ItaliaFintech was established in 2018 by a small group of the leading fintech entrepreneurs who felt the need to join forces and build a common house for discussion and development. The aim was to exchange views on the challenges, the problems and the proposals of what was at that time still a small industry, as well as establishing an ongoing dialogue with regulators and institutional stakeholders. The objectives of the association comprise also helping the promotion of fintech within Italy, creating a positive environment for Italy’s fintech startups, and broadening the awareness of Italian fintechs in both Italy and in the rest of the world. ItaliaFintech allows the sector to speak with a single voice to key audiences: regulators, established firms, and the international community.
This Milan-based association, which has grown today to approximately 30 members, is open to consolidated fintech companies and also to startups that serve the financial services industry or offer an alternative model to traditional finance. It is managed by its entrepreneur members.
Specifically, ItaliaFintech has three main objectives.
- Advocacy – serve as an interlocutor between the fintech sector and both Italian and European regulators and government bodies.
- Education – make companies and individuals aware of the potential of technology applied to finance.
- Collaboration – boost the development of valuable synergies with universities and incumbents.
The association is chaired by Andrea Crovetto, CEO and Founder of Epic SIM, a fintech platform specialized in equity and lending solutions for SMEs. Vice-Chairman of the association are:
- Ivan Pellegrini, CEO and Founder of Borsa del Credito, a P2P lending platform for SMEs,
- Donato Vadruccio, CEO and Founder of Paydo Plick, a payment platform, and
- Alessandro Longoni, General Manager of Fintech District, a fintech community.
Other association members include: Afone Paiement, AideXa, BacktoWork, Banca Progetto, Borsa del Credito, Conio, Credimi, Doorway, Epic SIM, Euclidea SIM, Fiftyfinance, Fintech District, modefinance, Moneyfarm, October, Oval Money, PayDo, Prestiamoci, Tink, Walliance, Workinvoice, and Younited Credit.
In 2021 ItaliaFintech began adding some younger startups active for no more than three years and/or having less than €1 million in turnover. These members are: Data Appeal, Kalaway, and MDI.
Q. Camilla, how did ItaliaFintech come about?
A. ItaliaFintech was born in 2018 around a dinner table from an idea of some of the leading Italian fintech entrepreneurs with the aim of giving a voice to fintech companies operating in our country. We believe we are more effective and our messages and proposals have a greater chance to make an impact if we act as a team and not as individuals, especially in relations with institutions and the government.
Q. Is the formation of ItaliaFintech a sign of growing ambition of the Italian fintech sector?
A. According to a recent study conducted on Italian fintechs, there are approximately 345 fintech firms operating in Italy, nearly half of which are in Lombardy. Most numerous are those offering crowdfunding, followed by those dealing with data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, those offering smart payments, and those providing lending services.
Fintech is a fast-growing sector also in Italy and fintech companies are very ambitious. There has been constant growth in various fintech families: from the adoption of digital payments to the financing of lending platforms. These are clear signs of how Italy is embracing innovation and digitalization in financial services.
Q. Is ItaliaFintech expected to be a catalyst for economic development in Italy or any of its regions?
A. Our objective is to increase the awareness of the opportunities offered by the Italian fintech eco-system. We work closely together with other partners who share the same view such as the Fintech District and in particular we maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Milan municipality.
Milan is an extremely dynamic and active financial center and Fintech is a key sector for future growth for the city. Especially now, following Brexit, Milan has a unique opportunity to become the fintech center for the European market. We are still a little behind compared to other countries such as France and Germany, but I do believe Milan has a great appeal to young talents and offers an excellent base for companies who want to use Italy as a base for their European operations.
Q. What specifically are you doing to promote the interests of the Italian fintech community at home and abroad?
A. As an association we have a constant dialogue with our members to understand their needs and the problems they face in their activity. We work together to provide feedback and proposals in terms of regulation and all other instruments which help the growth of our members.
As far as international activities are concerned, we are part of EDFA (European Digital Finance Association), an association that brings together the main European fintech associations. EDFA puts together the most qualified Fintech associations across Europe and therefore is able to have a high-level dialogue with the representatives of the EU Commission and EU Parliament providing qualified and useful feedback on all digital finance matters.
Q. Are there areas of fintech in which Italy has a relative advantage?
A. As I mentioned before, the sector in Italy is growing overall in all its verticals.
We see an increasing number of innovative and ambitious players in the lending segment. New P2P lending platforms and neo-banks are coming into operations with mainly focusing on SMEs: this is particularly good news for the Italian market where 99% of companies are SMEs (under)served by traditional banks. To give you some numbers, ItaliaFintech lending grew by 4.5x in 2020 in terms of volume reaching more than €1.5 billion and by 5X in terms of number of companies proving financing to approximately 6.000 companies, most of them SMEs accessing fintech channels for the first time.
Q. Are there fintech-specific incubators in Italy? Fintech specific conferences? I’m aware of the Milan FinTech Summit but not of other conferences.
A. The fintech space in Italy is very dynamic and active. In December, the first dedicated fintech-incubator was launched by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, our National Promotion Bank. It is very good news for the markets to have a public and private instrument which will facilitate the growth of fintech startups and provide funding also to some.
In terms of conferences, there is an increasing number of specific conferences for fintech organized by universities, consulting firms and other associations. ItaliaFintech participates to all of them in order to make sure the voice of fintech entrepreneurs is always present. Last December, we supported the first Milan Fintech Summit, organized by Fintech District and Business International. It was a high-level dialogued among entrepreneurs of Italian and international fintech and Italian regulators where present.
Q. Is fintech on the radar screen of the Italian government?
A. Increasingly so. Covid-19 pushed strongly digitalization at all levels and 2020 was an extraordinary year for the sector. The fast rise in the application of fintech solutions by both individuals and companies has piqued the interest of the government and other stakeholders. They are now are increasingly realizing that the sector growth is good not only for the fintech companies involved but also system wide. A higher degree of digitalization in traditional financial sector and in the public administration is a way of improving our efficiency as a country and therefore the attractiveness in general.
Q. How supportive of innovation are the Italian tax and regulatory regimes?
A. The dialogue and the support are certainly increasing alongside with the importance of the sector. Government, Bank of Italy and all other institutions and regulators are keen to understand and to learn more about what we do, our needs and our proposals.
One concrete example of it, is the recent establishment of the so-called Fintech Hub by Bank of Italy in Milan, a dedicated team of experts focused only on fintech with the aim to facilitate and support the growth of the sector, hence making the Italian environment welcoming and attractive for fintech and for investments in the sector.
Q. Are you pursuing the establishment of a regulatory sandbox in Italy?
A. The establishment of an Italian Sandbox is underway and I think it will be announced and come into operation by the end of March under the coordination of the Ministry of Finance. The association has been involved in all the preparatory works and we look forward to the Sandbox to come into action to speed-up innovation in finance.
Q. How specifically do you facilitate relationships between your members and established firms?
A. We have recently established programs with a selected number of Corporate Partners. These plans define areas of collaboration and aim at strengthening and widening the network for our members while gaining new competences and skills. Network is key for success in every industry and one of the key objectives of the association is to offer the opportunity to meet and establish relation with all the relevant players. This is crucial especially for the smaller and less known companies.
Q. What are your measures of success for your association?
A. The association is successful if fintech is successful. The numbers we are gathering from our associates working on lending tell us that families and SMEs experiencing fintech solutions have increased a lot over the past couple of years. Fintech is no longer a niche market. Payment and open banking solutions are changing the habits of individuals and transforming the way companies do business.
When it gets to the regulatory environment, the more we are able to make our voice heard and impact Italian and European laws and regulations, the more successful we are. The financial sector is facing a revolution which could lead to more efficiency, transparency, and new solutions. A new and highly qualified industry is growing, offering job opportunities and attracting foreign investments in our country. This is why it is important that the regulatory environment come along, in order not to lose this window of opportunity that will benefit the whole economy and Italy in general.
For example, a few days ago we achieved an important result with the help of one of our associates: even foreign citizens will be able to invest in crowdfunding platforms in Italy without the obligation to acquire a tax code. In Italy, until a few days ago it was mandatory for foreigners to have an Italian tax code thus limiting the attractiveness of our market to foreigners.
Q. Can Italian fintechs be successful concentrating on just the Italian market, or do they need to think globally?
A. It is clear that, in Italy, having a qualified international presence is a very important factor for success. However, in order to grow internationally, a company needs to be strong in its home market and our home market is now Europe. Especially following Brexit, Italian fintechs have an opportunity to speed their growth and expand in other European countries using Italy as a base. On the other hand, Italy can and should become more and more attractive for non-European fintechs who need to decide where to establish their base, now that London and the UK market is no longer an option.
Q. What steps are being taken to ensure that promising Italian fintechs have access to the capital they need at every stage of development?
A. The opportunities for funding at the different stages of growth are evolving and increasing. It is fair to say that if you analyze investment flows, Italy is still lagging behind in absolute terms compared to counties such as Germany or France, without mentioning markets such as the UK or the US. However, we have seen a strong growth in terms of angel investing, VCs, private and corporate equity funds, from Italy and abroad. It is worth mentioning that also new government-related programs and VC funding have been launched to support the growth of fintech by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and some transaction have already taken place.
Q. Is the Italian fintech ecosystem missing anything?
A. Speed and promotion.
Speed is of the essence in this “battle” for becoming the European capital of fintech. We need to act fast, give certainty in terms of timing and feedback from the regulators and be able to have a welcoming and flexible environment without compromising in terms of standards and quality.
Promoting Milan as a fintech capital and Italy is another factor where we should work together with all the other institutional players in the ecosystem. Improving abroad the so-called storytelling about the positive and dynamic business environment is something where we should get better. As I always say it is important to do things but also to communicate at best what we do.
A coordinated action in this direction supported by the government would also make Italian fintech more attractive to investors.
Q. Access to data is often a stumbling block for fintech startups during product development. It’s expensive and often difficult to come by. Are there solutions to this problem for fintech startups in Italy?
A. I agree that access to data can be expensive especially if you need quality data and a processed data. It can be an obstacle to the development of data-driven companies. Unfortunately, there are no immediate solutions nor recipes. I think the way is to try and partner with quality data providers, companies such as Cerved or Crif in Italy, who are interested in new products and new services and might therefore consider to collaborate or offer better conditions in exchange for synergies.
Q. Let’s talk about the talent pool available Italy’s fintech startups. Can fintech startups recruit from established financial firms? Can they compete for talent with London and Berlin? Are there recruiters specializing in fintech in Italy?
A. The fight for talent is another key point for the association. Young professionals are increasingly attracted by working in this sector and often we see talents that after some years in traditional firms decide to embrace a more entrepreneurial adventure by either joining a fintech or establishing its own company.
We have established and will develop further collaborations with top Italian universities in order to promote the beauty of fintech and facilitate the best talents to get closer to the sector. There are also traditional recruiting firms focusing on this segment and establishing dedicated practices and they collaborate with ItaliaFintech.
I believe it is a fierce battle compared to locations such as Berlin, but Milan is becoming an increasingly international, dynamic and green city where you can combine these elements with the quality of the Italian life-style. I think this combination is unbeatable if we keep improving and make the right choices.
Q. Is there a governmental effort, perhaps similar to France’s startup visa, that will help Italian fintechs compete for top talent?
A. Of course, also in Italy we have programs and incentives for attracting talent from abroad and not only limited to the fintech sector. Our Ministry of Economic Development and Foreign Affairs monitor these incentives in order to have a level-paying field in this matter.
Q. What can we expect to see from ItaliaFintech in 2021?
A. In 2021 we will keep rising our ambitions. 2020 was an extraordinary year for the growth of the sector and digitalization in general in Italy. Now it is essential that we capitalize on the strong interest that we are receiving from all stakeholders and media. Strengthening the relation with the Government, Bank of Italy and its Fintech Hub, the Ministry of Finance and all stakeholders in general will be our key priority and we will ensure our ideas and proposals are spread and heard also with an increased presence on the media and thank to our new website which we will launch in March. Increasing our lobby activity at European level through EDFA is another key driver of our 2021 activity plan.
We are working on our manifesto: our values and proposals because a country with more fintech is a better country for all families and businesses
We have launched a campaign to involve not only established companies in the association, but also small and very small startups and will start collaborating with corporate partners. No doubt we will continue to work on education, collaborating with universities and publish position paper teaming up with specialized law firms and universities on topics of common interest to be followed by high-level presentation and discussion events.
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