Mr Janos Barberis
SuperCharger – CEO and Founder
What is FinTech?
“The value of the definition is not so much in what is FinTech but who is doing FinTech.”
FinTech is a contraction of the words financial technology. This definition means that anyone or any company that uses technology in finance is a FinTech company, including banks who spend a lot on their IT divisions and start-ups that are using technology to create financial products. In recent years, even technology companies like Alibaba and Amazon are trying to enter finance, introducing new facets of FinTech that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.
“There’s very limited [number of] people that have both the banking knowledge and the technology knowledge at the same time.”
As youths, learning about FinTech will provide knowledge of both finance and technology — both ubiquitous in the current job landscape — that give you an edge in the working world. Most of the current workforce understand only one or the other; bankers don’t understand technology, or IT-experts don’t understand finance, and so on. These people are extremely good at a very narrow subset, but they don’t understand the bigger picture of how technology and finance can be integrated. This creates silo organisations where departments don’t communicate and no one has a full picture of their business and how technology enables it.
“Technology can drive business and business can drive technological solution, but you need to understand both to be useful.”
Janos gave a few examples of how technology could affect business and vice versa. For instance, hedge fund managers could use artificial intelligence to use social media data to make better investment decisions if they understood and applied the technology well. Insurance companies too would have to understand technology to facilitate their operations. If someone wants to do an insurance claim by uploading it through their phone’s camera, it would be limited by technology such as picture resolution and GPS accuracy. As such, technology and business are intricately connected, and we need to understand both to flourish.
What is SuperCharger?
SuperCharger is an accelerator program that aims to discover and develop FinTech start-ups and companies by advising and training them as well as helping them connect with investors and financial institutions.
“We’ve been very good at being an open ecosystem.”
Its open ecosystem, complete with industry start-ups, universities, and venture capitalists, helps it stand out from other accelerator programs. With this ecosystem, they have achieved various accomplishments. In the University of Hong Kong, they created the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on FinTech in the world and completed some of the world’s best academic research. For the industry, Janos added, they’re one of the best accelerators in Asia for investors and presented some of the best FinTech companies to invest in, having raised over $400 million for their companies.
“We’re all focused on building the capacity to be the best accelerator…fundamentally we genuinely care for our start-ups, which I think few other accelerators can say with the same confidence.”
Janos admits that many of SuperCharger’s team members do not have a background in providing financial services, but it is a good thing as it diversifies the team’s skillset and viewpoints to give them a broader perspective on businesses and their potentials. They are united in their genuine wish to make an impact on the world by working together to deliver benefits to their clients and developing the start-ups under their care with the best of their abilities.
The combination of their open ecosystem and their diverse team makes SuperCharger unique as both an accelerator and as a company. They do not have an elite corporate image or team, but they have real assets in this world and the achievements to show for it.
“We are SuperCharger and we stand by this.”
What does the SuperCharger Accelerator Program do?
“80% of the FinTech market is [business-to-business] so they try to sell to corporates, and the selling to corporate is difficult so we make that faster.”
SuperCharger’ Accelerator Program is a 12-week (3 months) program that helps start-ups sell to corporations. SuperCharger acts as a sales engine that connects them to financial institutions as well as help improve their content and pitching to attract investors for their projects.
Companies that join SuperCharger’s program gain an edge in visibility and marketing as they typically have to go through a rigorous selection progress which marks them as one of the best FinTech companies on the market at that given time.
“The idea here is that there are metrics which are objective, and then there is an evaluation, which is personal.”
This selection process involves an evaluation of the company on five criteria: team, product, market, traction, and gut feeling.
“We need founders that understand us, and that they need to know that we understand them.”
Team refers to the people behind the start-up. This includes not only the skillset and background of the founders but also the team who back the founder and business up. The founder has to be able to adapt to changes and be patient when things don’t go as planned. They need to understand that things may take longer than expected, especially in the dynamic business environment, and success is not guaranteed despite everyone’s best efforts. The key is to be able work with not only their own team but also SuperCharger to continually adapt and improve on their weaknesses to reach their goal.
“The product really solves a pain point that someone has.”
The product needs to be able to solve an immediate pain point or problem and thus be marketable, instead of being a nice-to-have that most people wouldn’t buy unless they have extra money to spend. For instance, a solution to Malaysia’s traffic jam problem would be a teleportation device, while a nice-to-have in the situation would be a car that is slightly more comfortable to drive when stuck in traffic.
“The most important thing that we’re looking for in a start-up is obviously their market potential.”
The team must be able to create and develop a product that can sell. This depends on various factors such as existing or potential competitors and whether the market size or customer base will grow in the near future. An analysis of industry trends and the company’s advantage over competitors helps SuperCharger evaluate the company and its product’s marketability.
“We want to see momentum as opposed to a stagnating business.”
Traction refers to how quickly a company grows within a period of time. The company needs to be dynamic. They look at what a company has achieved in the last three, six, twelve, and/or eighteen months, be it a growth in revenue or getting an award or adding members to the team.
All of these are evaluated by SuperCharger’s team as well as their partners, the financial institutions that finance their program. They evaluate the companies not only by the applications they send in, but also in interviews and due diligence process. Through these, they gain a holistic view of the companies and their potentials such as their sustainability and their fit with the SuperCharger team.
“If you were to come up with teleportation in the Medieval Ages 500 years ago, people would say that you are a witch and kill you.”
Something that is not specifically evaluated but still affects the success of a company is timing and luck. You may have the greatest product and the best team in the world, but if you have bad timing or luck, you may still fail. When this happens, it is important to re-evaluate the situation and product to improve and adapt to the business environment.
Educating the Future
“Educating people on FinTech should be a policy.”
Janos looks forward to an educational policy in Malaysia that teaches and trains the people in FinTech.
Despite its rapid proliferation, many people —including bankers, university professors, and students— still don’t understand much about FinTech. This presents an issue of a shortage of talent for banks or start-ups, where not enough people in the country understand the industry and how it can improve business, which limits the FinTech industry and ecosystem in Malaysia. An education in FinTech can help solve this.
“Educating people has always been one of the most useful tools to allow people to be independent, but also a country to develop itself … I trust local Malaysians to hold their destiny.”
Malaysia’s development is best handled by its citizens, and Malaysia’s future is largely up to its youths. Malaysian youths have great potential in the field and in solving local problems, with their innovative capabilities and understanding of the local environment, and an education in FinTech can only help — perhaps even generating fresh new ideas that would never be thought of otherwise.
“Depending on who you want to train, and where, you have different methods [of educating people in FinTech].”
With FinTech’s evolution over the years, it has generated enough feedback and information that can be compiled into educational materials to be integrated into the curriculum of various learning courses such as bachelor’s degrees’ syllabi for students, non-technical courses for people who are not in university, and immersive experiences for those in middle management positions.
“There’s 3 methods [to learn about FinTech in the current environment].”
Firstly, you can join a FinTech company and learn from them. This exposes you to “everything and everyone that matters”, teaching you not only theoretical knowledge but also FinTech’s practical applications as you learn by doing.
Secondly, if you want to learn just about the theory, the University of Hong Kong has a free online course (that SuperCharger helped create) that you can take. If you want to learn about the actual practice in Finance, you can look at the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CFTE), especially their newly released course on Artificial Intelligence in Finance.
Lastly, you can try applying your FinTech knowledge, gained from practical experience or theoretical learning, to your own job. Ask yourself, “How can I improve my job and my business by applying financial technology to it?” Doing this helps you discover new facets and applications of FinTech that the first two methods don’t provide.
FinTech is growing rapidly, and it is essential to learn about it to gain an edge in our future careers and develop the nation.
For those who wish to learn more about FinTech, Janos gives a final piece of advice:
“Find a mentor for your personal development.”
One of the most useful things that you can do early on in your life that will help you grow faster as a person is to find a good mentor. “You will learn so much from being mentored properly.”
“Find someone that you want to work for or find someone that you want to learn from, and then build on the back of that.”