In a conversation with Mariano Spalletti, Country Manager Italy of Qonto, we find out how this French fintech has managed to succeed in Italy and what the goals are after its first year of presence in the country.
After more than a year in Italy, what results have you achieved and what factors have led you to success?
Qonto was launched in Italy a year ago and in a year we have seen our customer base grow by an average of 25% each month, for a total transaction on our platform of over 300 million euros. Our turnover is also growing steadily and doubled in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the last quarter of 2019.
Our secret is, first and foremost, a customer-centric product: putting the customer at the center of the product. Its functionality from the creation and development phase is the key to understanding what to do and how to do it, to reduce the time and effort required to perform any operation and offer a unique user experience.
In addition to this, the focus on a very vertical market segment such as SMEs, which has always been under serviced by traditional banks, together with a truly tailor-made, modern, simple, transparent service that saves companies a lot of time every day, allows us to finally respond to needs that had never been listened to, but have already been present for years.
What “surprised” you about the Italian market?
Before the launch I was a bit sceptical about what the reaction of Italian SMEs to a digital banking service might be. I wasn’t sure if the market was ready and I was wondering how many companies could be willing to rely on a startup to manage their corporate finances with an innovative but 100% online account. There exists stereotype of Italian companies very much linked to the status quo and traditional processes and channels, especially if we talk about banking services.
I must admit that my doubts were unfounded and the answer was extremely positive from the outset. The Italian market is the fastest growing market for Qonto in Europe after the French market and we are growing significantly. I expect results to be still growing as we introduce specific features dedicated to Italian companies: the most important one so far has been the launch of the Italian IBAN, which has given a significant boost to our growth in Italy, also because it was the feature that was most in demand and that we were able to launch in record time, about eight months after the official launch.
What is the difference between the Italian market and the French market, in which Qonto has been operating for some time?
Qonto was born in France in mid 2017, while our international expansion began in mid-May 2019, when we decided to officially launch the service on the Italian market. During this year we got to know Italian companies better and better: both companies that were already Qonto customers and also potential customers, and we realized that there are actually several similarities between the French market and the Italian market.
The French and Italian SME market are in fact very similar, both in terms of size (about 4 million enterprises for both, although a little more numerous in Italy) and in terms of needs, given the inadequacy of the solutions offered by traditional banks, typically concentrated on two other market segments: private consumers and corporate customers.
What we guarantee with Qonto is a daily saving of time in the management of company finances and payments. With Qonto we guarantee the opening of the account in minutes and 100% online, to make simple and fluid corporate payments, both your own and those of your employees, canceling expense reports and simplifying accounting, all this with a UX and customer service of the highest level.
So I do not see any significant differences in terms of customers and their needs, but rather in terms of territorial dynamics and, in a sense, local bureaucracy. To give an example, we can think about the payment of taxes: in France a simple direct debit to your account via SDD (SEPA circuit debit) is enough. In Italy – as we know – you need to pay through the F24 form, a clearly specific service that exists only in our market and which is actually quite cumbersome. It is aspects such as these that actually involve extra investment to offer an identical service in the markets in which we are present. However, I think it is normal that each country has its own peculiarities, and we are in fact working to push localization to the maximum and offer the same level of service in all the markets where we are present.
How did you deal with the health emergency as a company?
The health emergency has been a challenging period for SMEs, startups and all in all also for us, as despite the strong international expansion they are still investing heavily to become profitable.
I have to say,however, that we were favored by two factors, namely: a solid business model, with revenues that are not based solely on the use of certain features (e.g. interchange on card usage) but also on fixed monthly fees; an important availability of resources, thanks to the Round C of 104M closed in January. These two factors have allowed us to face this period with serenity and not only to focus on the continuity of our service, but also to put in place some initiatives to help our customers on an economic level: we have in fact offered to all our customers from the end of March to the end of May, the virtual Qonto cards for free, even those not included in the plan and we have extended the free period from one to two months for all new customers who opened a Qonto account in the same period. In fact, the “bimonthly covid” was a moment of growth for Qonto and in Italy, in March and April, we acquired 55% more customers than during the first two months of the year.
What has this lockdown period taught you personally?
The main lesson of this period I believe, however, is related to the way companies must communicate. Although this was a trend already underway, there has been even more emphasis on the need to approach and dialogue together with one’s target market and prospects having less commercial nuances, placing even more emphasis on valuable and “inclusive” content, going from talking to a “client” to talking to one’s “community”.
We have strongly believed in the importance of helping Italian SMEs and professionals in this period of crisis, not only healthwise but also economic. For this reason we have tried not only to communicate the special offers we have put in place, but, with a broader perspective, we have tried to convey and highlight all the communications that we felt were important and useful for Italian companies to overcome the crisis, such as, for example, through the reworking and simplification of the measures of the various decrees gradually issued (“Cura Italia”, “Liquidita” and “Rilancio”) in an article to be found in our dedicated blog or by organizing or participating in webinars in order to share tips and suggestions to better face the crisis and organize for the restart.
We want to establish a special relationship with our customers: we are not just a simple “supplier” of services but a real business partner. Relevant communication is the basis for trust, the fundamental element for a valuable and sustainable relationship.