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Ija Šležė director of Forbis – developer of FinTech considers that the heads of IT companies should pay significant attention to maintaining good relationship with the employees, and she also shares her experience how to achieve this.
According to the head of the Forbis Company, the key to IT company success is a relationship based on the long-term professional partnership between the company’s employees and its management. I. Šležė emphasized that each manager wishing their team to be successful and work steadily, should not be afraid of making mistakes, be able to personally take part in the course of implementing ideas.
“I am sure that successful labour relationship is possible only in the environment, where openness and mutual trust win out. Both the manager and each member of the team should be able to assume the responsibility for the actions and any lack of such. For the team members to trust each other, it is necessary that the head would openly communicate the goals and the expectations. Owing to the long-term experience I have learnt that the work culture encouraging the openness as well as the sharing of the information makes the team motivated, responsible, and a good solution-maker,” said Forbis director.
Undeniably, each team starts with its formation. Despite the fact that the rapidly growing Lithuania’s IT sector is currently facing a lack of talented experts, I. Šležė states that creation of the ambiance, where the people feel valued and free, even at the talent deficiency conditions, allows attracting the necessary specialists.
When selecting new team members, it is particularly important to identify their motivation, and make sure that a person is interested not just in earning more, but also in being eager to learn, seek for the professional novelties, have a desire for what is being done, and be independent.
“When selecting the employees, we give preference to independent and proactive candidates. Inside the company, we have managed to create the ambiance, where new ideas are welcome, are taken for serious, and are given freedom to be implemented. Having in mind that this is one of the essential principles of our work, when selecting the personnel, we give priority to people aiming at self-realization of personal potential in profession and career. I believe that each lead forming a team should identify those work culture aspects, which in their opinion, would bring the greatest benefit, and look for the employees who share those values,” said the head of the Forbis Company.
According to I. Šležė, even the team of the most motivated and qualified professionals will constantly face challenges, and a good lead is the one, who will be able turn those challenges into the opportunities.
“One of my goals as the company’s head is to take care that the team members would not lose motivation, for instance, due to routine tasks. To support motivation, we need new challenges, goals, and tasks,” stated I. Šležė.
As for personal challenges related to the management, I. Šležė says that it is necessary to live up to the expectations that the employees have of their managers. The criteria, by which a team is formed, are also applied by the head of the Forbis Company to herself. The absence of double standards makes it possible to achieve a balanced, respect-based manager-employee relationship. Managers in any field, especially information services, should constantly learn, improve, look for new challenges, and represent an example for their team.
Despite the fact that Forbis started its activity several decades ago, today the company is an example of a modern, growing FinTech company. The director of the company emphasized that a major reason for this stability and ability to change is the balance of younger and more experienced professionals.
“We are proud of having found throughout these years of our activity a formula enabling us to remain stable and reliable partners of financial institutions, yet being able to change. Our employees can adjust their career paths not only by holding higher positions, but also by requalifying. We assume this to be one of the reasons why we do not face high personnel turnover. We are oriented towards a long-term employee-company relationship, and we extremely value both the need of novelties of the younger employees and the experience of the senior specialists,” said I. Šležė.
Announced with fanfare, awaited with great expectations, and “live” for about a year now, Europe’s open banking initiative is a flop. And it will continue to fizzle unless some basic changes are made, says Andrej Zujev, the founder of Forbis Group, a Lithuania-based pioneer in IT solutions for the finance industry. He calls for an open debate in the EU on a viable way forward.
The European Union’s second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) was meant to eliminate banks’ monopoly on their customers’ data. That move to “open banking” had to spark a revolution in financial services. It would put smaller, innovative third-party providers (TPPs) of payment initiation and other services on equal footing with the banks, electronic money institutions (EMIs) and so on, with those that actually hold people’s and companies’ money in accounts.
More competition would bring customers better services and terms. The related technical solutions would make payments more transparent and more secure – by doing away with “screen scraping”, for example, where users have to give their banking username and password to a third party.
“The idea, which was trumpeted loudly, sounded very ambitious and very good,” says Anton Zujev. The Forbis Group, which Mr. Zujev leads, has been making IT platforms for international banking for three decades. It also operates an EMI – Contomobile. The promise of open banking was that TPPs like Contomobile could integrate with any bank in Europe to handle payments for, say, a sporting goods e-shop in Lithuania, which could thus sell to, and get payments from, buyers anywhere in the EU.
The problem is - it doesn’t work.
“In developing all of our systems to work with the open banking rules, we’ve run into the fact that it’s a lot of noise about nothing. It’s poorly prepared and incomplete. It’s absurd. I’m convinced the EU’s open banking project has zero future if key changes are not made,” Mr. Zujev says.
The start date for open banking in the EU – when account-holding institutions had to open up account data to any TPP authorised by the customer with an application programming interface, or API – was 14 September 2019. The big day was rather quiet, Contomobile’s director, Jelena Michailova, recalls. Despite a year of intense preparations and testing, almost nobody was ready to conduct real transactions at that point. It took several more months to see significant activity.
Prior to PSD2, third parties could agree with individual banks on access to make payment services possible. Open banking was supposed to make that case-by-case effort unneeded by standardising and unifying access to account information across the EU. It has not done that though.
“Instead of strict universal rules for the interface, testing and security, we got specifications that are more at the level of recommendations, with optional aspects, where each actor ultimately interprets and implements things its own way,” Michailova says. Open banking APIs today show regional and country-specific differences, and also different specifics for each and every single institution.
Since each API is different, integration with every account-holding institution is still a separate project for TPPs. “You have to knock on every door, get let in and do testing,” Contomobile’s director says. Each integration typically takes about 10 business days and has its costs. And each one them has to be maintained and updated when banks make changes, often twice a year or more.
No business sense
It’s not easy for a small market player. To handle payments all over Europe for an online store – a clear-cut open banking task for a company like Contomobile would have to integrate with several thousand banks. Mr. Zujev estimates the effort would cost a total of between 50 and 100 million euros.
“No chance. Full integration makes no business sense. Nobody is going to put in the money to implement this directive globally throughout Europe,” Forbis’s founder stresses.
Third-party providers are proving picky about who they integrate with, viewing each institution as an investment that needs to ensure enough potential customers. Electronic money institutions and other non-bank account-holder institutions generally are not on their radar. Especially since most of the customers they do have also have an account at one of the major banks. Michailova cites cases of EMIs being asked by third parties to pay for an integration if they want it.
“We want to shout to Europe that what you’re calling ‘open banking’ is fake news, it’s a soap bubble. And it has no future. It turns out - the open banking in the EU is a project for two, three, four, maybe 10 banks, and doesn’t have anything to do with a common European payment system,” Zujev says.
Call for changes
Serious talk on how to revive the EU’s open banking project is needed, Mr. Zujev stresses. Forbis itself has two specific proposals for improving how standards and access are managed.
One is to introduce an ISO standard for open banking in the EU – a strict, universal specification: “Just like with SEPA notifications – they have ISO standard 20022 and everything is clear. You do the work once and know it will always work. It should be the same for open banking.”
The other, admittedly ambitious, proposal is to give every open banking participant a single point of entry. “A TPP would connect to its central bank or SEPA payment system provider and be able to access all Europe’s banks. Easy and clear. That would be a real open banking revolution,” Zujev says.
“This is a key moment,” he adds. “We can either let the EU’s open banking project fail, or turn it into a success for the European economy and the global financial services industry.”