Financial services look very different than they did only two decades ago. Back then, it was an inconvenience to send money to friends or family and fast international payments were unheard of.
However, as innovation accelerated, it was natural that new technologies were applied to one of the biggest industries in the world. As a result, the financial technology, or fintech, market was born.
Paysafe Group (Paysafe) has over 20 years of online payments experience. With an annualised transactional volume of $92 billion in 2020 and around 3,400 employees across more than 12 locations globally, we wanted to know more about the legal minds behind this operation.
That's why we were delighted to speak with Lyuba Popova, Senior Legal Counsel at Paysafe. In this spotlight, Lyuba tells us about her experience in the legal department of this fast-moving fintech as well as her thoughts on how to keep ahead of the curve.
Thanks for agreeing to speak with us Lyuba. Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your background, please?
Sure. I've spent more than a decade working for legal departments of tech companies and I've now found my place in the fintech space. Previously, I was Legal Counsel at different tech companies including Ingram Micro and DXC Technology. Now, I've been with Paysafe for over four years but it feels closer to ten! Time has a different pace in here (in a good way).
I look forward to hearing more about it. Could you tell us about Paysafe, please?
Paysafe is a fintech company with a specialised payments platform. We enable businesses and consumers to connect and transact seamlessly through our payment processing, digital wallets, and online cash solutions. Our digital wallet brands include Skrill and NETELLER, and our leading eCash solutions include the popular Paysafecard and Paysafecash brands. Our payments solutions also enable subscriptions payments as well as cryptocurrency and FX trading.
The company connects businesses and consumers via its payment channels in 70 payment types and in over 40 currencies around the world. We have over 3,000 employees and the legal department is spread across the UK, Bulgaria, Austria, Ireland, Canada and the United States.
It sounds like a big operation! How does fintech compare to traditional financial services?
In my personal opinion, the traditional financial system is quite rigid. It's great that there are now alternatives, like Paysafe, which are not banks but provide financial services with what I like to think is more suited to the needs of businesses and consumers in today’s world. Instead of being rigid, fintechs are agile and fast.
Unlike the traditional financial market, fintechs also have a big network of counterparties who are easy to cooperate with and make international, trans-border transfers much easier.
I believe fintech enables a better quality of service as far as the newest trends in technology is concerned, as well as supporting new ways to connect financially with people all around the world using only your mobile device. Also, having these alternatives and growing competition encourages innovation and progress so I see the evolution of financial services and fintech as a great thing.
That's a good point. Could you tell us more about your role with Paysafe?
I started as Legal Counsel and over the past four years, I've been promoted to Senior Legal Counsel and now have a team of my own. The European legal team has nearly doubled in headcount which has been much needed considering the workload. We also have a dedicated regulatory team, a data protection team and of course the compliance team, all of whom we work very closely with.
Although the company has 20 years of experience, we’re continually developing in response to the newest tech trends. The industry itself is developing so quickly – accelerated further due to the environment created by the pandemic - so we have to keep up with all the changes and innovations.
What's it like working in such a fast-moving company?
Every year at Paysafe feels like working for a different company. I love this as it's constantly challenging you and taking you out of your comfort zone. It keeps you on your toes but it also supports the development of your thinking and helps you grow as a professional.
You become used to working under tight conditions, on different projects and with people who have varying demands. I value this as that's how I think a true legal warrior is born!
Also, the team is comfortable with change and I cherish the liberty to express my professional thoughts in a manner that is welcomed by management. This, along with the pace and having to keep up with innovation in the industry, provokes your creativity and imagination as a lawyer.
Presumably, the legal team has to be quite proactive to keep up?
Definitely. You need to be up to speed with the company’s roadmap and our plan of how we grow and scale the business. We also need to be well aware of technology and how different technology gets translated into legal language. In the fintech world, you have financial and technology compliance together so if you're not on top of either of those, you're going to fail.
Some lawyers are still of the opinion that as long as you've read the regulation, have written a very long, profound email on it and served it to the business, then they'll grasp it and you're done. On the contrary, you have to know the business and technology really well so you can translate your legal concerns into their business language in only a few sentences. This helps projects run more smoothly and reduces risk.
As lawyers, we tend to use a lot of words so if we don't give ourselves some restrictions to make our communication user and business-friendly, we won't be able to work as effectively.
In my opinion, a good lawyer understands the business and the technology so well as to make it function in a compliant manner within the context that was initially intended, without over-stressing the team with legal concerns.
Great point. How do you think in-house lawyers should be viewing their roles?
As lawyers, we're taught to provide things like SWOT analysis and then delegate the responsibility of decisions. For instance, traditionally, lawyers might offer up the various ways to do something and then say "but it's up to you to choose the option you think is best".
To me, in-house lawyers need to be able to assume accountability. You are the gatekeeper as far as regulatory and legal matters go, so I believe you should be responsible for those decisions.
It's a bit of a reverse way of approaching matters in comparison to law firms who might present the options and then leave the strategic decision-making to in-house business teams.
We're seeing a shift toward in-house lawyers playing a more business adviser role. Do you agree?
Totally. There's a reason why the job description tends to ask for business acumen. The business needs a lawyer who is adaptive and who is quick to respond to different queries. It takes time to know the business inside-out, to understand its strengths and weaknesses, and to be able to put emphasis on the former. In-house counsel are responsible for protecting their company and therefore need to be able to advise to manage risk and respond to problems that occur.
A company is an entity that is continually evolving; there will be new claims and there will be issues that arise. A strategic in-house lawyer should be able to stand behind their decision and explain it well or be open to the idea that perhaps it wasn't quite right and adapt accordingly.
Other business teams have long since moved towards technology and automated systems but it feels like the legal department is perhaps lagging. What are your thoughts on this?
I don’t like it but I agree with it. Traditionally, law always lags behind innovation. This might be because, in order to have a legal framework around a certain innovation, legal professionals want it to have already been proven. Once something has proven itself to be valid and efficient, then the legal industry is generally happy to get involved and regulate it.
As things are advancing so rapidly right now, we're talking about scaling technology but, at the same time, we're still struggling to define unequivocally traditional topics such as the best anti-money laundering (AML) practices for the financial system. So, first of all, you need to solve your outstanding issues and then you can bring it to the next level. It takes time and having the right people to brings matters forward in a literate manner.
Having said all of that, I firmly believe that there are unicorn lawyers who are very open to change and who are not hesitant to challenge the status quo. They're open to exploring different ways of doing things where things can be done better.
Does the legal department at Paysafe explore new ways of doing things?
I consider myself very lucky because, at Paysafe, my managers are very forward-thinking and are constantly looking for improvements. They're always thinking about how we can provide better services to the business, keep up with legal standards and also become more business and user-friendly. Adopting technology in the legal sphere is one way to do this.
And what are your thoughts on legal tech?
I firmly believe that within legal departments we need to have more automation of processes so that you clear more time to concentrate on the really important matters instead of being held back by the admin. This is where solutions such as electronic signatures, electronic repositories and contract management systems come in very handy.
I think that in-house lawyers around the world understand the importance of automation of processes so that you free up time to focus on more tricky aspects of higher importance to the business.
You studied a Masters in Technology, Media and Communications Law. Did you feel some aspects were missing from the standard law degree curriculum?
With tech having progressed so rapidly, we now have things like cybercrime, information security, alternative payment methods, internet content regulation which isn't heavily covered in the curriculum yet (albeit some universities are raising the profile of tech and its legal implications). Things like this need to be brought to universities at scale in my opinion. The more lawyers become exposed to this the better they will be prepared and will perform in the practical world.
At Tomorro, our lives are centered around creating a better experience for people when it comes to contract management and, as you said, freeing up time so they can shift to more strategic matters. What are your thoughts when it comes to contract management and how legal teams can set themselves up for success?
I think it's very important for in-house lawyers to have very well-crafted standard draft agreements and have them stored somewhere readily available to the business so that they can self-serve themselves. You don't have to come to me five times a week to ask for a different template if they're already made readily available.
Also, having a very solid repository system is very important because that helps you trace what has happened with a business relationship over time and how it has evolved. Not having good enough visibility of this would make your life significantly harder, especially when it comes to managing complex relationships.
Lastly, automation of processes and electronic signatures is a must! Without it, you're doomed. Applications that help you negotiate in real-time without the need to exchange documents over emails and taking loads of time are also beneficial.
I know you're interested in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Would you be happy to speak with us about this another time?
Of course. I've been learning a lot over the last year and I think it's very important so I'd be happy to share.
That's great. Thanks for speaking with us Lyuba! If people want to learn more about you or get in touch, how can they do so?
I can be reached on LinkedIn here.
Would you like to feature as one of our Legal Spotlights? If so, please get in touch. We'd love to hear from you!