Authority Magazine I Mar 6, 2022
An Interview With Jason Hartman
Paolo Fidanza of KEO World On How They Are Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion
Simplify traditional processes and remove obstacles. Scout out a pain point — where things are laborious for a large amount of people — and work to solve for that. Figure out where you can apply technology to legacy processes while you’re at it. For example, at Keo, we’ve been able to digitize the B2B lending experience thanks to our partnership with Amex. Only 1 in 3 B2B payments worldwide is traditionally processed electronically. So by issuing owners a virtual AMEX card, we simplify the process.
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Most of us take it for granted that we can open a bank or a credit card. But the truth is, according to the World Bank, close to one-third of adults — 1.7 billion — are still unbanked, and have no access to a transaction account. About half of unbanked people include women in poor households in rural areas or out of the workforce. What can be done and what is being done to promote more financial inclusion? To address this Authority Magazine started a new series about Companies Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion. As part of this series I had the pleasure to interview Paolo Fidanza.
Paolo Fidanza, Founder and CEO of KEO World, is disrupting the credit paradigm to deliver fast funding through innovative technology solutions that do not require paperwork or credit history. Literally a rocket scientist, Paolo has been leading new innovative Tech companies to successful exits since 2001. As a serial entrepreneur, Paolo realized the challenges people face on a daily basis to obtain credit due to lack of or no credit history so he dove into the FinTech sector and is on a mission to make financial inclusion a reality for millions across the globe.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Rome, and my mother and father were small business owners. My mother was in fashion retail and my father owned several businesses operating in a wide variety of industries including bars, restaurants, and construction. My father opened his first business when he was 16; that’s how he met my mother. Entrepreneurship is part of my DNA.
From a young age, I helped them out, so I witnessed the passion, success, and struggles of small business owners.
I suppose that’s deeply influenced my own passion for entrepreneurs and financial inclusion.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love The Machine That Changed the World. It was written by a group from MIT about the evolution of the car, but more importantly, it’s about innovation and improving efficiency. Cars were once crafted by hand, which meant only about 1000 cars were made every year. It also caused reliability and durability issues. When Henry Ford came along, his assembly line incorporated new building techniques, solving cost, time to build, reliability, and durability all at once. The assembly line is now a common process to all industries, not just automobiles. This was a real step forward and efficiency for the greater good.
My first and only traditional job was at an automotive company in England, so I guess the book really resonated with me. I’ve applied the principles of the book across my entire career to change the status quo and bring fresh thinking to different industries.
That’s exactly what I’m doing now as well. I’m looking at an existing problem in the marketplace — the fact that it’s difficult for SMBs to get credit — and figuring out how we can offer a scaled solution.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Picking just one is tough! I feel like I could write a book with all the things I’ve learned in life, but I think the one that comes to mind is: trade the idea of luck for hard work.
The real “lottery” winners in life are the people that work every day and can accomplish anything with that work and their perseverance. It seems, to me, that everyone places great value on money, but life is about more than money. It’s about having the career you’ve always wanted or a family, or whatever it is that makes you happy; those things are often called “luck.” But we create our own luck with hard work.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I don’t think there’s one definition of leadership, but I think it’s definitely a talent. Not everyone is a born leader; it’s hard to persuade those around you to follow and believe in you. Leadership is about inspiring people and believing in something so much that others believe in it, too.
Someone is a leader because people want to follow their direction.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Something that people find very interesting about my career is the beginning of it. My degree is in aerospace engineering, and I worked with sports cars at my first post-graduate job in England.
While I was there, I invented and patented a motorcycle bike frame. Eventually, I became the youngest person to hold a management position and, after four years, I left and struck out on my own.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of our readers are on the same page. What exactly is Financial Inclusion?
Remember, I’m coming at this from the POV of businesses vs. consumers. I would define it as having the opportunity to access credit and other financial services.
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain some of the typical reasons why a person might be unbanked? Why can’t they just walk into the local bank and open an account? Why can’t they simply open an account online?
Opening a bank account isn’t usually an issue for businesses. Their issue is that they aren’t given access to the credit facilities they need. Instead, they can only secure debt facilities against their own credit, but that’s not enough. Only a small portion of SMBs have access to credit.
Without credit there’s no real cash flow for SMBs. How do these businesses buy the nuts and bolts — the ingredients — that make up their products? If they don’t have those ingredients, what can they sell and how do they earn the revenue that goes back into the business? It’s a real cycle that can be hampered without access to cash.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your work to promote Financial Inclusion? Without saying names, can you share a story about a person who was helped by your initiative?
We worked with an energy company in Mexico. Though the family running it had over 30 years of experience, the business itself was new and didn’t have an established credit history. The banks wouldn’t give them credit, even though their sales were strong. They just didn’t fit the traditional criteria banks in Mexico look for.
So we worked to understand their business model and understand the potential. That potential is why we offered Buy Now, Pay Later for their business. As a result, their sales more than doubled and they now use Keo facilities every month.
This is a prime example of financial exclusion, and a reason why we need to fix this in our society. If BNPL hadn’t been an option after their denied credit, they wouldn’t have been able to increase their sales. In turn, it’s one less component stimulating the economy and supporting the employment base. Imagine what the market could look like if we all worked to promote financial inclusion.
We’re currently supporting over 12,000 businesses through our financial inclusion products in six LatAm countries. The U.S. is next.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for businesses to promote financial inclusion?
Financial inclusion is not just about extending credit to businesses; we need to think about the bigger picture here. Prominent socio-economic disadvantages exist in our current global system, including in the U.S.
SMBs represent a significant majority of all our employment, but they often are denied credit or the full credit they applied for. Other times, SMBs have to turn down what was offered because the interest rate is too high. To keep their doors open, small-and-medium businesses have to raise cash or take out personal debt, neither of which is a good option for a lot of people.
By shifting credit to SMBs, businesses can shrink their debt, scale, employ more people, and better support their families. This model distributes more success to the majority of people — the economic and social impact of which is significant.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps Businesses Should Take To Promote Financial Inclusion”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Step One: Focus. Keo is unfortunately not going to solve all financial inclusion issues, but financing your essential inventory is critical. So we focus on that first.
Step Two: Simplify traditional processes and remove obstacles. Scout out a paint point — where things are laborious for a large amount of people — and work to solve for that. Figure out where you can apply technology to legacy processes while you’re at it. For example, at Keo, we’ve been able to digitize the B2B lending experience thanks to our partnership with Amex. Only 1 in 3 B2B payments worldwide is traditionally processed electronically. So by issuing owners a virtual AmEx card, we simplify the process.
Step Three: Find something to fight for. When you have a bigger goal than just making money, rally people to the cause and change the world while you’re at it.
Step Four: Make fintech personal. People and businesses are more than a number. Take the time to know the owners and their business model, and establish an ongoing relationship. Trust me, the more you know, the better you’ll be able to solve their problems and become a strategic partner.
Step Five: Keep an eye on innovation. Our Keo solution will not last forever. If you’ve accomplished previous steps, you are ahead of what’s next. How can you continue to best serve your customer? What is a natural extension of the business?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If people could grow to respect — not necessarily agree with — and be more tolerant of each other, a lot would be accomplished. Widespread respect would create a much happier world than it is today.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I don’t have any celebrity “crushes,” so my answer will be quite simple. I would have lunch with someone that enjoys the food that I love: pizza. Even better, I’d sit down with the best pizza chef in the world and talk sauce.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow along on our website, www.keoworld.com, and through our multiple social channels, including my own:
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paolofidanza/
Keo LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/keoworld/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!