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Interview with Wataru Kagechika, PayPay's New CFO

Az

01/31/2022

Wataru Kagechika was appointed CFO (Head of both the Corporate Planning Group and Corporate Planning Division) on January 1, 2022. Here is an interview we held regarding his new role.

Please tell us about your career

I joined the former Industrial Bank of Japan (now Mizuho Financial Group) in 1998. I started as a sales representative at a branch office and was transferred to the M&A division through an internal recruitment system with the hopes of revitalizing Japan’s economy by reorganizing the industrial structure. I was in charge of the TMT (technology, media, telecom) sector when the domestic telecommunications industry was undergoing restructuring, so we were making deals every week. I especially have fond memories of working as the main advisor on the acquisition of Vodafone Japan by SoftBank, where I handled valuations, price negotiations, and financing.

At that time, I was involved in many deals and felt a certain level of accomplishment in doing M&A. After that, I studied abroad, gained experience in investor relations, and worked in New York before getting seconded to SoftBank Corp. to assist in listing the company, where I experienced a fair share of ups and downs (laughs).

After that, I was engaged in financial planning at Mizuho again, and now got the chance to join PayPay.

What do you want to accomplish with PayPay?

I think PayPay has tremendous potential.

In addition to our technological prowess, the strength of the sales team and marketing ideas people come up with are also amazing. Plus we have capital, including that of our parent companies, and a network of unicorns around the world.

In my previous job, I worked hard with the single desire to create a world-class financial institution. The world now is becoming more and more digital. Many people’s activities happen on their smartphones and that’s where new businesses are being created one after another. PayPay has been creating new financial businesses in this sphere as well, has the power to accelerate it further, and simply can do a lot more. I wanted to join in on what PayPay is doing.

Currently, our business focus is on payments, but in the future we will expand to securities, banking, operations, coins, just to name a few. And in terms of regions, we will go from Japan to Asia, and then to the rest of the world. That’s the accomplishment I’m after.

I also want to provide people with new values, experiences, and excitement through technology by solving inconveniences, both of those that we are already aware of and those that we have yet to find. I’d like to be of help in doing that as well.

Things that are thought impossible or worthless

There are many things in the world that are said to be “impossible.” For example, in finance, people say you can’t shift 100% into the cloud, or agile development is unfeasible.

But I want to see if what they say can’t be done is really impossible. I’ve always thought, “Can we really not do this? There has to be a way. I’ll figure out a way.” I’m curious and want to make sure.

I also want to be customer-centric.
In Japan, the negative interest rate policy is still in effect, so the more new deposits financial institutions take, the more they suffer financially. As a result, many have been reluctant to expand their business to individuals. But I’m starting to sense that something is off here. No matter what kind of society we live in, customers are the most important asset. So, we must thoroughly consider how we can deliver added value to our customers, receive compensation, and build win-win relationships with them. I believe that PayPay can make this happen.

On a smartphone

PayPay Securities is a thing in my family these days. At some point, my son and daughter, who are in their first year of high school and middle school, started saying, “It increased X yen!” excitedly on a daily basis. When I asked them what they were talking about, they told me they were checking the performance of the bonus they are managing. From there we got talking, and I recently opened a securities account for them (laughs).

Seeing this, I realized that it’s all about presentation. I saw that we definitely can tap into dormant demand if we can create an easy-to-access format. For many years, Japan has been struggling to overcome the challenge of shifting from savings to investments, but it felt like I saw the solution. My dreams only keep growing (laughs).

Drive and revitalize the economy, educate on investments

Japanese people have a high inclination to save, but Japan is the world’s largest holder of U.S. Treasury bonds. In other words, much of that money goes to the United States, where it is invested in stocks and real estate to generate profits and support people’s lives. What it boils down to is, investment education is important.

If middle and high school students are not interested in money, the economy will not be rejuvenated. In the PayPay Securities app, you can read about how investments and specified accounts work, as well as the story of Tesla’s founder (Elon Musk) in a manga. With other financial institutions, all you get is either a text-filled manual or an arcane pamphlet that drains the will to read. But if you can learn in a manga what sort of person a certain founder is or the setbacks he/she experienced, then young people will start reading.

In the first place, I’m of the opinion that stock investment is about buying dreams and aspirations. The marketing concept of providing stories in the form of a comic book and to explain a founder’s goals via that medium, and the ease of making investment purchases—or betting on someone’s dreams—in an instant, are some of the amazing things that are happening and that’s looking no further than just PayPay Securities. With other financial institutions, it would take a lot of effort and time to start this kind of initiative.

There are many people who want to innovate

Having said that, there are many people in financial institutions who want to innovate. All of us, especially the younger generation, are thinking about it!

I think it would be great if change makers from all walks of life could come to PayPay. Not just those in finance. It’s only when folks from diverse industries, such as retailers from convenience stores and supermarkets, people involved in consumer products like detergents and beverages, and techies, come together, that we can create synergy and innovate. PayPay is a young company, so it’s important that we continue to have fun and keep asking ourselves, “How can we do this?”

With anything, breakthroughs start with an interesting idea that comes flying from a completely different and unexpected place. We have the WFA system in place, so if we adopt the ideas of various members from all over the globe, we can create services from completely distinct concepts.

Working with the WFA system and meeting team members face-to-face

I’ve worked in M&A and investor relations, where you directly meet negotiators and investors from around the world. In those situations, I used all my five senses to figure out what is real, what is a facade, what they really want, and what they are really saying, by observing every single move.

And when work got really busy, everyone would gather in one place, divide the load, and work together. So to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could adapt to WFA at first.

Many people in my team have only been with PayPay for a short time, so we try to get together on a regular basis for team building. The other day, we had one such gathering and I could hear people saying, “So we finally meet in person for the first time,” and “You give quite a different impression than through the screen.” We were able to get a better understanding of each other.

But if the benefits of meeting face-to-face are complemented by the WFA work style—although we can’t go out for drinks because of Covid—I’m starting to think it’s not that bad after all. It certainly can change the way we spend time with our families, like doing more housework or being with our children more.

What do you expect from your team members?

I told them this the last time we met, but I believe there are three important factors in a person’s ability to work.

The first is knowledge. I want everyone to have the knowledge they need to do their job.

The second is the capacity to think. You have to think constantly. Regardless of how much knowledge you have, you need to be able to use it, think about where you want the company to be, and how to get there. So I want my team to be a team of thinkers. The more you think, the more you see various issues and the point of the matter. Then you can recognize advantages and disadvantages, and with that, come up with countermeasures. That’s why I want to assign work to the person who thinks the most.

The third is passion. I’m going to repeat this many times in the future, but I think work boils down to passion. It’s about whether you can bite the bullet and persevere toward your goal.

I’m sure we’ll be tackling a variety of tasks, but I’ve also talked with the members about how important it is for us to upskill as a team.

A message to people who want to make a difference with PayPay

I just joined the company, but as to why I switched jobs, I happened to think to myself, “Will I have no regrets about my work life when I die?”

I plan to work until the age of 70 due to the longer healthy life expectancy, but this year is the halfway point in terms of the years I will be in the labor force. That made me want to try something new and live another different version of myself. Right now, I’m just beginning the second chapter of my own work life, Wataru Kagechika 2.0, and I feel as fresh as a 23-year-old new graduate.

I think there are people who want to do something a little different from what they’re doing now. Who wants to be a different self, deliver new and exciting things, and make the world more interesting. We welcome people who are passionate about what they do and can make a change together.

I know which mountain to scale. I just have to figure out a way to do it.

PayPay is still in its startup stage, growing rapidly, so there are numerous things that need to be done in my area of expertise.

I can see the goal, but right now I’m still here. The question is, how do I get there? And fast. Thoughts keep running in my head, trying to figure out where to start and how to go about them (laughs).

Nakayama-san, our CEO, has the same vision in mind, and I can acutely sense his passion, so I feel like I have to act quickly. When I was transferred to the U.S. for my first international assignment, I experienced a similar pressure. From the very first day, I was expected to deliver results working under executives who were far more knowledgeable about the business than I was. I told my wife that I hoped this would be the last time I have to suffer like this, but she laughed and said, “I’ve heard that too many times.”

However, this time around, the mountain we want to scale is extremely high.
It’s like looking at the peak of Everest from the foot of the mountain. I know where the goal is, but there are moments when I’m at a loss when thinking about the journey ahead and the preparation required.
But we have to want to get there in the first place, if we are to reach the top!

I want my team to be happy all the time, and I don’t want them to be workaholics. Nonetheless, it is also important to ensure that each member can perform well and generate value in their work. My job is to create such an environment and bring out the best in them.
I want to make sure that we have fun, help each other, be meticulous, and deliver great results.

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Author and Editor: Az (PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team) / Photos: Tak
*Employees’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.