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As Lithuania's financial market matures and the financial institutions face more stringent licensing requirements, the fintech ecosystem becomes increasingly important for a successful business. The term' fintech ecosystem' describes the synergy between technology and services providers that allow new players to start operating faster, says Anton Zujev, Head of a Lithuanian company group Forbis.
Stricter criteria for financial institutions
The number of e-money and payment institution licenses issued in Lithuania is among the highest in the EU. As a result, the Bank of Lithuania has started communicating that companies licence applicants will face even closer scrutiny. Mr Zujev says that companies wishing to enter the market should consider stricter regulation as an opportunity to build a better business.
"At the moment, many financial institutions are dealing with the challenges of digitalization, while the new entrants are waiting for licences longer and undergoing a thorough screening. The Bank of Lithuania requires new entrants to be more advanced, have an experienced team and a clear business plan. These measures ensure that the new companies will benefit Lithuania and the financial market as a whole. A more rigorous licencing process gives the start-ups an incentive to create a sustainable business and collaborate with experienced players in the financial ecosystem," said Mr Zujev.
A helping hand for the market entrants
According to Mr Zujev, the resources of the fintech ecosystem is what currently makes it easier to enter the financial services market. Forbis group of companies, operating in the field of banking IT technologies for almost 30 years, has created such an ecosystem. The group provides a full range of technologies and services that help financial institutions obtain a licence and expand their operations. The group consists of Forbis, which designs and develops banking IT solutions; Fininbox, which provides banking SaaS and assistance in the licensing process; and Contomobile, a licensed e-money institution providing fast access to a payment initiation service.
"We have created a unique environment within our group of companies that allows us to develop technological innovations, test our products, improve and deliver them to our customers. Now that the AML, KYC and service quality requirements for financial institutions are on a par with those for banks, our solutions give our clients the chance to enter the market with confidence," said Mr Zujev.
Simultaneously, members of the Forbis group share their experience with other players from the financial sector, contributing to the development of fintech in Lithuania.
"Over the last few years, we have seen a huge leap in the Lithuanian fintech sector. We provide a wide range of services to Lithuanian and foreign financial institutions, follow the latest trends, and feel obliged to ensure our know-how benefits our clients and the entire financial technology community. Our companies are active members of organizations uniting the Lithuanian fintech community – we participate in Fintech Lithuania and Fintech Hub LT. We also contribute to the strategic development of the sector as members of the Lithuania Ministry of Finance's Fintech Sector Development Analysis Working Group," commented Mr Zujev.
Offers solutions for licence applicants
Forbis group's companies have tailored their services to financial institutions at all stages of development. Among the solutions offered are banking-as-a-service, payment integrations and IT systems for growth-oriented companies.
"Thanks to Contomobile, an e-money institution belonging to our group, we can provide a banking-as-a-service solution that allows an unlicensed institution to use our licence, operating under its own brand name," said Mr Zujev.
According to the expert, banking-as-a-service is an ideal option for institutions licence applicants that want to enter the e-money services market and test their business plan.
"By signing an agreement with Contomobile, companies receive access to our know-how, a mobile application and comprehensive KYC processes. Licence applicants that start their operations via our licence can prove to the Bank of Lithuania that they are already profitable and successful," added Mr Zujev.
Reliable IT solutions for licensed financial institutions
Throughout the licensing process, financial institutions are assisted by the group's company Fininbox, providing banking SaaS and currently serving over 20 financial institutions from Lithuania and other European and Asian countries. The company gives clients access to the CENTROlink system, enabling SEPA payments in Europe.
"The Bank of Lithuania is monitoring how soon a financial institution launches its operations after receiving a licence – the timing might influence the other decisions of the regulator. To help companies with a newly required licence, Fininbox ensures that they become part of CENTROlink as soon as possible," said Mr Zujev.
The group's largest clients - banks - work with Forbis to develop their own IT architecture and unique technological solutions. Forbis is constantly engaged in R&D activities and focused on developing new banking technologies, making it the go-to partner for banks, focused on growth and performance improvement.
A year of sustainable growth
The Forbis group experienced substantial revenue and customer growth in 2020, driven by the pandemic-induced digitalization of various services. In 2020, the group's revenue increased by 4.7 %. Although the financial services sector felt the impact of the pandemic and slowed down in 2021, the Forbis group's revenues remained stable, and the companies proved that they had reached a stage of sustainable growth, says Mr Zujev.
"Last year, we served a record number of clients. It reassured us that our services are competitive and that our clients trust us. We hold the IT services, information security and quality management certificates, and our partners know that they work with top quality providers. We will continue developing innovative solutions and helping our clients operate in an increasingly competitive fintech market in the coming years," said Mr Zujev.
To date, Forbis Group has worked with clients in Europe and beyond. However, Mr Zujev states that in solidarity with the independent state of Ukraine and recognizing the atrocities of the Russian attack, Forbis companies unilaterally terminated contracts with Russian-owned banks and other financial institutions.
To the majority of the companies that have invested in their IT systems, the last two years of the pandemic have proved that their efforts have absolutely justified. The need to smoothly rearrange work processes and start working remotely in a very short time is a huge challenge, and one of the solutions that has served the most during this period is moving to the cloud resources. Forbis, a provider of banking IT solutions, allocated its systems in the cloud eight years ago, and now firmly states that the solution has lived up to all the expectations and allowed the Forbis group of companies and their customers to stay afloat and expand in the face of the lockdown.
The cloud did not gain trust immediately
According to Alexander Serebriakov, Director of the Company’s Systems Administration Department, the decision to move to the cloud almost a decade ago was a cause for concern at the time: “When the management of the Forbis group of companies decided to use the cloud, most saw technical challenges in that, feared the risks of losing control, and few thought that the business would not just be able to optimize the costs, but would also lay a solid foundation for business continuity. I must admit that there was a lot of deliberation on our part as IT experts, namely the main question was – are we doing the right thing by giving up our infrastructure and involving another player in our operations? We also had a long discussion about which provider to choose.”
The company built its main data processing infrastructure in the data centers of the Lithuanian company Baltneta, and allocated the backup systems in the Blue Bridge cloud. A. Serebriakov assumes that this decision is based on the fact that customers not only wish to get the guaranteed quality from service providers, but also want to have an opportunity to act as close partners: “We had a premonition that for the large international players in the market we would seem too small and not quite ready for “unification” keeping in mind the service catalogue offered by such players. That is why we had chosen local reliable and flexible cloud partners. And, for these eight years, we have not been disappointed with the quality of the services provided, and we have established not only business but also collegial personal relationships with our suppliers. This partnership not only helps to quickly create new IT solutions, but also enables us to promptly address the concerns of our customers.”
During the pandemic, the importance of the cloud increased several times
Already in the first days of the pandemic restrictions, the decision of the Forbis group of companies to move the IT infrastructure from its premises to the public cloud once again proved to be right and efficient. According to the expert, this technology has helped to very quickly shift to the remote work, to maintain provision of the services uninterrupted, and to reduce the costs.
“The first consequence of the pandemic that every business has been affected by was quarantine, which determined that the companies that had already moved their systems to cloud centers, could continue operating remotely in a safe and efficient way. Data center servers were able to easily ensure sufficient resources even with a drastic increase in load. For us, the cloud architecture had become one of the most important factors allowing us to quickly adapt to the new nature of work and helping customers do the same. Later, with the emergence of licensing obligations, we also started using private cloud technology, ensuring a particularly strict separation of the data and the resources. We jokingly said then that we had applied the principles of resource isolation not only to protect the employees but also the systems. However, seriously speaking, such a hybrid approach allows companies to target investments and optimize the total cost of ownership (TCO),” commented A. Serebriakov.
Benefits for customers in the sphere of financial technologies
“First and foremost, cloud and network perimeter security (vUTM) access allows us to work with our customers in virtual offices that interact with each other within a data center. It is a secure solution used by our entire group of companies. In this way, we ensure maximum protection of our and our customers’ data, at the same time enabling them to connect from different countries,” said the expert.
One of the companies belonging to the Forbis group – Fininbox – provides cloud-based services to FinTech customers. The services include IT systems, SEPA integration solutions, and accounting services. “FinTech companies that want to start running quickly their activities and take care of their business development, rather than of the IT systems, turn to Fininbox and get the full solution – network access to the information system and support of compliance in the sphere of payments, internet banking, and other similar areas,” said. A. Serebriakov.
According to the systems administration expert, start-up customers with limited internal IT resources benefited greatly from the cloud and remote connectivity solutions during the pandemic: “Among the first benefits Fininbox and their cloud provider gave them were servers of the secure virtual network (VPN) that had helped organize the remote work. When larger customers, such as banks, need services, Forbis is ready to help them. At developing systems, our team can quickly create a full test environment for these customers, i.e. a sandbox, and then a dedicated infrastructure solution.”
A. Serebriakov sees the cloud to have even greater potential in the future: “Cloud solutions are flexible and therefore offer many opportunities. For both FinTech startups and for market giants, they help build self-service platforms, new security solutions, manage large volumes of data, and grow exponentially with automating operational activity and without fearing to run out of technical resources.”