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Five minutes with ... Thorsten Seeger, COO October & Managing Director at October Germany
The French FinTech start-up October focuses on financial products for companies of all sizes. The holistic approach "Corporate Lending 4.0" aims to simplify the entire process through digitalisation, from application to lending. The October Connect tool also helps established financial institutions to improve and monitor risk analysis and portfolio performance. October sees itself as a European company and, in addition to its headquarters in Paris, operates further locations in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. October has been active in Germany with a Munich office since the end of 2019. We talk to Thorsten Seeger, COO October & Managing Director at October Germany, about the reasons for the choice of location and the special features of the financial market in Germany.
Why did October decide to set up a location in Munich for its market entry in Germany?
Since its foundation in 2014, October had the plan and the ambition to be a European company. We started internationalisation very early and opened locations in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. We have also been active in Germany since the end of 2019.
It was never a question for October whether we wanted to enter the German market, but only when and where. Anyone who has a European claim must, of course, be represented at least in France and Germany.
We made the choice for the Munich location very consciously. A decisive factor here was Bavaria's relative economic strength, especially in the area of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are our target group for lending. We also found the existing infrastructure in the financial services environment in Munich very interesting.
Naturally, the beautiful surrounding countryside and the numerous local recreational areas also had an influence; this made the choice of location very easy in the end.
How was the entry into the German market? What challenges did you have to deal with?
The German market is very complex for financial products in general and financing in particular. Therefore, the issue of regulation has probably presented us with the highest challenges. To date, lending is the only financial product for which there is no pan-European regulation, so we have had to invest a lot of time and energy here.
Another challenge was – and remains to this day – the situation with the personnel market in Germany. There is a fierce battle for talent. Finding (and keeping!) good employees is not easy. As we work very closely with our colleagues in the other locations, our company language is English. And while there are actually sufficient language skills in the market, many potential candidates are rather reluctant towards English as a working language, which poses an additional challenge.
In addition, I would also mention the relatively low digitisation rate - especially among SMEs - as a challenge. This has actually improved with the Covid 19 pandemic, but many SME CEOs still think of their bank first when it comes to financing their business.
What support have you received?
On the one hand, we have received a lot of support internally from October. Because Germany was our fifth market, we were able to draw on a lot of expertise from colleagues.
Secondly, we had a very good contact person at Invest in Bavaria who made us aware of the various offers in Munich and was very helpful in establishing relevant contacts.
What are the differences you notice between German and French business culture?
It is not easy for me to answer this question because October is not a typically French company. We are very decentralised and have teams at each of our locations that are responsible for specific sub-areas across Europe. For example, our data team is based in Amsterdam and risk management is done from Milan.
However, in my work across different countries and continents, I have found that with mutual respect and a polite curiosity, good results can be achieved anywhere.
What advice would you give to a French company that wants to enter the German market?
It depends a lot on the industry, of course, but my experience is that client-facing teams should really be based in the respective market. In the meantime, there are a good number of successful French companies in Germany, especially in the (fin-)tech sector, and what they all have in common is that they have a German location with experienced management. Although this strategy is significantly more expensive, especially at the beginning, it also leads to success more quickly.
Another important decision in Germany is the choice of location. From France, companies are used to the fact that there is no way around Paris. These companies are then often surprised at how much more diverse the opportunities are in Germany. So it makes perfect sense to think carefully about the choice of location and look for clusters of both potential customers and potential employees.
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