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Editor's Pick: Longevity App’s Carla Harris runs her own race

by Alexandra Cain | 28 Mar 2018
Meet Carla Harris, CEO and Co-founder of Longevity App - the start-up that will help people to contribute more to their super, and therefore achieve a better lifestyle in retirement, by adding extra money to their super fund each month, based on their spending patterns. Carla Harris - InFinance - FINSIA

While there are lots of fintechs solving a variety of challenges in financial services, those that are targeting the superannuation sector are perhaps less high profile than other early stage ventures in the sector in areas such as payments and financial advice. However, Harris says there are actually lots of fintech start-ups in the super sector, which over time will prompt more established businesses to re-think their approach. 

“Many of these emerging super funds have really cool technology behind them. That’s going to encourage some of the larger funds to up their innovation game,” she says. 

According to Harris, the super sector is set to be transformed by automation. “We are already starting to see automated, robo advice and that’s a trend that will increase. But I do wonder how that will play out long term, because people prefer a personalised approach. Younger generations crave experiences, so it will be interesting to see whether that is an experience they’re after and what happens as a result.”

Whatever the future brings, Harris says technology will be the driving force behind innovation in super. “Whether it's personalisation of the member experience or tools that improve customer engagement, everything is going to be tech-based. The challenge is whether the super sector embraces this and takes on the risks that come with innovating. Super funds cannot continue to do the same thing they have always done or they will be disrupted.”

At the moment Harris is working toward the official launch of Longevity App, slated for later this year. “We are stress testing the app right now to make sure that when we launch we will hit the ground running,” she says. 

It has been a long journey so far to develop Longevity App given the highly regulated nature of the financial services sector. Harris says, “what we are doing is new. We are not a super fund or a bank and we are not giving personal financial advice. While we do facilitate payments, we are not a payment provider. So defining our compliance obligations has been hard. We’ve sought guidance from as many people as we can, including accountants, lawyers, industry experts and other start-ups. I’ve done extensive research and completed a diploma in financial planning to educate myself and ensure we meet our regulatory requirements.”

Developing relationships with large businesses has also been a challenge for Harris and her team. “Super funds are notoriously conservative, which makes sense given their purpose. But that has made it hard to develop relationships with some of them despite our incredibly strong B2B offering. So, we have had to focus on other opportunities and distribution channels while still nurturing important relationships with super funds,” she says.

Harris says she has taken huge personal risks along the way to get the business up and running. Both she and her co-founder, Martin Jenkins, have young families and she says building a start-up risks their ability to support them. 

“It’s not like we are founders in our twenties with nothing to lose; we have everything to lose. My husband and I have had to look at how we are going to live as a family and how long we are prepared to take on these risks.”

Nevertheless, she is hugely positive about Longevity App’s future. “In five years we will be well established in Australia and we will be making inroads internationally. From day one we planned a globally scalable company, so I fully intend to execute that.”

Harris’s advice for other fintech start-ups is to work at their own pace. “In start-ups there is often a belief you have to be as fast to market as you can, put your product in users’ hands and develop it based on their feedback. But for many fintechs that is terrible advice, especially when you work in a highly regulated area. It’s okay to run your own race. Understand your business and the industry you're in. That’s the best way to build a start-up up with the potential for long-term success.”

It’s great advice for start-ups and anyone in business that wants to survive and thrive over the long-term. 



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