Technology takes to The Floor

A project aimed at encouraging fintech start-ups opens in Tel Aviv in June – supported by Intesa Sanpaolo. Andrew Davis hears from Dani Schaumann, the bank’s country adviser, why Israel is at the cutting edge

23/06/2016

A project aimed at encouraging fintech start-ups opens in Tel Aviv in June – supported by Intesa Sanpaolo. Andrew Davis hears from Dani Schaumann, the bank’s country adviser, why Israel is at the cutting edge

Intesa Sanpaolo is increasing its focus on future financial technologies with the opening of a dedicated hub in Tel Aviv – the centre of Israel’s thriving hi-tech start-up cluster.

 

The Floor, which Intesa Sanpaolo is supporting alongside three other international banks – Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Banco Santander – and the Chinese investment company Pando Group, is based in the new Israeli Stock Exchange building and will open its doors at the end of June.

 

Even before its formal launch, delegations from Intesa Sanpaolo are travelling to Israel to meet local fintech entrepreneurs in one of the world’s most active technology start-up communities.

“Intesa Sanpaolo is one of the few banks in Europe to have understood how important the innovation and start-up ecosystem in Israel is across a whole range of sectors including fintech”, says Dani Schaumann, the bank’s global country adviser for Israel, based in Tel Aviv since 2011.

“Over the past few years we’ve worked closely with Bank Leumi, a leading local bank, and through them we have met a lot of very innovative start-ups. We’ve seen so many new technologies appearing in Israel that we knew we needed to pay close attention”.

 

Photo: Dani Schaumann, Intesa Sanpaolo’s global country adviser for Israel.


It was this experience that convinced Intesa Sanpaolo to co-found The Floor as a fintech centre. The Italian bank already places great emphasis on developing technology and has an innovation team based in Turin with close to 100 staff. Its head reports directly to Carlo Messina, Intesa Sanpaolo’s chief executive.

 

However, The Floor will bring even greater momentum to its innovation projects. “The banking market is evolving very quickly”, says Schaumann. “In the past we had banking based on branches. Today we have the emergence of internet banking and tomorrow we will have smartphone banking. We want to work out which technologies will enable our bank to make this transition.”

“In 10 years the banking system will be completely different, and in Israel we are seeing a lot of the elements of this ‘new bank’ that have already been developed and tested”.

The Floor will operate as a co-working space for innovative fintech businesses and will be supervised by an Israeli management team with long experience in the local start-up scene.

The four founding banks will be able to meet groups of promising technology companies through The Floor’s local executive team and select those they wish to take forward for trials and pilot projects.

This gives the banks access to a rich stream of innovative technologies and allows the start-ups to gain a much better understanding of the issues facing established banks.

“There is a big benefit for these start-ups in gaining access to major international banks without leaving Tel Aviv”, says Schaumann. “The Floor will be a gateway to the world for Israeli fintech companies and I think it will soon become an international hub. There are already discussions taking place about connecting it with other hubs in New York, Silicon Valley and Asia”.

Computer-chip maker Intel, which has a major research and development centre and 10,000 staff in Israel, has also become involved in The Floor, he adds.

 

Schumann says that Intesa Sanpaolo is mainly looking for companies with breakthrough technologies that can become suppliers to the bank. In a few cases it might also acquire an equity interest in such start-ups, but this is not the primary purpose of becoming involved in The Floor.

 

Major areas of interest in fintech include online payment technologies, cyber security and biometrics. Israeli companies – capitalising on the country’s world leadership in defence-related research and development – have created applications that can verify the user’s identity through facial and fingerprint recognition as well as analysis of the subject’s heartbeat.

 

Big Data analysis is another big area of interest, says Schaumann, for example as a tool to speed up the process of analysing a borrower’s creditworthiness and deciding whether to grant a loan.

Today the bank takes a few weeks to decide whether an applicant should be approved for a loan, but there are a lot of websites now that can do this in a few minutes. They are major potential competitors for the banks so we must understand how to use these new technologies.

The Floor promises to become an important asset for Intesa Sanpaolo as the bank develops its expertise in emerging financial technologies that will change the way banking is done in the years ahead.

 

Its involvement alongside the other founders will help to increase awareness of Italy’s leading banking group in Israel as well as giving local entrepreneurs a route into international markets.

 

But it is the strength of the Israeli fintech scene that offers the clearest potential benefits right now, says Schaumann.

“I think that what we are discovering in Israel could really influence the future of the bank”.

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