Musings listening to Accenture acceleration of fintechs

“Nearly everything you think you know about strategy and innovation is wrong” – the opening sentence for an article from Accenture five years ago. The main argument was that information technology or digitisation was driving down costs so innovators needed to build beloved products to command a premium price.

In our journey with DIFC Fintech Hive 2018 cohort we are meeting interesting people and leaders in financial institutions. It is striking listening to one global Accenture director as he spoke about the growth of their innovation hubs in London, New York and Hong Kong. Dubai, where we are, is one of the latest Accenture legs to this global ecosystem. I’m hearing suggestions that the rules that have defined strategy planning for the past few decades are out of the window.

What we are learning that to win in financial technology you need to create a love or buzz for your innovation and consider unusual models to be more dynamic. And importantly have a single, simple goal that strips things back to one gem.

Our simple goal is to give risk-averse investors access to an institutional asset previously out of reach.

Reading pieces on the growth of the Accenture fintech network it is interesting that an article five years ago encouraged an undisciplined strategy and just fail-fast to build a beloved product.

It resonates with us to be encouraged to not watch what others are doing and focus on the simple customer need.

Welcome Day DIFC FinTech Hive 2018 cohort

The 2018 cohort for DIFC FinTech Hive has begun and bondsmart are part of the clan. We had spent time in the summer focusing energies on working on the model and acceleration we desired for the UAE. The UAE has a fast-growing mass affluent market and are large buyers of direct bonds and Sukuk.

The launch event was held at Etihad Museum which celebrates the Union of the UAE’s seven emirates. During welcoming speeches the head of Accenture Middle East, Amr ElSaadani, shared his opinion that “experiences” frame the opportunities we develop – experience of getting off a plane, experiences from the people we meet and experiences we have in work, life and play. The theme of experiences and union are good signposts for the next 12 weeks and here I use to shape thoughts as we start this programme.

“Experiences” in bondsmart

When starting on a startup journey it is often the problems you see that are the pain points you set out to solve.  To us, risk-averse investors saw poor returns in fixed deposits and equities are a rollercoaster. Institutional bonds are an ideal asset class but difficult for retail investors to access and that was the experience we set out to change and pilot our tech.

“Union” in bondsmart

Disruption was the way that FinTech set out to grow but in reality, new ways of working and owner of the customer now work together. So disruption is now replaced with co-operation and spawned what we commonly see as “innovation labs” in financial instructions. With bondsmart technology, we hope to work on pilots with the partner institutions of the programme in the coming weeks with speed dating as a starter.

The DIFC FinTech Hive journey now begins. Watch out for more.

 

Heatwave and Hive interviews

July is usually a quiet month in Dubai. Families away on holidays and commerce quieter with soaring temperatures outdoors (whilst we had a heatwave in Europe too). Two weeks ago we pitched at the DIFC Hive interview day in Dubai. 300 firms down to a small number for 3 days of interviews. We were part of it.

10:06pm emails are not always something you look out for but that was when our news of a place at interview arrived. Hoorah but then more work to do to prepare.

First decision: video interview or in person. We chose in person as we had a few other tasks in the region so with one trip we could do a few things in one go.

So a recap on what is the DIFC Hive, a 12-week programme, where startups work closely with partners to create solutions that address the evolving needs of their respective industries. The partners include

  • ADIB,
  • Emirates Islamic,
  • Standard Chartered,
  • UAE Exchange,
  • Mashreq,
  • Zurich Insurance,
  • First Abu Dhabi Bank,
  • Emirates NBD,
  • Citi,
  • HSBC,
  • National Bank of Fujairah,
  • Riyad Bank,
  • Arab Bank,
  • MasterCard,
  • ADNIC,
  • Zurich Insurance,
  • AIG Insurance,
  • Takaful Emarat,
  • Noor Takaful; and
  • Noor Bank.

Why do we want to be in Hive? To pilot our beta with financial institutions and with innovation managers, that task is easier especially where Accenture is part of the frame and you are in a hub designed to achieve that.

The format we understood was 10mins pitch and 10 mins Q&A. The usual format for pitches was: problem, solution, opportunity, traction and ask. We learned on the day the partners had asked after the first day of interviews to focus on the product rather than pitch. Fine, so bin all the work on the pitch we had done and just get wifi, access the demo, show the best bits of the beta in 9mins 30 seconds (30 seconds to tell the story what we did and why we were there).

With the demo we tried to focus on the innovations and simplifications that brought to the partners. Our focus when we setup was always on the B2B2C market, so our demo lived true to that aim. We left feeling we had done a decent job but with some many faces in the auditorium it was hard to know how we had been received.

Our application thinking and applying to DIFC Hive

Here’s some behind the scene thinking in our Hive application. Interestingly it’s a good opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons on looking at ourselves a year ago. When it came to creating a fintech application we had followed a few accelerators and looked at their application forms. https://www.f6s.com/ has been popular for a lot of leading fintech accelerators to use and a broad theme was consistent for fintechs.

Most applications follow a common lean starting pitch format: problem, solution, opportunity, traction and ask. Commentary on each of these elements is well known and a google search will provide lots of articles on them.

Here are a few standout memories looking back on the task.

One of the early things we did when formed was spent time on marketing and brand to consider what we represented and valued. These things seem a little too abstract at the start but getting them nailed means no mass brand changes when you have traction and when it’s heavy work to execute. It does not require massive investment as a startup but being clear is better than not having done anything at all.

Where to begin

Most application will ask for a “tweet of what you do” or a “pitch you would give in an elevator”. This is the start of many pitch application but it was actually the end in our process. We did this as the last thing as it’s a perfect example of the detail needing an awesome filter and fine-tuning.

The pitch video

This is now a standard feature for accelerators. Videos are about telling a story and not an advert, sales pitch or speeches. Brevity is king. Short and clear articles are the key. I have learned that knowing nothing and trying to explain it is not the key; knowing all the detail and then having a finely tuned filter to strip it back is important. It has also taken many iterations and there is not one that works for every audience.

The pitch video was something we have massively improved. Talking to the camera I don’t think works for accelerators (unless it is accompanied with an appropriate background setting). Also for some people in corporate settings they do not always have speakers or can listen so text and video are what’s needed.

Professional video editors have a place and a role. We did ours in house as again the editing tells our story. I am also a big believer of build, view, edit and this is a lot quicker inhouse than with an external agency. Our eventual video has no founder interview but its basic structure follows the prescribed pitch format. It won’t win an Oscar but hopefully it tells our story. Our video is 1min 12 seconds long, under 140 words, a tech-rock soundtrack (not all will hear that if seeing on a corporate network), no sentence longer than 10 words, background video of a Dubai fly- by and produced on Camtasia software on a Dell PC.

The startup fintech world has moved on in the past year. Ideas used to get funding but now you need a beta product and test clients. That’s a big shift and also a ravine to get over for a startup running as a lean business. Hopefully, these insights help you crossing the many ravines a startup sees.

Why did we look at DIFC Hive Accelerator?

Bondsmart has been developing its proposition for the past eighteen months. If you don’t know what we do read more here. We were at a stage where we needed to look at pilots, pre-sales and getting out into the marketplace and DIFC Hive ticked many boxes. Here’s our story how we chose to apply for DIFC Hive.

In Q2 2018 we needed ways to reach an audience that was motivated on technology change within a large enough commercial organisation and in a market that had inert demand our solution could move. Why these three things?

  • Need for an audience that was motivated for technological change. From the outset of the business, we had decided that B2B2C was our preferred route to market. B2C is expensive to build the brand and our solution did not seek to dislodge the way investment sales were done, we purely re-engineered it. We, therefore, needed to identify groups that had large mass affluent clients and people empowered to introduce new solutions into an organisation.
  • Large enough commercial organisation. When segmenting the customer number and size is an easy metric to divide clients into three tiers (gold, silver and bronze or 1,2,3 – whatever is an apt description for your tiers). As our focus was on organisations with a large retail customer base (why: because our model is to take a big value asset and break it into bitesize pieces) our focus on was Tier 1 and Tier 2 organisations. In reality, we needed these to be national champions rather than global as investment solutions generally are limited by the country conduct of business rules. Dubai had a large mass affluent client base (350k households) and concentration of large financial institutions organisations. That gave us a pool of sufficient large organisations to target that had the critical mass of clients we could help. The table below gives a snapshot of some stats.

 

UAE UK
Population (millions) 9.2 64.7
Percentage expatriate 88% 12%
GDP per capita  US Dollars 39,767 43,900
Five bank asset concentration 84% 64%

 

  • Inert demand we could move. I have had the benefit of being able to work in financial markets across the globe so was aware of trends in UAE and changing investment market. The UAE is a market where mutual fund penetration is low compared to other developed markets (<1% of their wealth for mass affluent investors). Direct security ownership is high. This is good as our model is to fractionalise direct assets. There is a large cash deposit culture too so the psychology to invest and lock away fitted with our buy and maintain strategy for bonds. Additionally, regulations and commission disclosures were coming into effect so transparency was on the table. The market structure, changing dynamics and wallet size of our target market saw we had a customer base in the UAE ideal for our solution.

 

So seeing where our business had reached and a market we could enter it was time to look at making it happen. Knocking on doors some cold and some warm through our network led us to the realise that fintech was a young concept in the UAE but the country was an advanced user of technology (smartphone penetration is 91% vs UK 85%). The industry had realised that technology was changing so it was interesting to see that one of the main UAE regulators had introduced a financial accelerator and working hub. We learnt of DIFC Hive existence and decided to apply when its doors opened. When this happens, we shall share how we approach applying.