Finnish FinTech Holvi Announces Partnership With Estonian Government To Democratize Entrepreneurship

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Former Head of Entrepreneurship at Nokia, Antti-Jussi Suominen, talks about his new mission to establish Finnish FinTech Holvi as Europe’s number one provider of entrepreneurship-as-a-service.

Finnish FinTech Holvi Announces Partnership With Estonian Government To Democratize Entrepreneurship

Antti-Jussi Suominen, CEO at Holvi

Holvi is helmed by Antti-Jussi Suominen, a senior executive with a previous track record in driving new business growth in companies such as Sonera, Nokia, and Elisa. He has extensive general management experience in building and running new businesses and innovation in the mobile and online services domains in both corporate and startup environments. Antti-Jussi’s background in different industries, most recently in online games and mobile commerce, plays an essential role in accelerating Holvi’s transition from a fast growing FinTech company to an, even more, customer centric online service.

To us, he spoke about the future of Holvi as well as the financial services industry.

How would you describe Holvi in a few words?

Holvi is the first digital banking service built for European freelancers, the self-employed and small businesses. Holvi combines everything a modern entrepreneur needs in one simple to use service; from digital business account to paperless bookkeeping and from invoicing to expense management and online store. Holvi provides entrepreneurs with a full view of their business cash flow allowing them to easily collect payments from their customers and manage their finances under one service.

What inspired you to create Holvi? How did it all start?

Holvi started out by solving the everyday problems event organizers, associations and project workers come across in managing their finances. We quickly realized that there were more people having similar challenges and a larger demand out there for a service like ours. Actually a full segment of micro entrepreneurs and small businesses – or Makers and Doers as we call them – who were currently being poorly served by traditional banks and other players.

The original idea behind Holvi was conceptualized by Co-Founder Tuomas Toivonen. A passionate entrepreneur and visionary technologist, Tuomas is an experienced Maker and Doer himself. Holvi was born out of his own need to have simple and efficient tools to manage the finances of his own companies.

Are you using Holvi internally? How does that affect the viewpoints on the development team?

One competitive advantage we’ve always had is the fact that the foundation of Holvi was built on solving the real money management challenges our founders had. This still continues to be the same today. Our team has a strong background in entrepreneurship and we know the everyday life of an entrepreneur well. We try to keep our development cycle close to the customer and bring their feedback and comments to product development for quick iterations and improvements on our service offering.

The FinTech scene is booming, with more startups joining the ecosystem every day. What makes Holvi stand out of the crowd? What is the key differentiator?

Traditionally banks have built their core offer around a one-size-fits-all product or service that often tries to be everything for everyone. Our focus since the beginning has been on building something that you could label as contextual banking – a tailored service for the micro entrepreneur allowing them to use the product for their specific needs. Our benefit is being close to the customer – we can bring out their unique context and specific need and attach that to our service.

We help our customers to automate all the administrative tasks that don’t contribute to growing their business. With our easy to set up storefront, integrated invoicing tool, and core business account we allow our customers simply to get paid by offering them a number of different methods to collect income. That’s always the first step for micro entrepreneurs. Through our platform, our customers can get a real time overview of their finances and manage cash flow as well as control and monitor their spend with our business card that works seamlessly with the app and helps store and categorize receipts to your bookkeeping. The Holvi account has the same functions as traditional bank accounts, but with the difference that it is linked to our money management and financial management tools. This integration gives entrepreneurs a better understanding of their cash flow – and above all more control when and where they want. We see ourselves more as a toolkit for entrepreneurs – they can choose which part of the product they want to use or they can use it all.

You’re Finland’s most successful FinTech. In general, where do you see the FinTech scene going? What innovations are to come in the near future?

We are moving further towards the cashless society: Instant Payment or PSD2 will bring a lot of movement into the market at the beginning of the coming year and blur the borders between traditional banking and FinTech even more. Classic banking, as it is today, will no longer exist in the medium term. People will, as required, use different service providers – and no longer have a core bank.

We also see a clear increase in contextual banking and more tailored services. Focusing on real customer needs, rather than providing a one-size-fits-all type of service, will be key in gaining and retaining customer relationships. Another thing we strongly believe in is digital automatization – it’s the idea of having everything running smoothly so that banking genuinely becomes an afterthought and something our customers don’t have to worry about. Allowing them to focus on their core business and passion. We’ve already seen great signs of this by working for example with the e-residency program and Estonia’s digital nation. For freelancer and SME banking it’s clear that going fully paperless and automating financial management, providing digital business reports and storing data in the cloud is the future.

You recently announced a partnership with Estonia, in which you are taking part in their E-Residency program. The goal is to provide companies with unlimited EU-banking. Can you share more insights?

As the future of business is increasingly borderless we want to democratize entrepreneurship by providing equal access to financial management tools for aspiring entrepreneurs across the world. Therefore, we have joined forces with Estonia’s e-Residency program to help unleash the world’s entrepreneurial potential. E-residency enables anyone to set up an EU-based business and use Estonia’s advanced digital infrastructure to manage it from anywhere in the world by providing a transnational digital identity backed by the Estonian government. Through the partnership with e-Residency, we’re able to truly provide global digital banking services for this underserved, fast growing segment.

What is the biggest challenge that the company has faced?

In financial services and especially for new, emerging FinTech companies overcoming the trust barrier is always one of the biggest challenges in the beginning. Since our early days, we’ve put a lot of focus and emphasis on creating exceptional customer experience not only through our product but also through our support. Our customers have grown to love our support team and that has played an important role in gaining customers’ trust. Happy customers tend to tell their friends about a good service they’ve found.

In today’s digital world it is also increasingly important to put a face to your company. We showcase the team behind our product on social media and blogs on a daily basis as well as organize webinars and events for current and potential customers to meet our team. That has smoothened our way in building trust with our community and it is still an important part of our journey to help build this entrepreneurial community around us.

What is the most memorable moment throughout the history of Holvi?

There are two big milestones for Holvi, first would be getting our own license in 2014 from the Finnish Financial Authorities and second would be the acquisition of Holvi by BBVA in March 2016. Becoming one of BBVA’s portfolio companies has allowed us to fully concentrate on our mission to establish Holvi as Europe’s number 1 provider of entrepreneurship-as-a-service for micro businesses and to build a strong community of micro-entrepreneurs and partners to support our customers in all aspects of running a business.

If there is one thing you could wish for in improving the European startup ecosystem – what would it be?

The European startup ecosystem would benefit from having a larger variety of funding instruments – not only more VC’s but a combination of government funding also on e.g. EU level. Startups would also benefit from receiving funding for different stages of their company lifecycle, not only for seed but also for financing growth and scale. We’ve been lucky to have BBVA as our partner on this journey, allowing us to execute our long term vision of building an even better service for micro-entrepreneurs.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to fellow founders for their startup?

The most important things I have learned building new business are:

  1. Learn fast(er)
  2. Improve continuously
  3. Be forgiving and move forward



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