Holvi – the Finnish startup reimagining bank accounts for Europe’s “80 per cent”

Holvi
Holvi

Holvi

The traditional banking industry is ready for a shake-up, says Finnish startup Holvi – and it believes it has just the all-purpose product to do it.

With Holvi, currently available in Finland but with plans to expand across Europe this year, customers can quickly and easily create an account online. They can then do most of what you’d expect with a normal bank account plus send invoices, add comments or tag transactions, manage tasks and budgets, automatically build financial reports – even set up an online shop.

All of that’s wrapped together in a clean visual package. “You can get things done with it,” the team’s lead designer Mikko Teerenhovi (above far left) says. “It looks quite simple, but it’s actually a very powerful tool.”

HolviThe Holvi overview gives a quick, visual sense of what’s going on in an account. 

Who’s the market? Freelancers, small businesses, event organisers… aka traditional banking’s “80 per cent”

Holvi is particularly suited to teams working collaboratively on projects. Major Nordic startup event Slush, for example, used it to manage all its finances last year. So did about 30 candidates in Finland’s 2012 local government elections.

The market the team is going after is bigger than that though – basically everyone who’s using an account to “get things done” (rather than take out a loan or invest) and wants a bit of extra grunt. Over to Teerenhovi:

“Retail banks – actually only 20 per cent of their customers are profitable. The other 80 per cent don’t have a material impact on the bank’s income. These statistics are from the Royal Bank of Scotland so they probably know what they’re doing,” he says.

“This is because the 20 per cent take loans from the bank or have excess money that the banks can invest. For the other 80 per cent, it’s a utility like electricity or water… We’re aiming at this 80 per cent. What’s in there – there’s a lot of individuals but there’s a lot of associations, small businesses, freelancers and everything happening that’s project-based. A lot of work is happening project-based nowadays, more and more.”

Not a bank yet more than a bank – will Holvi fly?

Holvi’s business model is to take a fee for each transaction – it’s currently 90 cents per transaction in Finland. Doesn’t that sound like quite a bit?

“It depends on which angle you’re looking at it,” Teerenhovi says – compared to some other enterprise software tools, he argues, it provides comparable or superior value. “And if you get like five people using the same account and managing different tasks, like event organising, it’s not that much.”

What sets Holvi apart from cloud-based accounting and bookkeeping tools such as Xero and MYOB is the range of services it provides – essentially a cheque account as well as a broad range of financial services to support it. There’s a bit of a “trying to do everything” feel, which seems to be the key to the appeal and a key challenge. Is it possible to blend simplicity with enough functionality for those with specialist needs?

Either way, it’s an exciting idea and, in part thanks to new pan-European legislation for banking and payment services, just one of many new financial service companies sweeping Europe (see also KlarnaSumUpiZettlePaylevenPaymillTransferWise). 

There’s no reason for the old guard to panic just yet. Holvi aims to provide an alternative to traditional accounts but it still needs to work with partner banks to actually store customers’ funds. Still, if it takes off outside Finland, we’d advise paying it some serious attention. 

Featured image copyright: Saila Semeri

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