“Career walk” interview with Ella Harding of Zilch: Put customers first
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“Zilch is incredibly fast-paced and no two days are the same, but the customer always comes first. I have loved working with others in the team who are at the cutting edge of the fintech business that aims to protect customers.”
With a degree in Human Science from Oxford University and a background in fashion and media, Ella Harding has never imagined she would end up working in the fintech industry.
“I never thought I would ever work for a Fintech and is not something I would have envisaged! I left school in Birmingham with science A levels and went on to do a degree from New College Oxford in Human Science. I loved the blend of science and art, but also was interested in fashion and media.”
After her successful career start in the fashion industry, Ella joined the advertising world and quickly paved her way into becoming a Senior Creative Strategist at the leading UK influencer marketing agency, MG Empower.
About her agency experience, Ella said: “Moving into Creative Strategy for on- and offline events, social media and influencer marketing, taught me to quickly produce ideas that can be executed to bring a marketing campaign to a successful conclusion while staying on track with KPIs.”
Over the past 9 months, Ella has been heading marketing at the UK-based Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) fintech, Zilch. Starting a new job remotely, during a global pandemic, in an unfamiliar and complex environment like fintech, might not sound like the easiest and most logical career move. But, Ella jumped at the opportunity to become Zilch’s employee number 36 and help build one of the fastest-growing UK fintech BNPL brands.
In less than a year, Zilch has grown into a team of 130 and attracted more than $200mn capital through its Series A and B funding rounds. Founded in 2018 by payments tech veteran Philip Belamant, Zilch is the UK’s first fully licensed BNPL provider by the FCA. In contrast to category rivals like Klarna and Affirm, Zilch offers an over-the-top (OTT) BNPL product that allows its customers to shop wherever Mastercard is accepted and spread their payment over 6 weeks for zero interest and zero fees. This means that customers can use Zilch at any merchant who accepts Mastercard and they don’t need to rely on Zilch having relevant merchant partnerships, which automatically puts them at the center of the fintech’s offering.
According to Ella, working at Zilch is extremely dynamic, and “no two days are the same, but the customer always comes first”. And that’s exactly what she loves about her job: “I have loved working with others in the team who are at the cutting edge of the fintech business that aims to protect customers.”
What is Ella’s favourite fintech marketing campaign, and what you can find on her desk? Find out in Ella’s complete career story below.
Tell us about your career start? How did you end up doing marketing for a fintech?
I never thought I would ever work for a Fintech and is not something I would have envisaged!
I left school in Birmingham with science A levels and went on to do a degree from New College Oxford in Human Science. I loved the blend of science and art but also was interested in fashion and media, working with fashion magazines, fashion retail companies and at digital marketing agencies. I was asked to come and work at Zilch 7 months ago as Head of Marketing.
The opportunity at Zilch fell onto my plate, and after researching the business and the CEO/COO I decided to work on a new challenge, not only personally, but also for a new startup. I have come a long way in a very short time, just as Zilch has, becoming one of the fastest-growing Buy now Pay later (BNPL) providers in the UK, with a unique offering that puts customers first, always.
What’s it like to be a Head of Marketing at a fintech?
Zilch is a fast-paced and energetic business with new challenges occurring every day. Making sure that we are at the forefront of delivery is vital in marketing. I need to be on the ball with any change that we can make to keep us market-leading.
When I joined the company there were 35 employees and now we have 130 just over half a year later. I have loved being part of a young and energetic team and being on the front line as Zilch has grown from strength to strength.
Before Zilch, you held various supplier-side roles at leading global agencies like MG Empower and Pulse Advertising. How is your previous agency experience helping you in your current fintech marketing role?
In all my roles I have loved complex problem-solving. I had the amazing opportunity to learn about sales and marketing from a digital marketing perspective with a focus on influencer marketing. I started in account management, managing relationships with celebrities, influencers and incredible brands such as Deliveroo, Bumble and Puma.
Moving into Creative Strategy for on- and offline events, social media and influencer marketing, taught me to quickly produce ideas that can be executed to bring a marketing campaign to a successful conclusion while staying on track with KPIs.
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What do you love about your current role at Zilch?
Being part of the setup of such an incredible organisation has been exciting. As one of the first BNPL providers in the country to be fully regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Zilch enables customers to shop where they like, whenever they like, thanks to its unique over-the-top model. Zilch has a real-time view and understanding of consumers’ affordability profiles and is able to give accurate recommendations of what they can afford to borrow, with 0% interest repayments.
This personalised approach to lending reduces the risk of over-indebtedness and encourages responsible consumer spending habits. Consequently, Zilch is incredibly fast-paced and no two days are the same, but the customer always comes first (cheesy I know). I have loved working with others in the team who are at the cutting edge of the fintech business that aims to protect customers.
What has had the biggest impact on your career so far?
Zilch’s mission is to revolutionise the credit payment industry and create innovative products, such as Tap & Pay-over-time, while facilitating financial inclusion, always means we move fast. The start-up nature of the business and aiming to deliver results has made me up my game to deliver for fast outcomes.
What’s your favourite fintech marketing campaign?
I love the “Wealthsimple Investing Masterclass” marketing campaign which easily explains processes that many consumers find tricky to understand in the finance world. Its simplicity and beautiful funny videos I think are just outstanding. Where attention spans for media are so short, they deliver such a great message in bite-size chunks.
I also love the small marketing tweaks we can make at Zilch on a daily basis that are simple but impact growth in an almost instantaneous way.
What do you consider to be the biggest achievement in your fintech marketing career so far? What about a failure?
I started my role in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home and creating a team to work cohesively in this environment was a challenge. Coming back to the office I seem to excel at solving others’ problems. On my desk, I have emergency snacks, plasters and paracetamol which covers most working dilemmas!
What advice would you give to anyone considering starting a career in fintech marketing?
It is a superfast pace of work with some outstandingly bright people who are a privilege to work with. Getting a good understanding of the technicalities of the business is important and developing good people skills. Go for it!