Zilch COO, Rakesh Harji, Talks to X4Technology About Brand History and Future

Business Technology

Zilch, the UK-based buy now pay later (BNPL) tech firm has been making waves in recent years. The payment service has steadily built a devoted customer base and multiple rounds of funding from a variety of investors. Now, the firm is being singled out as the next fintech unicorn, with comparisons being made to other successful brands like Klarna and Amex. COO Rakesh Harji recently sat down with X4Technology to discuss the company’s rise and to touch on how it’s become a success. Read on for an overview of some of the interview’s key points.

Zilch Accommodates Consumer Change

The world has changed drastically over the past year and many companies have struggled to adapt. During this time, however, Zilch has emerged as a model of how a brand can adapt to change in an intentional manner that stays true to its mission while also accommodating the realities of a new global context.

This strategy has helped the company grow precipitously since the start of the pandemic and has underlined its commitment to meeting its customers in ways that are most important to them. This has included an understanding of the ways in which the pandemic has changed the process of purchasing goods and services. A prime example of this has been the shift many industries are seeing to more online sales, supplanting in-person commerce as the main route through which purchases are made.

“To accommodate [changing consumer habits],” notes Harji, “we have designed, and geared our product around the customer and because of this, word is getting out across our users. We surveyed our customers about their values, using social media, and phone calls to see how things are going. When you talk to Gen Z and Millennial users, three clear values come out; they want to be responsible in the way that they do things, they’re trying to ensure things are affordable, and lastly, they want to make sure that the partner they use has their back. From a Zilch perspective, I believe we are fundamentally aligned across all three.”

The Importance of Culture

Global trends don’t just drive consumer habits, they also have the potential to affect brand culture, and not always for the better. Many brands have discussed how the shifts brought on by the pandemic have caused their staff to make drastic changes to how they work. For some, this has been a hindrance that has depressed business operations. But some of the most forward-thinking brands have been able to take these changes in stride and use them as an opportunity to coalesce as a team around their brand’s central mission. The latter has been the case with Zilch and, as Harji tells it, this has been a key component of the company’s ongoing success.

“Looking back at the past 12 months, I think wow, that was a moment no one has ever really experienced before,” recounts the COO. “COVID-19 has been a real test for our business and I’m so proud of the results we’ve delivered. There are a few points that have helped us to achieve this success. The first thing is that we managed to maintain culture. Culture is vital to our business. What we’ve created to how we do things and behave is geared and centered around culture. Culture is behind our exponential growth as a business. In October 2020 there were only 15 of us, now we’re up to 126 and we’ve managed to do all of this in the middle of a pandemic.”

Zilch Approach to Regulation is an Asset

Shifting sentiments around the payment industry have also played a role in the company’s rise in its field. Many of these sentiments have centered around the need for regulation to ensure consumers are treated fairly in their interactions with BNPL companies. While some companies have had a hard time adapting to evolving regulations, Zilch has emerged as a leader in this effort. As the COO tells X4Technology, the company has always prioritized working alongside regulators to deliver the best and most responsible product to its customers. This has helped underscore its commitment to consumers and established its adherence to a core set of values.

“When we evaluated the market we wanted to be a direct-to-consumer brand,” highlights Harji on this topic. “To do this we needed to ensure we had a high degree of trust with our customers. Therefore when we set up Zilch, we decided we needed to approach the FCA directly as we knew we needed to be a regulated product, and therefore a regulated company. We kicked that all off in 2018 and spent 12 months working with the FCA to attain a full Consumer Credit License – making us one of the first in the industry to do so. We did this from day one because it was, and still is, the right thing to do.”

The Future of the Field

One additional takeaway is the COO’s vision of what the future holds for his company’s broader industry. In discussing this, he centered his thoughts around the four pillars of responsibility, affordability, convenience, and choice. In offering a product that takes these four areas into account, the business leader feels confident that the company can continue to provide valuable services to Gen Z and Millennial users looking for smarter and more reliable payment options.

“All four of these pillars are at the heart of what we do at Zilch,” says the COO. “A proud moment for me was when we launched the app on the App Store, and within 48 hours we were number two, just behind PayPal. Our app gives our users the ability to shop online and in-store anywhere without restriction. By launching Tap & Pay-over-time, the high street is going to be a huge space for us once COVID-19 restrictions are removed. We’re the first company in Europe to offer a way to Tap and Pay-over-time, anywhere – and we’re really excited about it.”

In light of the success that Zilch has enjoyed since its creation, the company makes a prime target for analysis by those interested in the field of fintech and business. The above overview of the interview with COO Rakesh Harji provides an excellent look at how the company has worked to achieve that success and what it plans to do to continue that work moving forward.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.