Tally has created a whole new challenger currency, a world first. We spoke to CEO and co-founder Cameron Parry about their biggest achievements, managing in the world of coronavirus, and their latest campaign ‘Up Yours’.
When was Tally set up? Who was involved?
I started designing the money that is the core product of Tally — the challenger currency — back in 2017 with my co-founder Ralph Hazell. I had a background in the blockchain industry having co-founded and built what would go onto become the world’s first blockchain industry company to IPO, which we listed in London in December 2015. Separate to that, Ralph had built a precious metals online trading exchange for retail customers.
Because of my experience in blockchain, I started doing a deep dive into the characteristics of money, the meaning of money, and the design of digital money so it could have the potential for mass adoption. Ralph had also been for years a big believer that the fractional reserve banking system was fundamentally flawed. Both of our backgrounds, his in precious metals trading and mine in digital currency, came together to create the initial iteration of Tally.
Going back even further, it was really around the global financial crisis in 2008, 2009 when each of us separately started paying attention to how the global financial system operated, how it could potentially come to a grinding halt, and where that money creation was coming from, what it was tied to, what it was accountable to. At the time there were a lot of reactionary things to fix the immediate problem of the financial crisis. But others needed to be looking at the consequences and the solutions that are going to be required in the long term. So we started learning about these things from 2009, and 2017 was when we came together and started designing the initial concept that would become this challenger currency and the Tally monetary system.
Why was Tally created?
It’s always a good ‘why’ when you create something you would want to use. I would definitely be a Tally bank account user! At Tally we believe that people deserve to use money that is designed to hold its value, and remains in their control. This motivates savings and productivity in society, and these are good things. All of that is undermined if the value of the people’s money is being undermined.
That’s the case with fiat money — it’s debt-based currency that can be arbitrarily expanded which is what we see through quantitative easing and money creation through banks writing loans. And there is something not right about that. If I give 100% of my mental energy and labour, and sacrifice my time away from my family, and I want to save some of that for five years from now, it’s not right that it’s only worth 70% of that at the time I want to use it.
Money should be designed to hold its value and remain in control of the person who earns it.
The problem we have with fiat currency in society is that we don’t have a choice. I don’t believe cryptocurrency is the answer yet but is a massive thing for example, of money not issued by a government. So there are people around who see this as a problem. But where we get caught is that there is a monopoly, a bottleneck because there is not a mainstream alternative to fiat currency. I live in the UK and if I own shares on the stock market it’s in pounds, and earn a salary it’s in pounds, if I buy a house it’s in pounds, I have a pension it’s in pounds — and therefore in a free market society everything comes back to a monopoly of a single financial instrument,the bottleneck of the money itself. People need to have a choice, to have an alternative.
Plenty will choose not to use Tally, but at least there is a solution if you want to use it. And the other thing is with a solution it makes simply just talking about the problem more relevant and that too has got to be a good thing. When you don’t have an alternative, or another option, we just don’t talk about a problem — why bother. One of the things Tally will hopefully achieve is help facilitate a lot of that conversation.
As far as our audience goes whilst it’s generally for anybody that uses a bank account or uses money, we do have to segment it down into audiences where our proposition adds a lot of value. Savers — other than Tally, there is no bank providing a protected environment of monetary value that works for the benefit of savers increasing their purchasing power over time; anybody who is travelling — getting rid of hidden bank costs and transactions fees you only see on your statement once your return, Tally uses Mastercard’s exchange rate which are basically interbank rates, and Tally provides free ATM withdrawals too. There are gold enthusiasts, some who have read about the increasing gold price and flirted with the idea of owning some gold — Tally is a very quick and easy way to do that, and to use that as money in an instant when they need it for something else. The banking experience itself, we want to make on par with or better than the other crop of digital banks that are out there, our app already does many things like being able to block your card, view your PIN in app, viewing transactions immediately, geolocation of spending money etc, we do as well. But we have the added functionality of not having our depositors’ money sitting in fiat currency — Tally simply converts automatically to the local fiat currency when spending like a fiat currency bank account.
Another audience for Tally is cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Whilst Tally isn’t a cryptocurrency, it’s a completely new category of money, it’s not fiat, it’s not crypto, it’s a physical asset currency represented in individual customer bank accounts for use as money — that is a world first. Railsbank was key to helping us fulfill that objective. So people who are interested in crypto and maybe don’t own any, but they’ve read enough about the fact it’s possible for private sector-designed money to exist and they want to try it out — Tally is the easy choice. And those already fed up with the banking system, all the QE and inflation they see coming, the near zero interest rates being paid whilst they’re still getting charged over 20% on their credit cards. I believe there are a lot of people out there who think the system doesn’t work for them and they want control back of their family’s money. Tally provides the security and stability and control they want. There’s probably five or 6 different sub-segments, and people might have one primary motivation, then usually a secondary one. We find it’s not just one single proposition that many of our customers are focusing on.
Protect people’s money from devaluation through inflation, protect them from bank lending risk, bank default contagion, savings confiscation (bail-in as opposed to a bail out) and protect customers from counterparty risk — these are the risks that fiat currency has that we wanted to take out of the money we designed.
What stumbling blocks did you experience in the early days?
Two things really — doing any startup in tech always has stumbling blocks and things we have to adapt to. A lot of time stumbling blocks are good early on as you come out with a better solution at the end. We had some things around the tech, we had stumbling blocks because we were plugged in with other early stage tech companies, and every company experiences that in tech. And we’re all innovating together, but it does mean sometimes their problem become your problem. As long as you overcome them, that’s a healthy experience.
In the last 4 months we changed our dev team and completely rebuilt our back end, and our front end, and we’ve now gone live with Tally’s next generation banking platform. Because we found in mid-February after an influx of thousands of new customers, that our tech wasn’t fit for the commercial purpose and scalability and speed that we needed for far greater customer numbers. So that was something we had to overcome and make a decision to just rebuild the whole thing. Rather than add to something that ultimately turned out to be deficient. Even though it was a bit painful, it’s good to get that out of the way early in the journey for Tally. And Tally customers will soon see new features being added more regularly and new banking products.
The other thing is that we knew it’d be a huge challenge building, launching and growing usage of Tally. And with any new concept you’ve got to answer the SFW question — so f***ing what? Will anyone care enough to use it? So Tally had this unique marketing challenge of fixing a problem that most people don’t realise they have. If we start out cold saying ‘hey you’ve got this problem’, people won’t thank us for that — we are just giving them another problem. Tally is the complete antidote to the sickness in the fiat currency system. But who wants to be told you’ve been using sick money? For those they struggle with that concept, at the very least, having some of your savings in tally, is a good hedge.
But when we first released in June 2019 in the UK, we don’t suffer from hyperinflation in UK — we have fairly good trust in government, despite some dysfunction displayed in Westminster for the last couple of years, and we don’t live in a dictatorship. So we trust the money, we Brits don’t think it will disappear tomorrow or devalue dramatically overnight. We are comfortable banks will remain open, even though we’ve seen runs on the banks like Northern Rock ten years ago, but we have a level of confidence in the local currency. So in an emerging market they have the opposite, and they can see far more immediately the importance of having the value of their money out of the clutches of government and their central bank, so they see why they’d save in an alternative currency. But we designed and developed Tally here in London. We believe it has a place amongst digital banks here, we’re a neobank with a challenger currency, and that’s a very compelling and unique selling proposition. In a developed country there will more likely be a catalyst, like the euro devaluing or sterling, or COVID-19 — one of these catalysts which brings people across to the mindset of something like Tally. It is still early days for Tally so I don’t know that we’ve categorically answered the SFW question yet, but entrepreneurs have to have faith in the vision they see and that question is going to be answered. With Covid-19, I think that could well be the catalyst that accelerates and highlights shortcomings with the financial establishment and banks in a developed country. Time will tell.
What were your biggest achievements to date?
Tally is a world first, so we are very proud of that achievement. We started out designing a challenger currency and we ended up designing a standalone monetary system and banking ecosystem that works seamlessly with the established banking infrastructure, other bank accounts, merchant facilities, ATMs etc, and gives the customer complete protection from the perils of their local fiat currency. Once you can offer individual customer bank accounts using a self-contained asset-based currency, you can do other things with it. So all that really is something to be proud of. Tally’s a real paradigm shift, for the first time you can be issued with a bank account denominated in a currency that’s not issued by a government, and to deliver that is great.
Big achievements require big challenges. So our other big achievement is how we’re communicating this to people. How do you alert people to the fact that this is something they should consider — without worrying them about a new problem. And Tally isn’t about the financial apocalypse, run for the hills and hold Tally! It’s about the fact we believe people deserve to earn money that holds its value. That no one is meddling with or putting at risk. That remains their property. For their use, no one elses.
If you have a money supply that is designed to hold its value, remains in control of the person that owns the money, then it encourages them to save, go forth and be productive, without having to worry about their money being undermined behind them. We are optimistic about the future, about the quality of the people, their ingenuity and drive to improve their circumstances for themselves and their kids, to be productive and successful. And we want Tally to help people to be more positive, and more productive, and using sound money is the foundation of an individual’s financial wellbeing.
To get that messaging right has been a challenge. And I’m quite pleased with our explainer video when we launched a year ago as it captures the independent personality and positivity of Tally, and now we’re doing a campaign called “Up yours!”. It’s a bit of a protest against the current system, and asking people to join us in saying Up yours! to the current situation with the banking system. But it’s not just a protest or a revolution, it’s also done with positivity and good humour. And “Up yours!” is also the solution. Up(grade) yours. Upgrade your money. With Tally, you can finally upgrade your savings account so the value of your money increases over time, upgrade your bank account so you’re not getting hit with hidden fees and charges, upgrade your gold holdings so its useable instantly as money, so it can be used in day to day banking. So it’s a bit cheeky, but it conveys the personality of tally which is positive, a little bit rebellious — but in a constructive way! We start by having the solution, rather than just understanding the problem.
Do you have any tips for running a business in a time of global uncertainty?
It’s good if you’re an entrepreneur, as you can see crises and problems as where your greatest opportunities lie. In fintech we are very lucky, because the environment is good for these kinds of digitally native companies. The tech and engineering teams are quite used to working remotely, and efficiently all around the world.
There is a challenge with people work remotely, and a lot of power of ideas and energy of people being together in a physical space is at risk of being lost, so this is important to balance. Those incidental conversations, discussing a problem together — these happen in a very natural way and we’ve got to try to connect that up either by working in a office occasionally or with more structuring around remote working. That’s something just like any busy owner and operator we are certainly mindful to focus on.
How do you see your space developing — are more companies like yours going to come through?
We believe that competition ultimately leads to better outcomes for consumers. There was no competition to the monopoly of fiat money until Tally came along. I think there will be more. There are cryptos which may get some more mainstream adoption, but there are a couple of design flaws still in crypto from a usability perspective. I think there will be more commodity-based currencies maybe, but I just think there will be other private sector designed money because of the protocols and assets behind it that fiat currency doesn’t bother with. I think in the next five or ten years we will have bank accounts with significantly different characteristics and currencies people can choose from. It’ll be a competitive environment and like I say that’s a good thing for consumers. But most people, I think they will simply choose the best form of money that is available to them in the most user friendly bank account.
Hopefully being a first mover we will get a head start out of that, but if by doing that we are only moderately successful and allow someone else to come up with a solution that gets mass adoption, we’d have still played our role — delivering something that’s better for society.
What do you see as the future of fintech?
I think the future of fintech is very bright. It still only seems to be at the beginning of the full transformation that it has the potential to do in our financial systems. I think it really is about giving power back to the people and how they can manage their money and control how it is used. And that is fantastic. People’s financial daily lives, there is a lot to do that can be helped by fintech and technology companies. I don’t think the revolution has started yet but I think we are near the end of the beginning. We’re only still at the beginning of what could happen in the next decade to do with technology and finance. Like the internet in the late 1990’s, there will be companies that for products that haven’t even been thought of yet, because we are just at the start.