Efi Pylarinou: An Ex-Wall Street Financier Influencing Radical New Tech Future in Finance

Efi Pylarinou
Efi Pylarinou

The Finance industry has a long history of being the heart & the brain that power economies. Every time this heart & brain has a problem, economies are impacted. Every time there is some crisis in the financial industry, something new is born that reshapes the economies and society.

That describes more or less the recent history of the financial industry. It is already a decade since the 2008 crisis and a complex transformational process is underway. New players using new technologies and new business models, are reshaping the industry. Embracing a new culture in financial services and a new business approach is paramount.

That’s also the story of Efi Pylarinou, an experienced financial professional who embraced innovation and became a Fintech thought leader and influencer. Her vision of Finance comes from her heart & brain that combines her love and experience for the financial industry with her decision to embrace innovation. She wears her Wall Street hat and works tirelessly at the beat of her Fintech heart.

She set up a new vision for Finance, using Fintech tools and pursuing Sustainable transformation & Capitalism with a Purpose.

IHQ: Can you tell us about you, your education and your initial career on Wall Street ?

Efi Pylarinou: I grew up on an island in Greece, between Italy and the Peloponnese. Zakynthos is right across from Olympia and south of Ithaca.

I was blessed. My father was a humanitarian who walked the talk as a doctor and later became mayor, senator and much more. His legacy is alive today, more than 10 yrs after his death. My high school teacher was my life inspiration which led me to study mathematics in Greece and when later I decided to go for a PhD in Finance in the US; I dedicated my thesis to him. It was just after the `87 crash that I switched to Finance and wrote my thesis in 1992 about Stock market returns and Chaos theory.

My Wall Street career started at Salomon Brothers as a research and structuring person on the fixed income derivatives desk with Myron Scholes. All the LTCM guys, and Michael Corbat, current CEO of Citibank, were on the same floor. I got involved in Emerging markets. I had an instinct of growth areas and in retrospect, I usually moved in at the bottoms and rode the upside when most were walking away. I trained in Emerging market crises and in Wall Street corporate culture; the one that Michael Lewis describes in Liar`s Poker.

IHQ: You are a seasoned Wall Street professional who has grown into a global Fintech influencer. What were your career highlights ?

Efi Pylarinou: I left Manhattan and Wall Street right around the turn of the century, as I married a diplomat and had a family. I then worked with a California based hedge fund who was taking advantage of the Asia crisis with distressed debt and equity funds while in Europe (Dalton Investments). Another bottom. I taught part time at McGill, Real estate finance, right as the subprime crisis of 2008 exploded.

It was in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, that I changed and decided to become a self-taught Fintecher while living in Switzerland. Learning by doing. Shaping my vision which combines heart & brain to reshape finance with technology. Technology is impacting society and the way the agents and participants in the economy interact. By being part of this. I see myself as one (of several) activists in this transformation. As a strategic advisor and thought leader, I have the influence and the responsibility to move people and businesses in the direction of a vision that combines heart & brain.

IHQ: You are included in several lîsts:  2019 Onalytica Top 100 Wealth Management Influencer list & 2019 Onalytica Top 100 Gender Equality and Diversity Influencers, 2016 & 2017 Innovate Finance Women in Fintech Powerlist,  Women in Fintech DACH social ranking, The Planet Compliance Top 50 RegTech Influencers. What matters for you more as an influencer thought leader and how do you use it in your work?

Efi Pylarinou
Efi Pylarinou

Efi Pylarinou: Communication, interaction, always combining the heart & brain; to have impact and impact and move in a new direction. I write and speak and reach out to people. I work with stakeholders to move step by step forward towards the right direction.

I have been a writer all my life. Published books with Frank Fabozzi about fixed income, like Investing in Emerging Fixed Income Markets, a satiric fiction about life on Wall Street (albeit in Greek), and then joined Bernard Lunn as a co-founder of Daily Fintech, a labor of love. I am also a contributing author in the WealthTech book by Wiley.

IHQ: Over your career, Banking / Finance has changed dramatically. Can you pinpoint what has changed?

Efi Pylarinou: I’ve only lived and worked in the West, where Banking and Finance are mature but not fair and inclusive. I am a Michael Lewis kind of character, a bit cynical, (we both paid dues at Salomon Brothers) so I like to think of the Western financial sector as one coming with a lot of baggage. When I juxtapose the Street with other corporate sectors and their cultural ‘défauts’, my experience has been that those traits were exacerbated on Wall Street, the wholesale part of financial services. At the same time, however, the Street had attracted a lot of smart, creative, and ‘misfit’ personalities (albeit often for the wrong reasons) which made it a great innovation ecosystem.

In the beginning of the 21st century things started changing, with a lot of talent leaving the Street to go for the hedge fund industry. This was a shift enabled by technology, allowing them access to data and an overall reduction to the monopoly of the informational asymmetry that Wall Street had for decades.

Then came the subprime crisis, which crippled the industry and tainted its reputation. In my opinion, this went overboard. Today I say that it was unfair to point to Wall Street as the ‘Black Sheep’ – when ‘the Mother of All Evils’ was actually the monetary policy that made it all possible in the first place.

Daily Fintech and my book (to be published by RethinkPress) are my tangible contribution to the ecosystem and one of the ways I have earned media. I have a global following especially on Linkedin of over 180,000 followers, that is a community built around my content and dedication to innovation.

What matters to me the most is to interact through meaningful communication so that I can plant seeds that change the thinking of people. That is how innovation starts. With a breakthrough thought that leads to action.

Today this means, that I work with financial services providers – standalone fintechs, incumbents, platforms and innovation – to help them determine how to use the tech tools available in alignment with their strategy and how to innovate in their business model. I use design, my domain expertise and my international network to help decision-makers move forward.

IHQ: Can you tell us how you see the financial industry transformation now and in the future ?

Efi Pylarinou: Fintech is pushing the boundaries, but in the West, its business model has not changed much, mainly because it is like trying to steer the Titanic. So, we have ended up admitting that banks have the customers, the distribution channels and Fintechs have to collaborate or spend huge amounts of VC money on Customer Acquisition costs – CAC.

Don’t get me wrong. Fintech has benefited directly and indirectly the end consumer, me and you. We pay lower fees by the day, have more freemium tools than ever before; we are being spoilt 24/7. Customer is king and incumbents and fintechs are ‘fighting’ for our attention, to serve us, and to sell to us.

Unfortunately, however we still live in a financial services culture which remains entirely male-dominated. And I am not referring to the percentage of women in leadership positions, I am more referring to the fact that the culture remains Transactional – you are as good as your last trade – and Opaque & Boys Club politics – assertiveness from women is interpreted totally differently than assertiveness from men -; and a very short term culture persists.

In a nutshell, there is much more work to be done from a cultural and value perspective in the financial industry.

IHQ:  You talk about Financial wellness and Financial inclusion. Tell us about this and why you believe it is important?

Efi Pylarinou: Financial Wellness is closely linked to Financial Inclusion, an area in which I still see a huge deficit.

Financial inclusion has many dimensions and versions. The problem is that we Westerners should stop aiming to retrofit developed markets financial services to developing countries. Impact in Emerging markets has to be down on the ground, designed and delivered in an inclusive way so that it serves the people. We Westerns cannot export Fintech to Africa, Latin America etc.

I also want to mention another huge deficit that I see and that needs to be addressed, if technology is to really disrupt financial services. Financial wellness needs to openly acknowledge that there is a strong tie between Money and Mental Health. Once that starts happening, then we can hope for a radical Techfin future.

IHQ: How can AI help in Financial Inclusion and a radical Financial Wellness Techfin future?

Efi Pylarinou: We need to decide to use Artificial intelligence (an umbrella term) to tackle these two social issues, Financial inclusion and Financial wellness, which are paramount. We need to design banks as Wellness service providers. This is the radical change I want to see.

Challenger banks, neo banks, mobile-only banks are not built as wellness platforms. They are upgrades but not breakthroughs to the current scope and business focus of banks. Artificial intelligence allows us to build Financial wellness platforms. It is our responsibility to decide to do so.

IHQ: What are your views on blockchain and crypto?

Efi Pylarinou: Can we make sure that we keep the core principles of Satoshi Nakamoto, and deploy them for societal good? Only if we use blockchain or DAGs or blocks alone, in ways that solve our large-scale societal problems, will we have accomplished something significant. We all acknowledge that we have the resources to tackle climate change, poverty, education etc. but we can’t sit around a table and arrive to a consensus on `How` to solve them.

If you circumvent the deadlock of taking large scale decisions in a more natural way, an organic and more inclusive way, then we have innovated in a sustainable way. Sustainable, remember, means to Stop Borrowing from the Future.

If on the other hand, we just create new exchanges (for digital assets and tokens) and new investment banks and funds for the new asset class; then we will have missed the opportunity to organize and collaborate in a different way. I already see the risk of just creating the next generation of Structured products, the next generation of Financial engineering – for tokens and digital assets – and forgetting about the inclusiveness, bottom-up and transparent processes.

One of the main reasons that I have decided to write a book on Blockchain, is to draw the attention of a large audience (outside our relatively small group) about the gifts of Blockchain with a loud and clear calling to get involved with your head, hands, and heart.

We have to make an effort to spread the message and the core vision to more people, beyond the small group that is currently involved. Raising awareness through spreading the word and educating people, is the way.

At the moment, I am really passionate about blockchain because I truly believe that inclusion is one of its main attributes and I want to be an ambassador of this attribute.

You can find me 24/7. Join me on my social circle on Twitter
Linkedin, and
Youtube. Listen to my podcasts, read my blogs on my website, on Daily Fintech every Tuesday, and on Medium.

I am a Level I Kundalini yoga teacher and my life motto is `Growth through fun exploration`. I am a professional Speaker and I am a practicing stand-up comedian with a hashtag #AndTheIronyIs on topics around Fintech, Blockchain and the markets.

Twitter @efipm