Building the Future of Banking in the CEE Region Through Collaborative Innovation – Interview with Hannes Cizek, Head of Group Digital Banking, Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI)

In an age where collaboration is key to success in the financial services industry, banks and technology providers are looking to build deeper relationships with FinTechs. The task at hand is not an easy one – the total number of FinTechs in the industry today stands at more than 11,000, making it difficult to find the right partner. The key to successful collaboration is to have in place a comprehensive program that identifies, evaluates, and onboards FinTechs that are best-suited for each bank’s unique requirements.

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hannes Cizek, Head of Group Digital Banking at Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI), who described the banks’ Elevator Lab initiative, designed to offer a scaling platform for FinTechs with potential access to 16.6 million customers in Austria and the CEE region.

Nicolo Petrone: Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) is currently looking for applicants for the second round of its FinTech accelerator Elevator Lab. What were your main learnings from the first batch in 2017?

Hannes Cizek: The first round of Elevator Lab was an incredible success. We simultaneously finished five pilot projects in only four months’ time. This showed that we chose the right candidates, which was not easy, as more than 300 FinTech applied.

But it has also shown that a large banking group like RBI can work in an agile and dynamic manner – this was also an important learning process for the entire organization.

We are currently continuing the product tests or have already entered an implementation phase in some cases. The success of this first round was the reason why we are now looking for applications again!

Nicolo Petrone: Is Elevator Lab 2018/19 different from the first batch?

Hannes Cizek: We kept the basic structure of the program: a virtual program with support from internal and external mentors and on-site meetings here in Vienna from October 2018 to February 2019.

What is new is that eight of our 14 subsidiaries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are organizing local Elevator Lab Challenges, which focus on the FinTech ecosystems in their respective markets. The idea is to encourage FinTechs from CEE to participate, as the local winner will also receive a wild card for final pitching rounds.

Nicolo Petrone: You adjusted the search fields this year. What will be the focus of the upcoming program?

Hannes Cizek: Correct. We slightly adapted the search fields to better cover the trends in the financial services markets. This year, we are looking for applications from FinTechs that can provide smart products and services in the fields of Advanced Analytics, RegTech, Corporate Banking, Investing & TradingTech, New Branch Experience, and Open Banking.

Applications are open until June 24 via our website

Nicolo Petrone: What makes the program different or special from other accelerator programs out there?

Hannes Cizek: As I said before, it is a virtual program, which means that the participants are in constant contact with our team here in Vienna, but do not have to entirely relocate which is usually a big advantage for the startups.

What is also special is that Elevator Lab is an equity-free program – we do not ask for shares in the participating companies. We are looking for FinTechs who already have products and services on the market. Such companies usually already have certain funding and are now looking for partners to further scale their business. Elevator Lab is designed to offer such a scaling platform with potential access to 16.6 million customers in Austria and the CEE region.

Nicolo Petrone: What can you offer the participants once they get accepted into the program?

Hannes Cizek: We offer them our experience and close cooperation with our business units and banking experts.

During the first round of Elevator Lab, we also involved our subsidiary banks in CEE and granted the participating startups access to our customers in the region. Asteria and Gauss Algorithmic tested their products in four CEE markets to better understand the demands and expectations of the customers in the field.

The overall feedback we received from our five participants was that within only four months they could significantly improve their products and gain a deep understanding of how the industry works and what potential lies in the CEE region.

Nicolo Petrone: RBI recently launched a CVC firm called Elevator Ventures. Is the name a coincidence or is there a link to Elevator Lab?

Hannes Cizek: With Elevator Ventures, we want to take the first step into the field of venture capital. We have plenty of experience in the fields of innovation and investment and want to combine them now. We want to have the opportunity to invest in attractive companies – which potentially also includes the participants of Elevator Lab. It was, of course, a clear sign to choose the name.

We believe that Elevator Lab has already a good reputation in the region regarding the seriousness of RBI’s engagement with startups. We see that startups that apply for an accelerator have interest in follow-up investments. This certainly does not apply to everyone, as there are already startups entering an accelerator with sufficient funding and no further financing need, but there are startups who ask for it. Hence, we are becoming more attractive as a partner for those start-ups that know we could offer our own follow-up investment.

Nicolo Petrone: Last question: Why should FinTechs apply for Elevator Lab?

Hannes Cizek: Because to us, our FinTech engagement is more than just a PR stunt. We see the potential that a cooperation between a traditional bank and a young FinTech company offers. Our goal is a long-term cooperation where both sites benefit and that results in better products and services for our customers.

Of course, that requires a tremendous effort for our organization, but we see it as an investment in our future. So, don’t hesitate and apply now at! Applications are open until June 24, 2018.

About Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI)

RBI regards Austria, where it is a leading corporate and investment bank, as well as Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as its home market. A total of 14 markets of the region are covered by subsidiary banks. Additionally, the RBI Group comprises numerous other financial service providers, for instance in leasing, asset management or M&A. In total, around 50,000 employees service 16.6 million customers through more than 2,400 business outlets, the majority thereof in CEE. Within the Austrian Raiffeisen Banking Group, RBI is the central institute of the Regional Raiffeisen Banks and other affiliated credit institutions and renders important services in this function.