Blackfin Tech: interview with Julien Creuzé and Michele Foradori

At the end of September we hosted BlackFin Tech who met some startups from our community at our headquarter in via Sassetti. In the interview, Julien Creuzé and Michele Foradori (BlackFin Capital Partners), talk about what struck them and why the Italian fintech ecosystem is interesting.

What is BlackFin Tech and what does it do?

BlackFin Tech is the fintech-insurtech VC fund of BlackFin Capital Partners, an independent investment firm, established in 2009 and run by 5 partners: Laurent Bouyoux, Eric May, Bruno Rostain, Paul Mizrahi and Sabine Mathis. The core mission of BlackFin Tech is to support bold entrepreneurs aiming at shaping the new financial ecosystem. With a commitment from its LPs of over €180M, BlackFin targets European best-in-class ventures supporting their growth with a sound expertise in the financial and insurance sectors as well as a wide-ranging network across all major European Financial Institutions.

What motivated you to become a partner of the Fintech District and what do you expect from this agreement?

Blackfin’s DNA is that of a European fund and, among all the countries, Italy is one of those we want to follow in the front line. An initiative like that of the Fintech District is a sort of lens on the Italian fintech ecosystem that allows funds such as ours to create quick connections with the national business fabric. What do we expect from the Fintech District? We would like to be able to consider it as the key partner for making ourselves known in the market and at the same time a catalyst that supports us in creating a solid network with the main Italian investors, be they VC or business angels.

BlackFin Tech

What are the most interesting markets for you today?

So far, we have focused mainly on France, Germany, Benelux and Holland. Our goal is to open up to all European markets. Specifically Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, UK and Scandinavia

Why is the Italian fintech market particularly interesting for you?

Having not yet reached a level of maturity ‘like other European countries, the Italian market has, in our opinion, excellent potential for development and growth. Some Italian fintechs have already had great resonance at European level, attracting the attention of numerous investors and proving to be players who can compete at a European level. Also, for this reason, we are convinced that Italy is an absolutely relevant market for our purposes. Not only that, but the fact that Italy is still “barely beaten” by international investors makes it even more of an opportunity for BlackFin. It is therefore essential for us to position ourselves, both as a trusted partner of Italian fintech / insurtech and as a partner for their internationalization in Europe.

In the meetings held on September 26th at the Fintech District, what idea did you make of the Italian fintech ecosystem? What impressed you?

The meetings with some startups of your community at the District in recent weeks have confirmed what we already thought of the Italian market. It is not very mature but has great potential for growth. Talents and ideas are not lacking, but both the creation of an ecosystem and the arrival of capital are necessary. The positioning of BlackFin on the Italian market wants to be a stimulus and a signal for Italian fintech entrepreneurs.

Having said that, however, what will happen in Italy in the coming years remains decisive: the direction in which the country will go will tell us if a fintech ecosystem can really take off in Italy or not. At the moment it is still difficult to foresee this accurately and give an answer. On the day of the meetings held at Fintech District we were pleasantly impressed by the number of Fintech companies it succeeded in attracting, actually becoming the reference point for the Italian Fintech system. Of all the initiatives we interacted with, we were struck by the desire to create high value-added products / services which improve the end consumer experience, be it a person or a company.

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Artificial Intelligence & Fintech according to Alessandro Vitale

Artificial intelligence is penetrating every sector and that of finance is certainly not one of the last preparing itself to be transformed because of it. Together with Alessandro Vitale, author of the book “Artificial Intelligence” published by Egea and part of the series on digital innovation edited by Talent Garden, we want to explore the binomial “artificial intelligence & fintech” trying to imagine the challenges that await us.

To whom is the book addressed and with what purpose did you write it?

The book is designed for managers and business people who want to better understand what AI is to be able to introduce to their organization. There is a lot of technical literature on the AI but something was missing which would address all the other important issues for the company, for example how processes are impacted. To write it, I was inspired by the books found in the bookstores of airports, those with which a Manager can have a good idea on a theme in the space of a round trip, which is actually the reading space available in this day and age.

What subjects did you deal with and from which point of view?

The book consists of 10 chapters to be read independently, each linked to a keyword. The first 4 chapters (Artificial Intelligence, Applications, Machine Learning, and Data) are the basis for understanding what AI is and how it works. The second part enters into the heart of managerial choices; we talk about People and their relationship and reactions to AI, the Skills necessary to develop and use it, how the Processes change in the company, how the Design of products and services changes; what Risks are introduced and the ethics that should guide us, such as Begin and choosing the first use case.

Give us three examples of AI applied in the world fintech insurtech?

There are applications, such as the robo advisor, which take advantage of the progress of Artificial Intelligence, in which Italy also plays a role together with excellences such as Deus Technology. Tractable is a UK startup which uses image recognition to estimate damage to cars just like an expert does. Included are also chatbots, also processed by my company Conversate, with examples like Mario, the chatbot developed by UBI Banca to support the merger of the Good Banks.

Opportunities and risks given by AI to the fintech sector

AI allows you to improve the service to your customer and do this more efficiently. Cleo, starting with 2 people and 10,000 pounds, after 18 months had a chatbot used by users with half a billion savings, users who used Cleo instead of their bank’s app and to whom Cleo aims to sell financial products and collect commission in the place of the bank. Depending on whether you are a startup or an incumbent, or rather, depending on the company’s approach to innovation, AI can be either an opportunity or a risk to the business.

How will AI transform the fintech sector according to you within the next 5 years?

As the futurist Roy Amara said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. The impact in the short run will be less than the current hype but in the long run it will certainly exceed the expectations. A recent Harvard Business Review article says “Over the next decade, AI will not replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who do not.” Acquiring these skills and bringing them into organizations requires time and effort; the sooner you do the sooner you will be able to help build the future and not suffer because of it.

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200 Crowd: interview with Matteo Masserdotti

200 Crowd is a platform which facilitates the meeting between companies and private investors with the aim of bringing private finance closer to companies that want to grow and have ambitious projects. Founded by Matteo Masserdotti, the current CEO, it has recently won a European tender with other partners from other member states.

“We will support startups that have projects in aerospace in a three-year growth path, during which there will also be a series of events in the field of crowdfunding but not only, also HR and corporate development, and a series of services that will allow startups to grow and, at the end of the path, to participate,with greater chances of success,in European funds and Horizon 2020 calls” explained Masserdotti, specifying that 200 Crowd is the only European portal to take part in this project.

Remaining in the European context, the CEO of 200 Crowd said that he had collaborated with the European Commission for improving the European regulation draft that is currently under discussion in the European Parliament. “We hope this new proposal, made to harmonize all states for crowdfunding activities, can generate new opportunities for European companies,” he commented.

Continuously active in the scouting of innovative companies, 200 Crowd is currently focusing a lot on the search for SMEs to be launched on the platform; not necessarily totally innovative but with innovative retail processes, for example, or with new ideas in the food sector. “We believe that private investors are very attracted to this type of activity, so we will soon be presenting some of them”, said Masserdotti. He is also working on the creation of a passive investment club that will automatically and systematically invest in all the companies we promote on the portal.

The first objective of 200 Crowd today is to position itself on the Italian level among the main crowdfunding portals, while continuing to work on the development of some algorithms to improve the ability in selecting companies.

Regarding the internationalization, Masserdotti explained that “the process has already started in part with the European project.” He is aware that it will not be as fast a process as maybe for other startups “because crowdfunding is a segment already consolidated enough , but we aim at some niches in which we could become leaders, such as aerospace “.

Being part of the Fintech District for a platform like 200 Crowd means participating “in a project of absolute value for startups operating in this sector. We are in the community to work and collaborate with other companies in the sector, especially those active in alternative finance and potentially other crowdfunding platforms or other types of companies that facilitate investment or finance to private companies. We are very happy to work with the Fintech District “.

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The first international Master course on Fintech & Innovation starts in Italy

Fintech District is the ecosystem partner of the first international Master on Fintech & Innovation in Italy, structured by Fintech EduLab and LUMSA Master School and which will start at the end of October in Rome at the LUMSA University. Starting off from the trends and demand for skills in the sector, the Master, led by internationally renowned teachers and mentors, will aim to form a class of selected students who will closely explore the themes of Fintech and Innovation.

“For us, being an active part of this initiative means giving more opportunities to young people and creating the conditions in which the Italian Fintech ecosystem can grow, becoming more competitive at an international level, thus making the whole country grow” commented Alessandro Longoni, head of Fintech District, explaining the reasons for which we have joined this initiative.

The Master will last 12 months, during which lectures, workshops, business cases, project work and internships will alternate. The lessons can also be followed online. Students will have the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting European fintech companies during a trip to London and Oxford.

The idea of creating this project was born observing how the continuous and growing development of the Fintech sector is giving birth to new professions not yet present in the current job offer.

“This is why it is important to update in the educational field, so that the new generations can have access to training courses which give them more employment opportunities, making available in the field of work in the coming years the profiles that Fintech companies already require today – affirmed Longoni – As well as there being a point of access to the Italian Fintech for international stakeholders, we are also a reference hub for those working in Italy at Fintech. Dialoguing with the members of our community and with the major players in the sector operating in our country, we have noticed that they have difficulty in finding people with a suitable preparation for this new sector. We believe that this Master can give an answer to this need “.

Organized by Fintech EduLab and LUMSA University, this master was also realized thanks to numerous partners who have accepted this challenge in the educational field. Among the corporate partners that have recently joined we can find Fabrick, financeAds, Housers and Medici.

The Master, structured in collaboration with the Center for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship (London), Instilla (Milan) and SuperCharger Fintech Accelerator (Hong Kong), as educational partners, is supported by BorsadelCredito.it, Circle, Curvegrid, Endeavor Italy, Fabrick, Finecoq Limited, financeAds, Housers, KPMG, Doctors, Moneyfarm, N26, Opportunity Network, Oval Money, Regtech Canada, Supernovae Labs, Traction Management and Virtual B. Media partner of the Starting Finance project.

For information and registration: HERE

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Deposit Solutions: interview with Ermanno Ciarrocchi

A new partnership with a bank, two new investors and more and more recognition from their users. For Deposit Solutions last summer was really “a very lucky time” as explained by the Regional Director for Italy and Malta Ermanno Ciarrocchi who sees two main opportunities in the Fintech District entrance: greater visibility and relevance in institutional relations and the creation of new services dedicated to fintech.

Deposit Solutions is the open banking platform that can revolutionize the value chain for both banks and savers. For banks that are interested in collecting or diversifying in Europe, they can use a plug and play service to access points of sales that are “points of access to an audience of savers that we estimate to be over 30 million“.

“On the other hand, the banks interested in expanding their offer in the field of deposits can, for the first time, offer deposits belonging to third-party banks making use of the same banking relationship and therefore maintaining a direct relationship with their savers – explained Ciarrocchi – The impact of this innovation is that savers for use deposits for the first time as a real asset class through the existing relationship at their bank or their non-bank point of sales and are therefore able to make portfolios of deposits at banks across the Union European without having to establish direct contact with any of them.

Last summer Ciarrocchi said there was the launch of a new Italian bank, Banca Sistema, with which Deposit Solutions has established a new partnership. There was also a new 100 million dollar financing round that brought the company’s valuation to half a billion dollars. Ciarrocchi also recalls the entry of two new investors, Vitruvian Partners and Kinnevik “that give us further impetus for the international roll out of our solution”.

Moreover, in recent months, many banks connecting to the Deposit Solutions platform to diversify their collection have started to mention it in their report and in their presentations to analysts. “In particular, HSH Nordbank mentioned us in its six-month report, indicating how thanks to us they collected € 2.9 billion in deposits in just 10 months”.

Born with a strong international footprint, today Hamburg based Deposit Solutions operates in a harmonized European regulatory framework and is already present in 16 European countries with local representatives, already connecting 70 banks of different types. “The idea, also implemented through the round of financing just ended – explained Ciarrocchi – is to further accelerate this expansion at European level and strengthen it primarily in Italy”.

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Let’s talk about Intellectual Property with Gianluca De Cristofaro

The third mentorship session we offer to our members is focused on the subject of Intellectual Property and Privacy. Together with Gianluca De Cristofaro (LCA Legal), on the 11th of October, in our headquarters in via Sassetti 32, we will explore risks and opportunities. As we waited for the morning dedicated to mentorship to start, we asked De Cristofaro to tell us why this theme is important for a startup operating in the fintech sector

Intellectual property and privacy: what has changed in the last 3 years?

In the Intellectual Property  field legislation has not changed much; but, at least in Italy, awareness regarding Intellectual Property Protection  has increased. The judges of Italian Intellectual Property specialized courts are fast, skilled and well prepared and this grants the effectiveness of Intellectual Property  assets.

What are the challenges today in the fintech sector?

We are looking at the perfect storm! On the 25th of May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation entered into force, and all companies faced (and are facing) an important and intensive compliance process. The GDPR required several duties and obligations on behalf of the companies and sets fines up to 4% of the global turnover. The most relevant challenge for companies is the increasing awareness concerning their employees on  privacy issues. Furthermore, in 2019 the new E-privacy directive will also be published and it will have a great impact on the business of the digital companies.

From a regulatory point of view, what is the Italian situation like  compared to that of other European countries? How could it improve?

In the Intellectual Property field legislation is basically harmonized at a worldwide level. Italian legislation is not an exception and grants an effective protection to Intellectual Property assets. In the field of privacy, on September 19, 2018, the Decree which amended the Italian Privacy Code, in order to make it compliant with the GDPR, entered into force. Now, our law is (more or less) aligned with other European laws. We just need a Data Protection Authority with a business oriented approach so as not to create a competition gap between local companies and the foreign companies.

Why is it important for a fintech start up to be interested in these issues?

For any digital company, including those operating in the fintech field, the protection of Intellectual Property assets and the compliance to privacy law are extremely relevant in order to protect their business.

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Revolut: interview with George Thomson

Born to allow everyone to experience a global lifestyle, Revolut allows you to spend 150 currencies worldwide and hold up to 25 currencies on the app. You can change from one currency to another without commission and at the interbank exchange rate.

A few weeks ago it launched its metal card, “this is our super premium product – explained George Thomson, Country Manager Italy – It is a card made of metal that allows the user to have higher limits in free ATM withdrawals in all the world and a 24-hour concierge service to book flights and hotels, cashback in cryptocurrencies, travel insurance, airport lounges and lots of benefits. In one card there is everything a person who travels a lot needs”.

Just landed in Italy, Revolut has found a “not simple” market. Thomson explained that “we are still very used to cash and there is also a strong linguistic barrier, in fact we are translating the app into Italian and we are ‘Italianizing’ it a bit”.

Meanwhile, during the summer, this Fintech became a member of the Fintech District community. “I found it right away, when I looked for the fintech center in Italy and of course we wanted to be part of it. I expect it to help me make a lot of networking and have symbiotic relationships with other startups to help each other and make the Italian fintech ecosystem grow “.

By the end of the year the goal of Revolut is to reach 100K users in Italy. Today, this startup already operates in almost all of Europe but by the end of the year it will also be in the United States and in other Asian countries. By the end of 2019 it aims to be present “all around the world”.

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Machine Learning and gender gap: what can we do?

Last week in the second round of our “Talking Heads” format we hosted the WiMLDS community to talk about machine learning and data science. We have discovered how these themes can influence the present and future of the fintech sector. It was also an opportunity to deepen the activities of this reality that has just started writing its Milanese chapter and is also open to collaborations and initiatives also shared with interested companies and startups and that share its mission.

Here is the interview with the two referents of WiMLDS Milan,Claudia Volpetti and Carlotta Orsenigo, speakers at the meeting together with Katarina Milosevic (Generali)

Machine learning in finance and banking: 3 examples of already existing applications and one that you are looking at

Machine learning plays a prominent role in several financial applications from trading, where complex algorithms are used to optimize trading decisions, to credit scoring, with the aim of predicting the creditworthiness of individuals or companies, and fraud detection, to identify new potential security risks.

Which activities would you like to carry out in the Milan area (meetings, workshops …)?

WiMLDS (Women in Machine Learning and Data Science) is an international community of women interested in machine learning and data science. The WiMLDS Milan Chapter, the first Italian chapter of the community, was established at the beginning of 2018 as a local Meetup group in Milan as the Italian reference point of the international WiMLDS community which currently counts 25 chapters spread all over the world. WiMLDS Milan’s mission is to create opportunities for women interested in machine learning and data science as well as engage in technical and professional conversations in a positive, supportive environment by hosting talks, technical workshops, networking events and hackathons. WiMLDS Milan is organized by Claudia Volpetti and Carlotta Orsenigo who are members of the Machine Learning and Big Data Analytics research group at the School of Management of Politecnico di Milano. On the meetup page “Milan Women in Machine Learning and Data Science” you can find updates on the forthcoming events and meetings.

How can you contact a fintech company that wants to commit itself to decreasing the gender gap in the sector? What actions can it take? What would you propose to do in a joint collaboration with you?

Companies interested in WiMLDS events can join us on the MeetUp community or contact directly the organizers Claudia Volpetti and Carlotta Orsenigo at Politecnico di Milano. Companies can support initiatives by hosting meetings, workshops and technical sessions or helping WiMLDS in organizing hackathons related to the machine learning and data science domains.

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Fintech goes to Italy: interview with Alessandro Longoni

“Fintech goes to Italy” is the new initiative of the Salone dei Pagamenti 2018, in collaboration with Fintech District, which aims to create a moment of international analysis and comparison between Fintech, banks, incubators and investors.

There will be several sessions and a dedicated space, the goal is to create a bridge between Italian companies and foreign markets.

Read more in the interview with Alessandro Longoni, head of Fintech District, here

alessandro longoni

Housers: interview with Giovanni Buono

Housers is a real estate crowdlending platform. It allows common investors to invest in companies that develop real estate projects all over the world. Recently, it launched the collaboration with a bank, Giovanni Buono, the CEO of the company, explains how this has allowed the integration of the online banking platform with Housers online investment platform. “Now the customers of this bank can invest directly from their online banking both through mobile and computer in projects published on our platform”.

As well as in Italy, Housers is also present in Spain and Portugal, but the platform is available in 4 languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English. “The site in English – explains Buono – is for all those people who do not live in these countries who want to use our platform. If they want, they can do it “.

Amongst the difficulties encountered by Housers in its development there are none of typically Italian. Buono speaks mainly of critical issues that affect all the platforms which are active internationally. The biggest problem is certainly that of regulations. “Now the world of fintech, and in particular that of crowdfunding, are experiencing a moment of great ferment but every country is approaching this in a different way under a regulatory point of view. It is certainly necessary to create a common scenario at European level if we want these platforms to grow as in other countries like the United States or China”.

In this situation, the Fintech District could also play an important role. According to Buono, it is “the most important European initiative in this sector because it has brought together in a community all the most important players at national and international level both in classical finance and in the world of pure fintech”.

Joining the Fintech District this summer, Housers participate in numerous Fintech and Real Estate events in the Fall will and Buono will be among the faculty members of the master fintech organized by LUMSA University. “It is the first and only master of this kind for now in Italy, I am very proud to have been chosen to participate”.

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