Powering financial institutions to innovate SMEs digital banking journey

Powering financial institutions to innovate SMEs digital banking journey

SME Finance Forum members CRIF and Strands have joined forces in an exciting move to create a new provider of digital solutions for Open Banking. Earlier this month, it was announced that CRIF had acquired Strands, and we had the exclusive opportunity to talk to Enrico Lodi, CRIF’s General Manager, and Erik Brieva, Strands’ CEO, to discuss what the operation means for both companies.

On finalizing the acquisition during the Covid-19 pandemic

Strands’ acquisition was finalized over the last few days, at a time when the entire economy is experiencing a significant shutdown due to the COVID-19 emergency. 

Enrico Lodi: “The transaction had been planned for some time, and CRIF and Strands had already developed a fruitful collaboration, which allowed a thorough evaluation of the tangible benefits and synergies that the transaction could create for both parties.” 

Erik Brieva: “Both companies kept thinking in the long term, convinced that this deal would strengthen Strands and the CRIF group. The world is going through a rocky patch, but both parties worked hard to make sure the operation didn’t fall apart. This is a demonstration of the power of truly digital companies.” 

On how Strands fits CRIF’s strategy

Strands has a recognized brand on the global market and a strong positioning in a strategic area, the digital banking solutions, that CRIF had been strongly focused on for some time and where it has made significant investments. 

Enrico Lodi: “We believe that this acquisition will produce significant added value, as it allows us to bring in-house the relationship with a key provider for some of our most innovative solutions, but also because it brings a significant portfolio of worldwide customers, enabling us to create cross-selling and upselling opportunities. The fact that Strands has a presence in some very interesting markets, including Latin America, where CRIF had only a marginal presence, provides us with additional opportunities for growth.”

Erik Brieva: “Strands has a lot of ground to cover under the big CRIF umbrella. Strands is trusted by more than 700 banks and CRIF is serving another 6300 financial institutions, this financial ecosystem can now benefit from the combined offering of data-driven digital banking solutions and intelligent data analytics.” 

On how synergies between both companies will benefit financial institutions.

The new digital solutions provider will set a higher standard in the access-to-account setting, account aggregation, and AI-powered BFM and PFM solutions. Strands’ customer profiling capabilities combined with CRIF’s digital solutions will make a difference in providing financial institutions with the best financial management solutions ensuring a cutting edge customer journey able to better match customer expectations and promote financial wellness.

Enrico Lodi: “Thanks to Strands’ financial management platforms, CRIF has been able to expand its portfolio of digital customer journey solutions: these include, in particular, personal and business finance manager (PFM and BFM) solutions which will enrich the digital offering of banks and financial institutions by providing consumers with innovative services that guarantee valuable support for smart finance management and tailored advice on how to achieve saving or spending goals.”

Erik Brieva: “Financial institutions will be able to provide their retail and business customers with comprehensive and personalized digital solutions. Our mission is to enable banks to anticipate customer needs and proactively suggest next-best-actions, and we are excited about this opportunity to continue delivering on that promise.”

Enrico Lodi: “On the other hand, as far as companies are concerned, they will have a useful tool for analyzing cash flow and liquidity, monitoring invoice payments, balancing funds between different current accounts, and controlling expenditure through budgets organized by category and purpose. The effective and efficient management of these aspects is more important today than ever, including in making a more informed assessment of how to deal with critical situations such as those generated by the current health emergency.”

On Open Banking

Banking consumers and SMEs are becoming increasingly demanding and require an intuitive and fast customer experience. Banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, and businesses are facing tough challenges, but Open Banking has opened up new paths to innovate the customer relationship and enrich the service offering, bringing significant added value to all the players involved in a shared development journey. 

Enrico Lodi: “The solutions are offered as-a-service so that banks and financial institutions can rapidly implement and develop a cutting-edge customer journey that can be easily enriched by leveraging the entire ecosystem of CRIF solutions.  In addition, CRIF’s PFM and BFM solutions are fully open banking enabled: they allow the aggregation of current account information from different credit institutions (CRIF is a licensed Account Information Service Provider in 31 countries) and can also be used to make payments.” 

Erik Brieva: “Our joint goal is to help banks build new business models that allow them to compete in an evolving world and find opportunities to monetize their rich source of transactional data. By combining Open Banking with Artificial Intelligence, we help financial institutions to enrich their customer insights, offer very personalized products and also trigger smart services provided by third parties, thus reaping the benefits of a more engaged relationship with their customers.”

Enrico Lodi: “The acquisition of Strands is absolutely consistent with CRIF’s strategy, which finds a natural fit with CRIF Digital Next, the solution which enables banks, insurance companies and businesses to accelerate their digital transformation, generate a fast and sustainable innovation process, as well as seize the opportunities generated by Open Banking thanks to the potential of an open collaborative technology platform, a basket of added-value content and services for SMEs and consumers, and a data layer and analytics that are unrivaled on the market. The solution is already available and fully operational.”