First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Monika Liikamaa: We are doing well. My kids slowly got used to it, though at first, they had a lot of questions – most frequent one being “Why are you at home so much?”
You see, as the CEO of Enfuce I have spent a good part of the past four years since founding the company (2016) in work trips, but now with the lockdown and travel restrictions, I work at home more often, closer to family. People seldom like traveling for work, and I am no exception – it is something you have to do to network and meet people where they are – but I am glad that we can now take 1-2 hour meetings remotely with partners and customers across the globe and afterwards immediately go back to concentrating on other priorities for the day. Otherwise, I would constantly be on the go, rushing to the next keynote or customer meeting.
When it comes to the company, at Enfuce remote work is no news as from the get-go we have always had two offices – in Espoo and Mariehamn – so we are good at collaborating internally regardless of the distance. And now with the pandemic, it is also good to see bigger, older, and more conservative companies getting used to holding remote meetings. I hope this continues after COVID-19 – not only does it boost efficiency, but less work travel is good for the planet, too.
Overall, of course, the suffering in the world because of this pandemic is an overwhelmingly negative factor, but it is important to make an effort and see the positives during these trying times, as well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Enfuce.
Monika Liikamaa: I have worked in strategic director roles at financial companies, including major banks like S-Bank and Aktia, for over a decade before founding Enfuce. During that time, I noticed a problem – most payment processing solutions in the market were not flexible and scalable enough to allow businesses unrestricted global growth. So, by 2016, equipped with leadership experience, an MBA from Hanken School of Economics, and a strong network, I decided – it was time to go out on my own and build a company I would be proud of.
At that point, I was lucky enough to have met my four future co-founders, and together we started brainstorming – if we were to rebuild payment processing services from scratch, how would we do it? That is how the idea of creating the first public cloud-based payment platform was born, and we set out to make better, faster, globally scalable payment services a reality.
In the same year, we secured our first customer – a major Nordic energy group St1 that needed a card solution for Finland, Sweden, and Norway. As we were implementing their solution in half a year and then adding Apple Pay functionality in three months, we kept growing our partner network and customer base, serving agile startups, innovative corporates, and anything in between. The rest – how Enfuce became a fintech house of 60 experts in the Nordics (and counting) with almost 10 million end users on our payment platform and revenues of over 7 MEUR by 2020 – is a story of continuous hard work, relentless innovation, and efficient collaboration.
How does Enfuce innovate?
Monika Liikamaa: Innovation is in everything we do. It is a process and above all, a mindset. When we call ourselves a forerunner, we mean it. One of the tangible ways we innovate is by forcing ourselves to come out with a new product concept each year, which keeps us focused on how market needs are evolving. We make sure our eyes always stay open to the global payments industry – we are not here to maintain the status quo. Enfuce started from issuing prepaid cards in the Nordics, and now we globally support multiple card types (prepaid, credit, debit, virtual), all payment schemas, plus value-added services such as Premium APIs.
When driving innovation, customer success is our key priority. If our customer succeeds, we succeed, so we target specific customer needs and develop solutions for them that are secure, scalable, and fast to implement. Of course, none of this is possible without great resources in the company.
Joint brainstorming workshops with customers have been tremendously useful for our innovation, as well. Enfuce has been growing with an inbound strategy so far – our prospects call us, and we try to understand what they are working to achieve. As we match our capabilities to their needs, ideas are born that improve our product further. For example, view PIN functionality was implemented when we realized together with our customers that a new card can be issued so much faster if the PIN is accessible online – this saves the end-user time by not having to wait for a letter from the bank with the PIN which could later get lost – so just one additional feature ensures that the cards can be put to use right away.
We brainstorm a lot internally, as well. Innovation is in our company’s DNA, and we explore new ways to serve customers better by asking ourselves “What’s the purpose of our company?” “What can we do next that would make a real difference in the world?” For example, our sustainability service – My Carbon Action – is a result of such brainstorming session between the founders while waiting for an early morning flight at the Helsinki airport.
How does the pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping so far?
Monika Liikamaa: Of course, all businesses got affected – no one knew what a pandemic looked like; it was always a theoretical risk, so no one was really prepared. But a cloud-native company like Enfuce already has all daily routines as remote-compatible, so even when Finland went to full lockdown, it did not disrupt the business too much. As we keep growing and have more offices, we will have to adapt to more remote collaboration and potentially unstable global conditions. So, this trying time is good preparation for us, testing our adaptability and flexibility of processes.
The one major concern was how the pandemic would affect the industry. Enfuce operates in the payments industry, and physical card payment volumes were declining tremendously in the first months of lockdown. Between mid-March and May, we really did not know where this would lead, but as the situation stabilized we saw that while POS payments fell at brick-and-mortar stores, eCommerce was doing better than ever. Hence, some of our services, like virtual card issuing and adding contactless payment options to plastic cards, are more relevant than ever.
Of course, the unpredictability in the industry did cause some unexpected changes – for instance, a few of our new customers chose to postpone the launch of their services. Enfuce was there for them throughout the process, we helped them in any way we could, and in the end, the projects got delivered even with no possibility to meet face-to-face at any stage. We also have larger customers like our oldest client St1 that did not get as affected by the pandemic as the smaller businesses, so on that front not much changed in providing our services.
When it comes to everyday matters, we focus on maintaining constant and clear communication through daily management sync-ups. We also prioritize employee wellbeing and keep the Enfuce culture strong with weekly company-wide initiatives like virtual coffee breaks.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what were the lessons learned?
Monika Liikamaa: Again, one good thing that comes out of the pandemic was less travel – at Enfuce managers had more time to address the growing pains at the company and fill in the gaps, for example by hiring additional resources. A lot of new customer environments were in the works and being finalized at the same time, and we focused on streamlining our processes to prevent bottlenecks.
We have decided to restructure the company, which is a major change and definitely some hard choices had to be made, but they were not directly connected to the pandemic.
In general, the main lesson is that as an entrepreneur, you should be prepared for the ups and downs. It is not easy to deal with the human and financial aspects of running a company while keeping up with the fast-moving tech industry as well as payment industry regulations. But all the challenges that come our way are part of the day – if it were easy, anyone could do it, so we at Enfuce do not expect an easy ride, we just keep pouring efforts towards prevailing over any obstacles.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Monika Liikamaa: I take on one problem at a time. I also try to take worry out of the equation – it is much easier to focus on this day’s struggles and not overthink it beyond what is needed to solve the problem. I keep myself on track by asking “What are the top-3 things I need to fix today?” But of course, things get in the way sometimes. For instance, yesterday I had 16 meetings from 8 AM to 8 PM, but the “one issue at a time” approach helped a lot to successfully solve problems as they came up and keep up with the tight schedule.
I would love to say I also exercise to take the edge off, but I honestly don’t – no matter how much I want to start, I always end up putting others first. With a big family and a business to run, you don’t find too much time for exercise.
So far, what has been the most helpful in dealing with the stress of it all is talking over issues with my husband as well as with Enfuce co-founder Denise Johansson. Denise has been an incredible partner in business, always ready to discuss problems openly and brainstorm solutions, sometimes multiple times a day. She brings a unique perspective on every matter and helps me see the same problem from multiple standpoints, so we ultimately succeed to solve it. “Sharing is caring” is true all the way – if it’s good news, you double them by sharing, and if it’s bad news, you slash the burden of it in half by talking it out.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Monika Liikamaa: What makes Enfuce truly unique is providing a wide range of services – payment processing & card issuing, carbon footprint measurement, open banking APIs. No single competitor covers our range of services, so in different services, we compete with various players. But our key to success has been staying relevant and hiring the best people to bring our bold vision into reality.
We focus on helping our customer succeed – when we hear out in the market that Enfuce is helpful, skilful, and direct in solving issues, we are happy. We choose to make the game rather than beat others at it.
Enfuce serves both small, agile startups and international corporations looking to innovate. This way, we see more and learn more about the industry. We embrace diversity both when it comes to the people we hire and the customers we serve – that’s how Enfuce stays relevant and keeps growing over the years.
Monika Liikamaa, CEO, Co-founder and Chair of Enfuce
Monika Liikamaa is the CEO, Co-Founder and Chair of Nordic payment service provider Enfuce. Monika’s visionary thinking and her 20+ years of experience in the fast-paced payment industry has enabled Enfuce to integrate services for its customers in record time. Building sustainable solutions is a core value of the company and this is made possible thanks to Monika’s wide knowledge of the industry. Monika believes wholeheartedly that a business is nothing without a great team of people, and that is why she has joined forces with industry experts as co-founders and employees. Enfuce is one of the leading Fintechs in Europe, with close to 10 million end-users on its platform.
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