Paul and Kerril Burke
Paul and Kerril Burke of Merit Software, finalists in Ernst & Young Enterpreneur of the Year 2013.
Brothers Paul and Kerril Burke founded specialist financial services software company Merit Software in 2000. Before that, Kerril spent more than 10 years working in operations for Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) in London and as a chartered accountant for PwC in Dublin.
Paul worked in software development, specialising in financial and planning applications with a client- focused user interface.
The two founded Merit Software to combine their business and finance knowledge with personal financial packages that would be easy for the end user to use.
Merit Software’s solutions are used by investment banks, brokers, asset managers, hedge funds and other financial institutions. Areas of focus include meeting clients’ risk reduction objectives, increasing funding efficiency, improving straight-through processing, customer service enhancement and meeting regulatory and tax reporting requirements.
The company has a global reach with clients utilising the software in the UK, Europe, North America and Asia.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Kerril: “I was pitching to an old employer who I knew needed our product. I made a complete mess of the sales pitch and we didn’t get the business. I was an accountant and didn’t like presenting or selling. I had to have a word with myself after and decide whether I really wanted to do the business or not, as if that happened again there was no point in proceeding.
What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
“Our first sale to an investment bank. We had been working on the software product every evening for the previous two years. It was a case of insider marketing as I had been working for the company we sold the first product to.
What were the best and worst pieces of advice you got when starting out?
“Best: ‘Do not worry. If the software does not work, you can always go back to your day job’. Also, rather than detailing features, listen to the client, hear their pain and then address their issues, not the ones you think they have. Finally, from an accountant’s perspective: ‘Revenue for vanity, profit for sanity.’
“Worst: ‘You need to have a management team in place to scale the company before going to market’ – needless to say, we did not take it.”
What vision prompted you to start up your business?
Kerril: “I was working for an investment bank, which was best-in-class in identifying interest claims. I wanted to automate the process but it was not prioritised while I was working there. We decided that if we developed an automated software-based solution, it could be marketed to the existing bank and its counterparts.
“I had gone to London to do market research, which said the product wasn’t required. I got offered a job out if it though – the businesses didn’t like the product,
but they did like me. We went ahead with the product despite the research.”
What is your greatest business achievement?
“To have our software accepted and used by seven international investment banks. As a small company you can’t just go in and offer an enterprise- type solution, you need to offer a solution they need and build on that.”