Toby Kernon, CEO and Founder of Wagonex: “The digitisation of auto-finance remains at extraordinarily low levels but has huge potential”

We suspect that Toby Kernon, CEO and Founder of Wagonex, drives a fast car. This isn’t a long, drawn-out interview: we go from 0 to 60mph within seconds, and in less than the time it takes to complete a lap of Silverstone you’ll discover what’s different about Wagonex, the challenges faced by the fintech sector and where the opportunities lie.

You’ll also discover what we always love to hear: the inspiration behind a brand. Even before Wagonex eight years ago, Toby had held roles such as Managing Director, COO and had co-founded a startup. So when he saw the US leading the way with car subscription businesses, and was being frustrated by traditional financing options in the UK, he saw the opportunity to launch a new business.

As is always wise with people who drive fast, both metaphorically and in the real world, it’s best not to stand in their way. Here, then, is Toby’s take on fintech in his own words.

Could you please introduce yourself to our audience and share how you ended up working in fintech?

I began my career in the fixed income options market where I developed a love of financial models and spreadsheets. Having spent seven years working for financial institutions I branched out on my own to set up as an independent trader. You learn a huge amount extraordinarily quickly when your own capital is at risk which has enabled me to withstand the significant pressure that accompanies a fintech startup.

A love of cars has always been prevalent but I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of flexibility and visibility with car finance. In the summer of 2016, I decided that I needed to do something about it and Wagonex was born.

What do you think traditional finance and banking companies can learn from disruptors in the fintech space?

Traditional finance in the UK had more than 15 years of experience watching fintech startups grow rapidly to significant market share in relatively short periods of time. The likes of Stripe founded in 2010, GoCardless in 2011 and Monzo in 2015 to name a few have influenced the way incumbent businesses think.

However, they are still unable to compete with nimble decision-making and having the comfort to build, break and learn as they are hamstrung by enormous amounts of process, regulation and fiercely protective of their brands

Recommended reading: Accelerating RegTech adoption is a gamechanger for the UK’s financial sector

How does your company differ from its direct competitors in the fintech space?

The major difference in our approach. Our focus is from a technology-first perspective but more importantly, how the technology can improve the experience for the customer. Our business has a B2B ‘platform as a service’ where we enable our automotive partners to deliver vehicle subscriptions. Our white-label platforms are also supported by our consumer-facing marketplace, where we drive in-market customers to our partner’s vehicles. We understand all the pain points faced by both the supplier of the vehicle and the end customer.

Which fintech sectors do you believe are prime for investment in 2025 and beyond?

There are a few sectors which are worth monitoring closely in the coming years. The digitisation of auto-finance remains at extraordinarily low levels but has huge potential. Open Banking and Open Data products have phenomenal growth ahead and the digitisation of embedded insurance is still in its relative infancy but could be hugely beneficial to customers and therefore a big advantage for businesses. 

Related reading: Patric Glassell, Head of Sales at Kwanti: “Aspiring fintech professionals should embrace risk and uncertainty”

What are some of the biggest challenges the fintech sector is experiencing as a whole?

The fintech sector is suffering from the same challenges as the rest of the startup industry. Company valuations have plummeted, investors are looking for sustainable business models over high growth, risk capital is moving further along the risk curve, and the talent pool has shrunk post-Brexit.

Increased requirements for a hybrid working environment as a minimum pose challenges around productivity and innovation, but even more so for embedding core values and developing company culture.

What advice do you have for aspiring professionals wanting to work in fintech?

Have the desire and willingness to take time to learn. Be fearless when considering career options that could be seen as high risk particularly when you have low levels of personal commitments. Working within a fintech offers you the opportunity to impact the trajectory of the business particularly within startups and you’ll often be given opportunities to take on more projects and tasks outside of your immediate remit which can help you find new passions and career paths. 

Recommended reading: Top ten breakthrough fintech companies

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.