How and why banks should cooperate with fintechs

Maciej Marszałek
Maciej Marszałek

Maciej Marszałek, Industry Head and Partner at The Heart Warsaw, shares successful stories of cooperation between banks and fintechs, and how The Heart Warsaw is contributing to that trend.

The Heart is a European hub for corporate-startup collaboration. Set up together with Mastercard and over 30 corporate partners, it helps leading financial institutions to accelerate digital transformation by scouting and integrating latest technologies from Europe and Israel. The Heart also acts as a venture builder, building next-generation businesses together with corporate partners.

Olena Gryniuk: I won’t ask why banks should cooperate with fintechs; that’s obvious. But how? How long in your experience does it take to build an innovation culture inside a bank or corporation to start cooperating with start-ups and what roadmap and main steps does that process entail?

Maciej Marszałek: First of all, it might be obvious for you, though it is not that obvious for all banks. The first step is to admit that large financial institutions neglected the acceleration of fintech growth and how significantly they would drive innovation to this rather stable vertical. There are incredible examples, like Revolut among many others, where innovation came from relatively small players and it could have come from the big banks. That’s one part – understanding that innovation and keeping up with trends, especially now when new generations are entering important banking segments.

The second thing is that it requires a focused effort with a plan and budget. There are active competitors out there and they will approach the most promising start-ups before you realize they even exist. Then it is too late, because it becomes less important whether they develop a strategic partnership or merge.

Thirdly, the fact is that technology and relatively easy access to capital lowered entry barriers for fintech players who can now compete in certain niches with full-fledged banks. This is changing the paradigm for relations between banks and customers completely. In the past, banks could dictate the standard customer experience and manage it against their profits. Good CX costs money, not only in terms of mobile banking functionalities but also in terms of customer costs. Revolut is growing so rapidly mainly because the interchange spreads are high and they found a way to make it cheaper for customers. Online F/X portals grow so fast because they offer lower spreads on currency exchanges than banks. This is also customer experience.

Banks need to understand that if they don’t board this train, it will leave them behind. This is still not common knowledge.

Now to your question.

Our job here at The Heart is not to build an innovation culture inside banks. This is their task. We help banks understand the key factors for that to happen and support them in the process. It is rather a side effect of our core task that comes from the fact that some of us at The Heart worked in corporations and managed transformation programs. It is a lengthy process and it takes a lot of time and effort. We partnered with EY, who do this job well, and prepare corporations to work with us.

However, it is not rocket science either. Most of all, this openness needs to come from the very top. We organize what we call Board Immersion Days, which are sessions tailored to this level of management. The successful programs we run start with them. And we see that if the Board is not interested in delegating innovation to lower levels, they are not ready. Once key influential people in the corporation involve themselves in this process, it speeds up dramatically. We see in such cases rapid adoption of some of our programs, taking no more than a few months. If the Board is not interested, we see cases where our start-ups give up at the agreement processing stage. They, too, don’t want to waste time and shift their energy elsewhere. In one sentence – get the Board on board and magical things will happen.


OG: What exactly is your job at The Heart? What do you do?

MM: I have two jobs, really. Both just started a couple of months ago. I moved back to Warsaw after working abroad in Paris and Madrid for the last couple of years, managing digital and data transformation of AXA entities in Latin America, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The HeartOne comes from my background. I’ve worked in financial corporations for almost the last 15 years, managing mostly digital and data transformation or direct/online channels sales, marketing and ops. Because of this background, I make sure all our programs for financial institutions meet a certain standard and really tackle important challenges that are current, and I know are important points on all CEO agendas. I help shape Board Immersion days and Corporate Club discussions, assess startups we scout, etc.

The second and larger one is a new arm of The Heart that I took responsibility for building. I met The Heart while still working for AXA and I was amazed what a great platform it is. Not only to help scout for relevant technologies or fintech products but also as a place where so many institutions meet at all management and expert levels. And I knew that there is not always a start-up for every challenge. I knew that this platform is a great starting point to do more for corporations that are mature or ambitious enough not only to follow the fintech trend but also to shape it. I shared my thoughts with Tomasz Rudolf, the CEO of The Heart, who told me that he and The Heart management had long thought the same. It didn’t take much time to decide to join forces and create our new offer – Company Builder.

We are now assembling a platform, a mix of top notch experts and partners that will form a shared service for all key start-up building components. From strategy and idea creation, through design thinking and UX, software and hardware development, data management, branding, performance marketing and sales capabilities. We also cooperate at a strategic level with our incredible partner Mastercard. Together we are able to offer enormous value, especially to banks. We haven’t even started yet officially and we already have projects at the PoC stage that are moving fast towards MVP.

OG: Can you share some success stories of cooperation between banks and fintechs that became possible thanks to the The Heart?

MM: Of course. We have over 30 examples of collaboration. Unfortunately, most of them are under NDA, but we have some that we can share. We have collaborated many times with BNP Paribas. For example, in the offer for new micro companies at eMikroksięgowość (eMicroaccounting), they implemented Cyber Productivity accounting automation, or Vintom (video marketing automation) for BGŻ Optima customers. Also, we were involved in the widely reported Zencard acquisition by PKO BP, the biggest bank in Poland.


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