The Innovators — A Conversation with Anna Friedrich, Head of Marketing & Communications at collectAI
“Bringing innovation to traditional industries is connected to great ideas… but turning an idea into an MVP needs workarounds, endurance, adjustments, trial and error. Fall down seven times, get up eight.” — Anna Friedrich
What is your current position, and what has your journey there involved in terms of finance/tech experience?
I am currently in charge of Marketing & Communications at collectAI.
My first contact with financial technology was on the agency side, where I was in charge for the Public Relations unit at a small agency in Hamburg. It was right at the beginning of Fintech’s rise, and it was great to be involved in the development of ideas right from the start — always on the communications side of course.
For a long time I stayed at the agency as a consultant, until I decided to continue my career at Kreditech. What was back at the time a young startup of 50 people is today almost 400 people, backed by renowned investors like J.C. Flowers and Naspers (PayU). I built the communications department from scratch, and was responsible for internal and external comms strategy as well as its realisation. I learnt a lot and grew personally and professionally.
When I met the founders of collectAI, I found the idea amazing and saw the huge market opportunity. With this the brand itself has a huge potential to grow, and I love building up good things. So I took on the challenge to lead their marketing and communications and am very happy to be part of this diverse, multinational and fun tech-driven team.
Could you describe what your company offers? What differentiates it, and what has enabled that?
collectAI is a receivables management company. Based on an AI-driven technology they offer end-to-end services for their clients from e-invoicing, dunning through to debt collection.
Parts of it are comparable to TrueAccord in the US. However, we are truly convinced of the fact that receivables management need to be thought through all of a piece. So basically we ensure that the digitised services in the areas of e-invoicing and dunning — which of course can be booked on a modular basis — are so good that we successfully happen to reduce the debt collection cases. Why? The last step in the receivables value chain is the most expensive one and also the one where companies lose their customer. Having spent so much in the front-end to acquire this customer (CAC), it is not only a pity to lose her or him but damaging to the business model, impacting revenues and reputation.
What have been the major challenges in the development of that concept?
Debt collection is a typical topic for: “Every company has this problem, but no one likes to talk about it”. The same applies to the end customer: Who likes talking about unpaid bills? Combining it with digitisation and AI is sometimes hard to explain to our prospective clients. However, once we collaborate, we get really positive feedback and see in the KPIs that we are fundamentally improving manual processes, clearly reducing costs and boosting revenues while also ensuring customer retention.
Are there any technology or regulatory changes on the horizon that excite or concern you?
Most regulatory measures are here to protect the consumer. While collectAI is a B2B company, its intention is to optimise receivables processes in the way that the consumer can be kept and the customer retention rate increased.
PSD2, for instance, enables third party providers to access customer accounts from other services — if they authorise it. This has two major advantages: It enables companies to improve their services with focus on the customers. At the same time the end consumer benefits from it as she or he receives custom-tailored products and services. So it clearly fosters innovation and supports the approach of Fintech companies, though of course some in the banking industry do feel threatened. There are many useful articles on the debate out there.
GDPR on the other hand does imply a lot of changes for companies processing personal data. Amongst others, it means a higher level of documentation. Of course, this impacts Fintech company’s daily business. The most important thing is that they get prepared now and consult with data protection experts.
In a broader sense, what excites you about the future of financial technology?
I grew up in the early stage of the internet, already using it for learning Latin vocabulary etc. Having always been fascinated by IT, I also focused my studies around new media and innovation. Financial technology is one of the sectors that is least disrupted with a huge potential to optimise and innovate to the customer’s advantage. While there are already some huge players out there, I believe that there is still a great potential for smaller ones who do things differently and/or better.
Outside of your own market, what startups or founders do you look to for inspiration?
E-Commerce is still interesting given the new opportunities to apply AI to predictive buying. Also, there is a revolution happening (still) in the online food industry as well as the online health trends. I follow those three topics on a regular basis.
You are granted one wish to change the financial technology industry in 2018 — what do you wish for?
This is a hard one. I’d go for: Collaborate stupid, don’t compete! I think banks, insurance companies, traditional financial service providers have to stop feeling threatened by innovators and instead partner with them.
If you could give one piece of advice to the aspiring Fintech folk reading this interview, what would it be?
Bringing innovation to traditional industries is connected to great ideas. Working in a Fintech startup is always a path of learning while growing your knowledge and abilities — with the ultimate reward to see the success (ideally ;). But turning an idea into an MVP needs workarounds, endurance, adjustments, trial and error. Fall down seven times, get up eight.