Leading Innovation in Financial Services

On Thursday, June 17, four leading banks in Southern Europe joined forces to explore synergies centered around innovation and Fintech. The discussion concerned the role that financial institutions play in local ecosystems and Fintech, the typical cases of investments and collaborations that these banks are involved in, and what they foresee for the future of Fintech in Southern Europe. Banks BBVA, Intesa Sanpaolo Group, National Bank of Greece & Sella Group explain why exactly an actionable network of banks collaborating is crucial to growing the ecosystem.

4 Ways FinTechs can Effectively Collaborate with Banks

George Stasinopoulos, New Business Ventures for J.P. Morgan’s Commercial Banking business, kicked off his session by sharing some best practices FinTechs, founders and start-up companies can apply if they’re looking to start working with financial institutions. 

1. Less is more in the beginning

“Consider being selective with the number of banks you work with and how much energy is spent here as you’re getting started.”

Banks are generally large and complex organizations, so it’s natural for operational speeds to differ from FinTechs. Because of this, it will take time to figure out the right rhythm and the right bank your company fits with. This is also why starting with one partnership and building from there can serve a FinTech well.

2. Remain open-minded

“Be open to different collaboration options when you’re considering collaborating with a bank.”

While FinTechs may have a vision for how they’d like their banking relationship to look, it may shape up differently based on what each party can offer—it’s not uncommon for banks and FinTechs to be able to provide services for each other or develop projects together. Always do what makes sense for your company so it can thrive, but letting this evolve and staying open could lead to something better than you imagined.

3. Find the key players early on

“Identify the right contacts within the bank you’re working with as you’re getting started.”

This intentional and critical step guides FinTechs in the right direction so they can more immediately figure out who to work with. Ideally, a FinTech will be directed to the group who oversees innovation, which can streamline decision-making, further collaboration, and other enhancements.

4. Stay true to your mission

“Work with a bank that has the same core values.”

And finally, remember that FinTech innovation often means finding ways to delight your clients and end-users. Any bank you choose to work with should have priorities and objectives that align with what you’re also rooted in.

Thoughts on Fintech & Innovation from Leading Banks in Southern Europe

The conversation followed with the well-known panelists invited to speak about innovation and Fintech. From the National Bank of Greece, Spyros Arsenis Head of Business Innovation Development Unit tells us how they’ve heavily funded both indirectly and directly over one hundred start-ups and SMEs. They are the biggest private investor in Greece after the European Investment Fund with their main focuses on synergy and extroversion. Andrew Vasko, GBS Transformation & Innovation, believes that future banks are not competitors and that instead of competing with each other, we should work together to build something better. He stresses that whether an idea is developed internally or externally doesn’t matter, what matters is that it’s a good idea that should be fostered, no matter where it came from. Similarly, Ainhoa Campo Nieto, Global Head of Open Innovation at BBVA’s main mission is to collaborate with the Fintech industry and create an innovative ecosystem that allows all the moving parts to connect. This inspires them to provide the best solutions for their clients. Lastly, Paola Papanicolaou, Group Head of Innovation at Intesa Sanpaolo Group among many other initiatives, aims to improve the services, operations, and customer experience of Intesa Sanpaolo group by listening to external and internal needs that bring to the forefront the current ecosystem and trends. This is done through the implementation of an innovational panel, which has successfully digitized end to end, a smart lending process for Small and Medium Enterprises.

Fintech Ecosystem in Greece, Italy & Spain

The discussion continues to incorporate the thoughts of each representative from the bank, on what is happening in the Fintech ecosystem in their respective countries; Spain, Greece, and Italy. Mr. Arsenis applauds the startups in his ecosystem as they successfully create new products that assist with the digitization of banking processes and wishes to continue in this direction. Ms. Campo Nieto acknowledges the slow growth in the industry and points out that what’s helped Fintech grow, is the compensation of growth within the countries themselves. For example, in 2013 there were around 15 Fintech startups and now over 450 are up and running in Spain. Additionally, not only are the number of companies growing but the number of investments as well. She sees the pandemic as an opportunity for the Fintech universe to digitize programs out of necessity, and evidently lead customers towards the Fintech’s ecosystem and innovations. Ms. Papanicolaou tells us that Intesa Sanpaolo Group has nurtured innovation in the company by dedicating financial products and a strong advisory, through the belief that a positive relationship between start-up companies and relevant corporations fosters an innovative mindset that creates new technologies.

“What’s Mine is Mine

Bringing up a very interesting point in regards to the real problem when it comes to the cultural transformation in the Fintech industry, Mr. Vasko claims that it’s not the money, but the culture and the mindset of the financial sector. Being, “what’s mine is mine” which entails that one will accept their own ideas, but embracing anothers’ is nearly impossible. Therefore, the barrier that we must overcome, is the acceptance of other people’s ideas. He emphasizes this by narrowing it down to three steps: Internally amplifying the voice of our ecosystem and encouraging them to work with external partners, build services that competitors can benefit from to create one ecosystem, and steer away from the traditional “I can do it myself” way of thinking.

Working Together in a Competitive Environment

It’s frequently wondered, how can banks and innovation teams work together in such a competitive environment, and what that relationship looks like in the future in regards to investments and opportunities.  The banks involved in the conversation agree that they are still going through the transformation, clarifying that it isn’t always in their hands. There needs to be synergy between stakeholders, a network of banks, and technology to support such ideas. 

Fintech Companies Join the Conversation 

Alex Kelaiditis, Co-founder at Flexfin dives into how he solved the problem of the complex process small businesses have to undergo in regards to their receivables, resulting in problems with growing their business. Flexfin offers them a practical, simple, and transparent finance solution. Partnering with the National Bank of Greece, Flexfin offers financing and cash flow management services to SMEs by using a modern and user-friendly platform. 

Jose Gomez, CEO at Sentimer Technologies, talks to us about the AI platform that optimizes conversations, funnels, and sales through the use of customer analytics. He narrows in on the abandonment reduction of a user on a platform explaining that the artificial intelligence at Sentimer Technologies can understand the behavior of the customer at a very deep level and uncover long-term abandonment issues by questioning the user on the spot. No two people behave the same within an application, and the patterns are heavily reliant on user contexts, whether it’s a returning customer or not, their proficiency with technology or the brand, how far they will reach on the website, and when exactly they will abandon. Having access to experts in the BBVA community has allowed them to propel their growth quickly and efficiently. 

Marc Philippo, Vice President of Sales at ezbob tackles the problem of lending in the UK. He wants to make the client engagement process as best as possible. To do so, they found that some of the key elements that technology could change are, customer onboarding, fast decision making, getting back to the customer within minutes, and delivering funds to clients quickly and efficiently. This Fintech company wants to change the game in regards to the interactions with the customer, towards a carefree, fast, and efficient experience. Their relationship with Intesa Sanpaolo has been very successful thanks to the mentorship and support that has been provided in creating paperless free services to their clients using ezbob technology.

Last but not least, Matteo Tarroni, Co-founder & CEO at Workinvoice, an incubator in the industry creates a marketplace that allows SMEs to sell their invoices to institutional investors. Their partnership with Bank Sella fostered a transformational year that resembled a lot of what happened in 2008 regarding up-and-coming innovations. He explains that due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are in a perfect storm for a turning point that requires digital financial services, and thankfully Bank Sella was perfectly positioned. The next steps include cross-border integration. 

Endeavor Greece is proud to have been part of the riveting discussion on the role that banks have in the innovation and Fintech ecosystem and is grateful to all those who participated. At Endeavor we are determined to raise the level of dialogue surrounding Fintech entrepreneurship to a regional European level, challenging existing knowledge and creating new perspectives and opportunities for the entrepreneurs and leading players of the financial sector. Stay tuned for future initiatives and events.

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