Meet Jan Åge Skaathun, co-founder and CSO at Quantfol.io in this month's edition of Members' Spotlight!
He shares his thoughts on everything from key learnings as an entrepreneur, exciting fintechs to look out for, banking solutions that really bugs him, how sustainability is a driving force in Quantfol.io's work and so much more.
On a more personal note we get to know about his pet peeves, guilty pleasures and more. Well worth the read!
Jan Åge has passed the baton to Sparebanken Vest. Stay tuned to find out who he has challenged.
Members Spotlight: Jan Åge Skaathun, Quantfol.io
Meet Jan Åge Skaathun, co-founder and CSO at Quantfol.io in this month's edition of Members' Spotlight!
5 quick (and personal) ones:
1) What is your biggest pet peeves?
2) Any book or author that has inspired you?
Paolo Coelhos classic “the Alchemist” is one of my all time favourites in terms of following your dreams, fail and never give up. I still believe it holds a strong message today.
3) What could you talk about all day?
Sustainability, politics and football
4) What is your most useless talent?
I can do many useless things, but I wouldn’t say either qualifies as a “talent” 😊
5) Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Gadgets, I have a soft spot for buying more or less useful gadgets. My latest find was levitating plants…
Lisbet Nærø, CEO of Fana Sparebank has challenged you and wants to know:
Why are you member and part of Finance Innovation community?
As a fintech we compete with global companies from the outset, and increasingly this goes for incumbent banks as well. So the underlying idea of sharing experiences, creating innovative networks and harnessing the high level of innovation nationally to meet the increased competition is something we definitely wanted to be a part of. As more mature “fintech” we are also glad to see the last years initiatives resulting in Fintech incubators and mentoring programs to help new Fintechs develop.
What is the main advantage of Bergen as a start-up city? Are there any disadvantages?
I believe we have succeeded in building a great ecosystem for early stage startups, with VIS/Nyskapingsparken as pioneers, and supplementing with other initiatives like Startuplab, and angel networks like BAN, Tripod and others to match capital and scaling skills to innovation. One disadvantage is the lack of VC type capital for scaling, this is not specific to Bergen, but a national challenge - although we see positive changes with what Momentum now are doing, as an example.
How do you define your market and who (what kind of businesses) do you define as your competitors?
Our market is generally any bank or advisor/wealth manager that have a savings/investment offering for their clients, primarily in the Nordics and Northern Europe.
Since we provide API modules that can operate together as a full robo advisor service like we do for Sbanken, to a single API module that can simulate expected portfolio performance for up to 10 000 instruments like we do for Avanza bank and then again to providing automated onboarding solutions for Wealth managers, it’s hard to find comparative competitors. Typically we are up against the “do it ourselves” virus and potentially data/backend providers.
What does your market share today look like and what is it going to be in five years from now? What about the size of the total market? Any thoughts?
Today we have a modest marketshare in terms of revenue, but we did an extensive pivot in the spring last year, (featured in a Finance Innovation webinar), which allowed us to close some major relationships in the autumn, among others a full robo backend deal for one of the largest financial institutions in the Nordics which we are implementing as we speak. After launch our solution will be available to more than 2,5 million users, which is not half bad…
Looking forward we see the market growing extensively within the savings field, from wealth managers needing to become more digital, to banks looking to engage much more of their customers to make good savings choices and our plan is deliver on all we have in our pipeline this year and then raise a serious VC round to expand out of the Nordics.
Who should be worried if you succeed with your ambitions?
All financial institutions that are still not a client 😉
In all seriousness, I don’t see too many that need to worry, unless you are a financial institution with high costs/hidden fees, unsustainable products and poor user experience. We’re all about transparency.
What is unique with your concept? And who benefits from using it? Your clients, the consumer, and/or others?
The uniqueness is how we combine advanced factor research, data science and algorithms together with validated economic research to provide powerful digital services that can be customised to engage and advice different user groups. We are now combining the fully digital & automated user journey (robo) with an advisor tool that human advisors use to support users along the way (omnichannel) which are solving a big pain for many banks with advisors in local branches, but also for wealth managers that want to become more digital, but still wants to focus on the human advisors in the process.
The ultimate beneficiaries are the end clients of our customers, receiving better insight, advice and guidance, but of course also our customers who can tap into ready made “building blocks” of API’s and front end components to deliver innovative services without making any concessions to their own individuality.
Do you think it's a good idea for a local savings bank like Fana Sparebank to buy your services and why is that so?
Definitely! It doesn’t need to be all about automated advisory and analytics. A great example is the recently implemented saving calculator that Fana launched, which utilises our API for calculations, and Fana simply do what they do best, build a fresh and easy to user experience for their customers to nudge them into saving more. In this way any bank can expand their services utilising more of our features as they expand their offering, while maintaining their competitive advantage on UX, while we provide the custom building blocks. And for smaller savings banks we can of course deliver custom front ends also.
And the final question:
Seen from your viewpoint: How can traditional banks continue to be relevant and competitive when new players and new technology, like yours, enters and potentially changes the financial market in Norway?
Personally I not believe fintech's will outcompete banks. Banks have such a strong position and they have built up a high degree of trust over the years, at least in Northern Europe. But they WILL need to evolve and develop. This is were we believe the banks and companies like ourselves find common ground. If we can drive innovation and provide better services to end clients WITH the banks everybody wins.
Questions from NCE Finance Innovation
What would you say you have learnt during your Quantfol.io journey that you didn’t know before?
Where should I begin? I think the biggest lesson, not coming from finance, was the journey to REALLY understand banking needs, their regulatory constraints and their ambitions for their customers for us to nail down our value propositions.
Startups and founders have their ups and downs, could you give an example of both that you have experienced?
Maybe it’s because both experiences are fresh in mind, but both examples are from 2020. The “down” was definitely when Covid struck and we were forced to make some hard decisions resulting in the termination of one of our business units and we had to let some great colleagues go. The “up” was after the summer when we had worked so hard to re-invent our approach and we landed our biggest capital raise in the same month we closed our largest client.
Any advice to future founders out there?
Validate your idea with prospective clients as early as possible and make the necessary adaptations if required. Making you sure you nail the value proposition before you invest a lot in product development is essential. Don't be afraid to pivot if that's what it takes.
Starting your own business will probably be the hardest thing you'll do, but it will also the most rewarding experience you can imagine, fail or succeed.
Any fintech’s out there that you think are one to look out for?
I may not be totally unbiased, but PNGR which started in 2020 with the mission to give consumers and households a complete overview of their financial situation by making data from a range of sources available. This total insight allows the users to make better and more informed financial decisions in terms of refinancing and savings. The company has a great team with stakeholders as Christoffer Hernæs and Henrik Lie Nilsen to mention some, and of course the founder Susanne Håvardstun.
How does sustainability fit into your business model and what does the company do/want to do within this space?
Sustainability is a huge part of what we do and focus on. Partly because it’s close to our hearts and passions, but more importantly because we believe that helping facilitate that investor money goes to “good” companies is a truly important way of achieving our sustainability targets. We have spent significant research time on the data foundations from a range of sources to assess how we can use the data in our solutions, and we have created sustainable proof of concept robo 's for clients such as Nordea Liv.
Our robo solution has at it’s core, the ability to let consumers choose their thematic passions, which typically encompass a range of sustainability categories.
The data is not great yet, but improving and we engage with data suppliers regularly to understand issues and contribute. We are also involved in research projects with financial institutions, most recently one with member banks in Finance innovation, facilitated by the cluster.
Is there something that really bugs you with existing banking solutions? Why?
It bugs me that they still make fund/equity savings somewhat difficult to understand for normal consumers. The assumption that most people know, and care, what a “rentefond” is doesn’t hold water. The result is that majority of households do not save in funds or equity and are missing out, which again leads to increased social differences.
Who would you like to nominate next?
Morten Oehme and Trond from Sparebanken Vest
Quantfoli.o is a Bergen based Fintech company delivering “AI-in-a-box” components for banks & wealth managers with a digital presence. Through open API´s and machine learning algorithms we empower banks and WM’s with our AI investment components to provide their customers with anything from automated low cost savings portfolios to sophisticated investment strategies normally reserved for HNW individuals.