Phil Siarri chats to André Bajorat, CEO and co-founder at figo, a Hamburg-based company offering a banking API that enables developers, startups and banks to connect to a number of financial service providers.
Hi André, nice to connect with you. Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
I actually ended up, by pure chance, in the online banking world at the very beginning. For 13 years, I worked on behalf of established players — IT companies of the German banks — and then since 2009 on the side of the “new players”. In doing so, I got to know banking quite well, particularly in my role as managing director at Giropay. I also came to understand the “other side” through my role as CEO at enfore.
At figo, I was a business angel in 2012 and then took over the management in early 2014. So I’m a payment and banking nerd with no real IT knowhow! This is also clear from the fact that I run a blog and podcast called PaymentAndBanking.
How did figo come into being, and what is the company’s mission?
The beginning of figo was different from what we are today. figo wanted to become the financial home for you and me; a very UX- and user-driven banking experience, which initially consisted of a mobile app. But we were less successful than we had hoped, thus faced the challenge of either giving up or reinventing ourselves in 2013.
From my history, I knew the need for access for third parties to financial sources, and even PSD2 was something one could see coming back in 2013. This was the starting point for figo 2.0 as a “backbone for the next generation of financial services”. Our core competency is the state of being connected to the traditional players, where we as partners can establish what we have to offer. At the same time, we make access to the “old” world as simple as possible for new providers.
Currently, Figo is available in Germany and partially in Austria. What’s next in terms of geographical expansion?
We’re looking at the entire SEPA area as a result of (and thanks to) PSD2. Some of our products, such as figo xs2a enabler, are already available for any bank. Other products — like those we’re probably already known for, such as our aggregator or verifier — require a local connection to banks on our side. In addition to the above-mentioned countries, we are preparing to “go live” in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and Portugal in the coming weeks, and by the end of the year still more countries.
Tell us about the Bankathon initiative and how it ties to PSD2.
The Bankathon is a special event concept we organise in Germany. It has already succeeded three times: in total, 1,000 people, 40 sponsors and 250 participants are part of the Bankathon network. Now the event team brings the fintech- and banking-related programming contest to Austria. The participating teams have 30 hours to develop products that showcase the diverse possibilities of open banking under PSD2.
Our first Bankathon in 2015 was like the can-opener, or speed dating, in that one had the feeling that the industry was waiting for such an event. Established but new, and in a different atmosphere with the common goal of realising ideas in the shortest possible time. A bit of a test for what PSD2 will mean for everyone: the separation of banking from banks. The Bankathon shows how in a separate world, large and small or new and old, can be successful together and shape the future for users.
Last but not least, what do you say to the incumbents that are not fully onboard with open information?
It’s too late for that. It’s no longer a matter “if” — it’s a question of whether or not one is willing and able, or if one wants to be driven out by the market and politics.