During CEE SME Banking Club Conference 2017 in Krakow, I talked to Marek Soltysiak, Head of Business Banking Products and Kamila Wincenciak, FinTech Partnerships Manager at Alior Bank (Poland) about Digital Disruptor Strategy, SME Banking and cooperation with fintechs.

Watch the full interview in the video:

Olena Gryniuk: Alior Bank has announced the strategy of “Digital Disrupter” up to the year 2020, for SME as well. Today we are speaking a lot about the digitalization of the processes in the banks themselves and SME customers and how banks can help them in it. Does “Digital Disrupter” Strategy in Alior Bank cover cooperation with fintechs which will give more access to micro companies to the lending?

Marek Soltysiak: Yes, in our strategy for the upcoming years we have stated that one of our primary targets is to cooperate with fintechs. And when it comes to lending, there is always a space to run such cooperation. At the end of the day depending on what type of loan is required by our customers there is always the issue to be with the right product at the right time. So, as far as lending is concerned there always be space in the market where instant access to money is required, and this is where fintechs may come in to play with impressive innovation approach to, for example, risk assessment or fraud detection. And we definitely want to be a part of this journey and cooperate with them to somehow address this issue for our customers as well.

OG: You have launched Zafirmowani.pl – a digital portal for SME customers. What was your targets when launching and what are the key features available for the customers?

Marek Soltysiak: Yes, we believe that digitalization is the future for SMEs, not only in terms of banking but also in terms of how they run their daily operations. So, we wanted to deliver integrated ecosystem to help them run, grow and facilitate their daily business. Therefore, the key features are built around daily operations: we offer online accounting with tax statements, with HR documents, registers, reporting etc. An on top of that we have combined many additional features that help to save your time and money, normally spent on offline activities, for example, how you get the knowledge you need to run your business, how to operate within the EU funding, how to run HR registers and operations, and we can even run your reception. So, being an active user of Zafirmowani gives you the access to the main daily features, but also additional benefits and business opportunities. The first thing is that you can build up a base of your contractors, your partners and potential partners because each of the company has an opportunity to make its business card available to all of the users. The second thing is that we are strongly working on building a pool of the special discounts for our users, so we invite other companies to cooperate with us in terms of the development and maintenance of the platform and then to offer their services to our users and customers. So, we expect our customers to benefit not only from the digital aspect of the platform and the easiness of daily operations but also from the value-added services that will be presented to them, embedded to our processes and offered directly to our business customers at the place and at the moment of time when they need those services.

Kamila Wincenciak: And this is actually an interesting synergy that we have between FinTech Department and SME Business Unit. We are focusing on looking into interesting solutions that we can offer as value added services in Zafirmowani portal for our SMEs.

OG: Kamila, tell us please about new FinTech department created in Alior Bank? What are your aims and goals?

KW: FinTech department was established not so long ago, just two months ago, it’s a new thing. Our main goal is to scout for the most interesting fintechs to bring the added value to speed up innovation process in Alior Bank. So, now we have two departments – one is Innovation Center, which is mostly focused on bringing innovations from within the company, and FinTech department which is responsible for scouting and bringing innovations from the outside. We have very ambitious goal – to have 20 valuable partnerships by 2020. To meet this goal, we first need to create tools, which is why we are now in the process of implementation open API platform, which will help us to easily to integrate with fintech companies to serve additional products to our customers. Part of open API platform will be a sandbox, which is a portal for the startups that we want to cooperate with, where they can just simply plug in and test their technology on the anonymous data that we will put out for them, so this is a mutual benefit for the startups, they can test their solution in the real business and testing environment, and for us to see whether we actually need it or not at this moment. What is also important, we will have a new physical office for our Innovation and FinTech department, where we will also have a dedicated space for startups, because we believe that cooperation with startups on a daily basis will bring the best results.

OG: Could you give us already some examples of successful cooperation with startups?

KW: Yes, we have already implemented interesting projects. For example, last year we launched HAIZ with young fintech company named One Way. HAIZ is a mobile banking platform for customers with different innovative features like communicator, and within the communicator, our customers have P2P transactions with chatbot functionality and with m-commerce platform where we offer additional products and discounts for our customers. The cooperation with One Way is a great example how a big corporation and small startup company can work together on the exclusive partnership to bring life totally new product. Another example of cooperation with startups can be our partnership with VoicePin company, we have launched Dron which is an AI agent designed to communicate verbally with our customers. This is actually the example how technology, which is disruptive, can fit in into the real business. We use Dron in our daily activities in our daily business, in the processes like debt collection, like FATCA statements collection and marketing interviews. I’d like to also mention about another type of cooperation with startups, which is our acceleration program. The program was set up in March this year; it’s a one-year program divided into two editions. We’ve just finished the first edition, and we are starting the new one. This is a program in the cooperation with Huge Thing Venture Capital, where we accelerate at least 20 startups. Each startup can get financial donation thanks to PARP (Polish Agency for Entrepreneurs Development), they can get up to 200 000 zlotys (appr. 50 000 EUR) for their project, they take part in a lot of interesting workshops, they travel to London and Berlin to see the environment and the market in these cities. Also, the key element of this program is our mentoring. Alior Bank is engaged in mentoring, and each startup has its mentor from Alior Bank, who is working with the startup to develop a product which will be suitable and applicable to Alior Bank. So, we are working to develop something that could be implemented in Alior Bank. And I can say, that from the first edition we already have startups that we will probably want to work with, and at the beginning of the next year we will have the first proof of concepts, and probably the first one will be the startup who has product which we could add on Zafirmowani portal for our SMEs.

OG: Do you have some special offers for startups as customers?

MS: When it comes to fintech startups, we have a great offer – an acceleration program Kamila talked about – rather than a product offer as the product need to be very tailor-made to the specifics of the area they want to work in. When it comes to regular new businesses, new startups, they have access to the full offer that we provide to SMEs. And just to help them grow, to help them to start their business we offer them our eKonto Business current account which is totally free for the startups. We can even cashback them up to 1500 zlotys yearly, so they can additionally benefit from the growing business.

OG: What are your nearest plans and targets in the product and services for SMEs?

MS: In two words it’s digitalization and innovation across the full range of our products, services and processes. This is what we are focusing on. We have identified and named more than 70 innovation and development initiatives in 10 product areas, and we are attending to accomplish it by 2020 and be at the place where the market is going to and we are trying to address this issue just right here and right now and be prepared for the moment when digitalization, which is inevitable, will happen. So, that’s the key focus and target for us in the nearest future.