What did you learn at those agencies that you’re now using at your current role at TransferWise?

Abigail Daniels :

So I joined Hotwire in their fintech team. And that was back in 2011, when FinTech was not so much of a thing as it is now. It was very, very neat and actually I had very much been pursuing this kind of luxury sector type of PR. And I was a little bit disgruntled to end up in the fintech team to say the least. I actually remember phoning their HR manager, a really nice lady and saying, “Well, were there any opportunities to be in consumer or something a bit more interesting?” And she was like, “Trust me, fintech isn’t this boring sector and you’re going to love it.”

Nathan Anibaba:

Right. And you were like, “No way, what is this fintech thing?”

Abigail Daniels :

And actually I really quickly started to love working with startups, with higher growth companies, with companies that were looking to disrupt their sectors. And, yeah. I’m really grateful to Hotwire for what it gave me on that front. And it was a payments by results agency, which was pretty unusual at the time. I think there’s a few more of those around now.

Nathan Anibaba:

Interesting.

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah. So it was literally, if your client’s retainer is £7,000 a month, it was split up into cost for a press release, cost for a media opportunity. And so it just made us all really, really good hustlers I think.

Nathan Anibaba:

Had to earn your keep. Definitely.

Abigail Daniels :

Exactly. Exactly.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super interesting.

Abigail Daniels :

And then, yeah. I moved onto Fishburn Hedges, which was more of a traditional corporate style agency, much bigger brands. Shell was a huge client, RBS, Barclays, et cetera. And so working on a more traditional retainer model there, I guess I learned a bit more of the strategic approach to PR and how to have a longer term plan and implement that and be a bit closer to a company’s business objectives.

Nathan Anibaba:

Well, let’s talk a little bit about TransferWise. As you said, they launched in 2011 when fintech wasn’t even really a thing, you had no interest in being in the fintech team. It’s amazing, how things have changed over the last few years. TransferWise is definitely one of the leading lights in the fintech space or one of the amazing stories to come out of the fintech landscape. Talk a little bit about where TransferWise is today and what problems do you solve for your clients?

Abigail Daniels :

Cool. So today TransferWise is a 2,000 person company. We send £4 billion on behalf of our customers across borders every month. And it’s a company with a real purpose, which I realize is a bit of a buzzword in PR right now and marketing, but it’s very much really the case at TransferWise. We’re on a mission to make money move around the world as fast and as cheap as email. So we don’t see why needs to … It’s literally just bits of bites, right? So we’re driving down costs in the industry and we’re also bringing a lot of transparency to an industry, which typically has resulted on very high margins and been a very profit making industry for the big banks. We’re kind of disrupting that and flipping it on its head.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super interesting. The money transfer space is a very competitive one, MoneyGram, Western Union and the traditional banks being the main players or the incumbent banks. What makes TransferWise different, special, standout?

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah, for sure. And it’s always been a very crowded space actually. Even at launch, lots of those players were around back then. And lots of them are still doing really amazing work actually in maybe slightly different focus areas to TransferWise.

Abigail Daniels :

But what has been kind of the secret of our success is this focus on transparency. So if you want to make an international money transfer with your regular bank, they might tell you that it’s free. They might tell you that it just costs £5, £10, something like that. 0% commission is another phrase that you see a lot for these services. In reality, they’re charging you a huge extra proportion in a marked up exchange rate. Sometimes that’s really the bulk of the whole fee. It could be up to 5%, 6% of the transfer amount of what you’re sending.

Abigail Daniels :

We think that’s no good for the customer. How can you compare prices between providers based on that model. That puts a lot of onus on the customer to make those comparisons, to get their calculator out and figure out how much they’re really spending.

Abigail Daniels :

So all of our transfers are sent at the real exchange rate. Our fee is always shown upfront. And it just helps people know how much they’re really spending. And that’s so important. I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself, getting money out at the airport or whatever, at the travel agent for your holiday. I’m sure you probably struggled to understand how much you were really been charged for that transaction.

Nathan Anibaba:

Exactly right. So from a comms perspective, what are the biggest business challenges that you now face as a company and how are agencies helping you solve those challenges?

Abigail Daniels :

So our biggest challenge has always been from a comms perspective, this issue with communicating to people how much they’re really being charged for the service that we offer by the incumbent banks. And that was our biggest challenge in 2011 when TransferWise launched in it. And it’s still the same today.

Abigail Daniels :

And we work with agencies in a number of ways to help educate consumers about this problem on creative briefs. This is something that we’re doing in Europe a lot. And last year we worked with an agency on a creative with Gemma Collins. That’s how we tell the superstar to help people understand exchange rate markups and 0% commission and some of those terms and what they really mean.

Abigail Daniels :

But we also work with agencies a lot internationally just to localize these messages and to understand the competitive environment and how that differs by region. So, yeah. PR agencies are really, really integral to our growth and to helping educate people about this properly.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super fascinating. So do you think that the traditional institutions, the banking institutions, financial institutions intentionally make their pricing schemes hard to decipher and hard to understand for the consumer? You would assume that that would be to their benefit because the consumer isn’t able to compare easily among the different providers. So talk a little bit about that, and how are you as a startup really, as a challenger, overcoming that? Because that’s probably something that is endemic within the industry.

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah. I think the answer to that is, in some cases, yes, I do think incumbents are deliberately pricing in a way that is interest bearing and confusing to people. And I think that’s really shown when you see stuff like 0% commission or free. And then actually quite a big charge hidden within that exchange rate. And the fact is, we shouldn’t be so afraid of saying that these financial services cost money, right? Your bank isn’t really giving you free banking. Your current account isn’t really free for you to use. You’re being charged in loans and overdrafts and in other ways.

Abigail Daniels :

And I think sometimes that, because the whole industry has got to this point where they’re all saying things are very low cost or these services are free or near abouts, it’s made it harder for people to then be transparent about the true costs.

Nathan Anibaba:

I see. Interesting.

Abigail Daniels :

Because there’s no one set standard of pricing in the industry, it makes it even harder for consumers to know which provider to turn to. So, yeah. I think it is really hard. And it’s been tough as a startup to break through that noise.

Abigail Daniels :

I think we’re lucky in lots of ways. One, lots of people who send money abroad very often are actually pretty wise to this stuff and are becoming increasingly so. And so lots of our early adopters at TransferWise didn’t necessarily fit that young tech-savvy mold that you might have thought of. They’re actually maybe older people that transfer their pension every month and notice that they’re always being stung by those prices every month and less is arriving than it should do.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Abigail Daniels :

So, yeah. We’ve got a very loyal customer base at TransferWise and on the more educated end of the industry. But really, at a policy level is where we’ll see the changes. We’ve got a really fantastic government relations team at TransferWise who’ve been lobbying very hard for changes to regulations to bring more transparency to the industry. And in 2018, we had a huge win at European level where the EU mandated that for intra-EU international payments, they would always have to show the exchange rate markup transparently. So that was a massive, massive change for us. And we’re lobbying for those changes on an international level now.

Nathan Anibaba:

Hmm. You said earlier that you’re working with a PR agency to help you with some of the communications work that you’re doing. Selecting an agency partner is one of the most important decisions that any client can make. It’s very easy to pick up the phone on the spot and hire a new agency. It’s far more difficult to find an ideal partner to reshape your approach to marketing or communications, and really propel the brand forward. What’s the best way of choosing and selecting a new agency to work with?

Abigail Daniels :

Oh, it can be a tough one. And I wouldn’t say that we’ve necessarily cracked this. But I think we’ve got a good process, which has resulted in some really long standing relationships at this point. So I think number one is being really clear what you’re using the agency for. So we use agencies across EMEA for primarily three reasons at TransferWise. Number one is creativity. So that’s usually on a project basis, because it’s pretty hard to demand creativity from the same agency every month. And then that outside perspective is really, really valuable for us from that. Because I have to say I’m running low on my own ideas for this hidden fees problem after five years.

Abigail Daniels :

Two, people on the ground where we don’t have a presence. So we often need arms and legs to deliver in any market. We’re growing very, very quickly. We don’t have time to hire those skills in-house. So we need local media contacts and hustle and all of that good stuff from agencies on the ground. And then also filling a knowledge gap. So that could be that local market knowledge that I mentioned. But it can also be subject areas that we don’t have in-house and don’t have as much of.

Abigail Daniels :

So, yeah. I think in onboarding a new agency partner, some of the mistakes that I saw when I was agency side was maybe clients not being that clear on which of those three briefs they needed the agency to fill. So I try to be very, very clear up front. And then we actually do a lot of time looking through award submissions and winners. We look at the trade press for the case studies that go in there. And we try to select agencies to come in and pitch who have done similar kinds of work before. And actually it’s often not for very similar clients, so.

Nathan Anibaba:

Interesting. Intentionally?

Abigail Daniels :

A little bit. Yeah. I think a lot of people out there are specialists in startup types of PR. And I think that that does really, really well for a younger company than TransferWise, startup launch type of PR. But actually we have big ambitions at this point. And so I’m quite interested in work that’s been done for PepsiCo and some of the bigger names out there. Or often it’s just bigger high growth companies that are a few years on in their growth journey than we are, rather than other small up-and-coming firms.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure. Okay. Super interesting. So I guess you would then need an agency that is able to grow with you and take you on that journey from a startup to a midsized company to a more of a mature company, which is, I guess, where you would say that Transfer is now being that you started 2011. I’ll leave that for you to tell me where TransferWise is in its evolution. But in that case, is it important that the agency is able to grow with you on that journey? Or do you need a different type of agency depending on where you are in your own growth journey?

Abigail Daniels :

I think the ideal is to find those agencies that can grow with you. And I think we’ve been quite lucky to have achieved that in lots of markets at the moment. But, yeah. It can be tough. Especially on this creativity point where we do a lot of projects, I’m actually kind of okay with working with agencies on a relatively short term basis, as long as everybody knows upfront that that’s what the brief is. But, yeah. For the local market knowledge point, we do look maybe to the more midsize agencies rather than the startup agencies, because they have that capacity to grow.

Nathan Anibaba:

And in those competitive pitch situations, you mentioned a couple of agencies may be pitching slightly different work that they’ve done with slightly different types of clients. When it’s close in a pitch and it comes down to the last two or three agencies, what usually makes the difference in your mind?

Abigail Daniels :

Ooh, good question. I think two things. One is when they show a really good solid understanding and actually a belief in the company mission and our values and what we’re trying to do. There is so much resource available online for people researching that topic about TransferWise. So if people don’t show that, but they have done good work, it can be a bit frustrating because you feel like there’s a lot there available.

Abigail Daniels :

And then number two is actually, I’m often looking at the kind of account manager or senior exec level people on the team. Because I know that although I’m always very, very wowed by senior agency people when they come in the room, actually I realize that my day to day relationship will often be with the account manager. So I’m looking at them and thinking, “Is this somebody that TransferWise is going to be a priority for them?”

Nathan Anibaba:

Mm (affirmative). Super interesting. Yeah. That’s a concern that a lot of clients have. A lot of large agencies especially come in and pitch with the A team, but then deliver with the B or the C team. And that’s obviously something that needs to be guarded against. So as much as agencies would love to hold on to their clients forever, the reality is that clients replace agencies with increasing regularity. I’m interested to know what your views on this are. What’s the most common reasons why that happens and what can good agencies do to shield themselves or protect themselves?

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah. I saw this a lot from agency side as well before TransferWise. And yes, it is frustrating, right, when it comes to the end of the relationship. I actually think a lot of the time it can just be due to either agency team changes, or internal team changes. And that’s okay. And there shouldn’t be so many hard feelings in those processes. Sometimes you just have a great person on your agency team and they really, really get it and they deliver really well. And then that person moves on or doesn’t have the time to give you and you end up looking further afield. And that’s okay. They’ve still done a great job for you historically. And I would still give that agency a great… If anyone was to ask, I would still have very high praise for them.

Abigail Daniels :

I think it’s more frustrating when the agency stops delivering. And we do see that sometimes. And I think part of it is just this managing expectations point. So it’s for the client to manage expectations on the brief, but also for the agency to manage expectations on what they can realistically deliver. And also to be aware that that brief and how they can deliver against it might be changing and evolving over time. Something I’ve experienced a few times is maybe agencies sort of exaggerating their contact book and then failing to deliver against that. And I think we’ve all seen those pitch decks, right? With a mocked up front of the business page of the Guardian or the Telegraph or whatever. And then they’ve superimposed a really run of the mill story as the top story on the front of the business page. And you think, “Well.”

Nathan Anibaba:

You see through it.

Abigail Daniels :

“That’s really pretty high expectations at this point.” So you’ve got to be able to back that up.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super interesting. So then what is your approach to communicating something that you’re unhappy with, with your client? Because some clients are quite open and upfront with things that upset them or that they don’t like quite quickly. And I think often the agency would like that. They’d like to know quite early so that they can do something about it. Other clients stay silent for a long time, giving the agency a suspicion that something might be wrong, but they’ve just got no idea. What’s your approach to communicating something you’re unhappy with?

Abigail Daniels :

Oh, I really hope that I fall into the upfront category. Yeah, it’s a really tough one. I think it’s important to be upfront about these things and to give people a chance to change the way that they work for you. All clients are different, and what an agency might be doing that’s working really well for somebody else maybe doesn’t necessarily work for you. And it’s okay to flag that and to have that conversation.

Abigail Daniels :

And it’s also a respect point as well. You as the client have got to give the agency the opportunity to work at the best of their potential. And they can only do that if you’re constantly giving them feedback along the way. And feedback, that’s how we operate as an internal team at TransferWise. So it shouldn’t be any different with the agencies who are really the extension of your team as well. So, yeah. I do try to be very upfront and to give that feedback as and when it happens. It’s the age old, nothing new should come up in your performance review at the end of the year. It should all be stuff that you’ve discussed along the way.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super interesting. So if the agency is paid on the basis of time and materials, tracking time accurately becomes super important. And a growing number of agencies now completely rebel against time sheet reporting. And while it might be good for some professions like lawyers et cetera, a lot of agencies argue that it’s not really right for marketing, PR and advertising folks. And many agencies still feel that the compensation shouldn’t be based on activity level, it should be instead based on performance or value, allowing them to generate additional revenue when they meet or exceed expectations. What do you think about that?

Abigail Daniels :

Oh. This is the biggest question in the industry, isn’t it really? And as I said, I’ve had this experience of working for a payment by results agency, which actually did extremely well under that model. And it was hugely, hugely attractive to lots of startups in particular who really wanted to be able to feel that their agencies were delivering value and to see literally every penny against the result.

Abigail Daniels :

I wouldn’t say that’s the ideal model for the agency or for the client actually in the longer term. I think something that works really well for us is actually these project retainers, where there are very clear deliverables on both sides. And I think if a similar level of planning about deliverables against hours went into the retainers, as it does into project fee, then I think that both agencies and clients would be much happier.

Abigail Daniels :

Because I think where you often come unstuck is when an agency feels like they’ve put hundreds and hundreds of hours into your account, but you as the client haven’t necessarily seen the value delivered against that. And part of that can be poor management on the client’s side. Part of it can be that you hadn’t necessarily iterated as you went along and you found that it was much harder to deliver the results that you were expecting to. So taking that on a quarter by quarter basis, I can see that that might make everybody a bit happier.

Nathan Anibaba:

Hmm. Super interesting. You talked about expectation levels earlier when choosing an agency and making sure that everyone’s expectations are set at the right level. A lot of that comes from having a really clear brief at beginning of the engagement with the agency. And that exponentially increases the work, or the value that the agency can deliver. Talk a little bit about what your approach is to creating really good briefs that really just sets everyone’s expectations clearly upfront and allows the agency to deliver value.

Abigail Daniels :

Well, so when I was working agency side, a lot of the time I had a pretty decent understanding of what the client was looking for from a PR result. So basically coverage in particular kinds of media. What I didn’t always have a great understanding of was the business and how those PR results translated against the business objectives and goals. So I think that the number one thing that it’s really important that the client does and that the agency asks for is to have a really thorough induction to the business, where it’s at financially, what its growth goals are and how it’s mapping against them. And then to work together, to collaborate on a PR strategy and set of objectives that fit nicely beneath that. I think that that stage is too often missed. And it’s something that we’ve found really, really important at TransferWise.

Abigail Daniels :

I also think that it’s important to set the appetite for risk. So the client needs to be a bit self-aware here and know what they can realistically sell internally and what they can’t. And I think a lot of clients out there are pitching in, they’re sending out briefs that are for quite high risk campaigns, that in reality they know they’re never actually going to be able to get over the line internally. So I think we all need to be a bit more self aware about what our thresholds are on that point.

Abigail Daniels :

And then I think being a bit clearer on what good looks like in a market and giving examples, particularly if you’re in the setup that I am, where we have the whole of EMEA. So being a bit clearer on what’s happening on other markets and how those approaches can be adapted for newer markets that we might be moving into and how agencies can work together and to collaborate to use resources.

Nathan Anibaba:

Hmm. Super fascinating. Abby, we’re just getting towards the end of the interview now and I’ll ask the last few questions before we get into our speed round, the more fun questions towards the backend of the show. We’re in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic and leadership is at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment, both what clients are doing or what brands are doing to lead their employees and themselves. So leadership has never really been more at the forefront than what it is right now. What would you say are the qualities of a successful leader?

Abigail Daniels :

So I would probably take this from Taavet and Kristo who are the founders of TransferWise and who I both hugely, hugely admire. For them it’s having a really clear vision, setting goals against that vision and then being able to take your team on that journey with you. And then hiring a great team that you trust and that you can empower to have some autonomy to deliver on that vision that you’re all working towards. That’s really the leadership that we have at TransferWise. And that’s something that we’re all striving to achieve.

Nathan Anibaba:

Hmm. Super fascinating. Let’s get into everyone’s favorite questions at the end of the interview. I’m going to fire some short, sharp questions at you. If you can fire some back, that would be even better. Now, are agencies a luxury or a necessity? It would be crazy to think that we could do something in-house that we’re farming out to external providers. What makes agencies so valuable to their clients?

Abigail Daniels :

I think they’re a necessity. Yeah. I don’t think they’re are luxury. Although I guess right now during coronavirus it will depend on the business situation. But for us, absolutely essential to get that outside perspective, creative thinking, local knowledge, all that good stuff.

Nathan Anibaba:

What’s the single thing you love about working with agencies or like? And what do you dislike about working with agencies?

Abigail Daniels :

I really like working with really smart, on the ball teams that are interested in pushing the boundaries and trying something new. And that’s what our agencies… They fulfill that brief.

Nathan Anibaba:

And things you don’t like?

Abigail Daniels :

The standard over promise, under deliver is not popular with me.

Nathan Anibaba:

How do you best harmonize your work and personal life? We’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions. In peace time, not right now, well, people have a little bit more time on their hands. But when life goes back to normal, how do you balance work and personal life? And what are the biggest challenges you have around that?

Abigail Daniels :

Yeah. This is a big challenge for me, particularly at an international company like TransferWise, where as soon as you get up, 5:00, 6:00 AM in the morning, you have a load of messages overnight from Asia and the US. Later on in the evening, yeah, US comes online and they have that. So I think being pretty clear about keeping those boundaries on working hours. And just the typical thing of when you get home from work, trying to leave… I tend to come home, put my phone on charge in my bedroom and then come into the living room and the kitchen and spend a few hours away from it. It’s not always easy, but that’s my approach. And then another thing for me is very much doing my exercise in the morning before work. Otherwise it’s just not getting done.

Nathan Anibaba:

It’s not going to happen. You’re an early riser.

Abigail Daniels :

I am. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I’m a lot.

Nathan Anibaba:

Get stuff done in the early part of the day. Me too. What excites you most about your current role and position?

Abigail Daniels :

Making a real change in the industry. That’s an easy one.

Nathan Anibaba:

Super fascinating. And Abigail, my final question, what’s the single biggest thing that you would like to achieve that you’ve yet to achieve in your career?

Abigail Daniels :

Making the issue that we’re solving at TransferWise a front page issue. We’ve had some big successes along the way, but we’re still waiting for everybody to know about these hidden fees. So we’ve got a long road ahead.

Nathan Anibaba:

Absolutely fascinating. Abigail Daniels. Thank you for being on ClientSide.

Abigail Daniels :

Thank you for having me.

Nathan Anibaba:

If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear on the show, please email milly@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Milly Bell and Natasha Rosage, our booker / researcher. David Clare is our head of content. Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide on Fox agency.

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