solarisBank is a Berlin-based FinLeap venture. In March of this year, they obtained a banking license and they have ambitious plans to change the way companies do their banking. The idea came from FinLeap’s startups needing a bank that moved at their own pace, although solaris is not the “Finleap Bank”. In fact, they have their sights set much wider – on not only fintech startups but also major e-commerce platforms and the wider digital economy.
We talked to Marko Wenthin, board member of solarisBank, about how they intend to outpace normal banks, their specific challenges and how to join the fintech revolution.
What is the driving idea behind Solaris? How do you develop a “specific bank” that outpaces normal banks?
The initial idea for solarisBank came from within the fintech company builder FinLeap. Many FinLeap ventures needed banking services to build core elements of their products, and needed to partner with banks in order to do so. We understood the shortcomings of existing banks well: extended timelines, outdated systems and processes, and most of all, a wariness to do business in the digital economy. The initial idea was to obtain a banking license for our own purposes, but we soon realized that the opportunity was considerably bigger than the initial problem: There wasn’t a single bank worldwide focused on technology partnerships with fintechs and digital companies in general.
What are the biggest hurdles to creating a fintech company?
In our case it was certainly the application for the banking license which is obviously an integral part of our business model. But we’ve had only positive experiences with the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). They’ve understood us right from the beginning as a partner who can not only help digital companies and fintechs grow but also stay compliant. We on the other side see regulation as a privilege which exists for very clear reasons.
What is it like to be under the FinLeap venture umbrella?
FinLeap has a strong network within the fintech sphere as well as well-known industry experts. It’s a very valuable asset. But at the same time, we are an independent institution. FinLeap had the boldness to start a project like ours in times which certainly aren’t the easiest for banks – or rather exactly because this transformational period for the industry presents an opportunity. It was obvious to us that the world doesn’t need just another “bank” in the common mold, but rather a tech company with the same mindset as fintechs and digital companies that can help them grow. FinLeap worked as the launch pad for solarisBank and supported us with everything we needed to get off the ground.
What do you recommend for those interested in working in Fintech? What other companies do you believe are making big waves?
My most important advice: find the right people to guide you along the way. If you want to work for a fintech, find people who are doing something substantially different. If you’re starting or running a fintech, get the right advice and guidance because finance is amongst the most complex and regulated industries. If you need a bank, find a banking partner which fits to your demands, mindset and tech requirements. Besides that, you should know your customer better than anyone else.
We’re seeing a lot of interesting fintechs at the moment which we believe will have a great impact. Everything happening in robo advising as well as blockchain is quite interesting to follow. I strongly believe in three areas: instant payments, especially across borders, smart and mobile credit and consumer loans in real time as well as trade finance in B2B.
Berlin is the obvious choice for a tech company for three reasons. First of all, you’re close to all potential partners – from fintechs, to early stage startups and established digital players. Second, we love the inspiring entrepreneurial atmosphere you can only get in Berlin. Since everyone at solarisBank is an entrepreneur by heart, we wouldn’t want to build our company elsewhere. Third, as a tech company you need the best developers out there and need to offer them a surrounding which is also interesting for them to work in. This you certainly won’t find in Frankfurt or any other German city.
This interview has been edited and condensed.