" Even when he was very young, Lance Rubin, founder of financial modelling company Model Citizn “didn’t see technology as a threat.” He saw it as an enabler.

By Olivia Wing, Customer Success Manager, GENCFO

Lance Rubin

Founder

Model Citizn

There’s always been a technological element to his career. He’s worked at big names like PwC, Investec Bank and National Australia Bank before founding his FinTech business Model Citizn.

“I managed to keep my fingers in many pies, and still do today.”

Now, he’s ready to launch another financial modelling product… but where did Lance’s journey begin?

How his FinTech interest started

Lance was “thrown into” technology by his father, who brought tech home from his job.

“I used to play on green screens, low resolution DOS games, dial up modems, floppy and stiffy disks and all sorts of techie stuff from an early age.”

“I remember my father working on this green grid.‘ This is Lotus,’ he said, ‘it changes the world’. I didn’t realise until I started at PwC how incredible spreadsheets were – they’re a large portion of what I do today.”

Lance actually started his journey as an auditor, which he calls a great jumping off point – mainly because of the auditor’s “ability to ask any stupid question”.

“As an auditor, you have the right to ask anything, and they have to answer you. It was a great way to learn about business and culture.”

Although his auditing background gave him a great understanding of accounting and finance, it wasn’t for him longer term. Enter financial modelling…

The financial modelling bug

Lance was bitten by the “financial modelling bug” when he had to audit an actuaries model whilst at PwC.

“The actuary made a model that ultimately calculated one plus one equals three, which is quite incredible.”

“It made me realise that this world, that used to be known as financial engineering, was only just starting.”

“There wasn’t even a formal financial modelling division in PwC when I was there. Now, financial modelling is probably the most sought after division for an accounting firm.”

Fast forward to a few years later and his modelling skills were really honed and developed at Investec Bank’s Corporate Finance, Property Advisory and Private Equity divisions. These skills became handy when moving to one of Australia largest banks NAB but the fast paced nature of investment banking was missing.

The rise of fintech disruptors saw him take the opportunity to join the SME cash flow lender Banjo loans as their CFO.

At the same time he started Model Citizn, which is now six-and-a-half years old, Lance also became a contractor for KPMG in their financial modelling team. There he saw how under the pump and under-resourced they were.

“People coming from university were just not learning the skill quickly enough to meet the demands for financial modelling. So, I thought, ‘that’s not a bad business to build’.”

CFO for Banjo, founder of Model Citizn and contractor to KPMG was the first of his fingers in many pies, hedging his bets.

Despite his financial modelling involvement, Lance actually names FinTech as his particular area of interest.

“Model Citizn is a FinTech company. We look at three tech stacks: analytics, automation and financial modelling.”

“Another reason that FinTech is my specific interest is because I’m a big believer in automation tech, like RPA and Chris Argent’s wonderful word ‘macro macro’.”

Challenges facing financial modelling

Despite his keen interest in it, technology “frightens” Lance sometimes because of how fast it’s moving.

“The changes coming down from the Excel development team are just amazing.”

However, according to him, this acceleration isn’t always a good thing.

“In the financial modelling space, tech is a threat, but it’s a bigger threat if you don’t have solid foundations. People are jumping into new coding languages, like Python, R or SQL. If you’re focused on doing financial modelling, you need to understand Excel first. Those tools and coding languages mask people’s inability to understand the basics.”

“They think: ‘Excel is dead, Excel’s dying, I’m not gonna have to worry about it’. The reality is, they should.”

Another necessity for Lance is strategic thinking.

“My passion is listening to a business problem and designing a bespoke solution. I’m not necessarily building the model myself, my team does that, but it’s important to understand the strategy. Clients don’t know what they don’t know, and sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know, but asking a great question gives us insight as to the real problem.”

“If you don’t think strategically, you’re not going to ask that great question.”

Changes to the team and the tech space

Lance has made some big changes to how he manages his company.

“Some of my team have been with me for a long time, and I wanted to invest in them to retain them.”

This investment includes one-on-one coaching, service awards for staff who’ve been there over one, three and five years, and quarterly ‘town hall’ meetings where the entire company comes together.

“The response from the team has been amazing. They get to see firsthand where the business is going.”

There have been more tech-centred changes too:

“We worked with Google up until January of this year, and then we switched. I still love Google for collaboration and live editing, and I’ve got clients on Google, but for collaboration within a team nothing comes close to Microsoft.”

They also launched a new product called EXL Cloud, which Lance says is to help defend themselves and their clients from an acquisition in the marketplace, which is disruptive.

“I saw the gap in the market. We’ve partnered with my co-founders up in Amsterdam and Brisbane and launched in August. It’s exciting.”

Motivation and inspiration

The first thing getting Lance up in the morning is his kids needing to get to school and the dog needing a walk. The second is solving business problems.

“What motivates and inspires me most is designing solutions that knock the ball out of the park. I like creating something new, dealing with data in a creative way.”

“I also love the ability to go wherever we want to go based on where clients want us to go because we’re not so focused on one particular market or industry.”

Model Citizn works with FinTechs, startups, SMEs, large corporations and governments. He’s inspired by what happens when you don’t discriminate based on organisation size.

“There’s nothing better than giving a startup a leg up by building a really small, economic model. You’ll have a client for life, and as they grow, you grow. That really inspires me. It’s not just about the money, it’s actually about helping people and getting a great result.”

Power Profile

Who is his hero?

"Nelson Mandela. It’s hard not to see him that way, being South African and having lived through pre and post apartheid, and in South Africa under his government. Thanks to Nelson, a lot of work was done to move South Africa into a more democratic society. His courage and a lot of the things that he did really inspire me. I look at Nelson Mandela as someone who really inspired change, and embraced change"

What music inspires him?

"I get inspiration from going for a run, or mentally checking-out, and trance music helps me with that. Also, when I was working very late hours in investment banking, I played dance music or electronic music which kept me going, like Tiesto, Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk, all the major DJs. But, for inspiration, it’s definitely trance."

Author

Olivia Wing, Customer Success Manager, GENCFO
GENCFO Team

Olivia is an author at GENCFO as well as being the Community Success Manager. Read her articles on everything from events, agility, hot topics in finance and interviews with key finance and accounting industry figures.

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