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Meet the team: Sam Handfield-Jones, Head of Octopus Choice

Posted on 16/04/2018, by Joe Jones

What do you do at Octopus Choice?

As the head of Octopus Choice, you’d think that would be an easy one to answer, but it changes daily. At a high level, it’s my responsibility to drive the strategic and commercial direction of the product and make sure the customer experience is as good as can be.

What most excites you at the moment about the peer-to-peer lending sector?

It might sound like a funny thing to say about a technology that’s been around for over a decade, but peer-to-peer (P2P) is still very much in its infancy.

So, for me, the really exciting thing over the next five years will be positioning P2P as a mainstream way to invest. And Octopus Choice was built to do just that.

It’s simply a matter of changing people’s perceptions. People equate P2P to a type of investment. But it’s not – it’s a technology that allows you to invest in asset classes that would otherwise be unavailable to a regular investor. In our case, that’s secured property loans. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t offer a different asset class in future, through the same platform.

I want everyone in the country to be familiar with P2P lending, in the same way they’re familiar with what cash and equities are today. We need to show the part P2P can play in everyone’s lives.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for the sector?

The biggest challenge is how broad the P2P market is. It leads to a lot of misapprehension.

For example, a lot of people conflate P2P with crowdfunding because of the innovative technology they use. They’re often used in the same sentence. Yet the two are so fundamentally different in terms of what you’re investing in. The risk and return profile are two opposite ends of the spectrum.

So, there’s a lot of education needed around the types of P2P, but that’s also a sign of how much potential there is to grow. We do a lot of work with investors and IFAs to explain the potential benefits of P2P, and also how different the options are.

What initially drew you to work for Octopus?

I started at Octopus in 2013 in our Octopus Investments business. I had interviewed at several places – including a number of much bigger brands that more people would have heard of – but the culture, energy and enthusiasm here was different. When I met with Simon and Chris (the founders of the business), the fire to do something different really stood out to me.

And then you decided to move to Octopus Choice?

That’s right. I started work on Octopus Choice when it was just an idea. To be a part of building the first ever technology-enabled financial services product for the Octopus Group was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The ups and downs that come with building something from scratch can be both scary and intimidating, but also a massive privilege to experience.

Then there’s the buzz. Not only when you launch, but when you continue to scale up and dream of turning it into a £1 billion platform.

What’s your favourite thing about working here?

The fact that the team works so well. The inter-team dynamics and communication is amazing. And that’s because everyone we work with is great at what they do. It gives people the flexibility to think beyond just their day-to-day role.

And I love how interconnected everything is. There’s no silo of just one function. It helps people develop an appreciation for all parts of the business – whether it’s tech, product, distribution – and to develop skills not necessarily immediately applicable to their day job.

Lastly, it’s a fun place to work that’s full of challenge. Things change every day, which makes it inherently fast-moving.

You’ve been given a surprise day off. What do you do?

Right now, as we look out over a ridiculously gloomy, grey London, I’d fly somewhere. Somewhere close, of course – maybe Geneva or Minorca – you can’t spend too much time travelling! I’d gather my close friends, the other half and family in a villa, set-up a BBQ and get some fresh fish on the go. Then go cliff jumping or boating.