The purpose of the platform is to support people who are just thinking about starting a business and those who already run their businesses. ING Bank Poland wants them to be able to create and develop a healthy business with the expert help of ING.
The service is free and open to anyone looking for reliable business tips and practical tools. The portal has been prepared with future and current entrepreneurs and companies and already existing ones, as support at every stage of their business journey.
Currently, Firmove.pl consists of two modules: Guides and News. The content concerns the verification of a business idea, financing, accounting, or ecological solutions for entrepreneurs and companies.
“ING’s goal is to support our customers in achieving their personal and business goals. Firmove.pl is another step in the implementation of the ING strategy, which assumes supporting entrepreneurship and raising awareness in the ESG area. We want to make it easier to build a healthy and competitive business based on strong foundations,” – emphasizes Ewa Łuniewska, Vice President of the Management Board of ING Bank Poland.
“Firmove.pl is a website for enterprising people who are looking for expert content in various fields. The website guides entrepreneurs and companies step by step through individual issues that are important at every stage of their business life. Our research shows that customers need such extensive support,” – said Jakub Wojteczek, President of the Management Board of ING Services for Business.
At Firmove.pl, users can learn about the challenges and opportunities related to the ESG area. The Bank wants to encourage entrepreneurs and companies to engage in sustainable activities, which is why the website includes e.g. good practices that will enable the creation of prospective businesses (e.g. a contract with a large contractor, meeting the growing environmental expectations of customers) and resistance to what the future may bring (regulations that may also directly affect smaller enterprises).
Digital talents mean the successful execution of a digital transformation, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Without any doubt, companies will invest in their business to transform them into digital ones, and digital talents will be in great demand. According to McKinsey report – in the next five years, we expect the demand for talent to deliver on new capabilities to significantly outstrip supply: for agile skills, for example, demand could be four times supply; for big-data talent, it could be 50 to 60 percent greater than projected supply.
What range of skills, and what type of specialists are needed right now in the market in the financial sector?
Katarzyna Stachowiak underlined the importance of soft skills. The pandemic made people change the localization of their workplaces – they moved from the offices to their homes, where no team can support and help them when it’s needed. She also added such traits as being independent and adaptable to the changes, as well as resolvable and empathic. In addition, Katarzyna singled out analytical and communicative skills, even if the employee works from their home office.
Michał Grzybowski gave an example of the ideal candidate, who should be digitally fluent, have cognitive skills, and be a social person. In practice, he told that it’s necessary to have the desire to develop digital skills.
Klaudia Archimowicz paid attention to being open-minded because the pandemic made significant adjustments to the market and varied the employees working environment.
Michal Kurowski commented that it’s essential to be adaptable to new technologies and cultures because nowadays companies have much more abilities to work with people from different countries. Banks are not necessarily at the top of mind for IT talents, but that can change with a clear innovation agenda, less hierarchical, and more “IT as a value generator” culture coupled with investments in people. He also notified that the companies shouldn’t forget about current employees, who should be upskilled.
Digital upskilling (of IT engineers and leaders). How should we do it effectively?
The speed of technological change requires constant employee digital upskilling. By upskilling, we mean giving employees opportunities to gain the knowledge, tools, and ability they need to use advanced and changing technologies in the workplace and their daily lives. But the most important probably is the upskilling of leaders to build digital transformation leaders. Upskilling is not in the sense of improving their tech skills but changing their management skills to be able to manage digital transformation inside the organization. The role of leaders is changing.
Klaudia Archimowicz and Michal Kurowski emphasized that everything starts with the top management. Furthermore, it’s necessary to have a clear strategy and direction for where a company is going and after that set up a range of skills needed for that in the organization.
What is more important: the individual or collective skills of a multidisciplinary team?
Katarzyna focused on the necessity of individual skills for the team leaders, who should motivate their teams, and collective skills for the IT engineers. Olena Gryniuk agreed with Katarzyna that some young people have never experienced working in an office, and because of that, it’s a challenge for them to build team skills. Klaudia added that even though the employees shouldn’t meet each other on an everyday basis, it’s good to integrate out of the offices, as that will help to feel comfortable during the work process. Michal Kurowski noted that the ability to work remotely gave people a lot of benefits, which are difficult to give up.
What IT acquisition strategy banks should apply?
In Klaudia’s opinion, companies should be more creative in looking for new candidates. It’s useful to take part in integration events and cooperate with startups. Furthermore, Katarzyna mentioned the importance of investing in employer branding, and building relationships with the talents, to keep in contact and present different options to the candidates. It’s also important to stay open and flexible, this is what the young generation expects from employers, and be able to bring value to all the generations company is dealing with. Michal Kurowski added that since “people are our key assets” for the banks, then talent “acquisition” should resemble other “asset classes” acquisitions (team takeovers, strategic partnerships).
To learn more details, watch the full webinar below:
OTOMOTO Pay (Poland), a solution for financing car purchases, is launched, fully integrated with the platform connecting sellers and buyers – OTOMOTO. The tool allows its customers to instantly obtain financing for the purchase of a car or other vehicle after prior verification of the offers of 18 banks and other financial institutions and matching the proposals to the user’s needs based on the author’s creditworthiness assessment tool. OTOMOTO Pay also allows them to verify the history of vehicles the purchase of which the applicant is considering and to include insurance and a one-year warranty for unforeseen repairs in the loan or leasing installment.
Carsmile is responsible for creating the fintech technology and handling the process, which has been piloting the project since April 2022. So far, the customers have received financing of a total value of almost PLN 100 million. The plans for next year include the launch of PLN 300 million in funding, as well as acquiring new partners and deepening cooperation with existing cooperating institutions. Carsmile is an e-platform dealing with long-term subscription car rentals, belonging to the OLX Group.
A wide range of 18 financial entities and a minimum of formalities
OTOMOTO Pay gives its customers a wide range of financing options from 18 financial institutions, including banks – e.g. PKO Leasing, BNP Paribas, Alior Bank, Alior Leasing, Santander Consumer Financial Solutions, Santander Consumer Multirent, Raiffeisen, Cofidis, Inbank, Arval and Brutto.pl. Some of the entities cooperating with the platform have already prepared individualized solutions for the customers. The tool, by analyzing the situation of the applicant, the declared amount of own contribution, and the value and age of the car in which the customer is interested, will match and recommend the best loan or leasing offer and will allow him/her to apply for financing to one selected institution from the website level.
“OTOMOTO Pay will maximally simplify the procedure of obtaining a loan from reliable and proven financial entities, will avoid information noise and numerous conversations with consultants proposing many different, often complicated solutions, and will ensure that the proposed loan or leasing conditions will be the most favorable for the customer in the current situation,”– says Łukasz Domański, CEO at Carsmile.
Before selecting and matching the offer to the user, the tool will automatically check the creditworthiness of the applicant, without affecting the value of his scoring in the Credit Information Bureau. After the user applies directly from the otomotopay.pl website, the money will be loaned to his/her account even within several minutes – the time depends on the activity of the entity to which the application will be sent.
The vehicle’s technical condition reports
As part of the service, the customer will be able to generate three vehicle history reports prepared by autoDNA. The decision to buy a specific model can be made even after the funds have been allocated to finance the car.
Access to funds for the purchase of a car before the final decision to make a transaction meets the needs of users. 47% of Poles declare that they consider the issue of budget and car financing first before choosing a specific brand and model, and another 37% simultaneously determine the financing and brand of the vehicle before making a purchase decision, according to a survey conducted for OTOMOTO by Minds & Roses in December 2022 year.
Insurance and one-year warranty on repairs
The customers using financing via OTOMOTO Pay will additionally be able to include car insurance in the installment of the loan or leasing. The tool will recommend the most advantageous third-party liability insurance (OC)/comprehensive motor insurance (AC), selected from the proposals of 15 insurance companies cooperating with the Punkta comparison engine. An additional option is to sew a one-year warranty for unforeseen repairs in installments, carried out under the car manufacturer’s guidelines, provided by Defend Insurance.
Scan&Buy – a car fintech is also for offline purchases
Soon after the launch of the solution, the users will gain access to a complementary car fintech tool: Scan&Buy. The solution, based on a scan of the vehicle registration plate or the QR code in the registration document, will determine the market price of the car and automatically offer the user the possibility of financing it with OTOMOTO Pay. Scan&Buy will expand the possibilities of financing, allowing its use also when buying without the intermediation of the OTOMOTO platform.
OTOMOTO Pay is the first embedded finance tool on an automotive-related platform in the European Union. There are only a few similar solutions in the world for automotive services. Integration with OTOMOTO will enable its customers to obtain financing not only for the purchase of cars but also motorcycles, agricultural and heavy machinery available on the platform. Obtaining financing will be possible when purchasing vehicles both from individual sellers and small dealers who don`t cooperate with any financial entity, as well as by larger sellers who list their offers on the OTOMOTO platform.
Until March 31, 2023, OTOMOTO Pay will be available randomly on 50% of OTOMOTO listings. Until then, financing will be available to everyone via the otomotopay.pl website. After a transitional period, from April 2023, all users will be able to use OTOMOTO Pay also from the OTOMOTO platform.
OTOMOTO is a platform belonging to the OLX Group, gathering around itself an ecosystem of tools supporting the purchase and sale of passenger cars and vans, as well as heavy vehicles and agricultural machinery as well as automotive parts. OTOMOTO‘s offer includes, among others: financing, the ability to verify the history of the car, and tools estimating the price of vehicles. Buyers’ questions are answered by a customer service team operating 365 days a year, while sellers can count on the support of a dedicated telephone or field account manager. The brand is also associated with Carsmile, which is the largest online subscription car platform in Poland, Otomoto Klik, where you can buy cars after a detailed inspection, equipped with a Digital Vehicle Passport, as well as 3-2-1 SPRZEDANE!, where you can quickly price and sell the car. Every month, OTOMOTO is used by about 6 million Internet users who generate over 153 million page views (Gemius data).
ING Bank Poland has introduced new functionalities in the e-POS application, which will increase the convenience of use. The Bank enabled its customers to log in with biometric data using a fingerprint and provided an option to switch the application to English. The e-POS application allows its customers to accept contactless payments without the need of having a terminal. All they need is devices with Android 8.0 or higher.
“Currently, 57 percent of payments in retail trade in Poland are cashless, and 98% of them are contactless payments. In this respect, we are a leader in Europe. Within a few months of offering this application, over 3,500 of our customers have activated it,”– says Kamil Adamski, Merchant Services Director, ING Bank Poland. “We are constantly improving our solution to increasing the convenience of using the e-POS application. Customers can now log in using biometric data, i.e. a fingerprint, and cancel the last transaction, which will make it easier for merchants to settle accounts with customers. In addition, the seller can use the language change to English and the 180-degree flip screen function, thanks to which the screen will be set face up when accepting payments. Our customers` comments are an inspiration for us to further develop the service. We are currently working on implementing further functions,”– adds K. Adamski.
The e-POS application is also covered by the Cashless Poland Program. From January 1, 2023, the business customers have transactions without fees up to a turnover of PLN 100,000 for 12 months. As part of additional support, they will receive two additional months for free as a gift from ING. It means that ING Bank Poland won`t charge any fees on their transactions for 14 months.
The ING e-POS application allows its customers to accept the same payment methods as a regular terminal, i.e. Visa and MasterCard cards, Google Pay, Apple Pay digital wallets, and contactless BLIK.
After logging in to the application, the seller enters the transaction amount, and the payer approaches the card, phone, or watch to the NFC reader built into the back cover of the phone. If the customer needs a payment confirmation, he/she can receive it by e-mail directly from the application or download it via a QR code from the seller’s screen – from now on also in English. The application also allows them to view transaction history, return funds from previous transactions or invalidate the last one when, for example, the wrong amount was entered.
The ING e-POS application is offered in the “pay when using” pricing model. There are no activation or usage fees, the Bank only charges a transaction fee.
The customers that want to use the application sign the agreement fully remotely, in the ING application (Moje ING) or ING Business online banking, and handle payments from customers as part of their relationship with the Bank. Thanks to this, the money is quickly available on the business account – no later than 10.00 am on the next workday.
This application meets all security requirements set by the following organizations: Mastercard, VISA, and the Payment Card Industry.
In the post-pandemic time, work models have changed significantly, as well as the needs in the context of talents. The ongoing digitization of our environment, significantly accelerated by the pandemic – both professional and business – has created a need for new sets of skills that will be able to maintain modern business at the highest level despite numerous crises. What does digital talent mean today? What are these talents, and what applications do they have in the financial services industry? What skills and types of specialists have become scarce?
How to attract digital talents? And how to train employees to make it easier for them to find themselves in the new reality?
Watch the webinar recording, streamed live on January 31, 2023
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With this ninth episode of SME Banking Conversations with Olena Gryniuk, we are continuing the series of inspiring interviews on SME Banking, digital transformation, and people making innovations happen in the industry!
Olena Gryniuk: John, I would like to start this interview with my question about you. Now you are CEO of the Institute of Leadership & Management in London, and previously you were head of the Agile Consortium in the UK. And also, you have a background in Santander UK and SME Banking actually. Please tell our viewers about you.
John Mark Williams: Okay. Well, I suppose from an SME banking perspective, my career started several years ago in stockbroking. I spent about six years in stockbroking and corporate finance. And that was, I think really the first place that I began to learn about business and how the business worked. After I spent those years in stockbroking, I went to live overseas for a while in the Middle East and the Far East for quite some time. I had my own company in the Far East for a while and I spent quite a lot of time supporting other businesses in the Far East and the Middle East, and that was, I suppose, a deeper education in how the business worked, not just my own business, which I learned about, and also how it related to other businesses developing. And then I spent several years helping companies to do business internationally. And that sort of added a third layer, which was about how to do international business and how other people approach international business. So, when I moved into running professional bodies, I, first of all, joined the Agile Business Consortium as the chief exec there and then moved on to the Institute of Leadership & Management. And interestingly, both of those added not so much another layer to my understanding, almost a wrapper, so that I could begin to understand well, clearly the way that businesses, particularly SMEs, do business, is like this. Actually, agility can add another dimension to the way in which they do business. And then, of course, something that I picked up quite early on in my career, the importance of leadership and the way leadership is delivered within SMEs makes a tremendous difference to their prospects for success or otherwise. So that’s a quick run through my career journey.
OG: SMEs are very agile compared to corporates, right?
JMW: Yeah, there’s a sort of obvious reason for that, which is of course that SMEs live much closer to breakeven cases. I remember having a conversation with the chairman of a very large corporate, a car company in Europe, and we were talking about their success or otherwise in Europe. And he said we have in the last year just made our first profit in Europe for ten years. And I thought, how could an SME ever even think I could go for ten years without making a profit? So, the difference between SMEs and large corporates, even quite large SMEs, which might be turning over 15-20 million, the difference between them and a large corporate is so big that it’s very difficult for corporates to grasp at all.
OG: Yesterday at our conference you said a very interesting and game-changing thought, I would say, the sentence that to do SME banking, you should be rather an SME than a banker. Let’s develop this topic because we were talking with you also previously about this gap between SMEs and bankers or understanding how real SME business happening by the bankers.
JMW: And this understanding gap and understanding gap is an academic concept that goes back about 25 years or more possibly. It’s so important in SMB banking because banking, first of all, is not just a process, it’s actually a foundation for all other businesses because without finance it’s very difficult for a business to achieve anything at all. So, banking plays a particular role in the life of a business. Banking plays an even more important role in the life of SMEs because, as I mentioned before, SMEs can’t afford to go ten years without making a profit and they need to be able to manage finance in particular ways. So, the understanding gap between a large corporate, a bank, and its SME clients becomes crucially important. To bridge that gap, understanding gap, there needs to be obviously an understanding. And one of the things that I believe is that it’s almost impossible for somebody who has never been in an SME, let alone run an SME, to really grasp how it works, and for a banker, an SME banker, who is in a very large corporate is trained as a banker. And that’s right, because, of course, they work for banks, they need to be trained as bankers. However, if their clients are SMEs, then actually the understanding gap exists and exists largely. And my quite provocative statement is, and I think I sincerely believe this, that SME bankers, to be successful, need to be first SMEs and not bankers. So, when it comes to how do we make the transition to SME bankers who can be effective with SMs, the question then arises, do we retrain the bankers that we’ve already got?
OG: Is it possible at all?
JMW: Yeah. Is it possible to do one? And I suspect it may not be. And that’s not the fault of SME bankers. They were recruited with certain competencies and characteristics and capabilities to do banking. Yeah, indeed. And some of them many years ago actually. Yeah. And they were recruited as bankers, and they have performed successfully as bankers. However, the success that banks now need to see or want to see with SMEs requires those bankers to think differently about how their clients’ work.
OG: How banks can do this, what is the way out?
JMW: There are, I suppose, two routes. One of the retraining and sounds very straightforward. It’s not, of course, because it’s not just the functions of SME banking that need to change. Because actually they could be changed quite easily just by changing the rules. So, one of them is retraining, the other one is recruiting different people. If we think about the first one first, the retraining, the challenge with that is this idea that what makes up the understanding gap is the mindset. And that’s a big difference.
OG: Is it to possible to change?
JMW: I’m not sure it is. As I said unless somebody has worked in an SME, run an SME, or owned an SME, perhaps, it’s very difficult to appreciate the things which differentiate a bank from an SME and I think that you know, there are a couple of things. One of them is time, the sense of time that you and I have talked about before about the fact that actually, SMEs can’t wait two or three months to be paid. You know, because actually they live not necessarily from hand-to-mouth, but they need to be paid.
JMW: Absolutely. And what is interesting is that the technology is there for that to have.
You know, there’s no technical barrier to that being done at all. The barriers are in the mindset of the bank. And interestingly, I think those barriers are at several levels. The SME bankers themselves who are challenged because it’s not because they don’t want to help their clients. Of course, they do. They are required by the bank to perform in a particular way. They have PNL accounts that they have to fulfill. They need to do certain things. They are targeted and they are rewarded based on how they fulfill the expectations of the bank, which is set by the mindset of the people at the top of the bank who are not running an SME. They’re running up a corporate that’s worth billions. So, it’s very difficult for any SME banker to actually do what their SME clients need because they may well not then perform the way the bank wants them to. So that’s the retraining needs to be done at a number of levels and particularly actually at the top of the bank in order for the people at the top of the bank to give permission for those people who are dealing with SMEs to deal with them in the right way. So there will be all sorts of changes in the reward structure of banks and stuff like that. The other way to maybe change the situation is this idea about who banks recruit.
OG: How to recruit? Because, you know, it’s really difficult. Nobody wants to work in the bank these days.
JMW: Well, yeah, it’s interesting. Banks are not notably preferred employers except for people who want to earn money because, of course, traders in banks will often end up quite a lot of money. And I can understand that because there’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn some money. And a bank is a good vehicle for doing that for many people. However, banks do have a reputation for being quite not harsh but unforgiving employers. You can either do the business or not and if you can’t do the business, then understandably the bank, which has shareholders and has profit targets, probably will not hang on to that person. One of the things interestingly is one of the things that I did when I was with Santander for about four years, I think, I worked with Santander, and I set up and run the Breakthrough program.
OG: Yes. Let’s talk about this
JMW: Yeah. The Breakthrough was really, really interesting because the idea behind it was that, of course, banks provide financial support to companies, that’s why they exist in the SME context.
OG: Not always actually they provide as we see the last two years banks were restricted in that as well. I mean access to SME finance is still challenging.
JMW: Yes, indeed. So, in theory, at least, banks provide finance for SMEs. However, finance is not the only thing that SMEs need in order to be successful. And I have a model where there are all five core functions in a business: strategy, marketing, operations, people, and finance. So, if we allow in theory, the bank already provides the finance, if the SME needs the other four things to be done successfully in order to prosper, can the bank help them in those other four areas? Strategy marketing, operations, and people? And the answer is yes. So, we did with Breakthrough in Santander. We just set up a little team and one of the reasons banks don’t do this sort of thing is because they’re specialists in finance. Exactly. They also because they’re banks, they know everybody, you know, banks know all sorts of businesses and people in all sorts of areas. So, if an SME needs help in marketing, the bank doesn’t need to say, we can’t help you with that, we do finance. They can say we know people who do marketing, we can connect you. And that was the principle behind Breakthrough. And it was quite it was very successful in one way in particular, which is that it demonstrated to the SMEs with whom we worked over those four years.
OG: You worked with scale-ups within this program, right?
JMW: Yes, exactly right. And a lot of a lot of businesses. We did a number of events with 300, 350 businesses would come and listen to what we had to say. And what made the difference was that the businesses, the SMEs began to realize this particular bank was wanting to understand how they worked, to be a real partner. Yeah, to bridge that understanding gap, to enable them to work effectively. And that word partner that you just mentioned, was the way that we presented Breakthrough. And it’s not actually that difficult as a concept. It’s difficult for banks to do and it was very difficult for Santander to do this costs money, and this is the key.
OG: This is difficult for banks to do. You know what I hear now from the banks and here in Central Europe, one of the main stoppers of not implementing beyond banking services for SMEs is actually the lack of knowledge inside the organization. So, there is no specialist in the bank knowing how to offer e-invoicing, accounting, and other non-financial services for SMEs to support their businesses. Yeah, and this is one of the stoppers. So, it is really difficult from the financial point of view, but also this knowledge point of view.
JMW: That’s absolutely right. And if we think that those beyond banking services are difficult for the bank to source from specialists and experts within the bank because actually specialists and experts are outside, we think about non-banking services and marketing or HR, or strategy, those are even more difficult for the bank to access. And the only way that I guess it could be done was for Santander brought somebody like me in that had a network of connections that were not banking, that were associated with all of those other functions. And it does cost money because that team didn’t have a PNL, and it didn’t generate revenue directly for the bank. The aim of that team was to create a relationship with SMEs that would enable them to come to the bank, voluntarily because they saw the bank as being willing to understand. There’s no reason why any of the banks should not do that other than cost and costs.
OG: Was it a big team?
JMW: It wasn’t a big team. There were I think six of us in the end in total, at the largest point they were about six of us. And the most interesting thing about the whole exercise I think really was back to this idea of mindset and that the team’s job was not just to connect with lots of asset meetings and to bring them in and let them see what the bank could do. It was also actually to connect people in the bank with the SMEs to try and shift some of the mindset within the SME bankers. And we were moderately successful, I’d say, in that. Okay. And I wouldn’t say more than that because it’s always very difficult until the bank says, okay, we will reward you, SME Banker differently because you’re working with SMEs. It’s different for that banker to actually behave in any way other than as they normally do. So, I would be really, I’d be really keen to see other banks think about how do we provide certainly beyond banking services like factoring, etc. or how do we connect the SMEs with these, and then how do we connect SMEs with other things? One of the examples was say, in marketing, we took a group of SMEs along to see one of the world’s best brand management companies and they did a day-long masterclass for 20-25 SMEs, which those SMEs could never have afforded from this global brand. And then the SMEs went away with a brand management plan devised with this global company, which they couldn’t otherwise have had them. And that was great because that was the bank, which is a global business, talking to another global business and saying, how can we help smaller companies. We can give them a day-long workshop on the brand management plan. And of course, it costs the brand management company almost nothing to do that. It’s a day of somebody’s time and the SMEs get something unique that they could not have got. So that’s the sort of simplicity of action and activity that can be taken, but it requires a mindset that actually seems to be valuable to them.
OG: Do you think that now, and especially during these last two years, when the SME environment has changed a lot, all the business environment has changed both for the banks and SMEs, does it require new skills for SME bankers and maybe for the SME banking leaders?
JMW: Yes. And for the SMEs. And I think that’s the driver of the need for new skills in SME bankers and the leadership within SME banking is the fact that SMEs themselves have changed so much over the course of the last two or three years.
OG: Maybe they’re changing quicker than the bankers.
JMW: Without a doubt. So, one of the things that the pandemic did for us was that it made it immediately evident what is important and what is not, what adds value and what does not. And it actually highlighted the agility that SMEs have or not because some of them were not able to cope with it. So, SMEs that coped well, have learned to be more agile than they ever were because they were forced to be so. As a result, the pressure on SME bankers to think in a more agile way has increased and we may or may not have seen that produce a change in behavior, in some banks, it has, and in some, it certainly hasn’t. The key again is to think about these layers in the bank, and it’s at the leadership level where the difference needs to be made. And I have to say my experience of leadership in corporates generally is that agility is well-regarded and often thought about a lot and not too often practiced. There are relatively few companies which were not born agile, many of them web-based companies and things like this, which might be enormous companies: Amazon, Google, and people like this, they were born agile, but very few companies that were not born agile that have achieved agility in their thinking. And I certainly don’t see much in the way of agility yet from the leadership in SME banking. And it’s partly, maybe it’s partly because SME banking is not yet thought of as a thing within banking. We know retail exists. Business banking, which is smaller and medium-sized businesses, and then corporate. Well, actually business banking is in many banks is seen as a different version of retail without understanding that it’s not the same. SME banking encompasses those people who are running a business and who want to grow that business, not just have a bank account, they want to grow the business. Actually, that’s not retail banking, it’s banking, a particular type of banking where the bank needs to back to mindset, needs to understand the ambitions and aspirations of the business and think about how do we partner with that business to achieve them. It’s a shame that SME banking is not thought of as almost a career path within banking. That’s what I would really like to see.
OG: Who, on your opinion, can we call a successful SME banker? What does it mean to be successful in SME banking and whether it is the same as to be innovative in SME banking?
JMW: I think the characteristics of someone who could be a successful SME banker. The first one is that they are a banker. Okay. And I know I said earlier they should be SMEs, not bankers. But actually, they do need to know a little bit about banking. They need to know much more about being an SME. Okay. And of course, our existing cohort of SME bankers are actually not in that place yet. So existing successful SME banker would be an SME banker who thinks, how do I how do I understand a bit more about this SME? How do I partner with them to achieve their ambitions, not just the bank’s? That’s the starting point for existing SME bankers. I actually think they will be surprised and will surprise themselves with just how interesting it is when you start to understand how an SME works and just how easily the bank can help them by connecting them with the right people. So successful SME banker from the existing cohort moves from banking towards SME. Successful SME banker in the future starts with SME and, as I said earlier, then learns about banking. Because I think it’s and I’m sure there are bankers out there who will disagree with this. I don’t think banking is a very complicated or difficult function. The competitive advantage that banks used to have before fintechs and a number of services, was made up of three things. They had a customer service operation, they had risk assessment and they had the transactional ability. So, in theory, nobody needs to give that money to a bank because if I trust you, then I could give you all my money and say, please look after that. For me. However, the transactional ability needs to be done through a regulated organization, so then you would lose a competitive advantage against the banks. So, banks have allowed that competitive advantage to be disrupted somewhat, partly customer service I mentioned. You know, banks don’t have a great reputation, most of them for customer service. And I’m talking about SME banking in particular here. Risk assessment. Again, the reputation is a bit tarnished because it takes far too long to assess an SME for a loan. Usually, the need for the loan has actually passed by the time the SME gets the nod for it. It also can cost money because if the bank has to do due diligence, then the SME will often have to pay for that and would usually have to pay for that. And then the transactional ability. Well, actually lots of people can transact the financial transaction now, not just the banks. So, there are lots of things which have gone away from banks in terms of their competitive advantage. I think really. I’m not sure where they go from here without a willingness to attract and recruit SMEs into banking or individuals who understand SMEs into banking and then train them in banking. I think the future is a big challenge for banks in the SME field because sooner or later those fintechs who are increasingly successful in the retail banking sphere and already doing things for businesses, and particularly those non-banking services you mentioned factoring and things like this, they will start to creep further and further into the role that banks have been playing.
OG: And until the regulators.
JMW: Well, until as it is, this is classic disruption. This is a classic disruptive model. And I think interestingly, one of the things somebody said to me once when we were talking about the future of banking, and they said the only reason, the only thing that keeps banks alive is regulators. And I thought about it, and I thought, actually, yeah, because if there were no regulators, then competition would be absolute and there would be an awful lot of people doing things that banks currently do.
Regulators are protecting banks for good reason because the regulations are there to protect us as customers. However, there is a question mark over whether or not regulators ought to allow other organizations into that.
OG: John, what is your inspiration to do a better job?
JMW: Or what a good question. I think it sounds in a way, it sounds almost foolish, but it’s my inspiration is actually I’d like to help people do a better job of what they do. Not least because it’s enormously pleasing and gratifying when you see somebody achieve something, particularly if they thought they couldn’t do it, you see them achieve it. And the pleasure that they get from that, I get it too. And I think that’s what keeps me going really, especially because, you know, from an SME banking perspective, SMEs struggle. I know, I’ve been in SME, and I run an SME right now, and actually to do whatever we can to help SMEs succeed in that struggle is what keeps me going.
OG: I’m very inspired by this conversation with you, John. Thank you very much for this.
JMW: It’s my great, great pleasure. Thank you very much indeed, Olena, for the opportunity to talk.
December is traditionally a time when we look back through the past year. We go through everything that happened, we evaluate what turned out well and what we could have done differently. The same approach can be applied to companies – going through particular successes and also things that can be valuable lessons. The latter is an inseparable part of our existence. Without them, we would never be able to move forward and learn.
The bank-fintech partnership was just a few years ago considered more of a utopia than something that could work. Banks as subject to regulations, with a fixed organizational structure and complex processes, are seemingly the exact opposite of startups. Those can innovate, grow and move forward very quickly almost from month to month, which is usually not so fast for a banking institution. However, these differences can also be seen as a chance to work together and draw on a mutual symbiosis that brings benefits to both partners. At KB SmartSolutions we believe that fintechs are not competitors for banks, but potential partners. What might appear to be a possible dispute can be used as a chance to learn from each other.
Komerční banka as a leader in cooperation with fintechs
The days when banks and fintechs were seen as rivals are long gone. The journey of this claim took a rapid turn and it ended irretrievably in the abyss of history. More and more banks have seen fintech as the fastest way to accelerate their digital transformation processes. If we look at the hard statistics – overall, 65% of banks and credit unions entered at least one fintech partnership over the past three years, and 35% invested in a fintech startup.
Komerční banka is even one step ahead and very quickly understood that cooperation with startups can not only enrich it with new products, distribution channels, segment offers, and competencies but help with constant innovation or satisfying the needs of its customers faster and using original solutions. On the other hand, it also turned out that Komerční banka can bring essential value to cooperating fintechs as well. To cooperate with startups, Komerční banka founded KB SmartSolutions in the form of a so-called “corporate venture house”. KB SmartSolutions is the link between both partners. Its members are in everyday touch with the Bank, finding the needs of customers, looking for suitable solutions on the market, and at the same time searching for those smart solutions on the market and preparing startups for cooperation with the Bank. KB SmartSolutions works with fintech on their further development, growth, scaling, and foreign expansion. It is not just an investment to achieve its appreciation, it is the very development of the solution to the maximum possible level.
And here is the right moment to bring the evidence of functional partnerships and collaborations that KB SmartSolutions brought to the Bank over the past four years of its existence. These successful cooperations are the feedback. Therefore, sharpen your senses and prepare your hands to applaud our stars. Entering the scene are Finbricks, ENVIROS and KB Advisory, Upvest, Roger, and Lemonero.
Finbricks simply folds up blocks of financial services on top of each other
Finbricksenables payment gateways, e-commerce companies, fintechs, banks, EPR systems, and others to build a variety of financial technology products for their customers on its back-end services. Finbricks improves and complements the open banking services of commercial banks and, after years of market stagnation, puts the concept of PSD2 into practice. Finbricks introduces the new open banking aggregation platform MULTIBANK, which gives access to a wide range of financial data and banking products. With a total volume of CZK 850+ million in PSD2 payments and a 95% success rate, Finbricks has established itself as a reliable partner that meets the strict regulatory requirements of the payment world and ensures the smooth flow of payments.
In 2022 (only in its second year of operation), Finbricks took a big step forward. From an internal startup, it became a full-fledged company aiming to become a major player in the payments market. The proof is the fact that he received tens of millions of crowns from Komerční banka for further development. A purely technological PSD2 aggregation solution has become a fully functional e-commerce payment platform. Instead of bank buttons and transfers from internet banking, one payment gateway to twelve banks in the Czech Republic from Finbricks. It spread from the Czech Republic to Slovakia, and an important milestone was the submission of an application for a license to operate a payment institution to the CNB. In addition to setting basic company processes, it meant building a robust system of checks and ensuring safety and operation.
What is next?In the coming months and years, Finbricks will intensively continue its expansion beyond the borders of the Czech Republic – the next target is Hungary and subsequently other European countries. The company also aims to expand its partner groups, and the new platform www.platito.online is also in pilot operation in a wider area, for example.
ENVIROS and KB Advisory: how to do business with the best players on the market in a sustainable way
KB Advisory is another originally internal startup of Komerční banka, which provides comprehensive consultancy in the field of ESG. Komerční banka decided to support its further development by acquiring the company ENVIROS, which is one of the leading domestic players among consulting firms dealing with energy and environmental consulting. It also deals with the financing of energy-saving projects and projects of renewable resources for several large companies in the Central European market. These are all areas that Komerční banka is also interested in.
KB Advisory and ENVIROS have already implemented several joint projects before the acquisition. Thanks to the connection between the two companies, they will be more efficient and able to implement more projects for customers. The goal is a closer connection of consulting services and financing, for example in the field of energy savings or building certification.
What is next? To become the definite advisory leader in the field of energy and ESG and the only Bank that will be able to provide customers with a full range of services from advisory to sustainable financing.
Upvest as a real estate crowdfunding guru
Upvest brought an original crowdfunding model of investing in real estate through debt financing to the Czech market. Their platform is flawless not only technologically, but also in using expertise in real estate and finance to deliver high-return, low-risk investments to customers. With the help of KB SmartSolutions, Komerční banka acquired a stake in Upvest in 2020 to bring innovations in technology and products to customers. A year later, it increased its equity stake, and as Upvest managed to exceed the set business goals on the market, in the summer of 2022 the Bank decided to buy the platform, even earlier than originally planned. The demand for Upvest‘s projects exceeded expectations.
In more than five years of existence, customers have invested a total of CZK 1.6 billion through the Upvest platform, divided into 35 successfully financed projects with a total value of more than CZK 12.3 billion.
What is next?Upvest‘s long-term goal is to offer investors every month a new project, to expand the product offering, to include other sectors beyond the real estate sector, and to develop the platform in such a way that it is attractive to even the most demanding investors from the KB portfolio and beyond. Upvest is currently set for strong growth – and intends to continue to do so. Komerční banka wants to multiply its value over the next few years.
Roger and the art of factoring
Platební instituce Roger shortens the due date of invoices to three days and thus helps entrepreneurs with the optimization of operating finances. To investors, Roger offers short-term investments in invoices issued to solvent companies. Roger works on the principle of auctions. Investors compete for company invoices by offering the interest at which they are willing to buy them. In 2020, Roger teamed up with one of the biggest players in the banking market – Komerční banka.
Several important things happened for Roger in 2022. First of all the company financed a total of CZK 15 billion through factoring since its establishment. Last year, the company focused primarily on creating innovations for investors, and now it has introduced the new application Plus – Direct payments. It enables direct connection of Bank accounts between the sender and the recipient of the payment. At the same time, it is only the third non-banking company in the Czech Republic that managed to obtain a PSD2 license from the Czech National Bank. The Plus application works precisely on its basis. As one of the first on the domestic market, it enables automatic pairing and payment entry.
The new application follows several other novelties that Roger presented in 2022. One of them was an investment machine that itself bids for the investor, i.e. according to the specified parameters, the machine selects auctions and enters offers. The demand for shortening long invoice maturities is thus still growing. Honest work pays off … even within three days – as says the Roger advertisement claim.
What is next?Roger will continue to actively improve his services and come up with great news in the coming year. Thanks to them, Roger is expected to become the largest independent company for financing long-term invoices in the region within a few years. Of course, many new hacks on the Roger platform are being prepared.
Lemonero and their artificial intelligence save underfunded e-shops
Lemonero is a Czech fintech that provides financing based on the real performance of e-shops. It uses artificial intelligence for evaluation. It determines the loan offer objectively based on data. Lemonero itself offers loans in several ways. Part of the funding goes through the platform directly using extensions on e-shop systems such as Shoptet, Eshop-rychle, or Upgates. The second share of loans is represented by embedded collaborations with Mallo and Alza. Repayment is subsequently made in the form of monthly installments or, more recently, also through so-called revenue-based financing, when installments are paid only from actual transactions. Repayment is thus directly linked to the turnover of the e-shop and does not burden its performance, for example, in the off-season. Since 2021, Lemonero has financed CZK hundreds of millions in hundreds of e-shops and has grown by more than 500% year-on-year (2021/2022). In the past year, Lemonero established many successful collaborations, e.g. with the payment gateway GoPay, and also went beyond the borders of the Czech Republic and made its services available to e-shops in the Netherlands at the end of the year.
In 2020, Komerční banka bought the 11% stake in Lemonero and raised its stake in the summer of 2022.
What is next?Lemonero wants to focus mainly on expansion abroad. The current expansion steps of the startup are directly related to the geographical position of the French groupSociété Générale, owner of Komerční banka. In the first wave at the turn of this year and at the turn of next year, it will head to France, prospectively at the turn of 2023 and 2024 it plans to enter German-speaking countries and other states of Central and Eastern Europe.
What is the greatest potential of KB SmartSolutions?
In addition to the news directly related to our fintechs and partnerships, several other important events took place. KB SmartSolutions has become an active member of the Czech fintech association, through which it wants to support the domestic fintech/startup ecosystem. They also actively participated in several important conferences. For all of them, we mention the European Financial Investment Summit from Startup Disrupt, the CEE SME Banking Club Conference, or regular events organized by the ČFA.
If we want to more closely define what KB SmartSolutions offers to fintechs thanks to the partnership with the Bank, then it is above all the mantra of growth. KB SmartSolutions is unique in the market and offers startups help with growth in various dimensions. On the one hand, it offers growth for customers. Here, he has already developed a reliable procedure for getting solutions directly to customers through the “hostile” processes of large corporations. On the other hand, it helps with product growth where the product can be scaled and extended significantly. We cannot forget the unique way of growth in the market by using a combination of equity and credit, which few people in the market can do. And the group is closed by an equally interesting and important possibility of growth in the form of expansion abroad with the help of the parent company Société Générale, and not only in France.
KB SmartSolutions can connect two seemingly different worlds – the dynamic world of a startup and the world of a corporation, which in the case of a Bank is also strictly regulated. The great potential of KB SmartSolutions lies precisely in the fact that it is not completely bound by banking regulations and thus has more freedom in building partnerships. Another reason why it is better to launch untested things outside of Komerční banka is the robust and therefore slower processes that are typical in a large, publicly traded company, but at the same time contradict the intention to systematically discover and quickly evaluate new services. The reason for the quick market response cannot be overlooked either.
And what else?!
The year 2022 was undoubtedly a challenging but also a successful year for Komerční banka, KB SmartSolutions, and our fintechs. Together, we are moving forward in leaps and bounds, and we still have many of these steps ahead of us. We are also planning news and interesting events in 2023 and there is a lot to look forward to!
Millennium Bank in Poland enables customers to set up a business (a sole proprietorship) via the Internet. Future sole entrepreneurs will be able to apply for business registration in mobile and online banking.
Poles willingly use remote channels when conducting business. Millennium Bank supports entrepreneurial customers and tries to make everyday banking easier for them. Currently, without a visit to the office, by completing one online form, interested parties will be able to register a sole proprietorship in the Central Registration and Information on Economic Activity (CEIDG) and set up a My Business Account together with a debit card.
“We accompany our customers every day. This time we respond to the needs of those who want to easily start their businesses and become sole entrepreneurs. At Millennium Bank, they will not only register their businesses and set up a business account, but also use additional tools in mobile and online banking that will support them in building competitive businesses. When designing our solution, as usual, we relied on user research. We learned from them, how stressful for many people are the formalities related to business registration. Therefore, in our process, we support the user at every stage of applying,”– says Marcin Pogorzelski from the Electronic Banking Department at Millennium Bank.
Millennium Bank`s customers will find the application for registration of a sole proprietorship in mobile and electronic banking. The Bank wants its customers to significantly facilitate the task of starting their businesses. By completing one form, interested parties will not only submit an entry for business registration signed with a Trusted Profile but also open a My Business Account with a debit card. Customers will also be able to take advantage of substantive support. The Bank has made available several information materials on the portal, and when completing the application, the customer can use the assistance of a consultant prepared in terms of content to support the process of setting up a business. During the conversation in the chat, the expert will clarify doubts about what should be included in the individual sections.
What distinguishes Millennium Bank`s service on the market is the fact that customers can complete the application not only on their computers but also in the mobile application on their phones. For the most popular business industries, the Bank has launched a convenient search engine for business codes. By entering keywords, the system will suggest appropriate numerical codes from the Polish Classification of Activities (PKD). After completing the online form, the customer will also receive notifications about the current status of the submitted application to the Central Registration and Information on Economic Activity. Thanks to this, the customer will know when he/she has been assigned the Tax Identification Number (NIP) and the Business Identification Number (REGON). Knowing the account number of the business account, the customer will be able to provide it to future contractors in advance. However, the account, together with the accompanying products will be opened after confirming the entry in the Central Registration and Information on Economic Activity.
“Every day, about a thousand new businesses are established in Poland. The pandemic and the entry of a generation that doesn’t know the world without the Internet into the market have also effectively moved the establishment of businesses to the “online” mode and now over 60% of new sole proprietorships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Economic Activity electronically. To further simplify the start of the customers` businesses, we have introduced a fully remote process at Millennium Bank, in which they can set up both a business and a business account completely remotely at one time. Entrepreneurs who take advantage of this solution are offered an exceptionally advantageous offer of My Business Account and convenient online banking,”– says Anna Wydrzyńska-Czosnyka, Head of the Business Customer Department at Millennium Bank.
Santander Bank in Poland and Polish Entrepreneurs Foundation selected the winners of competitions for educational grants and business funding. During the closing gala of the “STRONG in Business” program, ten grants were awarded, as well as three awards in the form of investor support.
Ten women who presented the best business plans were awarded development grants worth PLN 11,000 (approx. EUR 2,350) for every winner. The money can be used for any purpose related to the development of competencies needed to run a business. In the second competition, three women entrepreneurs who presented the most fascinating business proposals were awarded. Each of the winners was allowed to recapitalize a business project of EUR 50,000 up to the PLN equivalent.
“Entrepreneurs are the strength of the Polish economy. Always innovative, and energetic, they adapt to any situation. In the “STRONG in Business” project, we encouraged women entrepreneurs to reach for grants, giving them real support on the way to their businesses, inspiration, and motivation. A big interest shows that we have succeeded in this very well,”– said Arkadiusz Przybył, Vice President of the Management Board of Santander Bank Polska, during the gala.
“STRONG in Business” is an initiative aimed at supporting and activating women in professional development and setting up businesses. Almost 4,000 women took part in the series of ten webinars.
“I liked the very idea of the project, the workshops that were organized with strong women and personalities. And above all, I am very proud that our business plan was awarded because we strongly believe in what we do and we believe in the success of our venture, so it was great to hear that we are also able to convince someone else,”– said Iwona Połog, who received investor support for an innovative business plan of a company from the IT and tourism industry regarding an application for organizing group trips.
During the workshop, the participants received many tips and tools to support running a business. Sara Koślińska – CEO of Limitless, Anna Orska – founder and owner of the ORSKA jewelry brand, and well-known journalist Dorota Wellman were the speakers during the webinars.
“I especially remember the lectures of Anna Orska and Marta Lech-Maciejewska, bloggers and owners of the Spadiora brand. When it comes to Santander Bank Polska and Polish Entrepreneurs Foundation, I participate in various courses. Recently, I also took part in the Santander MBA Essentials initiative, organized jointly with the London School of Economics. It was an introduction to the Executive MBA and gave me a completely different approach to finance, to managing a company. That is why now, using the money from the grant for development, I want to sign up for a full MBA course that will help me run my business,”– said Michalina Wilkowska, awarded a development grant for the business plan of the publisher of educational board games.
Starting and developing a business – both for sole entrepreneurs and companies – is easier with ING Bank Poland. ING has prepared a convenient process for setting up a business during one video call with an accountant for people who decide to start their businesses. In addition, the Bank offers an account for PLN 0 and accounting support at a fixed price for two years.
“The entrepreneurship of Poles is developing – according to the data of the Central Statistical Office (GUS) and the National Court Register (KRS), in 2022 we have 7% more new businesses compared to 2021, but due to rising costs, running the business, especially in the first year, becomes a challenge. We want to facilitate the start of all young Poles who decide to start their businesses and support them with solutions thanks to which they will be able to successfully develop without unnecessary costs at the start,”– said Wojciech Widenka, Director of the Customer Onboarding Center at ING Bank Poland.
“Beginner entrepreneurs are often the generation of people immersed in the digital world. And yet, in important or more complex cases, they still seek direct contact with an expert. Certainly, a good start for sole entrepreneurs and companies will be facilitated by a conversation with an accountant who will answer all questions and help fill out the appropriate applications. We have implemented and promoted a video call with an accountant when setting up a business and an account because in this way we provide the service remotely, and at the same time we provide substantive expert support during one call,”– said Barbara Pasterczyk, Bank Director Responsible for Marketing Communication at ING Bank Poland.
“We know how many questions arise when completing the formalities related to opening a business. Intending to maximally facilitate this process, at ING Accounting we offer the service of setting up a business with the help of an accountant for PLN 0. Our experience allowed us to arrange this path so that the future entrepreneur could arrange everything during a video call with an expert. The meeting takes place online, without the need to visit offices or a notary. It is extremely convenient and ensures that all documents have been completed correctly. In addition, for all new customers who decide to entrust us with their accountancy, we have an Accounting Office service with a price guarantee for two years. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs at every stage of their business development, that is why we want our offer to provide them not only with professional accounting assistance but also with stability and predictability of costs in the first two years of running a business,”– said Krzysztof Blinowski, Vice President of ING Services for Business.
SME Banking Club is an international networking platform of business bankers aimed to provide relevant information on what banks and financial companies are offering for entrepreneurs, micro-, small and medium enterprises (SMEs).