Venture Building
Written by Sigrid Hellberg
November 9, 2021

SEB accelerates innovation with fintech startup SEBx

Part three in our series of inspiring corporate ventures features SEBx, a fintech startup within SEB. What is the thought behind building a bank within the bank? How are SEB driving innovation through SEBx? We have talked to Christoffer Malmer, CEO at SEBx.


Christoffer Malmer, CEO at SEBx

SEBx is built on the idea to leverage the strength of being an established organization, and blend that with the advantages of being a startup. During the spring of 2018, preparations began to find a path to stand up a new bank within SEB.

This is an ambitious initiative and we have a clear purpose – to explore new technology and build new products, says Christoffer. The ambition is to leverage SEB’s extensive experience and knowledge within financial services with new ways of working and new technology.

“The goal is to grow SEBx into a strategic asset for the entire group to enable faster exploration of new innovative business models and partnerships” says Christoffer.

Operating as an autonomous fintech

SEBx is set up at the fringe of the broader organisation, operating separately from other divisions within SEB. We are accountable for our value chain, from customer relations and product development through to technology and compliance, says Christoffer. At the same time, we are keen to share our insights and leverage the many strengths of the bank. To strike the right balance is not easy and we are constantly learning as we progress. A core part of our strategy is to develop and build on partnerships. An example is our partnership with Google;  we built our technology platform on Google’s cloud platform, making us the first established bank in the Nordics to do so. We are starting from a clean slate and our nimble size allows us to explore, test and evaluate if a technology should be implemented fully, or if we should move on to something else. It’s also a way to build knowledge and competence around new technologies that can be introduced to the SEB group.

The first product is live

Within a year of writing the first lines of code, the first user was onboarded. We explored many different opportunities and options, says Christoffer. We decided to zoom in on a fast-growing mega trend, namely the gig economy and the growing number of solopreneurs in the global workforce; meaning people who run their own business entirely on their own.

We saw that there was a need within this community to better sort between and control the two legs of their finances. That’s why we created UNQUO, which is an app that allows solopreneurs to connect their different bank accounts and cards to the same interface. In the app, they can then categorize their purchases on either Work or Life, regardless of what card they’ve used, and swipe transactions between the two sides to keep everything in order.

Users can also save their receipts in the app and create reports showing all their expenses for a chosen period. The first iteration of UNQUO is already available in the App Store and Google Play, and the SEBx team is working with the users to better understand their needs and continuously release new features.

“It is a steep learning curve with no shortage of setbacks and lessons learned!” says Christoffer.

Relationship to SEB

The support and relationship to SEB have been critically important. We have owners and a leadership team that backs this initiative, and we are constantly evaluating how SEBx can be relevant for the bank. SEBx is organized directly under the CEO and we collaborate closely with senior management. We believe that there is great potential in finding a balance between being an autonomous organization with a mandate to make decisions, and at the same time have a close collaboration with SEB to access insights and perspectives that emerge in a mature organization with millions of customers, data, finances, licenses, network and much more. We are trying to combine the best of two worlds; the strengths of an established bank and the agility of a fintech startup. “With that being said, we don’t underestimate the risk of instead ending up with the worst of both worlds”, Christoffer remarks half-jokingly, half-serious.

A startup team

The team consists of around 80 people and there are open positions to grow the team. About one quarter comes from SEB, everyone else has joined from external product and tech companies. Christoffer and the team believe in having a mix of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. There are 17 nationalities in SEBx and they want to continue to grow a dynamic and international team. They have moved offices a few times and we are soon to move into a bigger space in SEB’s office in Arenastaden, Solna.

Way forward

Thus far, our experience has been very positive and we are convinced – and can already see many signs – about the opportunity to contribute to both value creation and disruptive innovation for the bank as a whole, says Christoffer. SEB have a long-term perspective and there is a clear ambition that we are very focused on.

By building a consumer product, SEBx have found a way to iterate and test the technology in our banking platform. It’s an important aspect, explains Christoffer, because we want to build a platform that works for us, but also for other partners that want to build their products with us or use parts of our technology.

“Our Banking-as-a-service platform will enable new ways of bringing financial services to places where it can make a difference. We are in conversations with different partners and we hope to be able to talk more about that soon. With a strong team in place it is up to us to make the most of this journey, and I would say that we have just begun!”

Christoffer’s tips for driving innovation through corporate ventures:

  • Get started. An early milestone to celebrate is to just get started. You will most likely see many unexpected payoffs and unplanned opportunities that would never have crystallised had you not got going.
  • Senior management support. If you get into truly disruptive stuff, by definition, there will be friction in the system. That’s what you should expect along with many other setbacks and blowups. Prepare your management team for a bumpy ride and make sure there is commitment to see this through.
  • Incumbent strengths + startup mindset. A corporate venture is not a startup; instead, find your own way to leverage the strengths of your incumbent business in combination with a challenger mindset and new tech.
  • People & team. Everything starts and ends with the team, make it a priority from the start.

 

You can follow SEBx at www.sebx.io

Check out our first product UNQUO on www.unquo.com

Download UNQUO for free on App Store and Google Play

Venture Building
Written by Sigrid Hellberg
November 9, 2021