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Members' Spotlight with Stefan Astroza

Stefan Astroza has quickly become the go-to guy on everything related to trends and developments on the Norwegian fintech scene. Here is your chance to test whether you're up to speed on what's brewing, as Stefan talks us through trends, challenges, and opportunities in the fintech space going forward.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People who don’t respect escalator etiquette. Stand on the right, walk on the left. Simple, isn’t it?

What could you talk about all day?

Work-related, fintech. Otherwise, food! Making food and eating out is one of the few hobbies I have.

Guilty Pleasures?

Reality dating shows. Especially Norwegian ones. I’ve seen them all!

Name something on your bucket list

I don’t have a bucket list, but visiting San Sebastian, the city with the largest number of Michelin stars per square meter in the world is a must-do.

Pitch Cicero Consulting in one sentence, and what is your role in the company?

We shape the future of financial services together with our innovative customers through fintech solutions, market intelligence, and consulting services.

I am the CEO of Cicero, and the head of financial services at Itera, our parent company. Cicero is a seamlessly integrated part of the Itera group.

Anything exciting going on in your pipeline that we should know about?

You bet! Together with IBM and Itera, we are tackling one of the largest issues banks are facing, namely money laundering and terrorist financing.

The financial industry is currently undergoing a shift from regulatory compliance to social responsibility. Effective anti-money laundering holds out the hope of reducing the activities of organized criminal gangs, interdicting human trafficking and drug trafficking networks, and intercepting terrorist funding.

Today, financial institutions rely heavily on human involvement in labor-intensive, manual compliance processes. We are teaming up by combining local and global capabilities, industry experience, proven software, and a data-driven approach with the use of artificial intelligence to take the next step in preventing and uncovering financial crime.

What are the main trends you see in the fintech landscape going forward?

There are many drivers shaping the future of fintech. Customers, compliance, sustainability, competition, and technology are the key drivers to follow to understand what the future might look like. Each driver consists of subsets of trends impacting the driver that I could talk a lot about. But if I were to highlight key trends covering several of the abovementioned drivers, here’s a list of a few trends that we’re following closely:

  1. The wave of digital transformation in financial services is finally hitting small and medium-sized businesses
  2. Instant payments are on the agenda, but the development is halting
  3. Embedded finance is slowly becoming a strategic value driver, also for third-party players
  4. The massive shift towards a sustainable future, and an exploratory approach to finding potential competitive advantages
  5. Technology is accelerating the fight against money laundering and fraud
  6. Specialists are breaking up current banking value chains (i.e. wealth, investments, payments)

What do you see as the most pressing issues within fintech?

The Nordics, and Norway in particular, is generally speaking not an underserved market when it comes to user-friendly digital solutions. The Norwegian banking sector is among the most digitized and cost-effective in Europe. If today’s fintechs should draw lessons from past fintech waves, it should be to better understand their position relative to the incumbents.

Fintech companies shouldn’t underestimate the incumbent’s ability to adapt, but more importantly, not underestimate the customers’ perception of, and satisfaction with, the established banks today.

If the next generation of fintech companies should become more effective in unbundling current banking value chains, I believe there should be more emphasis on understanding which problem you are solving for whom – and why.

In which areas do you think it makes sense to collaborate, even between competitors?

Collaboration is among the key building blocks in the Norwegian financial services industry. So, in my opinion, this legacy should be carried on. Even though we’re seeing a lot of fruitful collaborations in the market space already, I believe there’s room for even more.

A shared understanding of either a problem, a threat, or an opportunity often serves as a good base for collaboration. Here are three examples:

Shared problem: The industry should conduct more joint efforts in combating financial crime and money laundering. The joint KYC utility company, Invidem, is a great example.

Shared threat: The impending merger between Vipps, MobilePay and Pivo makes sense when we know that the payments battle is global, not local.

Shared opportunity: The collaboration between Aprila Bank and DNB provides Aprila a broader distribution, while DNB can provide new credit products to their customers and at the same time become familiarized with Aprila’s technology and models.

Any exciting fintechs that you could tell us about, and why do you find them interesting?

There are about 130+ fintechs in Norway, and several thousand in Europe, many of which I could’ve highlighted.

But an unsung hero in my opinion is Bits, the financial infrastructure company of the banking and finance industry in Norway. As an infrastructure company, Bits doesn’t steal the headlines when talking about fintech success stories in Norway. However, Bits is integral to many of the innovations we often take for granted as end-users of financial services. I know for a fact that I saved several hours of my spare time last fall when we moved houses thanks to "samtykkebasert lånesøknad".

Who do you want to nominate next?

Bulder Bank and Torvald Kvamme.

Question: What is the biggest challenge Bulder Bank has faced since its inception, and what learnings do you draw from it?