First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Georg Ludviksson : My family and I are fortunate to have remained healthy and safe since the outbreak of the pandemic. We’re based in Iceland where we have been lucky to have fairly low infection rates and a society that could start to gradually open up a few weeks ago, so things are slowly getting back to ‘normal’ over here.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Meniga
Georg Ludviksson : I’ve been building software companies my whole career and been a founder for over twenty years now. I started off my entrepreneurial career in hard-core software development with Dimon Software, which was the first company I set up. This was in 1998 and just before the burst of the dotcom bubble.
Since then, I have founded two more companies; UpDown.com, which was a virtual investing site, and my current venture, Meniga, which develops digital software for some of the world’s biggest banks.
In addition to my passion for software development I have always had a strong interest in fintech in particular, and I actually had the idea of starting my own personal finance management company for many years.
When the financial crash hit in 2008 I quickly saw the opportunity to realise the idea for my fintech. With Iceland particularly hard hit by the crash, businesses and households alike found themselves in really difficult financial situations and were demanding support from the recapitalised banks. We set up Meniga to help people lead better financial lives (something that is still our mission today), and the urgency of the situation at the time meant that we were able to acquire our first customers really early on.
The financial crisis also made the big banks in Iceland a lot less attractive as employers and we gained access to a really skilled pool of people suddenly keen to leave the traditional financial institutions to work for a startup like Meniga. With a product designed for the crisis, an amazing team and an urgent demand for our services, we were able to get our company off the ground at an incredible pace, despite the shaky economic climate, and could quickly get to work on helping as many people as possible get back on track with their finances.
How does Meniga innovate?
Georg Ludviksson : Meniga helps major banks and other providers of financial services compete with (and exceed) the value proposition of their competitors, and we do this by developing engaging and interactive solutions that their customers love.
Specifically, we help our partners leverage personal finance data to innovate in their online and mobile channels and subsequently increase their user engagement. Our product offering covers data aggregation technologies, personal and business finance management solutions, transaction-based carbon insights, and one of our most popular and innovative solutions; cashback rewards.
Through our cashback rewards, banks can offer their customers personalised and transaction-based offers for things they actually want, with cashbacks delivered straight into the customer’s bank accounts. In turn, businesses such as restaurants and cafes, clothing stores and supermarkets can use the rewards platform as an innovative marketing solution to communicate relevant offers to the banks’ customers. This kind of ecosystem between banks, consumers and merchants creates a win-win-win situation for all parties involved. The banks are able to boost customer engagement and generate new sources of revenue through commissions from merchants, which are able to create better-targeted, personalised offers in a cost-efficient way by only having to pay for converted leads, and the consumer saves money on offers tailored to their real spending behaviour.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Georg Ludviksson : Just like for most companies, the pandemic has meant that we have had to run our business and all processes remotely. With offices spread out across the world we were already well set up for virtual meetings and collaboration, but there is no denying that we have had to put the work in to make sure that we cater to our employees’ needs during the new circumstances.
Reykjavik was quite quick to enter lockdown and with comparatively low infection rates and the city opening up, we are pleased to now be able to let those who wish to come into the office do so in smaller numbers. Our different markets are at different stages of societal recovery from the pandemic, but I have been really proud and impressed to see how all of our employees have managed through this time with great positivity.
In terms of our offering, we are fortunate to be selling a product that, if anything, increases in importance during times of economic turbulence. Many people are worried about their finances currently, and it is our job to help the banks provide the best possible support they can through our digital banking software. In fact, we recently surveyed a cohort of senior European bankers and found that 90% of respondents acknowledged that a good digital banking user experience for their customers will be more important in the post-COVID era.
For that reason, we are really pushing our core budgeting and personal finance management products, which are particularly valuable for banking customers to keep track of their finances now that many are experiencing the effects of the pandemic on their income and outgoings.
The wider economic impact of COVID-19 will differ to that of the last financial crash. Still, our origin and experiences have proven an invaluable advantage in our work of helping banks and individuals navigate their way through the pandemic and plan ahead for what’s next.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Georg Ludviksson : Over these past two decades of running businesses, I have experienced three different crises, namely the burst of the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s, the financial crash of 2008 and this current pandemic. Just like many other entrepreneurs I certainly have risk-taking in my nature, but something I’ve learned from navigating companies through times of economic turbulence is to be a little more cautious, and to always have a survival plan in place. This includes not taking anything for granted, but raising money where possible and rather than just building a buffer for a rainy day, ensuring that your revenue streams are solid enough to hold up for a stormy year.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Meniga in the future ?
Georg Ludviksson : Stress is inevitable when you run your own business, but I’ve found that working proactively and focusing on what’s at hand, rather than dwelling on negatives helps me manage through even the most stressful of situations.
With the COVID outbreak for instance, I have tried to limit how much news I consume each day to prevent me from worrying too much. Instead, the team and I have spent more time working out how we can best support the banks and their customers more immediately, while also reviewing our strategy for innovating in the mid-to-long term.
It is always important to regularly check in on your strategy, and to be flexible enough to make adjustments when required, but this becomes even more pertinent in times of uncertainty.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Georg Ludviksson : The past decade has seen investment in the fintech space multiply, and as a result there is absolutely more competition now than when we first started. But still today, something that makes us stand out amongst our competitors is our global reach. We have offices in seven countries across the globe, customers in 30, and we reach over 90 million end-consumers. This gives us a great understanding of the unique needs of different markets, be they in Asia or in Europe, and there simply isn’t anything we have not seen over the years.
We have learned what works best where, and how to go about achieving the best results.
Combined with our continuous efforts to scale, innovate and deliver world-class products to our customers, our global experience makes a competitive advantage that will only grow stronger overtime.
Above all, what helps us stay in the game is our ability to deliver products and services that we know people love. Thanks to our consumer app and website that we use here in Iceland, we are in the unique position to be able to test and try each of our products out before they go live in other markets in order to assess exactly what people like and ensure a maximum amount of customer satisfaction.