The sixth interview in our special series of csuite podcast episodes that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto was with Dr. Tim Sievers, CEO and Founder of Deposit Solutions, an open banking platform that, as reported in the Financial Times, reached unicorn status in September 2019 after securing a $55m investment for a 4.9% stake from Deutsche Bank.
- For savers, deposits are an important product category for the financial services’ needs, that’s just where you put your money, the excess cash that you want to save.
- For banks, it is a really important funding source, 40 percent of European banks balance sheets are funded in deposits.
To Tim, open banking is about putting the customer at the centre of everything, the customer’s needs at the centre of everything.
Becoming a unicorn
Tim explained that building a company culture in such a fast moving and high growth environment is a challenge; the first thing is, you’ve got to make sure that you find the right people, eager to take responsibility – the sort of team building aspect of it, you’ve also got to make sure to unite them behind a common goal. That’s really a communication challenge; to make sure everyone understands the vision so they can take the right decisions decentrally.
10 years ago, when he started the company, they spent about three or four years building the platform and then when Tim went to present it to the first partners, and tried to win them to participate, the distribution partners told him; look, come back when you’ve got products on the shelves. But the product providers told him; come back when you have distribution. So, there was the giant ‘chicken and egg’ problem to solve. They then started their own B2C point of sale, their direct client facing business which runs under the brand of ZINSPILOT in Germany and Savedo in their international markets. With that, they distribute the products listed in their platform directly. Tim explained that this was really useful because it proved to other market participants that this works and it’s feasible, the regulator is fine with it and customers want it. But it also meant that for product providers, he could say; look, here’s the vision, we’ll have lots of distribution for you but regardless of what happens, I have this channel here which works already, and I can get you deposits tomorrow.
Launching in US
What Tim finds interesting is that this is one area where it’s the innovation is not happening in the US and then the rest of the world follows, there is exciting stuff being invented in Europe as well as in the States. In fact, there are quite a few European start-ups which are starting up businesses in the US now, Deposit Solutions is one of them, as much as the other way around.
Tim also added that their plans for launching in the US are going really well, they’re really far advanced as well. Unfortunately, this has been one of the projects that has been delayed by the Coronavirus crisis, it is a big challenge for them as a company. He said that, whilst they want to use their core strengths, the product market fit in Europe doesn’t always translate to the product market fit in the US.
In the first couple of years, Tim said he didn’t spend much time on communications at all. He said they were very product focused and focused on building the team. It’s probably something that with hindsight, he maybe could have started to do a little earlier. They did increase their attention to communications, firstly, by contributing to the debate around topics that are relevant to them.
Tim explained that to be a good spokesperson and representative of the business, you shouldn’t be too loud, too early – that way you can build credibility. He said that communication has been a development for him, it is something you pick up with practice along the way, it also comes with a job on the interpersonal side. Deposit Solutions has an international team, of the 300 employees, there are 44 nationalities. So, when collaborating there are these cultural aspects on communication, too.
Impact of Coronavirus
The coronavirus crisis has been the biggest challenge according to Tim, he said that you have to be straight and honest with the team and the people you’re talking to. He explained that you should stay authentic. People notice when you’re not authentic
Tim explained that Coronavirus has changed the way he communicates with his team a little bit. He said that sitting with the team helps because there is more informal communication that is happening all the time, but you have to have some sort of organised, centralised formats of communication on top of the informal things that are going on. They have also found that it is very useful to provide higher frequency of internal communication formats, like a newsletter, to still get across that you’re part of one team, one community, even though everyone sitting at home.
Tim did acknowledge that they are in a fortunate position because they are not in trouble like other sectors. This year they are growing slower than they had planned to grow, but they will still grow.
Tim believes that he should have started to contribute to the wider industry context around their expertise earlier as this is proven to be really effective for them.
The full interview with Dr Tim Sievers is available on the csuite podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Spotify and all podcast apps.