and fintech support for SMEs

What kind of support has the fintech sector given to enterprises that have been in trouble since the lockdown? And what role can it play in the economic recovery of the country? We asked Antonio Lafiosca, COO of, a very active fintech since the first weeks of the pandemic to support SMEs, for an opinion.

You just launched Cash Anti-Covid Phase 2. Who is it aimed at and what advantages does it give?

Cash Anti-Covid Phase 2 is the first project designed to support businesses in Phase 2. Thanks to this product, in fact, we want to start thinking about the restart of Italian SMEs – with particular reference to those with turnover under 10 million euros – that need to redesign business models and strategies to move forward and recover lost turnover. It is therefore a long-term loan: the amount of the individual loan varies from 100 thousand to 600 thousand euros and the duration is set at a maximum of six years, of which the first 12 months are of total pre-amortization. This is done through a fast and entirely digital tool: the companies are evaluated through the use of proprietary algorithms of artificial intelligence, followed by the verification of the credit analyst and finally the resolution: all within 48 hours. In addition, the loan is guaranteed up to 90% by the Central Guarantee Fund for SMEs, which is an important risk mitigation factor for investors, together with the possibility for senior investors to subscribe to a security plan with an adequate profitability profile against limited risks and capital absorption.

It is a fintech “product” that falls under the Liquidity Decree. In your opinion is there any unexpressed fintech potential excluded from the Decree, which could instead support SMEs in this period? If so, which and what should be changed?

The Italian Fintech can contribute with additional resources to those of the traditional banking channel: resources that would be transferred quickly, effectively, safely and at competitive costs. Our proposals to integrate the Liquidity Decree are those we expressed together with ItaliaFintech during the parliamentary hearing at the Joint Finance and Productive Activities Committees. In short, we propose the extension of the measures envisaged for traditional intermediaries (guarantees, institutional liquidity, etc.) to all investors and alternative intermediaries. This would allow the immediate release of investments by large institutional investors (e.g. insurance companies, pension funds, family offices) who are willing to finance, but who obviously need the same guarantees granted to the banking system to do so.
In detail, it is required that the accessibility of the SACE guaranteed to companies in the fintech sector providing financing is made explicit. In addition, social lending and crowdfunding platforms are covered as entities eligible for the guarantee of the Central SME Guarantee Fund, but in fact they cannot operate with the Fund because the relevant implementing decree has not yet been issued by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Economic Development. Together with ItaliaFintech, we have requested that their eligibility for the Fund’s guarantee be made explicit in the Decree.
Finally, there is the question of interest. Under the current regulations, interest payable on loans is not fully deductible in the determination of business income. Given that the Liquidity Law aims to help companies overcome the Covid-19 emergency and its consequences, we consider that companies should benefit from a full deduction of payabable interest. It is also likely that many companies will make operating losses in 2020 and in the coming years, so the deduction of interest on loans taken out under the Liquidity Law would help not to further dilute such losses.

You launched Cash Anti Covid-19 in March, what was it (in short) and what feedback did it get?

With Cash Anti Covid-19 we wanted to take a first step at a time when Italy was in the midst of a health emergency and the Government was still working on the current amendments to deal with the crisis. In this specific case it is a 6-month bullet financing designed to cover 100% of the current expenses of SMEs for the next six months (wages and salaries, rents, utilities): companies with a turnover of up to 10 million can access a loan of up to 300 thousand euros; and those with a turnover above the threshold of 10 million have the possibility to obtain liquidity of up to 500 thousand euros. The product has much appreciated by companies, and also for this reason, in March alone, the requests compared to March 2019 have increased by 230%.

There are those who believe that the lockdown has brought advantages to the fintech sector, do you agree? If so, for which subcategories in particular?

The lockdown has increased the need for companies to receive liquidity quickly, and fintech, by its nature as a fast and flexible tool, was the first to respond to this request. In this sense, the corporate lending sector was certainly the one that provided the most support in the shortest time, creating ad hoc financing channels.
Moreover, this crisis has highlighted the need for digital tools on behalf of companies that found themselves having to continue their activity remotely. Fintech has also been one of the sectors that has been able to respond better to this need, and this is true for all its sub-categories: since it is based on entirely digital procedures, it has allowed operating in full respect of social distancing.

Imagine the Italian fintech sector in 12 months, how?

We see an increasingly close and widespread collaboration with traditional credit institutions. Covid-19 has in fact highlighted the gap in the distribution model of banks and will make many of them even more inclined to accelerate the path of digital transformation through partnerships with fintech. Collaboration responds to a real market need: more and more companies and professionals are looking for an alternative solution to traditional banks for their specific needs in terms of daily financial activities and access to credit. The trend will therefore be to merge several digital services into a single platform, in banking as a service mode: this will allow companies to have a higher quality customer experience. ​

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The Italian experience of Qonto told by Mariano Spalletti

In a conversation with Mariano Spalletti, Country Manager Italy of Qonto, we find out how this French fintech has managed to succeed in Italy and what the goals are after its first year of presence in the country.

After more than a year in Italy, what results have you achieved and what factors have led you to success?

Qonto was launched in Italy a year ago and in a year we have seen our customer base grow by an average of 25% each month, for a total transaction on our platform of over 300 million euros. Our turnover is also growing steadily and doubled in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the last quarter of 2019.

Our secret is, first and foremost, a customer-centric product: putting the customer at the center of the product. Its functionality from the creation and development phase is the key to understanding what to do and how to do it, to reduce the time and effort required to perform any operation and offer a unique user experience.
In addition to this, the focus on a very vertical market segment such as SMEs, which has always been under serviced by traditional banks, together with a truly tailor-made, modern, simple, transparent service that saves companies a lot of time every day, allows us to finally respond to needs that had never been listened to, but have already been present for years.

What “surprised” you about the Italian market?

Before the launch I was a bit sceptical about what the reaction of Italian SMEs to a digital banking service might be. I wasn’t sure if the market was ready and I was wondering how many companies could be willing to rely on a startup to manage their corporate finances with an innovative but 100% online account. There exists stereotype of Italian companies very much linked to the status quo and traditional processes and channels, especially if we talk about banking services.
I must admit that my doubts were unfounded and the answer was extremely positive from the outset. The Italian market is the fastest growing market for Qonto in Europe after the French market and we are growing significantly. I expect results to be still growing as we introduce specific features dedicated to Italian companies: the most important one so far has been the launch of the Italian IBAN, which has given a significant boost to our growth in Italy, also because it was the feature that was most in demand and that we were able to launch in record time, about eight months after the official launch.

What is the difference between the Italian market and the French market, in which Qonto has been operating for some time?

Qonto was born in France in mid 2017, while our international expansion began in mid-May 2019, when we decided to officially launch the service on the Italian market. During this year we got to know Italian companies better and better: both companies that were already Qonto customers and also potential customers, and we realized that there are actually several similarities between the French market and the Italian market.
The French and Italian SME market are in fact very similar, both in terms of size (about 4 million enterprises for both, although a little more numerous in Italy) and in terms of needs, given the inadequacy of the solutions offered by traditional banks, typically concentrated on two other market segments: private consumers and corporate customers.

What we guarantee with Qonto is a daily saving of time in the management of company finances and payments. With Qonto we guarantee the opening of the account in minutes and 100% online, to make simple and fluid corporate payments, both your own and those of your employees, canceling expense reports and simplifying accounting, all this with a UX and customer service of the highest level.
So I do not see any significant differences in terms of customers and their needs, but rather in terms of territorial dynamics and, in a sense, local bureaucracy. To give an example, we can think about the payment of taxes: in France a simple direct debit to your account via SDD (SEPA circuit debit) is enough. In Italy – as we know – you need to pay through the F24 form, a clearly specific service that exists only in our market and which is actually quite cumbersome. It is aspects such as these that actually involve extra investment to offer an identical service in the markets in which we are present. However, I think it is normal that each country has its own peculiarities, and we are in fact working to push localization to the maximum and offer the same level of service in all the markets where we are present.

How did you deal with the health emergency as a company?

The health emergency has been a challenging period for SMEs, startups and all in all also for us, as despite the strong international expansion they are still investing heavily to become profitable.
I have to say,however, that we were favored by two factors, namely: a solid business model, with revenues that are not based solely on the use of certain features (e.g. interchange on card usage) but also on fixed monthly fees; an important availability of resources, thanks to the Round C of 104M closed in January. These two factors have allowed us to face this period with serenity and not only to focus on the continuity of our service, but also to put in place some initiatives to help our customers on an economic level: we have in fact offered to all our customers from the end of March to the end of May, the virtual Qonto cards for free, even those not included in the plan and we have extended the free period from one to two months for all new customers who opened a Qonto account in the same period. In fact, the “bimonthly covid” was a moment of growth for Qonto and in Italy, in March and April, we acquired 55% more customers than during the first two months of the year.

What has this lockdown period taught you personally?

The main lesson of this period I believe, however, is related to the way companies must communicate. Although this was a trend already underway, there has been even more emphasis on the need to approach and dialogue together with one’s target market and prospects having less commercial nuances, placing even more emphasis on valuable and “inclusive” content, going from talking to a “client” to talking to one’s “community”.

We have strongly believed in the importance of helping Italian SMEs and professionals in this period of crisis, not only healthwise but also economic. For this reason we have tried not only to communicate the special offers we have put in place, but, with a broader perspective, we have tried to convey and highlight all the communications that we felt were important and useful for Italian companies to overcome the crisis, such as, for example, through the reworking and simplification of the measures of the various decrees gradually issued (“Cura Italia”, “Liquidita” and “Rilancio”) in an article to be found in our dedicated blog or by organizing or participating in webinars in order to share tips and suggestions to better face the crisis and organize for the restart.
We want to establish a special relationship with our customers: we are not just a simple “supplier” of services but a real business partner. Relevant communication is the basis for trust, the fundamental element for a valuable and sustainable relationship.

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The future of insurtech in the eyes of Matteo Carbone

On the occasion of the Fintech Nights Relive edition dedicated to insurtech we had the pleasure to guest Matteo Carbone, founder of IoT Insurance Observatory. We took the opportunity to ask him his point of view on the sector and what effect the coronavirus emergency is having and will have on it.

How has the insurtech sector developed in the last two years and what do you think have been the driving trends?

Insurtech has definitely matured over the past few years. On one side – the startups – we have progressively seen funding rounds with bigger tickets raised by more mature startups. On the other side – insurtech solutions adopted by incumbents – we have recently seen less “toys for CEOs” (the shining tools that are pretty easy to build but lat the time of a press release and one conference) and, instead, more initiatives focused on solutions that can have a concrete impact on the core insurance processes.

What will be the impact of the corona virus on the fintech industry in your opinion?

Let’s separate the answer into two parts. I believe that a lockdown of a bunch of weeks, when the restrictions will be ease, will not have changed customer behaviors and preferences structurally.
The most relevant real impact will come from the recession due to the lockdowns. It will probably increase the focus of incumbent on innovations that have the potential to deliver real impacts on the day by day activities. No more room for “toys for CEOs”. For vendors that have already done POC or pilots with incumbents of solutions that can help in this contingency, there are opportunities for accelerating the adoption. For vendors, it will be more challenging to pitch new clients in the next few months. There will probably be less capital available for new ventures: investors will tend to focus on the companies they currently have in their portfolios.

Will there be differences between Italy/Europe/US?

I’m currently advising insurers in more than 15 different international countries: each insurance market has a completely different story, culture (and bias), and structure. So there will be many differences. I suspect we will see a new wave of new early-stage insurtech initiatives emerge over the recession in the US. Let me elaborate further. Layoffs are starting to appear among existing US insurtech ventures. This trend will put high skilled professionals in the position to reinvent themself…this could create the new wave of insurtech ventures. Some of them will even access to capitals as the economy will start to recover. Startup funding has always been more available in the US than in the European markets.

What would be needed from your point of view today to foster the growth of fintech/insurtech in Italy?

To raise the financial sector innovation culture would be essential in order to foster growth. It is still too diffuse to hear opinions that considers insurtech only a topic for startups or a distribution approach. It’s a pity for a player in the insurance arena today not to pose the question of how to evolve its own model by thinking of which modules within their value chain should be transformed or reinvented via technology and data usage.

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The evolution of Claider, the app connecting policyholders and insurers

Together with Claider, one of the emerging insurtechs in the Italian scenario, we investigated the changing habits of citizens and the next challenges that await the sector in 2020. Here is the interview with Claider’s Client Advisors Sara Montanaro, Sara Partridge, Hélène Lefebvre and Sabine Wiederhold.

Statistics of Claider to date, with some comparison, to give you an idea of ​​the growth over the last few months.

Claider started in mid-2018 with the Business model and accrued the first 5 customers (Broker) who believed in the project. In 2019 we worked on the recognition of our brand and we reached about 20 partners in Italy, also thanks to the collaborations with SHARE software houses. Having a common protocol allows us to work on predefined our standards for transfer and updating data.
Today, negotiations are underway with relevant companies also at an international level which we should be closing shortly. As a result of the activation of business subscriptions, app users have also grown exponentially in recent months (around 50,000 users)

What type of insured customers usually turn to you and what advantages are most appreciated?

Everyone can download the app for free, create a profile and enter their policies. We have had very positive feedback, for example from the police, who appreciated the possibility of digital CID, with the advantage of readability and univocal interpretation.
Or by those who normally work at night as truck drivers, taxi drivers etc … who in the event of a claim can count on being guided through every step on their mobile phone and then send the claim to the insurer at any time. SMEs are very appreciative of the possibility of relying on a simple app to report claims that require multiple photos and documentation, with the big advantage of saving time and especially paper.

Since you’ve been on the market, how has the attitude of the insurance sector towards an innovative reality like yours changed?

Innovation in this sector is always a little scary. Some believe that offering customers a digital tool leaves them too independent or can be too complicating. Our goal is: to make people understand that technology is here to help, it’s not an enemy and that the users are accustomed to apps, even the oldest one.
The growth path we are experiencing with various insurance companies is not easy, but many are changing their minds. Furthermore, the advantages of digital transformation are obvious: you can be close to the customer even remotely and organize an entire office from any location.
Precisely because the idea of ​​speeding up the digitization process in the insurance field is more and more concrete, over the last few weeks a new association has been born, the Italian Insurtech Association of which we are constituent members. It will probably take a little longer to get into the digital perspective as a service for everyone, but we are convinced that by joining forces we will achieve these goals

How has your business changed following the Coronavirus emergency?

We have been on national alert for more than a month. Which for many sectors is objectively a crisis scenario, for Insurtech it can be a moment of opportunity. Now more than ever, is it clear that digital-based business models are essential for dealing with modern emergencies, even a pandemic!
Our business hasn’t changed. We have decided to invest energy and resources and give up a part of the income to participate in the digital solidarity initiative of the Ministry. An incentive that we offer to accompany the digitalisation of intermediaries, who perhaps has never before or have time to renew the business procedures.
Today is the right time to learn, try and acquire useful resources for the future.

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Cybersecurity in the era of coronavirus with Swascan

The digital habits of the world’s citizens have changed since the pandemic locked everyone indoors and forced them to maintain social distancing. This also has great consequences on cybersecurity and to better understand the impact we interviewed an expert, Pierguido Iezzi, founder of Swascan.

What has the covid19 impact been on cyber security risks?

There is no doubt the pandemic has also made itself felt on the Cyber Security front. Forcing millions of workers to work remotely in a very short time did not allow many organizations to organize actions for adequate cyber security that took into account the new scenario. This is obviously understandable. When ensuring business continuity becomes imperative, solutions like Smart Working become indispensable. But there is a downside: a much larger attack surface for Criminal Hackers is created in a very short time. Smart Working, from a strictly Cyber point of view, brings 4 fundamental problems: the standard company equipment is outside our company perimeter and therefore operates on home networks sometimes not sufficiently protected or, in many cases, must interact with unsafe IoT devices. In addition, some workers find themselves forced to work on their own devices, certainly not aligned with the software security measures installed – by best practice – on company ones.

With Smart Working, the use of VPN connections has increased, allowing users to connect to the company network directly from home. Especially in the myriad of free editions that exist at the moment, these are neither secure nor reliable and if they are breached they can open the door to an attack on the company by Criminal Hackers. In smart working, there may be a need to use remote control, specifically the Windows Remote Desktop Protocol, to access a machine or help desk procedures.

In recent years, there has been an increase in cyber security incidents in which attackers have remotely connected to a Windows server from the Internet using RDP and logged in as the computer administrator. The pandemic has only accentuated the need to use the RDP protocol, thus exponentially increasing the risk that Criminal Hackers will be able to access company machines to carry out a series of attacks and especially to install ransomware.

As for other types of Cyber attacks that have seen the increase in intensity we can not ignore Phishing. This, by its nature, leverages on people’s needs and fears, and what better way to lower the guard to the victims of COVID-19 if not through themed email scams?

Since the beginning of the contagion, numerous malicious email campaigns have been observed using the Covid-19’s bait to try to convince potential victims to click. Criminals have sent waves of emails ranging from a dozen to over 200,000 at a time, and the number of campaigns tend to increase. Approximately 70% of the phishing emails discovered in recent weeks are used to deliver malware and a further 30% aim to steal the victim’s credentials.

There have also been even more direct attacks and contagion maps were the bait. These campaigns to spread malware are specifically aimed to target those who are looking for cartographic presentations of the spread of the virus on the Internet, deceiving them and convincing them to download and run a malicious application. This one, on its front-end, showed a map uploaded from a legal online source, but in the background compromised the computer through infostealers and malware of a similar nature

Which are the sectors most at risk and how should companies react themselves?

The risk in this case is transversal, the world of Cyber Crime, even during a Pandemic operates following two basic concepts: the path of least resistance and vulnerability attacks. What does this mean? It means that Criminal Hackers will, in most cases, look for the easiest path to attack their victims, regardless of who they are really going to hit in the end. This goes hand in hand with the concept of vulnerability attacks; when you find an exploit, you look for systems that can be attacked through the vulnerability chosen by the Criminal Hacker. It doesn’t matter whether the target is an SME, a healthcare facility or a large structured company. In the world of Cyber Crime as a Service the skill level required is much lower than you can imagine, pre-packaged attacks are sold at a low price on the Dark Web and are already Ready to Use. Concretely this means that the alert must be a general one because the increase in the available attack areas has simply provided more potential victims to Criminal Hackers.

The scenario described underlines even more the need to consolidate and constantly improve the fundamentals of each Cyber security perimeter: the technological and human side. On the one hand, in fact, it is essential to have a clear vision of what possible flaws may be present at any time within our company. Carrying out regular Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing activities guarantees the correct identification of those unresolved problems that could be nesting within our perimeter and then promptly correcting them before Criminal hackers are able to exploit them. Of course, we also need to understand who might be interested in attacking us. This is where Domain Threat Intelligence comes in: the knowledge that allows us to mitigate or prevent these attacks. Strongly based on data, Domain Threat Intelligence provides useful information and indicators to implement better cyber defense strategies and improve the resilience of its corporate perimeter. It is an evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and advice on an existing or emerging threat.

This information can be used to better inform and consequently make decisions regarding the response of the targeted individual by that threat or danger. In short, Domain Threat Intelligence can provide timely, contextualized and – above all – easily interpreted actionable intelligence even by those who are not specifically in the industry, but are still in charge of strategic business decisions. On the “human” side of the defense strategy, the activity must be twofold and active. Phishing Attack Simulation services must throughly teach their smart workers how to recognize and avoid phishing mails combined this with more technical training and awareness that is,however, doable thanks to webinars and online courses. The same goes for those who have chosen to use a VPN for the first time: you always need to Inform yourself and choose carefully the product that best suits your needs, never forgetting to put cyber security best practices into practice, carry out careful and scrupulous security testing and adopt proactive security solutions.

Have you launched any particular initiatives or are you planning any?

During the emergency period we have made the Domain Threat Intelligence service available in a free trial version of the Cyber Security Swascan platform. This has the purpose and objective of identifying any public information available at OSINT and CLOSINT level relating to a specific target. Domain Threat Intelligence is not only applicable in the domain of very large and structured companies, but provides valuable insight to any type of business, despite its size. An essential tool, therefore, sbearing in mind the scenario we are facing. We have also intensified our webinar activity with weekly appointments of 30 minutes dedicated to Cyber Security, obviously open to everyone.

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