Empowering Micro SMEs through Accloud
Accloud PLC was founded to empower and stimulate the growth of micro SMEs, (Small, Medium Enterprises) by offering business management tools through its integrated cloud-services platform. Founded in 2015, the company’s signature platform – Accloud offers user-friendly and affordable support to accelerate micro SME growth in rural communities, thus offering the ability to trade and network with other micro SMEs. The man at the helm of affairs – Ross R James, CEO of the company, is a man with a mission. He is on a quest to bridge the economic disparities within communities. An astute man with sound business acumen, coupled with great determination and a competitive spirit, Ross has earned great admiration within the industry. Empowered with high-level expertise and excellent leadership skills, he has proved to be an exceptional CEO. In an interview, he talks on an array of topics – from the decision to build Accloud to the current fintech industry, from the present economic slowdown to Accloud’s expansion to other countries. Excerpts from the interview:
Ross feels that for too long, entrepreneurs in high-growth economies have struggled to achieve their ambitions. “Accloud was created to challenge that status quo. In October 2015, we began developing a platform that makes business management simpler, empowering people to grow, and giving them access to new markets and services. Since then, we have reached several key milestones.”
Further elaborating, Ross adds that Accloud was conceived based on the concept of utility computing, which later became the Cloud. “In moving applications and processes to the Cloud, I saw tremendous opportunities to build virtual communities. In the same way that physical communities require many services, virtual communities have needs and requirements beyond their initial application.” He observes that having mobile access to the Cloud means that the company can offer these services to many more people, especially the disenfranchised.
The Fintech Industry
Noting that entering the fintech industry was born of necessity, Ross maintains that he has always been passionate about helping the most deprived MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) get access to capital, giving them the power to change their own lives. Empowering them in this way means greater income, better health and stronger education services, he observes. “Ultimately, we have a responsibility to help tackle the vast structural and systemic inequalities that exist in the world. Fintech – coupled with the most exciting parts of distributed ledger technology, can fulfil that vision,” Ross assures.
Synergizing Technology and Finance Industries
Ross reckons that with the advent of blockchain, the industry is now capable of creating identity and reputation within virtual communities. This further support those selling goods by providing confidence and authenticity to a buyer, he maintains. “And it means that micro-financial services can be supplied at fractional costs compared to legacy systems. What’s exciting is that we can provide many such micro-services through one platform, while mitigating risk through our vast spread of clientele.” Ross believes in rewriting the rules of global commerce, with the merging of finance and technology.
Bridging Disparities Among SMEs in India
Accloud’s platform helps traders to conduct business more competitively. Notes Ross that the company has enabled practices and techniques that were previously not available and allowed millions of MSMEs to professionalize their offerings. “That opens up a new world of business to so many people, driving better returns and lowering investment cost while raising standards for their partners and customers,” Ross observes that the maturity in financial services and technology is very disparate within Indian markets. He, however, expresses optimism on creating more opportunities to build positive changes as millions of people do not have access to quality business software at affordable prices, which Accloud can provide.
Breaking Existing Barriers
Though Accloud has made tremendous progress in India, Ross adds that the company is looking to expand to other Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Vietnam. “We have launched our accloud.Asia site, and are now looking to quickly build strong partnerships in these countries.” He also adds that Africa is yet a continent that offers vast opportunities. “There is a tremendous need in Africa (accloud.africa) and we are working hard to enter several countries there.” Accloud can help the region’s 150 million-day traders by providing them better micro-finance rates, greater connectivity to buyers in Europe and providing accessibility to digital customs documents, making it easier to export goods, Ross points out. “We want to help people in Africa to trade with everyone, not just those in local markets.”
Ross notes, “We are also working with the UN to provide Accloud to all refugee camps worldwide. Our platform already supports more than 30 languages and we are continuing to add more. This scalability and versatility will allow us to adapt, moving into new markets and areas of need quickly.”
Technology to the Rescue
Ross considers blockchain as a technology that has a solid place in future developments, as it certainly can resolve some trust issues. He quickly adds that solutions as concepts are more powerful than just technology on its own. “We saw this with the whole ICO/ITO pace in 2018/19 when very poor projects looked at a way of using an inappropriate technology (blockchain) just to have easier access to capital. To make a sustainable change for millions of MSMEs by opening access to capital is still a work in progress and one I remain completely focused on. We want to see MSMEs growing at the scale of their ambition.”
Overcoming Challenges within Fintech Market
Ross laments that accelerating the change from traditional finance models to new-world models that reduce inherent costs and provide greater scale and flexibility remain the biggest challenges in the current fintech market. “The changes will take place, but creating more momentum, to shift the underlying access to capital is the largest challenge facing the industry.” He, however remains a staunch believer that corporations must embrace Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues at the deepest level.
Projections for the Fintech Industry
Ross feels that fintech would enable a much more cost-effective financial sector, making great inroads to becoming mainstream contributors over the coming years. “In Africa, we have already seen how communities have been able to leap-frog straight into the fintech space, to the great advantage of small businesses across the continent.”
Markets are expected to reach a saturation point, predicts Ross. “There are already many competing VC systems, meaning a number of them will have to drop out or merge. We would like more fintech and ISPs to focus on providing cheap access to technology and internet services in the developing world so that these countries and the tens of millions of sole traders and MSMEs can adapt to the new norm.”
Tackling the Economic Slowdown
Ross notes that he has been working with advisers in the UK to set up two MSME Corona Virus Bounce back Bonds. “Given that banks in Europe either have or are moving towards negative interest rates, I think there is tremendous opportunity to raise capital at very reasonable rates for deployment across Africa and India. Through Accloud, we also have the opportunity to connect these small businesses to potential new customers,” he adds.
Coping with the Current Crisis
Ross remains confident that Accloud’s robust network and the ability to constantly adapt, has helped the company bounce back in a much stronger way. “The more people we can get on to our platform, the better they can run their businesses. We can also create access to better-priced products, including financial instruments, and ultimately connect them with new customers.”
Ross feels that this was a platform for recovery. “Importantly, our efforts to allow contact-free commerce will help to minimize the effects of such global pandemics in the future. Small Mighty Entrepreneurs (as we prefer to think of SMEs at Accloud) are used to economic instability. By underpinning them with capital, we will give them more certainty – and an opportunity to grow quickly during the post-COVID phase,” he adds.
Greatest Moment of Success
Ross notes that witnessing the success of millions of MSMEs across the world because of what the team has done is what will be most memorable. “I have been involved in creating new business ventures in many countries around the world. The most important lesson is the one about persistence. If the project has true value, passion infects those around you and will bring ultimate success to your journey.”
The Road Ahead for Accloud
“Our biggest milestone is still ahead of us. We are going to completely change access to capital for MSMEs, in a way that reflects our vision and the needs of Small Mighty Entrepreneurs across developing economies.” Ross believes that transformation with access to longer-term capital is much more aligned to the needs of these businesses. “At the moment, MSMEs are forced to take small loans over a very short duration and at excessive interest rates. Loan periods are generally just a few months and interest rates can range from 18% to 38%,” he adds.
A True Visionary
As a leader, Ross believes in focusing on inspiring his team with the dream. He considers himself extremely lucky to have a pool of highly talented and committed staff and advisors. “Inclusivity is also vital, ensuring all team members feel very much a part of everything we do” says Ross who has spent 30 years at the forefront of the ITC industry.
“I don’t believe as an entrepreneur there is such a thing as work-life balance. Being an entrepreneur is about passion, enormous energy, creativity and great resilience. I’m also constantly inspired and supported by my life partner and my friends and family. Business is about people and that is an essential focus for me and us here at Accloud,” Ross signs off.
Where it all Began
Ross commented that “Between the ages of 7 and 12, during fire side chats with my ex-British grandfather, Ernie J James I was constantly advised that ‘we’ needed to fix the mess that we have made in Africa. It has taken me half a life time to understand the meaning of those words and to have the skills and technology available to fulfill the seed he planted.”
Eco2wallet: What has in common a tree, a virtual pet and, a debit card? – eco2wallet has the answer
Yodaly Sierra-Rubio, Founder, Eco2wallet –
About Yodaly Sierra Rubio
Eco2wallet: What has in common a tree, a virtual pet and, a debit card? – eco2wallet has the answer
Yodaly Sierra-Rubio founded eco2wallet, a green fintech that specialises in making sustainable banking fun and accessible to all through a VISA debit card that combines gamification and tree-planting to promote sustainable purchases. She is also lecturer of energy finance at The City University of London, award winner of the ESG Fintech Powerlist 2021 by Finance Innovation UK and recognised speaker about sustainable capitalism in more than 100+ conferences (including COP21, websummit, and the European Sustainability Week). Yodaly is a big advocate for tree hugging, imagination games, and earthers.
Excerpts from our interview:
Conception of Eco2wallet
“With eco2wallet’s debit card, we can calculate not only how much money you spent today (like any other debit card) but also, what was the environmental impact that you generated, and the number of trees and seagrass we planted on your behalf to help in the battle against climate change.” Says yodaly, “I would like to start with an imagination exercise, let’s visualize a banana: the curved shape, the distinctive smell, the yellow, and white color, the soft buttery taste, etc. is easy! Now, let’s visualize the main culprit of climate change: Carbon Dioxide – CO2: the amorphous shape, the tasteless taste, the colorless color, and more; is impossible! This is why we need solutions that help us visualize our own impact on climate change, more specifically on our daily expenditures and the environmental impact that each daily coffee, train, and taxi that we paid has in terms of CO2.”
Fintech market- challenges galore
“Anybody can start a fintech company, but only the brave at heart, and those who have sustainability to the core, will succeed in the battle. Your pains will be the same as always: customer retention, profitability, and so on, but to add to the recipe, companies should improve on digital identity management, fraudulent accounts, customer-beneficial international forex rates, and climate change tools/reporting.”
Eco2wallet is a female-led, VC-funded, sustainable fintech powered by a Visa debit card that plants trees and seagrass for each purchase, and let you play with a virtual pet (like a Tamagotchi or Pokémon) that evolves happy if the user makes sustainable purchases – or gets sad if you keep spending your money on unsustainable merchants.
Three services eco2wallet offers are: 1) eco2wallet B2C – where our euro debit card application has an embedded carbon calculator that plant trees and seagrass in the Colombian Amazon and rivers, and let’s you play with a Virtual Pet that reflects sustainable purchasing behavior. 2) eco2business – where banks and corporates can outsource their sustainability efforts to eco2wallet and offer eco2+bank sustainable cards to their customers, allowing any bank to become eco; 3) eco2employees – For corporates, offering sustainable corporate cards to their employees to track not only expenses but scope 1 and 2 emissions, perfect for ESG annual reports!.
“Talent growth that promotes diversity, inclusion, and sustainable additionality are key pillars for eco2wallet- Same way trees and mycelium have a symbiotic relationship of sharing knowledge of nutrients in the soil, purpose-driven new hires are the water needed to grow eco2wallet from a start-up shrub to a baobab of human resources.”
“Promoting female talent when possible, giving opportunities to immigrants, and keeping open communication channels with the team has helped us to grow considerably in our fintech journey, says . Never overcome the fear of creating something new, that is the trap! The moment you stop thinking about failure, you loose growth motivation” says Yodaly.
The empowering story of famous five women
A problem for other companies is not having enough women on their board of directors. eco2wallet is proudly a female-led green fintech run by women from four different nationalities and 70 years of combined work experience in finance, sustainability, tech, and partnerships, making them the F5FF! or Fantastic Five of Female Fintech.
“Understand your addictions: nothing in life has prepared you for the number of hours you will work, the quality of knowledge you will absorb, and the creativity that will flow through your veins. But learn your addictions and how to manage them, I’m not talking about drugs or so, but about results, desperation, failure management, people’s patience, and to social media. Addictions in entrepreneurship can lead to extra disruptions in your personal life”
Please refer to Marketing@eco2wallet.com for further information.
LightYear Docs : Revolutionizing synergies financial services business
Michael Jeffriess, Co-Founder & CEO, LightYear Docs Pty Ltd
About Michael Jeffriess
LightYear Docs : Revolutionizing synergies financial services business
An experienced director with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry, Michael is skilled in Business Planning, Investment Advisory, Mutual Funds, Business Relationship Management, and Cash Flow Forecasting. In an interview, Michael speaks on an array of topics. Excerpts:
Conception of LightYear Docs
“Whilst there was existing competition within our space, we targeted a need to take the provision of legal documents to the accounting and advisory industry to infinity and beyond. We wanted to not only be a fintech document provider but one that delivered superior product, superior customer service but most importantly one that was overlayed with knowledge through training our users in understanding the product and strategies on how to deliver it to their customers. We wanted to create partnerships and an ecosystem that supported one another” says Michael.
LightYear Docs was founded on the belief that providing practical solutions that improve an accounting or financial services business would revolutionise the often-complicated legal documentation and client advice process. “Designed with you, your business and your client in mind, our innovative platform allows you to create documents, learn and implement strategies and benefit from expert knowledge, partnerships, and member benefit programs. We help professionals reimagine their businesses from day one by empowering them with some of Australia’s most strategic and advanced documents, collaboration tools, and strategies.”
Fintech industry- challenges galore
Fintech’s do face pain points but in turn a lot of these also provide opportunities to us all, adds this entrepreneur. “The key ones as I see it are dealing with cyber security risks, ensuring strong digital infrastructure is in place, the push towards digital currencies, and ensuring we maintain the customer / user experience. You need to be investing in these areas whether through spend to mitigate risks or research and development, it is so important to be staying at least in touch if not ahead of the game.”
LightYear Docs solution
LightYear Docs is an online provider of legal precedent documents and strategies. The company enables its customers to create legally certified docs in minutes since they have access to over 200+ legal documents. “We allow our customers to automate their business and get more done in less time. Using our central online hub and Surge app, their documents are seamlessly created, customised and delivered online. In addition, we have LightYear Training Group which delivers continuing professional development in a similar streaming format as Netflix. Our current roadmap will see us venture next into New Zealand, embed AI into our hub, straight through banking solutions, and some exiting releases utilising blockchain” observes Michael.
Being open and honest to the team plays a pivotal role in running a firm, according to Michael. “Allowing them to be a part of the success and share the success with the employees is also important.” Being empathetic, driven and passionate, has helped Michael thrive in this competitive industry. “I love to bring the vibe to our team and the energy. I want our people to be a success in what drives them and in turn work towards growing LightYear Docs.”
“Failure can also be your friend. I have become stronger as a leader and in business through past failures than I have form my wins. Do not be afraid as this stifle your ability to succeed. We all make good and bad decisions. It is how you react to the bad ones that allow you to become stronger. Make sure you minimise and limit risks.”
A word of advice for fintech start-ups
“They need to position themselves to win. And to win you need to focus on what matters in your start-up – product, people, processed and customers. And you need to keep challenging yourself in each of these areas every single day. We are also faced with many constant changing pressures from security, to new technologies. You need to keep moreover if you want to be ahead of the game, win the game and be successful.”
Michael urges entrepreneurs to continuously learn and have fun doing what they do. “Learn from many different sources and educate those around you to become better at what they do. You must be passionate and want to be successful at whatever you do. Without passion you will stop growing and being successful.”
“Learn from those around you. Your customers and external partners are the best ones to get validation from and feedback. From this do not be afraid to review and change course. We are all stronger together than as one.”
Merlin Investor: The smart financial advisor
Guido Petrelli, CEO Merlin Investor
About Guido Petrelli
Merlin Investor: The smart financial advisor
An experienced corporate executive with demonstrated history and track record in creating and running international companies in several industries and regions, Guido Petrelli is the CEO of Merlin Investor, a fintech company that aims to democratize financial inclusion and investment strategies through a software for market study, investment planning, and portfolio tracking designed for any kind of investor. In an interview, Guido speaks on an array of subjects. Excerpts:
Conception of Merlin Investor
Says Guido that the world has seen an unprecedented shift in the approach to investing, with the new generation of retail investors being reluctant to entrust third parties for managing their own money while seeking to achieve financial freedom. “Still, we identified the need to educate and empower them with the necessary tools for conscious investing, risk management and strategic planning, as the key elements to become successful and the one and only master of their own financial future.” He adds that trading platforms did a great job in starting a democratization process in the investments space, still they mainly focused on the execution, which alone is not enough and may trigger a gambling approach, especially for beginner investors. “That’s why we saw the need of supporting the new generations to manage the whole investment cycle, while understanding the importance of strategic planning and risk diversification as the key to achieve positive results.”
The Merlin solution
The Merlin Platform is a multi-asset educational, strategizing and tracking tool, complementary to any trading platform and designed for any kind of retail investor, regardless of the level of knowledge or experience. “Our technology has been developed with the goal to enhance conscious investing for everyone and to empower the new generations to easily understand and manage the full investment cycle all in one place, while also taking into consideration the role that social media plays today when it comes to investing.” To complete the trading experience already offered by banks and trading platforms, the technology has been designed as a white label solution that financial institutions can easily integrate into their own digital platforms to offer an innovative, complete, and comprehensive digital investing experience to their clients.
Merlin Investor – the conscious way of investing
Maintains Guido that only through strategic planning is it possible to balance and diversify risks while building long term positive results. “To buy and sell assets without a plan would only set you up for potential catastrophic losses. It’s the norm for all professional investors, and it shall be the same also for the new generation of retail investors considering they are playing the same game.”
Guido explains how the company found out most young folks who trade are investing without a strategy mindset. It’s a very risky approach for them, and therefore for the society, because historically markets have ups and downs, and only thanks to a positive sum game based on risk management is possible to build long lasting wealth and reach a real financial independence. “The analogy I can see is that the spread in the use of retail trading platforms has given anyone a Ferrari to drive, a very powerful but risky solution, but before doing that we missed to educate and equip them with the basic tools for conscious driving.” The result is that when the weather is nice, and there are no bumps or holes in the road, meaning when we are in a bull market, everybody believes to be the best driver in the world. Then when the conditions change the probability to crash becomes huge.”
Based on this analogy, the company is on a mission; its moots for conscious investing and strategic planning, that is made accessible to all, regardless the level of knowledge or experience. “Through our product, we gamified the full investment cycle by making market study, investment planning, and performance tracking, understandable and fun for the new generation of retail investors, with the ultimate goal to help and empower them to become the one and only master of their own financial future. Then by embedding our white label technology into their own digital platform financial institutions can go beyond the sole execution of trades while offering a full and professional investment experience to anyone and all in one place.”
Creating perfect synergies between fintech companies and financial Institutions
“I believe fintech companies have a great spirit of innovation which is not biased and affected by old best practices or past consumer behaviours. This is combined with high flexibility, speed, and risk attitude. At the same times banks have a strong understanding in terms of compliance, which is very important to make a new technology deployable into the market, together with deep market reach and a huge and loyal consumer base acquired through the years, which makes possible to effectively deploy a new technology to a wide audience in a very short period.” Guido adds that combining the expertise of fintech companies and financial institutions, to exploit synergies and to create the perfect mix for a huge market success of new financial technologies should be the new approach. “Our approach is to work very close to the banking system in a proactive and constructive way, so that each party can learn from the other and add value in identifying the best formula for the best product market fit towards mutual success. That’s why I personally see a very collaborative and synergic approach between Fintech companies and Financial Institutions as the key for proper innovation in the banking system in the interest of both sides, and more important in the interest of the customer base who is ultimately served.”
Innovation – The key
Guido believes that the success for fintech startups comes from their strong ability to innovate and quickly deploy cutting-edge and cost-competitive technologies into the market for the benefit of financial institutions. They are just great in seeing things differently as they are not biased by past best practices, old cultural mindsets, and regulatory constraints. “So, It’s crucial they don’t lose such DNA as It’s the primary competitive advantage they can play, and the same is true for any technological company which becomes a leader in its own space.”
Also accept the fact there is no company or product that comes around without problems or risks, so get used to fixing problems and to take risks, and while you do that always remember that you didn’t wake up today to be mediocre, he adds.
Future of Fintech startups
“I am personally very positive about the future of Fintech startups as I believe we are just at the beginning of a new era where financial institutions need to quickly reinvent themselves through technological innovations to handle a very competitive market environment, and Fintech startups can play an important role in supporting the banking system to properly accomplish such transition.”
Notes Guido that until recently, and for many years, the interaction between the bank and its customers was happening at a physical branch and through a face-to-face interaction, while banks were relying on less technological intensive internal processes. “It’s not the case anymore for many customers, and It’s expected to almost disappear in the next decades with the new generation of customers preferring digital solutions and interactions as a much quicker and effective alternative. Also banks internal processes will continue to be digitalized to boost efficiency in running their business. That’s why I believe the demand for new financial technologies will continue to rise in the next coming years, while opening up to huge opportunities for Fintech startups that will be able to deploy innovative and reliable products.”
Challenges galore – Fintechs
This entrepreneur believes in finding the right balance between innovation, speed, and compliance within the BFSI regulatory framework. “Fintech companies by their own nature are used to innovate fast through quick experimentation, while the BFSI sector, due to its magnitude and old-dated cultural approach, struggles to continuously reinvent itself and to keep up with the speed demanded by an always more and more challenging, evolving, and competitive landscape.” I believe that synergic and strategic partnerships between fintech companies and financial Institutions can deliver the ultimate result of deploying properly regulated and innovative solutions for the benefit of the society.
“I believe that as a leader my primary duty is to envision and strategize the path of the company moving forward and towards a brighter future for our team and for the stakeholders we involve, while keeping mediocrity out of the door and making sure my organization is aligned with the same sense of commitment, accountability, passion, and ambition I own.” A hard-working, curious, and ambitious anti-conformist, Guido refuses to accept something just because it became an accepted standard by shaping the past to become the norm.
He urges fellow entrepreneurs to acknowledge the fact that failure is part of the game. “It will become your very worst enemy leading first you and your team, and then the company, to wreck. You can’t always win, so you should rather focus on scoring a positive-sum game, as It’s all that matters in the end.”
“There are many learnings I made along the road and that helped to shape the mantras I follow in my professional life. If you intend to increase your chance of success, then start by being conscious that there are no free lunches and that you always need to give all you have without leaving anything for the way back.”
Future of Merlin
The company is currently focused on three main areas. Prioritizing continuous and never-ending improvement of its technology aimed to upgrade the experience they offer either to financial institutions and to the final users to who our product is deployed, working to boost their market presence to make their solution known to more financial institutions serving retail clients in several countries, and eventually concentrating on scaling their team and operations to be able to handle the opportunities they foresee. “As we expect the trend of retail investors to continue increasing on global scale, also in new markets we believe carrying great potentials, and considering we have a scalable and customizable digital solution which can be adopted by any bank in every country, we are currently working to position ourselves to manage expectations, without forgetting about our mission to make conscious and strategic investing accessible to anyone through strategic partnerships with Financial Institutions.”