Fintech Explained sat down with Michael Tannenbaum, Chief Operating Officer at Brex, to talk about his mission of reimagining financial services to help businesses grow. Brex is building a modern technology stack around its pioneering corporate charge card designed for startups.
Learn from Michael about Brex’s recent expansion into venture debt, how the fintech landscape has changed in the past five years, and what excites him most about the future of fintech here on Fintech Explained.
What is Brex’s mission and how has it evolved since the business launched in 2017?
Brex’s mission has always been to reimagine financial systems so every growing company can realize their full potential. Our products and services are constantly evolving in pursuit of that mission. Our first product offering was a corporate charge card designed for tech startups. We built the technology stack around our card organically, which has allowed us to own program management (i.e., underwriting, customer onboarding, and servicing) and payments processing functions.
How does Brex support fast-growing startups and larger enterprises?
Brex offers a spend-management ecosystem that gives high growth and enterprise customers unparalleled efficiency and transparency over their finances. Building our financial technology stack ourselves was an extremely consequential business decision in the early days of Brex. That choice has uniquely enabled Brex to create a spend-management platform that integrates with our own financial products as well as our customers’ existing enterprise software. This innovation extends to the capability to serve employees of U.S.-based companies across more than 100 countries. The pandemic has dramatically changed how and where businesses operate. Specifically, U.S.-based companies have accelerated hiring abroad, largely due to public health-related virtual work conditions. This trend has created tremendous demand for financial tools that support global spend. Unlocking global support for our products and services allows Brex to keep pace with our customers’ evolving needs, helping them stay fast and efficient as they seek to operate in new geographies.
Tell us about an initiative you’re particularly proud of that you’re leading at Brex.
I am particularly proud of Brex’s recent expansion into venture debt to serve our critical startup customers. I have been at Brex since it was an early stage startup, so I know how important venture debt can be to early stage companies. While Brex has recently focused on innovating products for larger enterprises, startups are still a very important customer group for us. In addition to the time and attention we have put into new software products at Brex, we’re also dedicating resources and time to serve this critical segment and meeting their most pressing financial needs.
A big focus for Brex is helping companies use money as a strategic asset. What do you mean by this?
Every business knows that spending is necessary for growth. Yet there’s no avoiding the reality that current economic conditions–interest rate hikes, investor uncertainty, and inflation–have made it harder to raise and spend money efficiently. Brex’s Empower platform enables the strategic use of money in every economic environment by: (1) making compliance with expense policies easy, (2) creating a trust-and-verify model for budgets and associated spend, and (3) establishing real-time spend visibility and accountability tied to business context. Empower thus gives customers valuable insight into their cash runway, mechanisms for maintaining course, and the controls to adjust for financial headwinds and tailwinds.
How has the fintech landscape changed in the five years since Brex was founded? What is the one thing happening in fintech today that has you the most excited?
Five years ago, companies — and especially startups — had a nearly impossible time getting access to credit cards, business accounts, and decent spend management software. Today, Brex is fortunate to serve tens of thousands of customers and process tens of billions of dollars every year for the most ambitious companies on the planet.
The thing that has me most excited in fintech is the move to digital first. Traditional finance has always been inefficient, and the rapid shift towards distributed work during the pandemic has only made things worse. So there’s now an opportunity to rethink the financial tools that companies use and the ways in which they spend, and to help businesses and teams reduce bureaucracy and overheard, and move faster. A digital-first approach to finance, such as our recently announced Empower software platform, can scale and adapt to this new normal in a way that traditional tools can’t. And it’s enormously exciting — and rewarding — to be building the tools that empower businesses to reach their full potential.