InsiderBusinessDr Demetrios Zamboglou: "The Future is Financial Technology"

Dr Demetrios Zamboglou: “The Future is Financial Technology”

Interview by Evagoras Prokopiou

An ambitious businessman but also an academic, who, at a young age has had significant success in both areas, left his mark abroad and repatriated to Cyprus to take over DOTO. In an interview with Forbes, the new CEO of the Cyprus-based Fintech company, Dr Demetrios Zamboglou, stressed that his goal is to transform this opportunity into the most remarkable chapter in his professional career. He also told us that at DOTO they believe digital money and a cashless society are the future.

How did you come to follow this career path that has now led you to serve Doto Group as CEO?

From a very young age, I’ve been fascinated by commerce, how things are made and then sold to millions worldwide. I remember growing up and consum-ing as much information about the worlds of industry and finance, as possible – including movies, books and media references relating to Wall Street and the City of London, the biggest financial Centre of Europe. The idea that our complicated world breaks down into a multitude of simple processes – and that I could influence how it operates – was hugely inspirational and had a powerful impact on my ambitions.

Initially inspired by the financial world, disciplines such as science, engineering and technology piqued my interest most. When I was 18, I won the Cyprus national technology award for young scientists which validated my ambitions and set me on the path to pursuing my first degree in Masters of Engineering with the prospect of attending a reputable business school thereafter combining the two fields of my studies. I followed in my father’s footsteps, who received his degree in Civil Engineering from University College in London, however; I also needed to follow my own path. I discovered my passion for reverse engineering solutions to problems. I obtained my second Master’s degree in Shipping, Trade and Finance, which enabled me to take over several key roles in both the sell and buy sides of trading.

Given the tech advances in the trading industry and the growing complexity of liquidity and trade settlement, I was able to harness my quantitative skills by specializing in risk management. By the time I was 30, I was working for on of the top 10 brokers as one of the youngest Chief Risk Officers in the trading industry. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of joining the boards of several of the world’s largest brokers and holding various senior positions at global fintech giants.

Now, in 2022, my journey has led me to serve Doto Group as CEO. I intend to transform this opportunity into the brightest chapter of my professional career.

You had two very special distinctions in your career. You were selected as the GCC Young Achiever in 2021 and at the same time, you joined Milken Institute – one of the world’s most prestigious. What does this mean to you?

Being recognised for my achievements early on in my career is always a great honour. It was great to be featured as a GCC Young Achiever among astronauts, financiers, artists, engineers and tech developers – all aiming to make a difference in this world. As a fintech pioneer, I was there to show how technology and finance will change the future.

Concerning the Milken Institute, I was lucky to have great friends and mentors, such as Marcus Grubb, Senior Vice President of State Street, who encouraged me to apply to the Young Leaders Circle (YLC). YLC is a potent organisation that develops future leaders intending to make the world a better place. I had the pleasure of joining their LA event in 2021 while making great friends whom I keep in touch with to this day.

Being recognised as a leader in my field inspires me to persevere and to be the change I want to see in this world. It’s the best example I could set for the next generation of aspirational Cypriots.

Tell us more about Doto – the company you have recently taken over.

My role in the Doto project was first seeded during a lunch with an old friend. What was supposed to be a quick lunch, turned into a lengthy and detailed discussion about the potential of empowering millions of people to become independent investors. We discussed the gaps in the market, the trading arena, the competition, the challenges, the opportunities, tech advances, and most importantly, the need for the right talented candi- dates that would be required to transform the Doto project into a market reality.

After evaluating Doto and its potential, I firmly believe Doto is an opportunity of a lifetime. Returning to where I grew up and being close to my family again, especially my brother whom I love so much, again adds another dimension to life.

As a sneak peek of what’s yet to come, Doto will deliver an omnichannel investing experience that is fully integrated and secure. As a company, we are fully regulated in four jurisdictions, including Cyprus.

Ultimately, our focus on skill and talent in human dynamics will distinguish us from our peers. We are headhunting the best of the best from around the world to succeed in our targets and goals. However, while our team is of paramount importance, our customers always come first. The team understands, as a company, we must serve our customers optimally and not the other way around.

What is the role of crisis management in an organization these days? Especially in your sector? How much emphasis have you put on crisis preparedness and what are the measures taken?

Crisis management in the retail trading space is paramount and critical in current times. A crisis can take various forms, including server downtime, abnormal market activity, and unexpected regulatory changes, to name a few. All risks pose significant operational and reputational damage to the firm, which means we must always be alert to new threats with the ability to neutralise them.

To remedy any crisis effectively, my approach is four-fold: to protect, repair, rebuild and recuperate. Being prepared means understanding the core risks and anticipating which problems may arise.

To ensure that any crisis is dealt with promptly, we have prepared extensive damage prevention measures. Protecting the company is the main priority. That’s why we immediately identify the root of the problem and proceed with immediate “treatment” to address all vulnerabilities.

To make this possible, a strong internal infrastructure must be in place to implement communication protocols with all parties involved.

Next is the reconstruction stage, which includes the restoration of the main functions and all affected parts. To ensure that we create a positive feedback loop, the recovery process is then activated. This stage includes, among other things, analysing what happens after the crisis and evaluating the feedback as part of a thorough investigation. At Doto, we have a detailed risk matrix that allows us to allocate appropriate resources at the right time to ensure our risk profile is always balanced.

Our sturdy risk mitigation plan allows us to maintain operations regardless of the difficulties caused by a crisis. The primary types of risk we must contend with within our industry are related to the market, operational and financial trends, and legislation challenges. The concern for our clients and mitigating potential crises dominates our thinking, therefore we have established fully-fledged real-time disaster, recovery, and business continuity plans, to avoid any such market impact affecting our business operations.

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In the past, you have described yourself as a supporter of a Cashless Society. Can you elaborate on this?

At Doto, we believe digital money and a cashless society are the future. Several countries are leading in this direction, and I am happy to report that Cyprus is one of the most ambitious countries to implement this model.

The Institute of Young Scientists (INE) – a non-profit Cypriot scientific community in which I participate – carried out an important research study in 2020. The aim was to determine the implications of such a change and Cyprus’ ability to create a next-generation payments environment. The study concluded that Cyprus is on track to become one of the most technologically advanced countries in Europe.

Nowadays, most Cypriots feel comfortable making their purchases with credit cards or their smartphones. It is evident that large stores and businesses follow a digital transformation process, modernizing their functions and reward programs, and offering innovative applications and lucrative incentives.

All kinds of fintech innovations are now making their way to the market, including crypto and online banking transactions. Ubiquitous connectivity and seamless communications are now the new norms. As an example of the liberalized era we now live in, European financial services regulators are now considered the most progressive in the world.

With fintech innovation making headway worldwide, Cyprus has a superb opportunity to harness its local talent and develop its domestic potential. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged and promoted to the point of becoming a part of Cypriot DNA.

We are a small island, but with incredible dynamics, and we all must empower the local youth to lead and not follow.

In addition to the widespread dissemination of digital technologies, how much has the pandemic changed the culture but also the role of the leadership of a corporation?

The COVID pandemic proved to be a living nightmare for everyone. No one was left unaffected.

Complying with pandemic remediation measures was a logistical dilemma for all brokers, myself included. Moreover, at the company I was working for at the time, we launched several innovative features to counteract the higher volatility, thereby improving our client’s ability to manage their trading and investment decisions. Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.

With the pandemic now receding in the rear-view mirror behind us, the most significant corporate culture change has been the higher propensity (and capability) for remote working. Another key takeaway is the need for higher resilient technical systems supporting worldwide collaborative functions. Furthermore, the COVID pandemic underlined the need for strong leadership based on human values rather than arbitrary statistics.

Before the pandemic, many companies claimed they were ready for the unexpected. However, as we all saw in 2020, only a few companies could take the COVID-related challenges in their stride.

The silver lining, albeit small, was that COVID pushed me into taking a journey into the unknown. I relocated from London to Dubai– from a place where I lived for over a decade to a new place with an entirely different culture. The transition helped me understand that the best learning happens outside my comfort zone.

Is a CEO’s personal engagement with societal issues part of his role?

Most of the time, the answer is no. The CEO should always focus on the company’s vision and how to make it a reality. In parallel, it’s incumbent on people with significant responsibility and leadership positions to support the social issues that matter most. The balance is often difficult to find. I try to look at all the problems that may affect Doto and society, but I must always prioritise what’s best for the firm and our clients.

However, I also believe it’s important to have strong moral values and to form a view on how society should be. I want to be engaged in productive endeavours that drive change while helping to support the needs of others.

A tangible example is a charitable foundation that my family has created just this year, “The Zamboglou Family Foundation”. We are constantly discussing with each other how our charity can best achieve its core aim of nurturing and empowering promising talent.

Most businesses are profit-seeking and cost-effective, sometimes leaving no room for charity, sharing or empathy. CEOs should be humane that can empathise with everyone they’re leading. If possible, they should be role models. I also support participation in non-profit organisations aiming to make our communities stronger and safer for the next generation.

Within Doto, our senior people are all passionate about mentoring and supporting young talent and our future leaders. They will pick up the baton and pass our company culture to those who come after them. As we all know, opportunities are far from equal in this world while competition is fierce. Tenacity and perseverance are great attributes, but unless they’re complemented by humility and teamwork, the individual is not operating optimally.

What advice would you give to a young executive aspiring to become a CEO? What characteristics should a future leader exhibit?

I’m convinced that CEOs and people in leadership positions should exhibit several amenable characteristics.

Firstly, strong leaders must understand the environment they are in while knowing their own limits in various scenarios. A good CEO must be sure about his knowledge and his lack of knowledge. He must understand his talents and flaws while distinguishing between the things he can and can’t change.

Moreover, CEOs must realise the right balance between being results-focused and accommodating alternative perspectives. Ultimately, they must lead from the front, drive progress, and take responsibility for their decisions. Accountability is critical.

Aspiring CEOs should also understand that reaching the pinnacle of their organisation is much like becoming a top-tier athlete – it’s a challenging and arduous journey with many setbacks on the way.

In many respects, the journey is more important than the destination because not every journey leads to success. In contrast, all journeys generate invaluable outcomes such as learning, improvement, growth, and excellence.

There is a lot more to say about the future of leadership, which is why everyone should read my book when it’s published next year.

In addition to your professional path, you also had several successes in academia. How do you combine these two career paths in your life?

A few years ago, a friend told me about the three levels of the famous journey to be-coming a Ninja warrior: train, compete and teach. In other words, you must obtain the knowledge of something before moving on to proactively practising and honing your craft. After validating that you have mastered your craft, you can confidently teach others and create a team of Ninja warriors.

The same idea also applies in the financial arena.

For a broker to operate successfully, the entity must function as a familial team of skilled professionals who are focused on the company’s goals instead of their personal interests. Also, research is essential to leading one’s profession or field as it builds an understanding of the small but crucial details that are vital to the successful operation of the system.

From my time as a student, I wanted to learn how we manage risk. To this day, I continue to be impressed by the performance of traders and how time affects that performance. I had trouble finding answers to the question by looking in books and scientific articles, so I proceeded with conducting my own study.

You are now preparing to publish your first book. What was the motivation behind this new venture?

The motivation for authoring this book is that I wanted to assist myself move to the next level of my career. Overall, writing my first book was a fantastic experience – no one ever tells you it consumes all your free time while taking more time than you initially thought.

It all started when looking for a book to help me transform from being a good leader to becoming a great one. In bookshops, the material I found was either filled with academic jargon or simply too vague regarding leadership.

I realized then that I could learn more by authoring a book about leadership. On the one hand, it scared me, but on the other hand, it was tempting, and I thought that in the worst-case scenario I would discover answers for myself.

Another factor was that I wanted to write something that could help young people put their thoughts in order and take action. In summary, I authored this book to motivate and inspire people. I wanted to create something that would function as a catalyst for years to come.

One of the most prominent issues that concern me is that I see young adults around me struggling to find the confidence to change their lives. I want to contribute to changing this situation.

What is the background of the Zamboglou family and its contribution to society?

The Zamboglou family is a name synonymous with tragedy, and ambition through stoic perseverance and success.

The Zamboglou family originates from Asia Minor, with deep roots in banking and manufacturing. According to the story, because of a brutal war that tore apart the region, the family, having lost everything, including many friends and colleagues, settled in Cyprus.

The family is back on track, excelling in various fields and thriving again. As a result of our relative success, the family has decided to give back to society and is funding a foundation that supports underprivileged young adults who need support to study. The Zamboglou Family Foundation will seek to identify and support the most capable and ambitious individuals who would otherwise never have the opportunity to study. The ultimate goal is for the Foundation to be used as a guide for people who want to develop and achieve academic and professional excellence.

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