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 !

Ellie: Two years ago we adopted a new legal structure for Jolocom GmbH according to the purpose model of ownership, manifesting our commitment and dedication to building a self-sovereign organization. That means we can’t take VC funding or sell public shares of the company. 

Volker: Jolocom is a community driven organisation – both in a tech sense but also much further beyond. We’re hugely involved in the DWeb community where we organize and attend events for the decentralized community. Every year we also help organize and attend the DWeb Camp in San Francisco, which brings together all kinds of creatives so this technology of tomorrow is built in a collaborative way.

Next to that on-demand experiences have become firmly embedded into people’s everyday lives - be it a mobile app to book a ride, send flowers to your loved ones or order lunch to your office. It’s all possible and has made premium features like real-time tracking a standard.  The online consumer expects nothing less and certainly doesn’t like to wait.

Making that quick and instant gratification happen is another story though. Groundbreaking ideas and innovations are needed to tackle all these factors. Does your startup have one? 

Then head over to our Future Logistics Challenge! Applications are still open until September 23rd.

Volker: There is this really nice place, called Green Rabbit with salads and baked potatoes where I like to go to. Sometimes I just keep it simple and go to Lidl.

Ellie: I eat a lot in cafe which is here around the corner and I love the Matcha Lattes from Starbucks.

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