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In Profile: Meri Williams, CTO, Pleo

Established in 2015, Pleo has become a frontrunner in intelligent business spend solutions. Despite economic challenges, the company’s revenue and transaction volumes doubled in 2022.

Pleo’s active users have also nearly doubled from 2021, underscoring the ongoing demand for its business spend tools. Expanding its reach, Pleo entered 10 new European markets, with over 400 strategic hires last year, including the appointment of Meri Williams as chief technology officer.

In today’s In Profile, Williams takes centre stage as she sheds light on Pleo’s mission and accomplishments, highlighting the synergy between teams driving innovation and navigating regulatory complexities.

Meri Williams, CTO, Pleo
Meri Williams, CTO, Pleo
Tell us more about your company and its purpose

Pleo is Europe’s leading business spend solution. With smart cards, automated expense reports and invoice tooling, Pleo is helping businesses across Europe leave behind the pains of old-fashioned financial processes.

What are some of your recent achievements you’d like to highlight?

I’m immensely proud of all we are delivering through the partnership internally between our product, engineering and design colleagues. Myself and our chief product officer, Mette Gade, have a great deep working partnership and we are seeing that mirrored throughout the organisation, and paying off in terms of continued innovation and delivery for our customers.

How did you get into the fintech industry?

I started my career at Procter & Gamble where I spent 10 years across various roles. I started as an engineer before quickly moving up to become a systems architect. After P&G, I moved to Government Digital Service where I oversaw the development of its digital services of products and helped grow the team from 30 to 300 in around nine months. I had a few other roles along the way but my first real CTO role was with M&S. From there I entered the fintech space and spent time with companies including MOO, Monzo, Healx and now Pleo, which I joined last year.

My experiences early on with P&G certainly allowed me to work in much bigger teams and helped broaden my skill set – something that helped when I became a CTO in the fintech space. I’ve also learned a lot through working with startups like Monzo, and I’ve been fortunate to be a tech advisor to a venture capital firm (Kindred), which has allowed me to see a large number of early-stage organisations and understand the financial market.

What’s the best thing about working in the fintech industry?

The opportunity to disrupt some of the most traditional and least user-friendly businesses around. Bringing the potential of brilliant products that really centre the customer whilst of course still meeting all regulatory requirements is a great puzzle to be a part of.

What frustrates you most about the fintech industry?

Sometimes the constraints are a little divorced from the reality of what is possible with modern technology. So we sometimes have to spend a lot of time translating between regulatory and similar requirements to what is possible and sensible in the product. This is where product management plays a huge role, as do our design and research colleagues, to try figure out the best possible thing for our customers that is possible.

What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

Moving countries without a real plan. I moved to the UK straight after finishing high school in South Africa, intending to go to university but without a way to pay for it. I worked ridiculous hours in a hotel for a year and then went to the University of Bath, rather than Cambridge, but that turned out to be a great ‘mistake’ – Bath was hugely more focused on industry links and job experience, which was a better fit for me. And my wife and I met there and have been together ever since!

What has the future got in store for your company?

We continue to focus on our mission of going beyond the books – really meeting our customer needs across the full breadth of spend management. That means deeper integrations – for instance with finance and HR systems – and being a great player in the ecosystem, i.e. trying to be a great tool amongst the many that modern businesses use. In that way we can take away the pain of financial management and let them focus on what they do best!

What are the next key talking points or challenges for your industry as a whole?

I think we are all trying to figure out how to best use generative AI without risking the personal and private data of our customers – by default these large language models (LLMs) tend to ingest absolutely everything provided even in prompts and digest them into their knowledge base, in a way that is essentially impossible to reverse. So we are all treading a fine line to try to get the benefit without risking any data leakage. And of course the continued need to balance between existing and new regulatory requirements whilst still innovating for our customers.

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