As the Payment and Banking team we try to keep a continuous overview of the industry and report on small and large Fintechs and Insurtechs, on established banks as well as neo-banks, on digital strategies, on major investments of national and international financiers, write about exits and provide analyses on current topics.
Some companies appear more frequently in the reporting than others. We want to change that and are starting a new rubric with “what is … actually doing”, in which we will pay attention to the many great companies in the industry that do an excellent job, but sometimes stay a little under the radar during daily business. We want to know what the founders are up to right now, what their current state is, what plans are currently being pursued, and what the company will soon surprise us with.
For the premiere of our new series we were able to win Florian Christ from fino. We talk to him about the recent investment in anybill, the company’s plans for the USA and the need for virtual cups of coffee in times like these.
Hello Florian, are you still working in the office or already from home?
I am working from home, as do all of our employees. Since we now have a number of locations in Germany, we are used to working remotely. Therefore, the current situation does not mean any major changes for us in our day-to-day work. We are planning our days well and can also accelerate decision-making processes.
What is new in the current situation, however, is that we have also set up a virtual kitchen, so that we can chat with colleagues over a cup of coffee, just like in the office, and have a room for meetings. So far, the offer has been well received, the feedback is very good!
You are not one of those companies you hear about during daily business. Is this a conscious, strategic decision on your part?
No, it is not, but it is a conscious decision on our part to only talk about us, when there is really something to tell. Lastly, the fact that we have invested in the company anybill. With this decision we are pursuing a clear goal.
Which is that and where do you currently stand as a company?
When we entered the market in 2015, we were particularly strong in the fintech sector and started with digital bank account switching. fino, however, has developed further in the recent years and is now standing on three pillars:
- Fintech with bank account changes and the fino profiles Yoli (B2C) and Finux (B2B).
- In the field of DocTech, we cover with getmyinvoices and anybill everything concerning invoices, receipts and accounting preparation.
- With KYCnow, a platform which we have developed together with SCHUFA and which provides all the data required in the KYC process up to the final assessment of risk, in accordance with the inferior assets, we now also cover the area of RegTech.
We have remained true to our original idea of offering B2B2x products to end customers with partners. However, we have significantly expanded our domain in recent years. In addition to banks, our customers today also include insurance companies, accounting providers, tax consultants, credit agencies, retailers, large corporations and Start-ups. Thanks to the variety of partners, end customers and companies now find it much easier to use our products. We are currently employing around 100 people at our offices in Kassel, Berlin, Hamburg, Lübeck and Regensburg.
That sounds like you’re trying to create some kind of fino universe?
I wouldn’t say the universe. We want to bring together and improve things that belong together and create added value by bringing the areas together. Five years after our foundation, today we probably understand an account better than anyone else. However, in connection with getmyinvoices and anybill, completely new business models and automatisms are emerging, for example in accounting and in billing- and payment processes.
Are you now investing in an existing RegTech- Start-up?
No, we are taking a different approach here. fino and SCHUFA started in 2018 with the vision of digitizing the Know Your Customer (KYC) – process. We contribute our innovation and technical solution competence. As Germany’s leading solution provider of information bureau and information services, SCHUFA provides the network and data. Today, people in Kassel, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Hamburg work on the KYCnow platform and develop it further every day. KYCnow is already working very successfully in the market.
Does it mean to take a breath now or will it continue seamlessly in 2020?
We will become even more API-driven in 2020 and will add an API-layer over fino and our products, so that interested parties can integrate our technology, IP, know-how and products even better into their world. We have been working on this for quite some time and are consistently opening up our world to our partners.
You also had big international plans for 2020. Given the current situation, will these plans remain in place or will they slow you down?
It is for sure not getting easier :) We are active with Plug and Play USA since February this year. The financial services partners of PnP have selected us, from 1,000 candidates, to use our products in the USA. Instead of presence time in the USA, everything was switched into virtual for the time being. For example, the first virtual focus week is currently taking place like this. We will have to see how good cooperation with banks and local partners can be in this way.
With PnP we want to implement the first functioning projects in order to further accelerate the expansion of our American-business. Will this be postponed? Because no one is pushing us and we work in an opportunity-oriented manner, I don’t mind if we start three months later.
It is important for me that we consistently pursue our goal and expand our market. It also helps that our business model is stable, and we are not dependent on sales from America.
In the last five years, what have been the greatest learnings you have had?
In the beginning, we had to promote, to create partnerships, the ability to work at eye height with each other, and that new business models work. The situation has changed in recent years. We have proven that we have a sustainable business model. More and more companies are now approaching us to develop joint products and business models. This is a very, very positive change. Changing bank accounts is not one of the core processes of a bank, and today we are certainly talking about other areas. The appreciation of partners has changed significantly.
This development certainly does not only apply to us. But what has really helped us a lot is the relationship of trust that we have built up over the years. Younger Start-ups still have this path ahead of them.
Was there a point in the last five years, where you almost ran out of air?
We didn’t run out of air, but of course we constantly questioned our structures. Three years ago, the word structure was still a bad word at fino, but if you want to deliver the same quality internationally, you have to start aligning your organization accordingly. That is a continuous process of change. I find new food for thought valuable and it makes working interesting.
Last year we spent a month in New York with the German Accelerator. It was good to take a look at the company from the outside and ask ourselves, what it takes to go from a Start-up to a Scale-up. The exchange with international companies also helped me a lot. Where do take changes from? Where do you also have to give up habits in order to reach the next level? The step from a Start-up to a Scale-up is actually the one that has been with us the longest and is not quite completed yet.
Can you give an example for this?
In the early years fino was a company that was able to build up products very quickly, that had a good business model and that users enjoyed. What we didn’t immediately look at during that time was: To set up the team in such a way that there are permanent employees who want to scale the product accordingly, for example in internationalization or in the long tail, right down to the last customer. We have turned the creative Start-up into a company that has a high proportion of creativity, but which can also deliver at eye level. With new employees that are brought in for this purpose, however, the culture in the company inevitably changes.
Managing this is not always easy. During this phase it helped me a lot to talk to other Start-ups, that were at the same points at different times. You suspect that this phase will come but are still surprised when it is there. Despite all the changes, we are still pursuing our core values.
From Start-up to Scale-up: You are still completely self-financed. Have you now also thought about raising capital?
Yes! We would raise money, but more for something like entering the American market, to take the step detached and consistent from our existing business. This creates stability and strength for expansion. We are proud of the fact that we still do not need any capital for our current business, and we do not want to change that. fino is and will remain a sustainable company without exit-ambitions.
Does this mean that the capital increase would have been planned for 2020?
What does would have mean? These are things I’m constantly working on. And I’m not letting the current situation stop me.
In which countries are you currently active?
Germany is basically the core market for all products. In the neighboring countries we are active in the Fintech sector or are on the way there. With getmyinvoices we have always been internationally positioned, e.g. in the English-speaking countries such as America, Canada and Australia. We also have users or partners in Europe. With RegTech we are currently active in Germany.
Corona also employs the financial industry. Where do you currently see an opportunity for the industry?
The interaction becomes much more intensive. I believe that Corona will trigger a hype of “cashless payment” and the openness for collaborative work will increase. In addition, the financial industry is now broader, many participants cover a niche and the specialized offerings are merging more and more. It is no longer a case of being against each other, we are no longer just behind big players, but will find new forms of collaboration and new business models.
“I believe that Corona will trigger a hype of ‘cashless payment’ and the openness for collaborative work will increase.”
Are you benefiting from the pandemic in the sense that users are more at home and more involved with their finances, switching accounts and getting their accounting done? Do you even see an increase in user numbers?
What we see and notice indirectly is that people are generally more interested in the digital offer. We launched our new OnboardingX last week as the successor to the bank account change and it’s nice to see that one of the first users was an 81-year-old who gave us great feedback. Today, all age groups are still using our products, but in the past, more in the branch where there was an advisor. It is a good time for simple digital products that make people’s lives easier.