The Future Is Now: Ben Smith Of DivideBuy On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

It’s great to have a vision, to know that down the line you want to have a big house or lots of money or a fast car. I wanted all these things too. When I started my career as a chef, I wanted to become world-famous, travel the world, make crazy amounts of money and have my face on a jar of sauce on every shelf in Sainsbury’s. But if you ask me: what do I want now? I want to take my family to Disney World next year. I want to take my daughter swimming at the weekend. Down the line, the little things in life will become very, very important — so don’t disregard them.

As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Smith.

Ben is Head of Partnerships for DivideBuy, where he builds strategic partnerships that drive DivideBuy’s Instalments-as-a-Service strategy, through ethical and affordable lending for partners. Ben has 14 years’ experience in the payments sector, having previously held roles as Strategic Partnerships Director at Worldpay and Leader of Sales Engineering at Worldpay.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s been a long and winding road. Throughout school, all I ever wanted was to be a chef. It was my only dream in life. So, I left school and went to work full time in the industry when I turned 18.

It was great, right up to the point where I had to do the job full time. As an 18-year-old, regularly starting my shift at the same time as my friends were coming home from work was not how I wanted to live. I realised that being a chef was not for me. I still retain my love of cooking, which my wife and daughter are delighted about.

Around that time, I was also exploring another passion of mine: computers. Growing up in the early 90s, the internet was recently established, so it was a very interesting time to be involved with the technology. When I realised this passion could also become a career, I retrained as an IT Engineer.

A few years later, I was working as an IT manager when I realised that the money wasn’t in building and maintaining the IT systems: it was in selling the computer equipment. I took a segway into sales, which led me into a network communications sales role within a company called Transaction Network Services. This company moved payments around the world, essentially connecting merchants to payment processing services and to the big global payments network.

This experience was my first foray into the world of payments. After a happy five years at Transaction Network Services, I moved to a company called YESpay, which was quickly acquired by WorldPay. I spent seven years there, helping build out the proposition for an omni-channel payment gateway, developing integration partnerships and managing a team. That leads me to where I am today: building partnerships in the fintech space and working with like-minded organisations to bring products together to create great solutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Back when I worked as an IT engineer, I was employed by a firm of chartered surveyors within the insolvency sector. They sold businesses or assets of businesses that were in trouble or in administration.

On Christmas Eve, I was asked to go and value the IT infrastructure of a large business that was due to be sold. After arriving and making a list of all the IT equipment present so that I could start making valuations, I received a call from one of the company partners. They told me that the bank had decided that the business would go into administration, meaning every member of staff was being laid off — yes, on Christmas Eve. Given that none of the partners were anywhere near the office, they had to have a conversation with the whole business over the phone to let them know the sad news. I then had the difficult job of making sure that all the company’s property was left on site and things like company cars and keys were returned. It was a very difficult experience.

The experience taught me some very important things. One: that life changes very quickly, and Two: that the biggest skill you can have in your arsenal in terms of facing the world is empathy. If you can’t empathise with what’s going on in a situation, it will be very difficult for you to build partnerships or be successful in any kind of relationship management.

Even now, when I am in a difficult situation, I come back to that moment and remember that, while what I am experiencing may not be great, it could always be worse. I could be back there doing that. I will never forget the feeling of having to tell people that had worked at the company for 20 or 30 years that after Christmas, there would be no company for them to go back to.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

At DivideBuy, there are always interesting things happening. The consumer finance industry has exploded over the last few years. It’s a fascinating area to be involved with and an exciting time for the sector. But the technology supporting this growth had been lagging behind, so the DivideBuy team took it upon themselves to bring technology solutions into the space. Having built our own platform from the ground up, we were the ideal people to do this.

DivideBuy is now in a position to evolve. We want to put responsibility and ethical behaviour at the heart of our product development. As a company that is focused on lending money to people, we know it is incredibly important that we make great decisions ourselves.

In fact, our CEO, Robert Flowers, told me a story on my first day at the company that really stuck with me. He said there are only ever really two reasons why people default on repayments when engaging with consumer finance. One: they have a life changing event that they didn’t see coming and we didn’t see coming, but which has impacted them to the point where they can’t make a repayment. Two: that we have made a poor lending decision. DivideBuy is all about building services and solutions that enable us to make good lending decisions.

In terms of the new solutions that we’re putting out into the market, the idea of Instalments as a Service, and making our platform available for others to adopt, is a relatively new proposition for the business — and one that we’re very excited about. We’re going to provide a solution that can be integrated with our partner’s platforms to provide their customers with alternative ways to pay and a seamless checkout journey. There will be more news on this over the coming weeks and months, so watch this space!

Longer term, taking our core proposition as a business and finding different routes into existing and new markets is a priority. There will be challenges, but there will be many benefits as well and we look forward to sharing more on this in due course.

How do you think this might change the world?

I wonder how many people who have set out to change the world actually accomplish it? I would argue that in comparison, those who set out to do something with less grandiose ambitions can end up changing the world because they’re able to focus better on what they do and why.

DivideBuy’s aims as a company are comparatively modest. I’ve already mentioned the importance of putting responsibility at the heart of what we do and in being ethical lenders, with regulation coming soon to help make this formalised across the industry — something which we are hugely supportive of. We also want to grow our services in the market by exploring different channels and bringing ethical behaviour to the wider consumer finance industry. Ideally, we will inspire other companies to adopt a very similar approach to ours.

That is what we focus on, and what we think will create positive change. We may not transform the world, but if we succeed, it will be a good day at the office.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Every year, the consumer finance industry finds new ways to make credit easier to access for more people. While it should be easy to access for everyone who needs it, it’s important that it is accessed responsibly.

I believe this responsibility is shared between the lender and the consumer. You’ve heard me mention that making good lending decisions is at the heart of what DivideBuy does every day. But flipping that around, I would also always advise consumers to make informed borrowing decisions. There has to be a shared responsibility.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Our operational model has always been focused on providing retailers and merchants with consumer finance solutions. Now, we’re exploring different channels and ways of taking our service out to customers. One of the reasons, I was brought into the business is because this indirect route is not only a viable solution for us, but a huge opportunity as well. My job is to find like-minded partners that we can work with to deliver this solution, but also enhance it. We want partners who can help us to add layers of value to different services and build solutions that can become something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

So, for want of a better phrase, DivideBuy’s story is an ongoing story. With a lot of change going on in the market, developing our technology and our business is a marathon rather than a sprint.

The future of this business is going to be how we evolve and stay relevant over time, while keeping our core values of responsibility and ethical behaviour at the heart of what we do and never losing sight of that.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We don’t want lots of partners. We want the right partners for us and our business. We want to work with people that share our values and are on the same kind of journey as us. We’re incredibly proud of what we have built so far, so it is of great importance that we continue to work with people and companies who feel the same way about where the market needs to be.

For us, it doesn’t matter if it’s a huge high street retailer that wants to take our platform and present it as their own consumer financing solution, or a payment gateway that wants to partner to develop technological solutions together. Our philosophies and visions need to align.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

DivideBuy has been putting plans together to further scale the business, which we’ve started to do under the direction of our outstanding Head of Marketing, Scott Winstanley. He is honestly one of the most switched-on people I’ve ever met, and it’s fantastic to be able to work with him.

As a team, we’ve got some really exciting ideas about how we can bring our new propositions to market and grow in a sustainable way — with key events and social media activity in the pipeline as well as my ongoing focus on securing new partners for the company.

In a nutshell, watch this space.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

During my time at Transaction Network Services, I worked for a man called Andy Slaughter, who now works at Mastercard. He is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and work with — apart from being an Arsenal fan, but we can forgive him for that!

Andy recruited me very early in my career when I knew very little about the payments industry. Andy has one of the best analytical minds I’ve ever come across, and he used this in his management style to question his team about the things they were doing and working on. At the beginning, as a young salesperson, I was sure that I knew everything and that there was nothing that I could be taught. So, his approach would really frustrate me, as he would continually ask me questions when I was presenting him with an opportunity: “Have you thought about this? What about the next one?”

At first, I thought he was questioning my ability to do my job well. But I soon realised that he was helping me to think differently about the things that I had done, so that I could establish for myself what has worked well and what could have been done differently. Andy got me to a point where I could analyse what I was doing, really start to think about my actions and be autonomous in my work.

To this day, my work is guided by this approach. Ultimately, what he taught me was pragmatism — which is an incredibly difficult thing to teach anybody if you’ve ever tried to do it, but he did. Andy used to refer to me as the Wayne Rooney of the sales team, as I was always running around at a million miles an hour with the danger of getting sent off. But he coached me to a point where I could channel some of that energy into productive activities.

I will always be grateful to Andy, because without him I could still be a very angry salesman with no focus or direction. He taught me a lot of very important skills that have since guided my career.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In 2019, I joined Slimming World. And then in early 2020, the pandemic hit, and lockdown ensued across the country.

Everybody was terrified. No one really knew what was going on. And in the first lockdown, there was also a big and negative impact on food availability. Everybody was either dependent on queuing up to enter the supermarket, or ordering what they could from a delivery service. This meant that people ended up with some really eclectic ingredients.

Given my background as a chef, I saw this as an opportunity, and started to stream what I called ‘Cook-Alongs’ on our shared group channel. As a team, we looked at how to make something healthy to eat out of the ingredients that we had, so that we didn’t need to consistently return to the bag of frozen chips.

We certainly made some interesting dishes, but the biggest result was that it bought the community back together. As a group of people that used to meet in person on a weekly, if not daily, basis, it made a huge difference to be able to come together and interact as a group again.

Together, we were able to work towards adopting a healthy lifestyle, while keeping ourselves connected and morale high. On a personal note: this experience also gave me something to focus on during that difficult time. Most importantly, we got to try some new and amazing food, with some recipes that we will never mention again!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Not only is it okay to fail — it’s incredibly important to fail.

When I first started out in the industry, I didn’t know anything about payments. I resigned myself to ‘fake it till I made it’. This meant I ended up in some very embarrassing situations where I pretended that I knew more than I did, and it backfired. Failing in this way teaches you that it’s okay not to know everything, which is especially important for young people in sales. I strongly believe that the best thing that can happen to you early on in your career is to fail, especially when there’s consequences attached, because you won’t do it again. Most importantly, don’t let a fear of failure inhibit what you try and do. There is an upside to failure, and as long as you can take the learning on board, it can be an incredibly beneficial gift to you.

2. People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.

Using the example of Apple: sure, they make great computers, but that’s not why they do what they do. I’m sure most of us remember the “Think Different” campaign. I can think back to several situations when I have wasted time in sales pitches, talking about specific features and benefits, thinking that I will absolutely wow someone into placing an order, when in reality they rarely do. Business synergies happen when someone buys into your dream: do you believe in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it? You’ve already heard me mention responsible lending and ethical behaviour, and for me, this is why DivideBuy does what it does. We also have great consumer financing solutions for merchants, and we have indirect channels available for partners, but why we do it is the most important element of the business.

3. You don’t know what your future self wants.

At the start of my career, being a chef was all I wanted to be. But now, I wouldn’t change where I am for anything in the world. I never thought I’d be involved in the fintech and payments industry, but this wasn’t really an industry when I was growing up. However, t has since grown around me as my career has progressed. With every new generation that comes into the world of work, this development will happen again and again, so don’t be closed to it. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great to have a vision about where you want to be. My point is: don’t be blinkered to change and to new opportunities that arise, because you never know where you’ll end up.

4. The little things in life are more important than you think.

It’s great to have a vision, to know that down the line you want to have a big house or lots of money or a fast car. I wanted all these things too. When I started my career as a chef, I wanted to become world-famous, travel the world, make crazy amounts of money and have my face on a jar of sauce on every shelf in Sainsbury’s. But if you ask me: what do I want now? I want to take my family to Disney World next year. I want to take my daughter swimming at the weekend. Down the line, the little things in life will become very, very important — so don’t disregard them.

5. If you can’t change the situation, change your attitude.

We’ve all had tough times in our careers and been in situations where things don’t necessarily go the way that you want them to. In these moments, people often waste their time dreaming that they can control things that they can’t. If you can instead recognise the times when you can’t change things, you can establish exactly what actions you can take yourself to better the situation you are in. You have a responsibility to change your activities and get yourself to a point where you’re comfortable doing what you’re doing. Don’t spend time thinking that things are going to change or correct themselves — be the change you want to see in the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to create something called the ‘Take a Breath’ movement.

From social media to the news agenda, we live in a world of immediacy, where everything encourages us to act now and think later. People rarely have the chance to take a breath anymore, to stop and think about the things happening in the world and what it means for the individual and their community.

So, the ‘Take a Breath’ movement would involve ideas like having zen gardens on every street corner, where you could walk in and sit for five minutes and be at peace with yourself. This would give everyone the chance to have those moments in life when they can think about what it is they want, and what the ramifications of those actions might be.

I genuinely believe that this attitude would make the world a better place. There are a lot of things that happen in the world that aren’t intended. Usually, people just don’t think things through to the point where they understand what the likely outcomes are of their actions. So, the ‘Take a Breath’ movement would go a long way to solve this problem. Get your t-shirts here!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are several quotes that I could share, and they all come from Douglas Adams and his books, like ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. His books are an absolute goldmine of great quotes that have all been life lessons to me.

My favourite quote, which relates to the development of any kind of solution, service or partnership that you want to put into the world, is: “a common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely fool-proof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

I couldn’t tell you the amount of meetings that I’ve joined over the years with product teams who will come up with a solution and claim that it is so simple, it will just work. Inevitably, the whole idea comes crashing down before we can even get to alpha testing, because someone has pressed a button that they shouldn’t have pressed, or because they didn’t think that that we shouldn’t do that thing that was bound to be a problem. In my experience, designing things most often goes wrong when everyone has been more fixated on the design element rather than the usability element.

Another quote from Douglas Adams that has stayed with me is: “human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

This quote is evidently true. You see people all the time who say, ‘I know it’s never worked out before, but I’m sure I can do it that right this time’. People too often fail to learn from past mistakes and instead tell themselves: ‘everyone’s telling me this is going to be a disaster, but I know I’m right’.

The final Douglas Adams life lesson quote that I want to share is: “he attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.”

In our dark and morbid moments, we all have a tendency to think about how we will be remembered when we’re no longer around. This quote inspires me because it is what I want to leave behind. For me, if this quote was something that people could say about me, I would know I have had a life well lived and had got some things right. It would also mean that people hadn’t realised that I was making it up as I was going along!

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

We’re fine, thanks!

In all seriousness, DivideBuy has some fabulous investors on board who have allowed us to build the company and hire some really great people into the business. We’ve got a strong strategy for where we want to take the business and a team of people who are committed to making it happen.

From that perspective, we’re in a very strong position as a company. While you can never have enough investors, I believe that people will naturally become interested in us the more they see us be successful as a business.

As with all these things, however, we’re always open to conversations.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I tend to use LinkedIn more than anything else, so please feel free to follow my page there at You’ll hopefully see a mixture of genius and incredibly naive comments to keep you entertained throughout the day.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

The Future Is Now: Ben Smith Of DivideBuy On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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