We talked to Maxim Avdeev of Qplatform, an integration platform with a cloud infrastructure that is designed to help traditional banks integrate innovative solutions from fintech companies using open APIs and fintech companies to enter new markets and bring their solutions to a large number of banks-clients of the platform at once. This is what he had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Maxim Avdeev: Everyone compares Covid crises to the times of the Great Depression. But I think depression and all negative analogies are not the very right definition. It is the first crisis in my memory when to stop the spread of the virus, we had to stay home. The concept of isolating with the loved ones, our family is what helps us to stay positive as much as possible. My family and I used this time to support each other, communicate. During the lockdown, I had more opportunities to learn something new about myself and my family. Fortunately, neither I, none of my loved ones were suffering from the corona in a severe form. These days when vaccination is going in the majority of countries, I am sure that we will be back to normal life soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Qplatform.
Maxim Avdeev: During my career, I used to work in a variety of technological companies, like Yandex, Microsoft, QIWI. This helped me to form a vision of what the market needs, specifically a company that will take care of the main concerns related to finding a proven solution and helping to integrate them. That’s how the story of Qplatform started. We aim to provide banks with the most essential things: safe and reliable providers, fast integration, and 24/7 technical support.
How does Qplatform innovate?
Maxim Avdeev: It is not a secret that integration of external fintech solutions for any bank that is not listed in the top 20 innovative banks consumes lots of time and resources. We developed a platform-based solution, which allows us to decrease both of these challenges. All this is done by using Open API technologies. Instead of searching through all market for the right solution, checking its specifications, comparing to other alternatives. Bank comes to us, where all of these things are already done. And the only thing that is needed from them is to decide what they need. Our approach can be compared to AppStore. There all sorts of providers are already listed, and the only thing needed from a bank is to choose. Everything else, like checking documentation, testing hypothesis, and modelling the integration, is done by our technological crew. After integrating any service from our platform once, there is no more need to develop an integration channel between a bank and us. All upcoming integrations are going to be faster (4-6 weeks vs. 6-12 months) compared to integrating all fintech directly.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Maxim Avdeev: Of course, if not pandemic, we probably would have had much more cases than we planned, as some companies with which we had first stage negotiations cut their budgets and shelved these integrations until the better times. But overall, everything is going well. Banks realized that to keep their customer base and even expand it, they need some fast product integrations.
By the way, the analysts from the “International Monetary Fund” studied the experience of American banks during the 2008 crisis. It turned out that technologically advanced banks (with high IT costs and a more developed infrastructure) felt much better through the crisis than their competitors: the increase in their “bad” debts lagged 15% behind the growth rates of other banks; the loans themselves turned out to be problematic 10% less often than those of financial institutions that were not involved in the development of innovative technologies.
And here we go – Qplatform. When the interest in investments started to grow, as an alternative to deposits, we found a brokerage partner that has all the instruments needed to educate and tell in simple language to customers why investing is not something scary and unpredictable but is a safe and profitable alternative to deposits. Currently, we integrated this product into a couple of banks, and we have a negation process with a few other banks.
Answering your question, I guess we are doing much better than we expected and comparing to other players on the market. From my point of view, we can look at any crisis from two angles. The first one is unpredictable, with lots of loss, etc. The second one is that any crises are a window of opportunities, and we should try to use it. As you can see, I am trying to be optimistic.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Maxim Avdeev: In day to day business running, a CEO faces a variety of choices that should be made. Which partner to choose? How to motivate employees? What project can bring the most value to our company? As a CEO, I need to know everything – sales, regulations, and how investments are done. At least at a basic level, but correct. There should be a three-dimensional picture in your head. And an investor expects this from you. In crises like we have now, my team and I learned to choose the projects and cases that will bring our company the biggest value possible. When the economy is unstable, borders closed, and all your team works distantly, it is important to diversify our working abilities. Do fewer cases, but more effectively.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Maxim Avdeev: From my point of view, the speed of communication is very important, specifically in crises like this, when it is hard to predict what is going to happen in the long term. While government was introducing new restriction measures, like distance working, for our team, it was crucial to save connections and speed of making decisions. As business process shouldn’t stop and integration of services is an ongoing thing, that can’t be put on hold.
The speed of communication is important. If someone is not ready for evening calls or conversations on weekends, then the pace of work with investors will significantly slow down.
Secondly, you should choose the right team at every stage of the project life cycle. Yes, new people are needed for each stage of development. But you won’t get fired if you can adapt and go through a personal metamorphosis.
Team transformation can be hindered by two circumstances: either the psychology of your employee (not everyone is ready to change) or your lack of honesty with the team as a CEO. If the leader is honest and says everything as it is, then people will understand what changes must be done to stay in the project.
I used to work in a venture capital fund, and there I even had to fire the CEO. First, a start-up needs a launcher director, then a processor, and then maybe a liquidator. Therefore, you, as a leader, must be flexible. The investor expects from you that the leader will always be able to rebuild.
Raising money always brings a lot of emotions. The constant relocation of investment committees, unpredictability, a huge amount of grey hair. And yes, not everyone in the team would even understand that the founder applies hyperviolence every day because 90% of the fundraising work is not visible.
Also, do not tell employees that “if we get money, there will be mountains of gold!” You should be careful with making promises. Psychology and fighting spirit are important in the team. You need to constantly communicate with colleagues and convince them that everything will be fine. And build trust. It’s not easy, but one must pay special attention to it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Maxim Avdeev: We can outline two different groups of our competitors – direct and indirect. In terms of direct, it is internal R&D bank departments and APIBank (their business model is also building a marketplace). Our key differentiator is the absence of an anchor bank. We are open to the whole market and ready to scale. On the other hand, there are indirect competitors as we integrate solutions from different market segments, we have a variety of competitors. For example, we are integrating brokerage service ITI Capital, in this case, we have competitors on this market, like, for example, ‘Kit Finance.’ Or when we are integrating our OCR service, we have such competitors on this market, like ‘ABBEY FlexiCapture.’ We can continue this list by loyalty services, payment links, etc.
Our strategy, which is already helping us to stay in the game, is based on having more than one provider of any service. And in the case when one provider has difficulties or technical defects, we are switching to an alternative, so our customer doesn’t even notice it.
Your final thoughts?
Maxim Avdeev: As I already mentioned, any crises provide for opportunities. And we all must look at them, rather than thinking about difficulties, negative emotions. There is nothing that a human being can’t overcome. Qplatform is based on the idea of innovations, and I believe that new ideas are going to help us find a way out of this situation, where currently our world is.
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