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Start-ups 25 Oct 2017

A year in search of the world's best fintech startups

It´s been a year filled with intense activity: more than 800 startups from 72 countries competed for the first prize in the ninth edition of the BBVA Open Talent competition. The winner was Change, an Israeli artificial intelligence startup that received its prize  – and the accompanying 50,000 euros – at the BBVA Open Summit last week in Madrid.

In all, over 250,000 euros in prize money was distributed among the different winners in the five categories: Artificial Intelligence, Fintech for Companies, Identity, Regional Trends and Global Trends. This year, there were two additional prizes: Women in Fintech and Financial Inclusion.  This week, the winners in those categories are participating, along with the rest of the finalists, in Immersion Week in Madrid, where they are meeting with BBVA executives and teams.

“The future of fintech and of the world of finance in general, will be a combination of large corporations working with entrepreneurs, that’s for sure,” said Marisol Menéndez, head of Open Innovation at BBVA. She believes that competitions such as BBVA Open Talent are necessary, because “they create meeting points,” between the startup world and large corporations.

Apart from the professionals at BBVA who work on transformation and innovation, the more than 500 attendees at the awards ceremony included CEOs and startup founders, heads of venture capital companies and investors from private banks. Also on hand were international players who support the startup  ecosystem, such as Google and Telefónica, along with representatives of the innovation world in corporations, banks and consulting firms.

“What we want is for those who are creating and discovering to meet the people and organizations that can move those ideas forward,” Menéndez added. More important than the competition itself, she said, is what happens afterwards, to turn these projects into realities. “Our mission, in the end, is to put incredible solutions in the hands of our customers,” she added.

One common theme in nearly all the proposals, which was mentioned repeatedly in the entrepreneurs’ pitches at the BBVA Open Summit, was user experience. “We all try to make a significant impact on clients by creating solutions based on an incredible user experience, one that connects with them and speaks their language. After all, these solutions have an effect on how they are going to manage their personal lives, so they should have an emotional component,” said Yaniv Levi, co-founder of the startup Change, the overall winner of BBVA Open Talent 2017.

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This year's BBVA Open Talent edition included five categories and two special awards.

Among all the companies that registered to compete in BBVA Open Talent this year, 798 startups were evaluated by 262 judges at the competition, who were from BBVA and from outside the company. The median age of the companies that participated in 2017 was one year and 10 months; the majority of them came from Spain, the United Kingdom and Colombia. The technological areas and industries most represented in this edition were: mobile apps, services for SMEs, payment, Saas (Software as a Service), big data and artificial intelligence.

“The finance industry is undergoing a great transformation and the only way to face this challenge is through collaboration,”  said Mendéndez. For this reason, at BBVA, open innovation “is not a hobby or a parallel activity,” but part of the bank’s core strategy and one of the keys to its transformation.

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Yaniv Levi and Assaf Priel, cofounders of Change, during the awards.

Change: a startup aligned with BBVA

According to Yaniv Levi and Assaf Priel, co-founders of Change, the greatest challenges facing the banking sector during the next decade will be knowing its customers better and building a relationship with them based on trust. “This is one of the biggest challenges facing all the agents in the financial ecosystem today. In our case, we take it a step further: it´s not just about them leaving their money with us; we should earn their trust in order to carry out real actions with it.”

The Change  application improves the financial life of people by optimizing the management of their bank accounts through the use of Artificial Intelligence. For example, it enables them to set aside the right amount of money to cover bill payments or automate the amounts that should be destined to savings.

B2B Pay: do something, do it right

In the transformation of the financial ecosystem, it´s not only important to develop solutions for final consumers. “There´s a great opportunity to innovate in creating tools for companies,” said Menéndez. For that reason, this year the Open Talent competition has included the category of Fintech for Companies, which was won by the Finnish startup B2B Pay.

Neil Ambikar, the company´s founder and CEO, believes that another of the aspects shared by all the finalists is the great effort they make to carve out a place for themselves in the fintech ecosystem. “We all struggle to complete our projects, obtain financing and above all, credibility. And in that regard, BBVA plays a key role. They take us seriously and they take innovation seriously, which is something we value a great deal.”

His solution enables companies that operate in Europe to use virtual bank accounts to receive payments from other companies, with commissions that are as much as 80% less than the ones that are normally charged.

Pago 46: better interactions

Another valued aspect of BBVA’s work with startups is freedom: “We all have a great opportunity with BBVA. A large part of our future depends on collaborating with them. They´re unique. And they know exactly how to work with startups. They let us do the management, they don´t try to impose their projects and ideas on us. And that is what is really needed,” said Christian Sapunar, CEO of Pago 46, a finalist and winner in the Regional  category of BBVA Open Talent, with an application that enables the use of cash to make online purchases.

According to Sapunar, in a context of transformation,  companies must feel the “external pressure,” of innovation for them to finally integrate the changes internally and adapt themselves to the needs of their customers. “Some CEOS are resistant to change, but at BBVA, they know perfectly well what they´re doing. And they know that you must make an effort to understand the changes taking place in the world and adapt to them,” he said.

DOV-E: putting the emphasis on experience

The founder of DOV-E, Yehuda Yehudai, believes the greatest challenge all the finalists face, although from different fronts, is to create products that respond to the changes in recent years in user expectations. His solution, the winner in the Global Trends category, uses audio as the technology for transmitting data, in order to enable wireless payment between devices.

“Banks must adapt themselves to the changes brought about by globalization, which blurs the borders between services, organizations and people,” said Yehudai. Also, according to the entrepreneur, a trend that characterizes the majority of the finalists is the emphasis on user experience; in short, complex technologies must be made easy to use. “You must manage to add value in a click,” he said.

SnapSwap: adapt or die

“In 10 years, banks as we know them will no longer exist,” Denis Kiselev states roundly. Kiselev is the founder of SnapSwap, the startup that won the Identity category in Open Talent 2017.  This solution allows clients to open a bank account in only six minutes with a mobile device. The identification area is crucial to the development of fintech solutions that are 100% secure and meet all the necessary legal requirements. There lies the importance of having entrepreneurs from this area in the Open Talent competition, Marisol Menéndez said.

According to Kiselev, clients’ interaction with banks will be completely different; the users will want to always be offered the best of all the services and products available in the market, through aggregators. “If a bank or a company doesn´t give them the best service, the users will go to another site,” he says.

Special prizes: Women in Fintech and Financial Inclusion

This year, BBVA Open Talent created two new prizes to give visibility to the startups that are having an impact in two areas considered crucial to progress in the sector: Women in Fintech and Financial Inclusion.

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Rebeca Minguela during her speech at BBVA Open Summit.

Minguela is the founder of Clarity, a company that offers tools based on data science to optimize the social impact of companies. “I’m very grateful for this prize, because I believe it’s important to give visibility to women so that they can inspire others,” Minguela said at the awards ceremony at BBVA Open Summit.

The winner of the prize for Financial Inclusion was the Mexican startup ePesos, an instant payment solution for the non-banked population. Its electronic payments system enables users to make payments to any person or establishment, securely and instantly, through Facebook, a mobile phone or email.

In 2018, the tenth edition of BBVA Open Talent will take place. “The celebration will be even greater. But we will continue seeking out the best startups, and the best connections with the financial ecosystem,” Menéndez concluded.

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