May 1, 2016
When I joined CheBanca! almost nine years ago, the recruiter told me about "a startup project in the Italian banking world." Practically, I thought it was the Halley's Comet, given the rarity in the birth of banks—especially compared to the most frequent mergers that characterized the Italian scene.
But things are sometimes different from what you can imagine; sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. The thing that struck me most—and that I still feel full of enthusiasm for today—is that here in CheBanca!, we really care about what we do. And to those who use our services: these are people, not just numbers.
In CheBanca!, I'm a part of the Upstream Projects, a team created by our General Manager, Roberto Ferrari. Our mission? To define and update the strategic direction (the so-called "upstream," in fact, is not an oil and gas thing), seeking ideas and innovative solutions for the medium- and long-term needs of the bank. And this exposes us to many a entrepreneurship which we all call "startups" today.
Italian FinTech Awards: Why?
We firmly believe that making the good of the financial ecosystem is a benefit for all workers who belong to it: we do not consider—as others do in this area—a "zero-sum" logic where I gain and you lose as a direct result. We believe that strategic investments in the infrastructure—whether it is instant payments or identification (KYC), for example—build benefits for all. If a new service improves the customer experience in some way, it is not important who its author is—it exists for everyone’s benefit. Take note of the #IFA2016 hashtag, you'll see why.
From competition to coopetition
How do you go through this mindset—from competition to "coopetition?" Simple: by building a larger cake! This way, you can easily see the "win-win" solutions. An example? I have only three customers and they only have fax machines at home which is the only way to send me our signed contracts. Do you believe that should I be interested in a startup that has developed a Web-based, plug & play, secure and fast upload system? Do you still believe that the cake remains the same? By using technology, we can open doors to new customers thereby making the cake larger.
And this initiative serves this purpose. It serves to give visibility to those who would not have ever had it.
It's useful to give an international perspective to those who were (un)lucky to be born in a country where the food is good, but it lacks funds and infrastructure suitable for the business launch. Repeat with me: "We need infrastructure" (see below, why money isn't the only thing we need).
It's useful for the Italian FinTech community to have an exchange of ideas and opinions among experts. It gives our national FinTech a reasonable spotlight. CheBanca! will have of course a privileged observation position, but it won’t be exclusive.
Be open or, quoting our GM, Behave like a brand—behave like a FinTech
Fine, but what does he ever know of building /managing/feeling a startup? Him, who worked in a company (a bank!) for a decade, you ask?
Well, actually all I know is that I know nothing.
Although I see and analyze dozens of startups per month, and have worked hard to ensure that, the first edition of the Grand Prix (2014) was radically different from what is offered regularly in Italy.
And the effect has been seen—committing senior managers to the "forefront" to deal with startuppers and their business or sale models, and things such as industry regulations... Have you ever seen an event where two C-level executives compete for the seat to talk to a couple of blockchain guys in their 20s? It happened (see below), and it's only because the real difference is the people of CheBanca!.
Why we do like startups
During the past year, I have met many startups with smart guys who are brave and committed to their idea. With some, we are still in contact, we keep ourselves updated; as soon as I have some internal or external opportunities, they are the first ones I'll call. Others have met thanks to us, so they found affinity in solutions and opportunities for collaboration. With some, we have had a direct sequel in order to tap into ideas and technology but not distract them from their startup growth roadmap.
How could we improve it? The first news (no clear disclosure, yet) introduced is a reflection of the first experience. Very few startups have any idea of what it means to work with a company, or even worse (in a computer security level, at least) with a bank, even if it has all its services exposed by APIs.
What the UK means for FinTech
We are talking about something more than a hackathon or a "royal rumble pitch." The value of going to the UK is to talk and engage with professionals who are deeply engaged with the FinTech ecosystem. Just ask Moneyfarm what the value of settling in the UK is, for example. Of course, this is part of the award for the finalists.
The added value of being able to experience what it feels interacting in everyday life with professionals of all fields (from marketing to legal) whose primary objective may not be to be there to listen to you, evaluating an investment, but they do have in mind the difference between a good idea and a successful startup. And what is it?
It's execution, ladies and gentlemen.
Ground the idea, make it take off and "let it bill" using the chosen business model. Many startups are working at the margins of the system, confirming the unbundling current of banking and managing niches of "verticals" where they can successfully unbundle the industry.
Why do we not collaborate as partners and take advantage of the possible synergies? And so, why don't you give a us a chance and to you at the Italian FinTech Awards?
Read more (if you're Italian) on Smartmoney #IFA2016.