INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Michael Juul Rugaard from Norfico (Denmark) tells us about how the fintech industry will get through the crisis (and there will be losses)
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Michael Juul Rugaard : Thank you, I am doing fine. And so is my family and the company Norfico, which I co-founded almost five years ago. Norfico is a highly specialized communications and advisory agency within the industry of financial technology – fintech – and the fact that we are specialized has enabled us so survive the current crisis without any bigger losses.
However, the fintech industry is of course affected by the crisis. The main problem in this regard for the fintech industry is that so many companies are still small and vulnerable and fully dependent on investor money. In a sudden global crisis, like this one, investors naturally get nervous and risk appetite drops drastically. For many fintech companies, this means that they either run out of money or have to spend too much valuable time raising the necessary capital.
On the other hand, the fintech industry is at the forefront of digitization, and one important lesson learned already now from the COVID-19 crisis is that the impact of digitization is only going to increase significantly in the time to come. So, based on that, I am not worried about the fintech industry as such. However, there is no doubt that quite a number of startup companies are suffering at the moment and some of them are not going to make it.
It’s hard to change the fact that the world ran into a never-before-seen pandemic. And it’s really difficult to help persuade risk-averse investors. But the fact that it has now become more difficult to raise money for your latest fintech idea is probably not only a bad thing.
Perhaps it has been just slightly too easy the last couple of years for fintech start-ups to get access to investor-money just by flashing PowerPoint presentations with all the right buzzwords. I believe that high-quality projects will still attract investors, and I think it’s okay if startups have to do their very best to convince investors that finance their project. After all, it’s other people’s money we are talking about here.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Norfico and The Tokenizer
Michael Juul Rugaard : Before starting Norfico I was a press manager at the biggest payments company in the Nordics, and my experience was that whenever we tried to hire external communications consultants it failed because they didn’t know the first thing about the payments industry. We had to teach them for months before they could help us with the basics, and in most cases, we ended up doing the work ourselves.
This experience enabled me to spot a hole in the market for a specialised agency with a narrow focus only on the highly complex industry of financial technology. Luckily, I managed to persuade good friend and colleague Kristian T. Sørensen (left side on cover photo) to join me on this startup journey, and together we located three sub-areas within fintech that we believed would be the right focus points for Norfico. Those three areas were payments, new regulations (like PSD2), and blockchain / crypto. And five years down the road more than 90% of the work we do is within one or more of these three areas.
Again, the key for becoming relevant to your clients is knowledge, not only about strategic communication, content production and business strategy in general, but specialised knowledge about your customer’s industry, market, competitors, technologies, current and coming challenges and opportunities.
How does Norfico and The Tokenizer innovate?
Michael Juul Rugaard : As a fintech consultancy, we are part of a highly innovative environment. We love changes, transformations, new trends and new challenges. It’s our job to be aware of everything new on the market and help our clients manage the changes in the best possible way when they communicate with their stakeholders and position themselves in the market.
I’m from Denmark, and for centuries Danes have been strong believers in collaboration – probably because we are such a small country! When it comes to the incumbent financial sector and the fintech industry, I truly believe that collaboration is the best way forward for all of us. Disruption is fine and certainly necessary in many cases, but at the end of the day, many fintech companies need support from the financial sector to become financially successful. And sometimes fintech companies might even learn a thing or two from the old boys club.
In Norfico we are working on both sides with banks and big technology providers as well as with fintech startups. We have our offices as part of The Copenhagen Fintech Lab, and we are in close contact with a lot of fintech startups on a daily basis. So, to answer your questions, I believe that Norfico’s most important contribution at an overall level is our role as bridge-builders between the traditional financial world and the new world of fintech.
In addition, Norfico is behind a number of development projects, which we are quite happy and proud of. In November 2016, we took the initiative to establish the world’s first network of communications agencies specializing in fintech. Today, the Global Fintech PR Network counts twelve agencies across most of the world, and the network enables us to offer our clients global advice and tactical assistance at a high professional level.
Furthermore, in February 2019 Norfico launched The Tokenizer, which is one of the first global information platforms dedicated solely to asset tokenization and security tokens. This is a brilliant example of deep specialisation, which has only been possible because we are working solely within the fintech space. The new industry of security token is a subset of the crypto and blockchain industry which is a subset of the fintech industry which is again a subset of the general financial industry!
Security tokens are all about digital representations of real-world assets and securities in the shape of tokens on a blockchain, and once you take a deep dive into this apparently very narrow field you will realise that it opens up and reveals a new universe – in this case with an economical potential of trillions of dollars over the next decade.
Again, The Tokenizer role here is to be a catalyser and a bridge-builder educating companies and investors around the world about the huge potential of tokenization going forward. The Tokenizer is a project that is very close to my heart and as soon as the current COVID-19 crisis is – almost – over our plan is to raise funding to further develop the platform. We have some really good ideas for services that we believe will turn The Tokenizer into a highly interesting business case and help the emerging and still vulnerable industry of security tokens move forward.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Michael Juul Rugaard : So far we have avoided cuts or otherwise negative consequences. But it is obvious that in a time like this you need to be extra careful and focused and work extra hard to secure your business.
How do you overcome stress and anxiety and fear of failure?
Michael Juul Rugaard : It’s important never to become paralysed. The ability to make quick decisions is key to success for entrepreneurs and probably one of the primary advantages that we as a small company has compared to big corporate organisation. But hat said, I don’t think you should overcome the fear of failure, I believe it’s good to always be a little bit worried because it keeps you awake. Sometimes things change extremely fast, and you have to be alert.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Michael Juul Rugaard : There are a lot of communications and PR agencies out there, and in some way, they are all our competitors. But seen from another perspective they are not, because hardly any of them have our specialised, dedicated focus on financial technology, and that’s why I am not really worried.
I started my first communication company in 2000, but after three years we got hit by the dotcom crisis and decided to close down the company. I didn’t lose any money, and it was easy to get a new job and move on. But retrospectively, it annoyed me that at that time I did not exercise the needed stamina to keep the company and get it through the crisis. That is why it was a very happy moment for me personally when I co-founded Norfico almost five years ago. And regardless of the fact that the world is now in the midst of yet another crisis with the COVID-19, we have absolutely no plans of giving up on Norfico. We’ve found our place in the market and we are here to stay, that’s for sure.
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