Switzerland is a natural place to start a fintech, says Assetmax CEO Massimo Ferrari
Fintech companies have been advancing and improving the services of the financial sector for years now. To better understand how, Tanya König sat down with Massimo Ferrari, the CEO and co-founder of the wealth consolidation and portfolio management system Assetmax.
Here at Assetmax you give customers a consolidated overview of their wealth. How does it work and why is there demand for it?
The basic idea of consolidation is to be able to put different wealth sources and wealth pockets together to give a consolidated view of one person’s patrimony. And if you want to take it to the extreme, a consolidation should also encompass insurance policies, real estate, and all the non-bankables. What we focus on at Assetmax is mostly on bankable assets. And there is a high demand worldwide, not only in Switzerland, for consolidation because it’s very important to have a global overview of the assets that you own. Consolidation can be challenging because you need to access the data. That’s probably the most difficult argument, technologically speaking, that you need to tackle when you produce a consolidated system. You might have custodian banks, which are typically the holding banks of your bankable assets, which do not have interfaces, electrical interfaces, to deliver data. You have banks that have very good interfaces, but clients still want to have a consolidation across assets.
So how do you do it then?
What we do is focus primarily on banks that have a digital channel to download assets. The reason is that Assetmax is not only a consolidating system; it’s a portfolio management system. The difference is that with a portfolio management system you can also manage your assets [and] buy and sell securities, for example. And for doing that you really need very good data quality. It’s not enough to load some position data into a system, because you need much more than that in order to be able to trade this portfolio. So that’s why our primary focus is consolidating assets across banks that have a digital interface.
You co-founded the OpenWealth Association together with Synpulse and the cantonal banks of Zurich and St. Gallen. Now others have joined, including banks such as UBS, Pictet, Julius Baer, and Credit Suisse. What is the aim of the OpenWealth Association?
The main aim is to standardize the communication between banks and third-party providers like Assetmax. Why do we need that? Because in Switzerland we have many custodian banks and most of them make their data available to third-party providers like Assetmax but in different formats, and it becomes very difficult for fintechs like Assetmax or Altoo or maybe an accounting fintech or portfolio optimization fintech to prepare a product that can be made available to the whole market. Because it’s so difficult to access the client data, OpenWealth intends to provide a standard that has already been adopted by Zürcher Kantonalbank and St. Galler Kantonalbank for delivering positions and transactions data. But they want to go beyond that. They want to standardize the way customers are onboarded. They want to standardize the way transactions are sent to custodians. And the roadmap is actually longer for the future. The association had some success over the past year-and-a-half. We now have many banks that are part of the association, and what is interesting is that if a bank commits to be part of the association, they also commit to implement the interfaces sooner or later. So that gives the necessary momentum to the fintech and finance sector in Switzerland.
Let’s talk about the fintech and finance sector in Switzerland. How big is the ecosystem here from your perspective? And what is special about it?
I checked the Swisscom fintech map, which is a very nice summary of all fintech start-ups in Switzerland. And it currently reports roughly 370 fintechs, so that’s a huge ecosystem. I think Switzerland is a natural place for a fintech to start because you have so much know-how, you have so much experience, you have so many opportunities. There’s probably some skewing toward wealth-management fintechs because that’s where Switzerland is very strong. And still you see innovation in every field.
Switzerland has some top technical universities. I would assume that you can also attract talent that comes out of these universities?
Yes, that’s true. In our case, we hire new talent coming out of universities but mostly in the technical field and not in the finance sector. We didn’t find, or weren’t able to find, talent that are very skilled in both the finance and technical aspects.
But you can still bring it together somehow?
Yes, you can hire skilled university graduates and then send them to another education program, and luckily—through our universities [and] technical schools—we have a lot of offers for continuing education. So academically speaking, Switzerland is really strong in the field of fintech and finance. So there are plenty of opportunities to let your skills in the company grow.
So if you don’t have that knowledge you can always find an opportunity to fill that gap.
Assetmax has recently been acquired by Norwegian company Infront. Tell me more.
That’s true, roughly one month ago. We have been acquired after one month of due diligence. Maybe to understand why, you need to understand the history of Assetmax. We founded the company in 2013/14. We launched our product in 2016, and we grew pretty fast in the Swiss market. Today, we are one of the leading wealth management solutions for independent wealth managers in Switzerland. And I think Infront noticed that. They were looking for, on the one hand, our technology, and on the other hand the Swiss market. And that made us a perfect fit for their own strategy. And the strategy in the coming years is to establish Infront as a company that is active in the trading segment and in the wealth management segment across Europe. And with Switzerland now they have a very important wealth management market.