THE STARTUP MAGAZINE
In a changing world and an ever-changing financial sector, connecting two of Europe’s leading fintech hubs is an entry point for potential synergies between startups and investors. Let’s connect the dots and start the conversation together. What are the specificities of the two financial capitals and the essential innovative solutions? Who are the entrepreneurs, investors and key players in the ecosystems? This day is devoted to networking through a dedicated matchmaking platform on which you can schedule business appointments and a series of relevant interventions not to be missed. This event is for startups, investors, large corporates, SMEs, service providers, public representatives and ecosystem builders.
Thursday, April 22
Timetable (CET)* 8:00 am Opening of the networking session 9:00 am - 9:10 am Intro Luxembourg Fintech Ecosystem by Nasir Zubairi, (CEO, The LHoFT) 9:15 am - 9:25 am Intro Finland Fintech Ecosystem by Janne Salminen, (CEO, Helsinki Fintech Farm) 9:30 am - 10:10 am Roundtable: Funding for Fintech. Guests: Jerome Wittamer (Managing Partner, Expon Capital), Davide Martucci (Co-founder & CEO, Next Gate Tech), Paavo Hannu Räisänen (Investment Director, Kytölä (General Partner, Vendep Capital), Maki.VC), Monika Liikamaa (Co-founder & CEO, Enfuce). Moderator: Matias Mäenpää (Co-founder, Leap) 10:15 am - 10:25 am Fireside Chat with Irene Mäkelä (Chairwoman, Finnish-Luxembourg Society) 10:30 am - 10:40 am Wrap up with Teemu Seppälä (Senior Business Advisor, Helsinki Business Hub) and Charles-Louis Machuron (Founder, Silicon Luxembourg ) 8:00 pm Closing of the networking session *CET: Central European Time Zone Finland: UTC+1
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Charles-Louis Machuron Founder of Silicon Luxembourg
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen the color of a bill or coin in a year. I went all digital in the snap of a finger. The financial sector has digitalized overnight. Those who anticipated it have experienced a tremendous acceleration, while the others are just hanging up the wagons. In any case, Luxembourg fintech startups seem to be going through this period well. Teams are growing, solutions are finding takers with major accounts and the whole ecosystem is in battle to strengthen the country’s position. The craze surrounding crypto-currencies gives us a glimpse of a coin economy and significant progress on blockchain. It remains to be seen what tomorrow’s finance will look like and how our children will relate to money and investment.
intech at a glanc
DATA RO OM
MEMBERS AT THE LHOFT
FINTECH COMPANIES HOSTED (PHYSICALLY) AT THE LHOFT
PEOPLE IN THE LHOFT TEAM
Source : Luxembourg House of Financial Technology, the LHoFT
FINTECH COMPANIES BASED IN LUXEMBOURG
FINTECH AS AN ENABLER FOR OUR FINANCIAL INDUSTRY
WE REINVENT THE STOCK MARKET MODEL
EVENT CASHLESS HAS A NEW EUROPEAN CHAMPION
BLOCKCHAIN, NOT JUST FOR FINTECH!
INDEX EDITOR IN CHIEF Charles-Louis Machuron COVER Studio Polenta
UNDERSTANDING BITCOINS AND CRYPTO CURRENCIES
P. 26 LISTEN TO FINTECH
PHOTOGRAPHY Kaori Anne Jolliffe Olivier Minaire Serge Deuces CONTRIBUTORS Aurélie Boob Marc Auxenfants Patrick Van de Mosselaer EDITING Vaishnavi Ramakrishnan PUBLISHING Silicon Luxembourg S.à r.l.
EDITORIAL DESIGN Annick Kieffer Sara Giubelli
In August 2011, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Why software is eating the world". While this sounded prophetic then, it resonates perfectly today, as history seems to repeat itself with the advent of the blockchain revolution. That's why I think it's interesting to adapt this punchline... we could even go so far as to write "blockchain is eating the world"! Bitcoin is one of the first applications that uses blockchain technology to create a digital sovereign store of value. This application has the potential to gradually evolve into payments that will use blockchain technology: there are already billions of payments being made using stable coins (dollars and euros). For an investor, blockchain technology offers different opportunities: INVESTING DIRECTLY IN BITCOINS (BTC) As gold can be with real currencies, Bitcoin is a unit of value in the blockchain. For all that, we can't really talk about a currency but rather an asset ("asset"). It is a speculative asset, in which even pension funds invest today, but also large groups like Paypal or Twitter. The Israeli pension giant Altshuler Shaham has invested $100 million in Bitcoins via the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC). INVEST IN THE INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDED FOR THE ECOSYSTEM
Next, it will be necessary to create a whole infrastructure to make the value accessible in the blockchain ecosystems being built. For example: market makers to bring liquidity to these markets, or tokenization players, like Tokeny, or Stokr in Luxembourg. Then, on this infrastructure, Open Finance applications, the fintech sector will be able to take advantage of the blockchain by creating "smart contracts". In the future, all bank functionality will be smart or linked to blockchain rails that can verify issues/ changes/settings. In Luxembourg, for example, a company like Ibisa is applying smart contracts in the microinsurance sector. There is currently between 40 and 50 billion in loan volume on blockchain technology, which gives you a sense of its potential. These ecosystems are already regulatable and regulated, among others, on the basis of the AMLD5 directive created at the European level and applicable since January 1, 2021. In Luxembourg, there is a world leader in exchange platforms: Bitstamp. In the coming years, other sectors will enter the blockchain economy such as real estate, health, culture...
After successfully launching, developing and exiting several companies, ranging from a scalable hospitality concept to a medical platform in Western Europe, Patrick Van de Mosselaer co-founded Tioga Capital in Luxembourg. It is a venture capital fund specialized in high growth sectors (early stage) including startups and scaleups, with a focus on applications related to blockchain technology. Visionary and enthusiastic, he gives us his analysis of this volatile market. by : Patrick Van de Mosselaer, Managing Director at Tioga Capital
INVESTING IN UNIQUE ASSETS IN THE NEW DIGITAL ECONOMY The open metaverse (a virtual world much like in Steven Spielberg's "Ready player one"), is a whole new economy that is developing. This is where this technology will have a massive impact: before, you could copy anything you wanted on the web indefinitely. From now on, the blockchain allows the creation of digital objects limited in quantity or unique (NFTs, non-fungible tokens). This new digital economy is powered by blockchain payments and the circulation of goods secured by it, with full transparency and traceability. It will become the largest economy in the world over the next generation. We spend more and more time on screens: 7-15 hours a day on average, and there are 4.5 billion people online daily. Recently, an investor paid more than 60 million US dollars to buy a digital artwork (Beeple). Tomorrow, our children will be able to embed marketable brands on their avatars. In Capital Venture there is "adventure": this one is crucial!
DIGITAL IS HERE
T O S TAY A N D W I L L H AV E A P RO FO U N D IMPACT ON SOCIETY
by: Nasir Zubairi, CEO of the LHoFT Foundation photo: Olivier Minaire
The Fintech sector in Luxembourg has remained robust, if not thrived, after a brief period where institutions refocused internally to ensure operational continuity in an era of lower physical contact and complete lockdown. TALENT, KEY TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
Certain operations, for a period of time, can be conducted with disparate and remote workforce. However, in the medium to long term, creativity, innovation and culture will be negatively impacted. We completely support a level of flexibility, but see that most people, in order to build and to grow a business, need interaction, and the ability to brainstorm face to face with others. RETURNING TO THE OFFICE SHOULD NOT BE A RETURN TO THE STATUS-QUO The evolution of digital, and where we’ve come to now in terms of engagement and acceptability, might have taken a decade without Covid. In many ways, we are moving ahead in financial services. There is a worry that once things settle down, and Covid is no longer a threat, there will be some sense of a return to normal and the way we did things before, which would be unfortunate.
TECHNOLOGY ADDS VALUE The skill sets required for work are changing, where technology can come in and automate a lot of menial tasks, and critically add value to intelligence by augmenting items in decision making. The critical thinking element of work becomes increasingly important, and surely that’s the more enjoyable facet of work? Computers can remove tedious menial tasks, just as they’ve done in our daily lives. Good technology takes away complexity, removing the friction. Why do I need to understand investment funds? I might have future goals: wealth in order to send my children to school, wealth in order to have a happy retirement, to buy a new house, etc. Why can’t I just be delivered a product that enables me to reach that goal? I don’t need to know the minutiae of it. That’s what finance is; that’s what people in finance do. Technology is an enabler for the growth and enhancement of society, enhancing productivity, and enhancing quality of life.
HOWEVER, WORKING FROM HOME IS NOT THE RIGHT SOLUTION IN THIS DIGITAL WORLD.
Many people still believe that financial services experience is required to build a successful Fintech business, yet traditional institutions don’t feel that they need to leverage the experience and skills of those who have built and understood technology to ensure that they get the technology strategy right. There’s still much resistance to change within financial institutions. There are three inevitabilities in life: death, taxes and change. Why resist? I was in capital markets, and yes we always used tech, but my job wasn’t related to what is now ‘Fintech’. I still remember the traders around me, the old manual traders trying to resist the pace of progress, resist the rise of algo-trading and the machine. We had to adapt.
AS AN ENABLER
Can you remind us what Luxembourg for Finance (LFF) is and what it does? The agency is a public-private partnership created 13 years ago to help develop the Luxembourg financial industry. While we are best known for our event and communication activities, we also have a less visible mission focused on developing opportunities in geographic and thematic markets. In 2014-2015, I was mandated by the Minister to lead a working group to reflect on all the initiatives to be taken in the field of fintechs. Our group had recommended, among other things, the creation of a national platform, the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (Lhoft), with which we work closely on the fintech theme. In a country whose economy is strongly influenced by financial services, we had to create a platform specifically dedicated to financial technologies. The main goal of the LHoFT is not to develop Luxembourg into the European capital of start-ups but to attract solutions that will help the financial industry build its future. It is about providing the industry with the channels and tools it will need to truly pivot to the digital era and move into the 21st century.
Nicolas Mackel, CEO of Luxembourg for Finance, explains how startups and the LHoFT are helping the Luxembourg financial center pivot into the 21st century.
You are entering your 3rd term at LFF. What is your roadmap concerning fintechs?
What are the pillars of the Luxembourg fintech ecosystem?
If the LFF shareholders have agreed to renew my mandate, it is above all to maintain the direction we set 8 years ago. I see this renewal as confirmation that we have taken the right actions and that we must continue in this direction. We will therefore work in continuity, in the face of an environment that is constantly evolving. More concretely, it is a question of bringing financial institutions from all sectors to Luxembourg, with the aim of strengthening the Luxembourg ecosystem and seeing where the new opportunities are, both geographically and thematically. As far as Fintech is concerned, we also operate in continuity, in order to attract start-up solutions that are best adapted to the business models and practices of financial industry players. The LHoFT plays a federating role, bringing together all the players in the market to work on different projects. The LFF has a business development role: we go out to the outside world to recognize and pursue start-ups that could be interesting for the country and for the people involved.
Just look at the beautiful map illustrated by the LHoFT with the logos of the start-ups that are part of its system. This map shows us the pillars that make sense in Luxembourg. So I would mention regtech, fundtech, blockchain, cybersecurity, and in 5th place artificial intelligence. These are the priority sectors for fintech. What about crypto-currencies? What assets, opportunities and threats do they represent for the financial sector? None. In 2013 and 2014, we tried to identify the phenomenon. But in the end, I still didn't understand its true utility. At the beginning, we thought that these currencies could possibly have exchange functions. Today, they are essentially speculative. If people want to invest their money in virtual currencies, I don't. What remains interesting in this phenomenon, is the underlying technology of the blockchain. In Luxembourg, 4 crypto currency platforms have been approved by the CSSF. They are primarily payment institutes for electronic currencies.
I chaired a think tank on behalf of the High Committee of the financial center entitled "Talent strategy to serve Luxembourg's financial industry". With the digital growth and the qualitative growth of the Luxembourg financial industry, the availability of talent has become a real issue. All countries and professions are concerned. In this respect, the financial industry is in competition with other sectors, especially the technology sector, whose big players are snapping up all the good talent. Today's young people want to have a job that doesn't just pay the rent, but that gives them something more in life. Since the last crisis of 2008-2009, the financial industry did not necessarily exert this power of attraction to them. We can hope that this trend will change with the fintech and sustainable finance themes. To ensure the sustainability of the industry, we need to ensure access to the talent - at all levels and with all kinds of expertise, including but not limited to IT - that is necessary for its operation and development. How can we prepare tomorrow's finance today in the face of the new uses of the next gen and the digital natives? This is a complex question. It's a question of seeing how regulation can keep up with technological developments. But in order to prepare for the future, I think we also need to think hard and review the training curricula. This starts in elementary school: children are already taught the importance of science, languages and history. But perhaps we should also think about providing them with certain skills that will help them prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, which will certainly all be digital. Luxembourg has always been able to adapt. What it needs to do is to help the industry to adapt by providing it with the tools it needs to join the twenty-first century. The map of Europe is full of old financial centers, like Florence, Venice, Augsburg..., that at some point in their history missed the boat and failed to adapt. This is what we must avoid. In the Grand Duchy, the authorities and the financial industry are working hand in hand and thinking together about the future. We don't always have all the answers. But we are developing, testing and challenging them. And out of that we create something that has proven itself over the last 40 years. Today we have a relatively solid foundation, but in less than 5 years it could cease to exist if we do not manage to adapt and innovate. So we must innovate!
“Today we have a relatively solid foundation, but in less than 5 years it could cease to exist if we do not manage to adapt and innovate. ” SO WE MUST I N N OVAT E ! How would you define financial innovation? There are two things: firstly, a technological innovation; as the interface between an economic player and its customers, its way of selling its product or service. It is about improving the efficiency of internal processes, compliance, etc. But innovation can be more than just technological: when China opened its capital markets, for example, the CSSF was one of the first Western regulators to meet with its Chinese counterpart, in order to discuss how to make the requirements of the respective systems compatible, and thus to allow investment flows from UCITS funds to Chinese shares or bonds. Today, Luxembourg represents 43% of the global share of investments in Chinese capital markets. Innovation here means looking for pragmatic solutions to a changing world, and to accompany this change in the world. What message would you like to send to Luxembourg and foreign start-ups? We need to push creation and innovation, to bring about change in the financial industry. Start-ups must continue to bring about this change, and work with all the financial players in the marketplace, in order to develop truly solid and credible solutions, in the interest of the marketplace and its clients.
Education, training of talents and local and international recruitment are major issues for the future of the financial sector and fintech in particular? What is your policy in this area at Luxembourg for Finance?
THE STOCK MARKET MODEL
by : Charles-Louis Machuron and Marc Auxenfants photo : Kaori Anne Jolliffe
Former managing partner of KPMG Luxembourg, member of startup boards, Georges Bock, launched his own fintech investTRe on Dec 1, 2020. This is dedicated to a more transparent and responsible investment process.
Georges Bock, when you launched investTRe, what was your vision? investTRe aims to revolutionize the trading and investment process, via a platform that connects asset managers and investors without intermediation. We will offer investors direct access to investment opportunities, while experiencing a transparent investment process and full access to ESG criteria to assess the impact of their investment. Using new Blockchain - Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), invesTRe creates an unpretentious investment experience with functionality unthinkable in today's traditional and highly intermediated investment process. By creating a frictionless process and seamless user experience, our mission is to make investing affordable for everyone. What is the business model? I call it neo-stock-exchange. It's not new brokerage, like Trade Republic and Robinhood and other platforms still connected to the traditional financial world like Wall Street or the City. We are trying to reinvent the model by creating a new exchange, the first peer-topeer exchange that would bring together individuals, asset managers and investors.
It can become one of the first peer-to-peer platforms for investment activities. We are convinced that the market of the future will be more ESG oriented. We are currently 5, and will be 8 people by April 1st. You used to be a company manager or board member, why did you switch to start-ups? I left KPMG to do something new. I had always been an "intrapreneur" by growing an existing company and brand in Luxembourg. So when I joined KPMG Luxembourg, we were 100 people, and when I left the group and my role as managing partner we were 1,700. I wanted to create something from scratch. Between my departure from KPMG and InvesTRe, I studied at Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in order to familiarize myself with this new field of activity. You were talking about Robinhood. How does the history of Gamestop inspire you? What we're doing is in the same vein as GameStop. Interestingly, this is the first time that investors are starting to realize their power. If I look at the history of GameStop
Conversation What will the financial world be like in a few years, a world of bitcoins?
itself, without any value judgment, individual investors put hedge funds on the verge of bankruptcy. They organized themselves to have that strength. It's a landmark event, but too risky. The regulators will have to learn from this. A shift is taking place in this world, with individual investors influencing the governance choices of the companies they invest in. That these individuals can invest more easily, at reduced transaction costs, thanks to this type of platform, is a very good thing. But what about the transparency of the intermediation prices charged by these platforms? The regulators must therefore intervene. This is one of the issues raised by the members of the US Congress who questioned Robinhood, after the GameStop affair. To place orders, the platform did not compete with different market-makers to offer the best prices, as it should have done, but used only one broker. This broker then sold his information to the hedge funds a few seconds before placing his own clients' orders on the market. The hedge funds could then take counter-positions and make significant gains. Robinhood paid a fine of 65 million USD for this insider trading, while causing its own clients to lose 37 million USD with
these practices, according to the American regulator, the SEC. The third problem with GameStop was that retail investors could leverage their trades to amounts higher than their initial stake, which can be very risky and dangerous. What can be done to educate people, especially small savers and investors, about such practices? It is not that difficult. There is simple and accessible information on the Net, which allows people to build their own opinions and basic financial culture. Our platform will also contain educational modules. With advice offered from experts and peers to choose from. For non-digital natives, we will also offer more traditional training modules with certification. Financial education is based on the concept of independence. Many financial intermediaries want to give you financial information while at the same time making you dependent on them. The client must be able to make choices and decisions independently. This financial education must be digital and interactive. This is what we propose with a possibility to exchange and discuss on these topics, like a LinkedIn for finance, in a way.
When do you estimate the changeover to the digital euro? We estimate that the changeover will take place within 2 to 3 years. We are not waiting for this deadline to launch our intermediation services. Once this crypto-currency is available, we will then integrate it into our platform, which will then reach its full potential.
“Finance will be consumed in community”
One thing is clear. Tomorrow, the vision and experience of finance will be more virtual. Finance will be consumed via virtual platforms, as is currently the case for tourism, commerce, or music. The financial sector is far behind in this area, but the trend should increase in the coming years. Concretely: as for these other sectors, before investing their money, individuals will inform themselves on rating platforms, look at the evaluations of other investors, before making their investment decision. Regulators have also understood this. I hope that they will quickly regulate this trend, which will take place in any way without them, like what happened with bitcoin. A lack of regulatory framework is dangerous. This mode of financial consumption will explode when the digital euro is issued. What blocks digital transactions between two people today is not the digitization of assets, which already exists, but the absence of digital money. As such, Bitcoin is not really money. The day the European Central Bank issues virtual euros - not in banknotes, but in bits and bytes, readable by algorithms - the whole procedure of investment and transaction of securities, will be virtualized in smart contracts. No more need for a lawyer for the legal part, no more need for a clearing house for the settlement-clearing to realize these transactions. Wallets, electronic wallets will replace bank accounts, money will be deposited in an iPhone and in the cloud. All this will be made compatible with blockchain. The fund industry is not ready for this, but the customers are. It's just a matter of organization between the supply side, which is not ready yet, and the demand side, which is waiting for these features.
NOT JUST FOR FINTECH!
by : Aurélie Boob photo : Kaori Anne Jolliffe
The Luxembourg Blockchain Lab is an initiative jointly launched by Infrachain, LHoFT, LIST, SnT and LëtzBlock to create and nurture the blockchain ecosystem in Luxembourg and to establish a historic European hub for blockchain research, education and industrial projects.
N I A KCH
BLOC We could compare the blockchain to bricks of information connected to each other in a secure way. If you stack them up and remove a brick, you only break one connection of the chain: you cannot remove the information contained in this brick. It can be used for financial transactions in order to give or receive money in full transparency and in an autonomous collaborative system. The general public is tacitly aware of the blockchain principle through the QR codes that we flash on consumer products (textiles, food...) and that refer to a whole series of related links (chains) that are part of the production process of this product. For example, breeding conditions, traceability, serial numbers, safety can be linked together via a QR code that makes the information accessible to the consumer. Companies sometimes have a server that hosts a node of the blockchain, so that the security of their data is maintained and transactions remain secure.
A LABORATORY TO CHAIN BLOCKS! Emilie Allaert works for the LHoFT. She has been tasked to set up the project of creating the Luxembourg Blockchain Lab, which is now operational. As startups have their own incubators, companies that have a project related to blockchain technology will be able to find at the Lab all the useful resources including information, training, feedback, technological and legal partners. Emilie Allaert is confident: "We want to consolidate the Luxembourg blockchain ecosystem." Industries, but also startups and the general public who are interested in the subject will find conferences and workshops, evening courses or webinars to understand everything about this complex technology that is blockchain. "Many people confuse Bitcoins and blockchain, yet if one does not go without the other, the reverse is not true... It is much more complex."
“Many people confuse Bitcoins and blockchain, yet if one does not go without the other, the reverse is not true... It is much more complex.”
Climate Action Blockchain, Luxembourg > climateactionblockchain.lu Compellio, Luxembourg > compell.io Evercity, Singapour > evercity.io Filedgr, Luxembourg > filedgr.com Green Earth Agro, Luxembourg > gearthagro.com Medlogistics (Hôpitaux Robert Schuman), Luxembourg > medlogistics.lu Neofacto, Luxembourg > neofacto.com
LIKE A PROM Following a call for applications last October, 25 projects were submitted for approval by the selection committee of the 5 co-founders, to which 3 ministries (Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Digitization) were added. Among these 25 applications, more than half were based in Luxembourg; Sweden, Singapore, Slovenia, Ireland and the UK were also represented. In December 2020, 8 projects were selected to participate in a coaching program for 6 to 8 months. They will meet with mentors, other blockchain players already in place, to help them realize their project in a reasonable amount of time and bring them to a proof of concept. "There was a gap between what research centers are currently offering, which are 3 to 5 year initiatives that are too long, and very short term projects. The Luxembourg Blockchain Lab is not just for fintech or industrial projects, but precisely wants to open up to other fields such as logistics, health, culture, sustainable development goals..." Today there are 56 companies in the Luxembourg blockchain map. Eventually, the use of this technology will be found in pivotal uses such as medical records, tax returns, or information related to your vehicle (roadworthiness, car registration, insurance, driver's license points) where multiple organizations with multiple personal data are linked to ... a single individual! "Women tend to work on IT subjects that have a social or educational impact. I think we should start coding in school. It's a language like any other. You have to keep your curiosity as a child, even when it comes to the most complex subjects,” she says. From April 26 to 30, Blockchain Week will allow all those who are passionate about the subject to discover the eight projects selected by the Lab.
WHO ARE THE 8 SELECTED IN THE BLOCKCHAIN LAB?
Stampify, Luxembourg > stampify.eu BLOCKCHAIN IN LUXEMBOURG IN FIGURES Luxembourg was the first European country to open the doors to digital assets in 2014.
56 companies related to blockchain technology are in Luxembourg More than women
43% of crypto investors are
2 crypto-exchanges based in Luxembourg: Bitstamp and bitFlyer 2 Blockchain laws exist to facilitate financial transactions on the blockchain Bitcoin has passed the
25 applications, 3 interviews, 8 projects selected 2 Luxembourg-based companies featured in the CB insights Blockchain 50: The Innovators Blockchain Lab:
Using Blockchain & Crypto To Transform Industriescbinsights.com/research/report/ blockchain-technology-companies Tokeny and Blockchain.com
U N D E R S TA N D I N G
Bitcoins and Crypto Currencies Everyone is talking about it, few really know what it is. Bitcoins represent 62% of the crypto currency market, but there are many others. On March 12, 2021, the price of Bitcoin traded at around €47,840, the highest it has ever seen. by : Aurélie Boob photo : Serge Deuces
Since the beginning of 2021, the price of Bitcoin has continued to evolve without falling below the €24,500 mark. Based on blockchain and open source technology, crypto-currencies offer a traceability of value that no bank can provide. This makes them mysterious, fascinating and completely disruptive. To learn more, we met with Jonathan, a 35-year-old banker specializing in hedge funds. He has been passionate about and investing in crypto-currencies since they first appeared, and gives us some key thoughts to ponder before jumping in. Why are you interested in cryptocurrencies and how do they disrupt the traditional system? The first time I heard about Bitcoin was in 2011 on BFM Business one Sunday morning. I will always remember it. Bitcoin was only worth a few cents at the time... I remember thinking that it was finally something revolutionary. In 2009, Bitcoin, based on a public blockchain protocol, reminded us that money is above all a technology. It was time for this technology to evolve. A blockchain, also called "distributed ledger", is a new technology based on a peer-to-peer
“Bitcoin is attracting an increasing number of investors looking for diversification and protection against inflation, despite its high volatility.” system. It allows many applications that are not limited to the exchange of crypto-assets. In the same way that the Internet has had a huge impact on the exchange of information between individuals, cryptos based on the Blockchain will change our habits in terms of value exchange while eliminating intermediaries and relying on an incorruptible register. Blockchain-based applications and the various categories of crypto-assets will revolutionize certain sectors of activity such as: commerce, logistics, finance, energy, gaming, art, etc. Why is the Bitcoin explosion happening now? Bitcoin is getting a lot of media coverage these days thanks to increased adoption, even by institutional players. Bitcoin is attracting
an increasing number of investors looking for diversification and protection against inflation, despite its high volatility. Its various attributes are scarcity, transparency, security and a certain intrinsic value. The phenomenon of accelerated scarcity, called "Halving" (division by half of the mining bonus) has an indirect impact on the valuation of Bitcoin. Halving occurs about every four years. The next one, which will be the 4th halving, is expected to take place in 2024. Social networks also have an important part in the rise of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies in the last four months. What advice can you give to those who want to invest in crypto-currencies? First and foremost, it requires an investment of time in learning. Do not invest money without understanding and being aware of the risks of significant losses. There are very good quality online courses for beginners on the Coursera platform. The website journalducoin.com does an excellent job in teaching crypto-currencies.
This year was unpredictable and challenging like no other for many businesses. Looking back on the year, what was it like for Fintech? 2020 has put the global economy under stress, but at the same time it underlined the importance of fintech and digitalization. Fintech companies are uniquely positioned to expand access to financial services. In fact, Fintech is making finance more inclusive while at the same reducing the need for face-to-face interaction. Trends laid down in 2020 recognition of crypto assets, collaboration between fintechs and regulators, rise of the investment apps, demand for digital assets - will deeply influence the industry in the coming years.
4 Questions for the VC
Blockchain and crypto are still buzzing around and gaining attention from the public. How have these sectors evolved this year and what are their perspectives? This year the number of blockchain use cases grew and spread far beyond the cryptocurrency. More companies embed this technology into their processes. I see great potential in asset tokenization. It has a number of promising features: it allows greater access to different assets and democratizes the investment process. During the last year there were a number of outstanding cases of asset tokenization around the world and Luxembourg, in particular. For example, VNX successfully completed Europe’s first VC deal on blockchain. Crypto and blockchain industries have attracted more attention and capital both from individual and institutional investors. The central banks are also keeping pace in mastering the new technology and exploring and even piloting CBDCs. In the coming years I expect broader adoption of blockchain in finance.
What was this year like as a Venture Capital investor? This year has definitely been challenging for startups and busy for VCs. Almost all startups had to adapt to the new reality and 2be.lu’s primary focus was to help startups survive this storm. We spent a lot of time on calls with founders, digging deep into operations to cut costs and extend the runway. Some companies from specific industries, like delivery and blockchain did very well, but still had to adapt to the growing demand and seize opportunities. Despite this extensive activity we continued to invest in outstanding companies and worked on new deals. I am happy that one of our portfolio companies was acquired by the leading provider of ERP software for the European property industry. Such stories always inspire and prove that we are on the right track.
Has the last year affected the criteria for investing in startups? Last year the investment criteria shifted more towards the support of the companies in the current portfolio. But now I think the funding activities will grow. The most important criteria will still remain the same - great idea and how it solves a particular market problem, outstanding team and readiness to prove that your business model is viable, commercially attractive and scalable.
by : Silicon Luxembourg photo : Olivier Minaire
Alexander Tkachenko Managing Partner at 2be.lu VC fund and CEO and Founder of VNX
NORTHERN IRELAND FINTECH
by : Amy Dalton, Regional Director Benelux, Invest Northern Ireland photo : Invest Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is unique. It is made unique by its geography, history, people and resilience. Yes we are known for ‘Game of Thrones’, the Titanic, Narnia, golf and Van Morrison but did you know we are a centre of excellence for technology, and Fintech more specifically? Northern Ireland is part of the UK, shares a border with the EU being located on the island of Ireland and has strong trading and historic links to the USA. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland operates within its globally respected and robust regulatory framework. At the same time being located on the island of Ireland has also allowed Northern Ireland easier access to the Irish Financial Services market and enables the region to provide support services to firms in the International Financial Services Centre. In recent years, the growth of the Fintech sector has been fuelled by an unbeatable combination of world-class talent, highly competitive operating costs and research excellence in a pro-business environment. Northern Ireland’s Fintech ecosystem is thriving, with a number of industry accolades bestowed including being ranked as the world’s top destination for financial technology investment projects and Belfast, the region’s capital city, ranked third in the FT fDi FinTech Locations of the Future after Singapore and London.
B r a n d Vo i c e
“Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of Fintech employment in the UK with 1 in 5 people working across financial services and technology in Northern Ireland working in Fintech.”
Of course, like many economies across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Northern Ireland’s communities and many of its businesses. However, thanks to this quality combination of talent, cost and academic excellence, the sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience and continues to thrive. What is key to Northern Ireland’s sustained success in technology is the collaboration between government, education and industry to prepare and sustain the skills that are required now and in the future to include Blockchain, Robotics, AI, Cloud and Cyber Security. Digital services and solutions underpin innovation and productivity, as well as businesses’ ability to scale which is why this continued investment in skills and people is vital. And, the people are what cement this ‘uniqueness’ of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland start-ups and scale ups are flourishing thanks to a highly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem, vibrant networking scene and the active promotion of sector collaboration. A number of European financial institutions are tapping into this agility and innovation and are working with Northern Ireland solutions providers to overcome their technology challenges and reduce costs. Furthermore, international investors such as Citi, Allstate and First Derivatives have established and expanded their operations in Northern Ireland to benefit from the strength of technology and innovation talent on offer. They have tapped into a wealth of skills available to deliver in a broad range of areas including fund administration, investment operations, analytics, risk management, regulatory compliance and legal services. Additionally, Fintech incubators by Danske and Barclays banks are nurturing entrepreneurs in payments, InsurTech and RegTech. As the economic development agency for Northern Ireland, Invest NI offers practical and financial support, developed in partnership with clients, to ensure that companies grow and prosper. We work in partnership with organisations in Europe and beyond, to help explore opportunities and tap into this amazing uniqueness of Northern Ireland, boosted by talent, technology and innovation.
Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of Fintech employment in the UK with 1 in 5 people working across financial services and technology in Northern Ireland working in Fintech, with core strengths in areas such as RegTech and compliance, TradingTech, InsureTech, cybersecurity and AI & Advanced Analytics. Belfast was named the UK’s most technology centric city by Tech Nation, with 26% of all job vacancies in 2019 in tech and digital. In addition to the strong cluster and talent pool, operating costs are 20-30% cheaper than the rest of the UK and property costs are 75% lower than London and 65% lower than Dublin. Fuelling that talent pool are world-class universities, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, with a strong ethos of academic and industry research collaboration. Both universities have globally recognised ICT and data research centres. Queen’s University Belfast is home to CSIT, the UK’s Innovation & Knowledge Centre for cybersecurity and Ulster University has the Cognitive Analytics Research Lab (CARL) as well as being the first university in the UK to launch a degree-level Fintech apprenticeship course. In addition, both universities have trading rooms that offer students a dynamic learning environment and first-hand experience of the high-pressure atmosphere of a trading room.
TO FIND OUT MORE, GET IN TOUCH: https://www.investni.com/international/europe
AUTOMATED INTELLIGENCE Automated Intelligence is a RegTech provider who transforms how firms manage their unstructured data through their cloud-based governance, risk and compliance platform. This GRC platform is specifically designed to provide highly regulated Financial Services firms with unique insight into their data, allow them to report against their data holdings and mitigate their risk exposure through automated data governance. AUTOMATED-INTELLIGENCE.COM
AMPLIPHAE Ampliphae empowers companies to get serious about adopting SaaS to accelerate innovation. The SaaS marketplace is huge and specialised, meaning organisations are likely using hundreds of apps over and above well-known enterprise apps. Unfortunately, cloud-delivered SaaS means there isn’t total control over software, data and the risks involved. Ampliphae automation empowers organisations to understand the benefit-risk balance of the huge volume of SaaS and achieve the maximum benefit from SaaS through active management. AMPLIPHAE.COM
ANALYTICS ENGINES Powered by advanced technologies, Analytics Engines are the trusted data analytics partner to local and international customers across industry and the public sector. The company’s collaborative, creative team empowers organisations with market-leading data-driven insights that reduce complexity, optimise performance and build intelligence. They are specialists in data integration, data management, machine learning, AI, advanced analytics and visualisations. ANALYTICSENGINES.COM
ANGOKA ANGOKA Limited is an IoT security company, headquartered in Belfast, with offices in London and The Hague. Angoka provides patented IoT Security solutions for managing cybersecurity risks inherent in machine-to-machine communications, such as those used in Smart Cities and Homes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Industry 4.0 and National Critical Infrastructure.
FUNDS AXIS DATACTICS Datactics specialises in self-service data quality and matching software designed for non-technical business users in financial services firms. The platform helps to eliminate roadblocks common in data management where firms are overly reliant on IT to interpret and hardcode rules into core systems. Solutions ensure compliance with data-driven financial regulations; deliver a true “single customer view”; and increase the accuracy, and reduce the cost, of AML & KYC functions. DATACTICS.COM
Funds-Axis is an investment management RegTech company, with a unique combination of regulatory expertise and best-of-breed technology. They take the complex challenges with risk, compliance and regulatory reporting and make them simple. They help to meet regulatory obligations at a lower cost, lower risk and in a shorter time frame. They also provide fully managed outsourcing services from their Belfast operations hub, enabling companies to transform their internal cost base. FUNDS-AXIS.COM
B r a n d Vo i c e SALT DNA
Whether you’re texting, calling, or accessing data from a mobile device, SaltDNA provides the tools to communicate globally with complete privacy. The SaltIM Private App empowers you to communicate within the confines of a completely secure network. With military-grade voice and messaging encryption, SaltIM prevents the monitoring of sensitive communications across public networks. The global solution offers unlimited international calling for anonymous mobile communications and supports true Off-The-Record (OTR) conversations. The Management Portal gives full control of the global mobile communications throughout a business.
The Skurio Digital Risk Protection platform combines automated, round the clock monitoring of the surface, deep and Dark Web with powerful analytics capabilities for cyber threat intelligence. Skurio looks for cyber threats specific to an organisation, giving a single view of all data protection incidents and threats outside the network. Additional features help protect data across the supply chain with synthetic identities, and open APIs integrate valuable alerts into SOC and ITSM workflow systems to automate breach response. SKURIO.COM
Northern Ireland Companies To Watch Out For ULESKA
Uleska is a scalable platform that provides automated and continuous software security testing whilst translating cyber risk without the need for more personnel. It orchestrates security testing to increase security coverage and scale across applications. The Uleska platform automates business risk reporting, allows issues to be identified and prioritised, and communicates security strategy value. These solutions are key for delivering continuous DevSecOps. ULESKA.COM
VOX FINANCIAL PARTNERS Vox FP is a global consulting firm that supports financial institutions in the planning, resourcing, and delivery of complex regulatory change. Managing change in business in an increasingly complex market is unsustainable without high quality, skilled specialists. Vox FP combines global banking and regulatory experience, well-trained consultants, and advanced technology to help global financial institutions successfully execute major change projects. VOXFP.COM
Northern Ireland has a diverse, innovative and thriving start-up and SME tech community. There are clusters across data, digital and mobile technology, analytics, automation, cybersecurity, blockchain, machine learning and AI. Here are 10 of these companies active in the Benelux markets right now.
FINANCE WITH A CONSCIENCE
Label R is a consulting agency that offers a risk analysis method and a digital due diligence tool for asset managers and companies. Founded by Oriane Schoonbroodt, an entrepreneur connected to the real world as much as to digital tools, it strives to guide financial companies towards a virtuous, sustainable and conscious path.
by : Aurélie Boob photo : Label R
Are your investments ethically acceptable? How can you support the fight against global warming, or the fight against child labor? Can your company participate in sustainable and socially virtuous projects? The startup Label R provides a range of services from ESG (Environmental and Social Governance criteria) strategy development, to the integration of ESG factors in the investment analysis and decision process, to risk and materiality assessment, to the implementation of ESG management systems and due diligence processes. Label R undoubtedly provides a guarantee of quality that greatly reduces reputational risk and adds value to the company that obtains it. A COMMITTED ENTREPRENEUR, NOT AN ACTIVIST
ESG Asset under Manager
Oriane Schoonbroodt is a former diplomat and senior policy advisor at the European Parliament and the United Nations, where she was in charge of the Human Rights Committee. An active entrepreneur, she is also convinced that finance can contribute to a better society. She founded Label R in 2018 with the aim of influencing ethical responsibility, environmental awareness and sustainable investing. The «R» in the brand name stands for reputation, risk and responsibility. «Finance is already engaged in a new era, it’s not a trend, it’s an obligation especially since the Paris agreements and the Sustainable Development Goals, but also with the new European regulation» (such as Taxonomy, SFDR, integration of ESG risks in AIFMD-UCITS, Mifid, Solvency II...ed.). This movement has been reinforced with the current crisis. «The Covid period showed that the companies that performed best in 2020 were those that had anticipated health and social risks.
Millennials are poised to receive more than
CHARISMA WITHOUT A TIE
$30 TRILLION OF INHERITABLE WEALTH
Oriane talks about «holistic responsibility» because it is about understanding risks as a whole, all working towards better finance, for a better world. Idealistic? More like a visionary, and in our society where the suit and tie has a hard beard, being a woman who challenges conventional wisdom is progress in itself. «At the beginning, I had a hard time getting my ideas across. I was the woman who talked about something that nobody was interested in! But the legislation helped me. You have to understand that today’s Millennials will own 2/3 of the world’s wealth tomorrow. Among them, many women at the head of family offices, enlightened men, with a conscience awakened from their early youth. What the European Union is asking from companies and financial actors is to be transparent. And to be aware of it. «The first effects of ESG actions will be measurable in more than two years, or even longer, as time does not move at the same pace for the planet as for people. It is always complicated to evaluate the qualitative. It is certainly not just a matter of numbers...»
Women- who will hold 32% of global wealth by 2020, are set to invest more than
$2.3 TRILLION FOR SOCIAL CAUSES BY 2021 A considerable gender gap still exists, with
embracing ESG at a higher rate than
MALES (21%) 22
Source: Forbes "Millionaires And Millennials: How The Next Generation Of Wealthy Manages Their Money"
Cyber-Attacks to protect its clients
by : Aurélie Boob photo : Serge Deuces
When it comes to cybersecurity, the first watchword is «anticipation». Hacknowledge specializes in offensive and defensive security. It offers three approaches to support its customers. Barbara Terra, Sales Director of Hacknowledge’s Luxembourg subsidiary, explains how it helps companies deal with cyber risks, which have been accentuated by the urgency of the health crisis. Cybersecurity is a key issue for companies today. With the health crisis, even the most reluctant have been forced to introduce teleworking, often in a hurry. «Setting up a VPN means opening a gateway to the entire corporate network from the Internet,» says Barbara Terra. «When set up in a hurry, poorly protected remote access solutions are a prime target for attackers.» Phishing is commonly used to gain access to the internal network for employees. Since the start of the health crisis, the number of such attacks has steadily increased, often using sophisticated strategies, such as fake remote access login pages. During the pandemic, Hacknowledge offered its services free of charge to health structures. A way of showing solidarity with these establishments which were particularly affected by the crisis.
«When set up in a hurry, poorly protected remote access solutions are a prime target for attackers.»
OFFENSIVE, DEFENSIVE AND INCIDENT RESPONSE Hacknowledge anticipates, monitors and responds to attacks. The company does not sell commercial solutions, but supports its clients with pragmatic recommendations. The first level of intervention is offensive: «We simulate a targeted attack in order to evaluate the real risks to which our clients are exposed. We use the same techniques and tools as real attackers. It’s not about doing a surface audit or listing configuration flaws. The goal is to go as far as possible in exploiting the vulnerabilities found in order to demonstrate their impact. In all our tests, we also try to exploit the human element, particularly via phishing, as an attacker does not hesitate to perform social engineering in order to achieve his or her goals.» The second approach is defensive. To support its customers in securing their information systems, Hacknowledge has set up a 24/7 managed monitoring service. This involves a team behind an entire infrastructure dedicated to real-time detection of intrusions on the corporate network. «We engage with our custom-
ers in an iterative process of improving their security. First, we build a solid foundation, which then allows us to build detection scenarios according to the needs identified in consultation with them. We can, for example, address certain application risks such as those related to the SWIFT network or to the «open banking (PSD2)» standard. Finally, in the event of a cyber attack, Hacknowledge assists the client in its crisis management. A dedicated team trained in incident response travels to contain the threat, identify its source and assist in the recovery of the activity. «We then make the necessary recommendations to prevent a new attack. « In Luxembourg, there are more than 300 companies offering cybersecurity services, some of them exclusively specialized in the field. In this context, Hacknowledge is setting up a continuous training program called Hackademy, aimed at IT professionals, in order to make as many people as possible aware of the risks associated with cybersecurity. The combination of these three approaches is the perfect vaccine against cyber viruses.
HACKNOWLEDGE S I M U L AT E S , DETECTS AND RESPONDS TO
E N W E N W E N O R W U E E N N W A E E N P O W R E A N OPEANEU H C N O I P R M U A E H W AMPIONC WCH HAS A S S E L CASH T N E V E
by : Charles-Louis Machuron photo : Weezevent
The French company Weezevent and the Belgian company PlayPass, the two major players in dematerialized payment solutions (known as «cashless») for event organizers and leisure and tourism venues, are merging to form the major European cashless entity.
The new entity, with 6 offices around the world, 100 employees, and multiple strategic partnerships, is present on all continents and already supports 1,200 event producers (Live Nation, Les Vieilles Charrues, Ineos Sport, Dour Festival, Vendée Globe, PSG, Ocesa...) in cashless by processing 400 M€ in transactions with 110,000 payment terminals, for 5 million spectators each year. For several years now, cashless has been revolutionizing the management of on-site points of sale for promoters and improving the experience of the public, who pay for their drinks, meals, merchandise, etc. more easily, either thanks to an access bracelet, subscriber card equipped with an NFC chip, smartphone or a dedicated application. “David, Dale and their teams [David De Wever and Dale Hofkens, co-founders of PlayPass] share with Weezevent the same passion and vision,” says Pierre-Henri Deballon, CEO of Weezevent. “After 8 years of healthy competition, the time has come to form a new team that is stronger, more ambitious and more confident.” This merger reinforces the profitability of both structures in an even stronger group, increases their operational capacity to better satisfy customers via offices in Paris, London, Madrid, Antwerp, Lausanne and Montreal, and allows them to pool their investment and innovation capacities in a single technology with more than 50 dedicated developers. For his part, David De Wever, CEO of PlayPass believes that “the two companies are very complementary and the combination of their know-how makes it possible to form the leader in cashless. The return of events to a normal post-Covid situation will accelerate the adoption of cashless in the still reluctant countries. It is a question of being ready for the market while continuing to innovate. The union with Weezevent is an opportunity for us, our teams and our customers”. The two companies are also developing solutions for online
“After 8 years of healthy competition, the time has come to form a new team that is stronger, more ambitious and more confident.” ticketing, accreditation and access control that have already made it possible to issue and control more than 100 million access tickets. This merger takes place during a health crisis that has been affecting the entire event industry for the past year, and which has raised new expectations. Pre-ordering Click & Collect consumption, social distancing measures and access control protocols adapted to gatherings are just some of the challenges that the group is already meeting.
M E M SW E
The fin LHoF a T dev nce a is Lu x n e Off lop s d tec embo eri o h l no urg u ng ing Fin tions logy ’s ded p l to s tec i cre atfo i h h nter cate ate r s v m, th incu ape t act t d Fin b h o alu t e e fo LHo ation e futu foste ech ce re o r in ntr r th FT a , co -w e l n eb f roa so co orki finan ovat wher e ng cia ion der nne ls an Fin cts, and tec eng a s ervic d o e he cos ages ft-lan s. wit yst dha em nd .
EWNEAW OPEON N I P M A Snapshot
Last spring Solenne Niedercorn launched her podcast Finscale. Her goal? To make FinTech accessible to everyone.
Solenne launched Finscale to democratize innovation in finance among the more traditional banking and insurance professions, to explain the paradigm shifts in the sector and the wave of industry transformation. - Didier Valet (Business Angel, former deputy CEO of Société Générale) - Jean-Daniel Guyot (Memo Bank), Pauline Brunel - Julien Creuzé (BlackFin Tech : VC Fund specialized in FinTech/InsurTech launched by a PE firm) streams generated per month - Romain Mazeries (MangoPay : for this French podcast. Luxembourg Payment Institution, from online crowdfunding to payment engine).
Listen to FinTech
Green Banking (Helios Neobank, Tomorrow), Corporate Finance (making CFO’s life easier. e.g. Pennylane, Qonto, Spendesk), InsurTech (a booming sector).
Solenne is a former banker and advise startups in building products and growing in a highly regulated environment.
Finscale’s episodes anyone discovering innovations in the finance industry (Banking, FinTech, Insurance, InsurTech, Investment).
Who’s listening? FinTech Players, Innovation officers, Business Angels, VCs (competition analysis, prospecting), Bankers.
episodes recorded. The last ones to date: Qonto and NiCKEL.
Another series to listen to? Breaking Banks and 11: FS Podcast
You can follow and listen to Solenne on Twitter @sniedercorn and Clubhouse too @sniedercorn.
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