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Guest Writer
August 17, 2016

Fintech, trust, and being brave enough to do your bookkeeping: An interview with Holvi

Built independently from end to end, and kitted out with tools to keep your bookkeeping paperless and on point, Holvi has been helping small businesses in Finland, Austria and now Germany to ditch big banks and manage their money better. We sat down with Holvi’s country manager for Germany and Austria, Leah Marie Zeppos, to discuss the insights Holvi has gained along their journey: from Helsinki to betahaus Berlin.

Holvi offers bookkeeping services for startups, but what problem exactly does Holvi solve?

“Everyone working at Holvi has a background in entrepreneurship and freelancing, so we’ve all had firsthand experience with the problem that bookkeeping tends to get put off. A lot of startups might start off with a CEO, CTO, and maybe a marketing person. This set-up offers a variety of talents, but what's missing is someone looking after the bookkeeping. Until all of a sudden the Finanzamt comes along after six months and says ‘By the way, you DO have to pay VAT, and you owe this much in income tax’, and then you’ve got a problem with liquidity on your hands."


"A lot of startups might start off with a CEO, CTO, and maybe a marketing person. In all this, there isn’t really someone there to look after the bookkeeping."
Photo by Holvi

These kinds of Finanzamt horror stories shouldn’t scare budding entrepreneurs from getting their business up and running. So how does Holvi help?

“When you’re just starting out, just being on top of when an invoice comes in or when an invoice has been paid is totally critical. Holvi makes sure you get an automatic notification on these sorts of things. For people who for instance have a tech background but not necessarily a bookkeeping background, Holvi offers a reassuring product. Going freelance or becoming an entrepreneur can be really frightening, especially from a German perspective. Holvi provides an added level of security.”

Let’s talk about the name: Holvi means 'vault' in Finnish, a word that’s tied to not only security, but also to trust. Can you tell us a bit more about the concept of ‘trust’ for Holvi?

“When you deal with money, you are dealing with one of the most basic levels of trust. This, in particular, is a big hurdle for entering the German market.In order for Holvi to open a business bank account for customers, both European and individual member state laws require that we can confirm that this person is who they say they are, lives where they say they do, and runs the business that they claim to. The customer needs to feel comfortable providing us with their data online, and because of this, providing a safe space for customers is a number one priority.”


"When you deal with money, you are dealing with one of the most basic levels of trust. This, in particular, is a big hurdle for entering the German market."

In March of this year, Holvi was acquired by BBVA, a large Spanish bank with demonstrated interest in fintech. How did Holvi decide that this would be the right move?

"Before Holvi, BBVA also partnered with Simple, who offers a very similar product to ours in the U.S. We were able to take this history into account when choosing a Fintech partner who could both mentor us and let us stay essentially independent."

Why do you think it’s important that banks give their fintech partners freedom?

"BBVA bought Holvi because they wanted to be a part of this. BBVA is serious about going digital and their attitude towards innovation is one I've only seen from startups up to now. With BBVA we knew we'd have a partner who could help us grow without stifling the ‘startup’ part of who we are."

How do you see the relationship between banks and fintechs today? Why do some large banks still seem so resistant to the idea of partnering with fintechs?

“One thing that Holvi founder Tuomas often says to explain this is that the banks are like big ships. They take forever to turn, but once they do turn, they have huge momentum. Of course, banks and fintechs are competitors in that they’re fighting for investors' money.And fintechs definitely have the upper hand right now in lots of ways. But this doesn’t mean that big banks and fintechs are natural enemies. There’s a whole spectrum of fintech, from startups with total independence, to traditional banks offering part of the fintech package, to startups offering a fintech package built on the backbone of a bank. A lot of fintech experts like to say that there’s only one true way, but I’ve never heard them say there’s one true way because.”


"Banks are like big ships. They take forever to turn, but once they do turn, they have huge momentum."


Want to learn more about Holvi’s services? They’re hosting a range of events in betahaus, including seminars for paperless bookkeeping! More info on that here. 

Want to become part of the betahaus community? Find out how !

Toni: Honestly, we have skillsets that you don’t usually find in developers. Because we've had lives that were not just about computer science. I think to some extent this is what makes us different. 

Martin: I believe one of the reasons why people pick us over other studios is because it can be very hard working with developers. If you’re not understanding their work, if the communication is not flowing, you, as a client can feel lost. We're easy to communicate with and we’re always open to feedback and we're open to discuss anything. In the end, after all iterations, if you say we need to start the website from scratch and that you don’t like the idea, we won’t take it personally. 

Alex: Also, I think, since we all work as coding teachers, we are officially qualified to explain what coding is to people who don't code, which is actually really rare because a lot of developers, as Martin says, don't want to, or literally just don't know how to articulate what they're doing. Whereas we are trained in articulating what it is that we're doing, why it's meaningful and why it takes a certain amount of time.

Photo by Lea GK

Alex: Zimt & Mehl - the Turkish bakery around the corner. It’s just soo good.

Martin: Oh, there is this Italian restaurant called Ristorante del Arte

Tony: Oh, my God, this place is so funny. It looks like a pretty average Italian restaurant, but the whole interior design inside is just decorated in such a weird way. The entire place is covered in frescoes. They have crystal chandeliers and Easter bunnies. Some Greek columns. It has a different name on the menu, on the side and on the Internet. And it was an ex-shoe-store.

Want to get in touch with Obst Digital? Come around betahaus | Neukölln and meet them here or send them an email to contact@obst.digital !


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