Thursday, July 25, 2024
HomeLong ReadIt’s time you created an Advisory Board.  

It’s time you created an Advisory Board.  

Opinion piece by Ewan MacLeod 

If you’re a FinTech founder or CEO, you already have an informal network of colleagues who unofficially provide you with advice, inspiration, insight and counsel. As a serial founder back in the day, I know what a lonely experience it can be in the hot seat running a start-up.  

That’s why I have spent a lot of time encouraging other FinTech founders and CEOs I know to establish an advisory board. A formal one!  

This issue doesn’t get as much attention as it should, certainly in Europe where the idea of working with advisors, coaches or mentors is often considered a sign of weakness, rather than strength.  

When I was running the Venture outfit for a leading Nordic bank, I would always pause at the ‘Advisor’ slide during pitch meetings.  

“These are your advisors?” I would ask. The founders would dutifully nod. 

“How often do you speak?” I would ask, followed by, “How regularly do you all meet?”  

Often it would become clear that the slide was filled with ‘big names’ the founders had met once for 10 minutes and who had approved the use of their name in return for a few thousand share options. They never actually talked, much.  

Whilst this isn’t necessarily bad news, this approach seriously undervalues the power and potential of a set of experienced advisors to help you drive the outcomes you want.  

To this end, here are my recommendations for establishing your own Advisory Board:  

Recruitment: Finding the right advisors 

There are many executives across FinTech-land who would be delighted to be asked to become advisors, but identifying the right ones for you is important. There’s no specific rule to the number of participants but in practice, I’ve seen great success around 5-6 individuals.  

I recommend a mix between the following profile types:  

  • Industry Veterans  
    Those who have held (or hold) senior positions in the banking industry. These individuals can offer you compelling insight into the banking landscape that you’re targeting, especially in the context of potential business and commercial models to consider and, of course, warm introductions to target clients.  
  • Subject Matter Experts 
    Experts in the domain you’re targeting. They might not be C-level executives — often they’ll have developed their career to the point where they have a lot of specific insights and experience for the marketplace that you are targeting.  
  • Thought Leaders 
    Individuals who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about your target marketplace and who will have a considerable number of followers across the industry. They should also be able to open a lot of doors all over the industry.  
  • Former Start-up Founders 
    Those who have done it before. There’s strong value in having a least one start-up founder who has successfully exited their company – not necessarily in the FinTech industry though. They’ll have experience with a variety of issues – including hiring the right team, dealing with lawyers and the exit process.  
  • Investors 
    There can be value in having an investor – perhaps specialising at a later stage than you’re currently at – who can give great perspectives on the trends and themes they’re seeing in the wider marketplace. (They might also become a target investor at a later stage.)  
  • “Other” – Academic, Professional 
    There can be some value in having individuals from academic or professional (e.g. lawyer, accountant) backgrounds to give you a different set of perspectives to consider.  
  • Non-FinTech 
    I was surprised to find a senior executive from the Advertising industry on one FinTech Advisory Board I joined recently: The individual had limited FinTech experience, but their fully external viewpoint helped to challenge, contrast and complement the other FinTech-focused advisors.  


Your Advisory Board should be paid. I know this will raise a lot of eyebrows, but I think you need a service level. Paying your advisors (cash, equity, both) is the best way of guaranteeing a service level.  

I’ve participated in many Advisory Boards so let me make this observation on compensation: The boards where advisors are paid – even a token amount – are the ones where everyone turns up and value is contributed every month. Advisors that aren’t paid will routinely (or continually!) drop out at the last moment.  

If you’re looking for value, pay each advisor a monthly fee. Here’s a rough yardstick: What do you pay your Chief Operations Officer (“COO”), every month? Divide that by 5 or 6 – and that’s what you pay each advisor, per month. For example: If you’re paying your COO €10k per month, then divide by 6 and pay your advisors €1,600 each per month.  

The Advisor Role Guide 

Here is a rough guide to activities you might expect an Advisory Board member to deliver in a given month:  

  1. Be present at the monthly advisory board meeting (1 hour) 
  1. Meet with the CEO every month one-on-one (1 hour)   
  1. Meet with a management team member every month one-on-one (1 hour)  
  1. Participate in the Board Advisor WhatsApp Group (on-going)  
  1. Review documents, pitches, and materials and offer opinions (occasionally, acknowledge within a business day, provide feedback within 2-3 days)  
  1. Offer social media support when needed (e.g. Like/comment on LinkedIn, 1-2 times per month) 
  1. Participate in one-off calls with key clients (occasional, on demand)  
  1. Participate in annual company meetings or related events (occasional)   

Operating your Advisory Board 

If you’re paying your advisors, things need to be organised to make sure you’re getting value from them. Here’s a rough guide to operating your Advisory Board based on the above role guide:  

  • Monthly Advisory Board Meeting 
    Hold a meeting once a month with all the advisors together. You might consider asking one of the advisors to ‘chair’ the meeting or you could give this responsibility to the COO or another senior colleague. Here’s a sample meeting agenda:  
  • Company update: Brief them on the company’s performance over the past 4 weeks – topics might include funding, new hires, etc.  
  • Client activity: Give them an update on client activity, revenue, forecasts 
  • Prospects: Discuss the prospects you’re hoping to close; Ask if they have any suggestions or direction connections that might help  
  • Roadmap: Review upcoming product features and ask for ideas and suggestions  
  • Market Overview: Discuss the wider market – ask the advisors what they’re seeing and hearing in the industry  
  • Monthly CEO one-on-one Meetings 
    Meet with your advisors once a month. This might sound like quite a commitment for a busy FinTech CEO but if you use the time effectively, it can be a fantastic chance to ‘download’ to the advisor or discuss ideas or opinions. 
  • Management team one-on-one Meetings 
    Share the love. Encourage your colleagues to arrange meetings with members of the Advisory Board to discuss ideas and to get their advice on specific topics. This can also be especially useful for junior colleagues who wouldn’t ordinarily get access to such senior executives in traditional settings.  
  • WhatsApp Group 
    Put your advisors into a WhatsApp group (Slack, Teams, etc.) and ask them to participate on-demand. This alone can be a fantastic resource. Add news articles to encourage commentary or paste in an important company post from LinkedIn and ask them to comment and/or like.  
  • Contracts 
    Your advisors should be treated like any other external resource: There should be a service contract outlining expectations, compensation, expense policies and so on. This should include confidentiality and NDA terms.  
  • Term Limits 
    Consider implementing term limits for your advisors. Your needs are likely to change over time, so engage advisors on a 6 to 12-month service agreement too offer future flexibility.  

Recruiting Advisors 

To recruit advisors, I recommend aiming high and using a mix of your personal network together with direct approaches. LinkedIn is a great place to start. Who would you love to have as an advisor? Bill Gates is likely to be busy, however, that Bank Executive you met at that conference recently might be keen to help.  

Reach out and ask. Even if the individual can’t accept, just being approached is nice and a good compliment. It can also open the door to further dialogue. Some will be unable to accept ‘paid’ work – because of their company policies. Again, that doesn’t need to be a dead end. They might work on an unpaid basis. The fact you offered to pay is likely highly valued. Equally, they might not be in a position to currently help, but they might open their own network to you with suggestions of colleagues to approach.  

Many executives will naturally be thinking about their long-term future, especially if they’re already reached the top of the tree. The potential of non-executive board work will be playing in many minds. Therefore, an approach to becoming an advisor for your FinTech could contribute toward that ambition. Do include the fact that you’re aiming to pay (and ideally, include an amount, especially if it’s a cold outreach). Even if the target executive is earning millions, the fact that you’re indicating their time is worth money is likely appreciated and will often move you to the top of their agenda.  

Getting started 

Fundamentally, there’s no wrong answer when it comes to setting up or operating Advisory Boards – as long as you’re getting value regularly, that’s the way ahead. My base advice is this: Start today. Reach out to some potential advisors and have some exploratory conversations – and good luck! 

Ewan MacLeod is the founder of New Era Digital Partners (, a boutique advisory firm working with FinTechs, Banks and Government agencies to drive digital transformation in financial services. Ewan is contactable on LinkedIn at 

NFM Publishing Team
NFM Publishing Team
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