The FintechGermany Award is the ideal platform for knowledge sharing

Interview with Philipp Sandner on the FinTechGermany Award 2019

“Regulation is probably still one of the biggest challenges for young FinTechs in Germany,” says Philipp Sandner, Head of the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center. In a Frankfurt Main Finance interview, he discusses how the FinTechGermany Award can support young FinTechs to overcome regulatory challenges.

What is especially important to you when judging applicants for the FinTechGermany Award?

The primary focus is on their business model. With regards to FinTechs, the degree to which the idea is innovative is of utmost importance. The implementation of the business model, its cost-effectiveness and especially the integration of new technologies, such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence, are decisive factors for whether a FinTech can survive on the market. Among other things, the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center advises and assists young, highly innovative companies using these new technologies to implement and commercialize their products. We firmly believe that Blockchain technology will have a significant impact on the financial industry, and of course on the prospects of success of FinTechs that are applying for the FinTechGermany Award.

What are the biggest challenges for FinTechs in Germany? How can start-up companies better supported? What can platforms like the FinTechGermany Award do to help?

Regulation is probably still one of the biggest challenges for young FinTechs in Germany. Due to the interaction with the financial market, BaFin often requires FinTechs to adhere to strict regulations. However, due to cost pressure and a lack of staff, it is more difficult for start-ups to meet those requirements than for large financial institutions. Hence, it is crucial to provide young entrepreneurs with know-how and to show them ways in which, for example, they can adapt their business model so that the need to meet BaFin’s standards is reduced or even rendered obsolete. Platforms like the FinTechGermany Award foster that knowledge transfer.

How will the German FinTech ecosystem evolve in 2019? In the next 5 years?

Within the next year, a continued or even extended application of Bafin regulation to FinTechs might lead to a market consolidation and force some FinTechs to retreat from the market. Despite the potential for consolidation, I believe FinTechs will continue to have greater significance – unlike banks or other large financial institutions they can more readily and agilely make use of innovation and new technologies. Banks need to be prepared for serious competition from smaller companies, weakening their monopolistic position. Therefore, banks should be encouraged to work more closely with FinTechs in order to foster innovation and keep pace with new technologies. Thus, it can be expected that large financial institutions will increasingly cooperate with FinTechs in the upcoming years. In the meantime, topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Crypto Assets will be of crucial importance and likely to determine whether a business model can survive on the market.

How can Frankfurt become one of the leading Fintech hubs in Germany or Europe?

First of all, places must be created where young companies can creatively test their ideas and obtain needed advice. Such platforms not only provide for the exchange of information, but also allows them to get in contact with potential investors and partners. Unfortunately, there are far too few opportunities in the Financial Centre Frankfurt. This infrastructure is much better established in other European countries and the rest of the world. In Germany, enough funding to provide for a sufficient number of facilities for young companies needs to be granted by the federal government and federal states. At the same time, knowledge transfer is indispensable. Many decision makers are not yet prepared for the imminent paradigm shift that is to come in the financial industry. This is unfortunate as it threatens their business model and hinders the utilisation of increased financial strength to further innovation in partnership with FinTechs. The Frankfurt School Blockchain Center contributes to the transfer of knowledge and regularly organizes seminars, events and large-scale conferences to focus on new developments and raise awareness of issues like blockchain.

Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence will gain in importance

In our interview Christopher Schmitz, Partner and FinTech specialist at Ernst & Young (EY), evaluates the characteristics of the Rhine-Main FinTech ecosystem and explains why, in the near future, we can expect to see even closer cooperation between emerging FinTechs and established companies like banks, insurers and asset managers.

The investment volume in FinTech start-ups, measured by average deal size, has grown over the past years. Do you think this development will continue?

We estimate the trend of growing deal sizes will continue. Several of the FinTechs founded in Germany in recent years have been able to achieve success on the market side in the B2C or B2B segment. Investors who are operating globally have detected German FinTechs as profitable business cases. Based on these extensive investment rounds FinTechs have been able to grow and expand their businesses internationally. Parallel to this success, the valuations of several FinTechs have risen enormously – most recently to around €2 billion for the most successful start-ups. Therefore, average deal size will continue to grow.

The Rhine-Main FinTech ecosystem focuses on “Enabling Processes & Technology” and “InvesTechs”. Besides this, what else exactly makes the Rhine-Main FinTech ecosystem unique?

Compared to other German FinTech hubs, the Rhine-Main FinTech ecosystem is characterised by a strong focus on B2B business models, a very grown-up start-up network and the proximity to and the active exchange with potential investors and clients. A significant proportion of the founders in the ecosystem benefits from many years of experience in banks, insurance companies or asset managers and use this experience to tailor their business models to the specific problems of their clients. B2B business models for example require significantly less capital in the seed and growth stage compared to B2C business models because customer acquisition is not carried out via the classic online media with correspondingly high marketing expenditure, but through direct customer relations. While this makes the B2B sales cycle considerably longer and more complicated, B2B service providers often achieve a faster break-even. The proximity to regulators, customers and the structure of the ecosystem as well as the good international network enable a rapid evolution to the range of services offered.

What is your outlook for 2019? Which FinTech trends are you particularly interested in and which trends should we prepare for?

We will observe even closer cooperation between emerging start-ups and established companies. Because of their legacy infrastructure and the growing innovation speed, banks, insurers and asset managers won’t be able to ignore emerging financial technologies. However, purely disruptive approaches can only be found in a few successful start-ups. Cooperation will take centre stage. Open banking and the API/platform-economy will become central fields for the future positioning of established players as well as new players entering the market. The beginning convergence of value creation across industry boundaries in emerging marketplaces like mobility, digital health, smart cities or smart home requires a rethink in the financial services industry. Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence will become even more important in this context, and FinTechs will drive much of the customer-centric innovation as a partner and service provider to the financial services industry.

Cairo Financial Industry meets Frankfurt to discuss options post Brexit

More than 1.2 trillion USD in assets will need to be relocated after Brexit. Frankfurt is poised to gain more than 800 billion USD. Frankfurt Main Finance, representing the Financial Centre Frankfurt, with the support of the Central Bank of Egypt, informed the Financial Industry in Cairo on the most recent developments on 25 March 2019, at the Diplomatic Club Cairo.

The event brought legal and regulatory experts together the financial industry to discuss Frankfurt’s increasing role as a financial hub in the wake of the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union, not just for continental Europe, but also the larger MENA region.

“As the financial centre of Europe’s leading economy, Germany, and the home of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt is in the pole position to benefit post Brexit. 48 Financial institutions, mainly from the US, Europe and Asia have decided to relocate all or part of their European banking business to Frankfurt,” explains Hubertus Väth, Managing Director of Frankfurt Main Finance e.V.

“We now see a second wave coming from the MENA region.” Yusef Ahmed, Founder and Managing Director of FIC Frankfurt International, notes. “As companies and banks finalize their Brexit contingency plans, Germany is committed to supporting Frankfurt’s key position in the new landscape of Europe’s financial industry.”

From a legal perspective, regulatory issues faced by banks moving to Frankfurt have been discussed in the context of new political conditions. Brexit also hosts opportunities for Frankfurt to establish itself as an M&A centre as well as a transaction-financing hub,” says Dr. Nicolas Bremer, Partner at the international law firm Alexander & Partner.

Dr. Rüdiger Litten, Partner at the international law firm Fieldfisher, who supported the Kuwait Finance House in establishing their fully licensed bank in Frankfurt, adds that “in the past months, we have experienced an increasing number of banks and financial institutions from the MENA-region seeking our advice on opening shop in Frankfurt.”

 

From the garage to the Financial Centre Frankfurt

Accelerator Frankfurt was founded in 2016 by Ram Shoham and Maria Pennanen, based on their first-hand experience working for corporates that struggled to form partnerships with start-ups. Their unique go-to-market program accelerates B2B software startups in the fields of Fintech, Regtech, Cybersecurity, Insuretech, Proptech and Blockchain. The startups receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and investors, consulting and professional services, in addition to a co-working space. “We wanted to set up this program as an interface for corporates and startups,” says Ram Shoham, co-founder of Accelerator Frankfurt. The program focuses on FinTech because of their professional backgrounds and Frankfurt’s draw as a financial centre, but also accepts startups in Cybersecurity, Blockchain, RegTech and more. Accelerator Frankfurt also powers the Blockchain Labs, which help corporates get access and education to blockchain technologies.

We asked Ram Shoham in an exclusive Interview: What does the path from the Garage to the Financial Centre Frankfurt look like?

Accelerator Frankfurt in 2 sentences: What makes the success of Accelerator Frankfurt GmbH?

We are the gateway to Germany’s financial sector for start-ups. We help advanced stage start-ups, who have paying customers and products break into the German market through our three-month, sales-focused acceleration program.

What impresses you the most when talking to young founders?

We have accelerated thirty startups since 2016 and screened thousands of founders before accepting anyone to the program. The founders we work with, all have one thing in common: Passion. We only select founders who love what they do. Running a startup is very stressful and intense. You must love what you do if want to achieve great things.

What is the typical path from the garage to the Financial Centre Frankfurt? Is there a single path? What hurdles must start-ups master?

There is not one typical path. Some start-ups are disruptive, some are complementary. We primarily focus on Business-to-Business (B2B) solutions. This means that for our start-ups to succeed, partnerships with the banks must be formed. For this, one needs perseverance because the sales cycles can be quite lengthy, but the rewards also quite great.

Frankfurt has become a FinTech hub, above all due to its proximity to established banks. How would you describe the current FinTech ecosystem in Frankfurt?

When we first established Accelerator Frankfurt, there was hardly a start-up ecosystem in the city. We were the first accelerator in Frankfurt and certainly the first to attract international start-ups to the city. Nowadays, we are delighted to see the network effect this has had on the city. There is certainly more vibe, more complementary programs and hopefully, in the near future, more Venture Capital funds investing in Frankfurt’s start-ups.

What future challenges face the Frankfurt FinTech ecosystem? And what opportunities arise from this?

The main challenge for Frankfurt is banks becoming more open to new innovations. FinTechs are gaining traction in the financial world, especially blockchain solutions. Still, there remains huge potential for banks to work alongside these innovative start-ups.

Do you have a favourite start-up? 😉

I do not have favourite start-ups. I have favourite entrepreneurs, and those are the people who inspire me every day. So far, the biggest lesson in my career is that hard work puts you, where good luck can find you. There is some element of being in the right place at the right time.

Why is Frankfurt the ideal location for (FinTech) start-ups?

Over 240 banks. Good airport. Rich environment. Good universities and talent.

 

 

About Ram Shoham

Ram Shoham is to Fintechs what George Martin was to the Beatles. He is the Founder of Accelerator Frankfurt with 16 years of international corporate experience in finance and general management before becoming an entrepreneur. Ram is also the Founder of the Blockchain Labs, which is focused on building an ecosystem for promoting blockchain technologies and education in this sector.

 

Photo: Jonas Ratermann