We have already interviewed Sofitto’s Igor Ruzanov (CTO) and Ilia Panin (Lead Front-End Developer) to learn more about the tech that drives Sugi. Today, we talked to Lan Filipič, the COO at Sofitto, to hear about the business and operational side of Sugi.
Building on the rich experience from management consultancy at Deloitte and A. T. Kearney, Lan Filipič has brought his share of operational skills and business visions to Sofitto and the Sugi NFC Wallet Card.
For this interview, Lan unveiled his opinions on the future of the market and fintech development in conjunction with the blockchain.
Lan, you cover the operational aspect of Sugi and work as the link between the Sofitto’s developers and Sugi’s market presence. What is it that you find most inspiring when combining these two spheres?
Our world is becoming more digital by the day. However, the physical world around us will always remain analog at the core as we interact with physical things. What I like about Sofitto and Sugi is exactly the connection between these two realms. Our products are natively digital and yet they have the ability to seamlessly interact with the analog world whenever necessary. We help individuals and financial institutions alike to connect to the most modern digital infrastructure.
Even though most of your experience and knowledge comes from Fintech and Financial institutions more broadly, you also recognise the importance of usability and adoption. Do you think a better Fintech infrastructure would make more people employ the blockchain payments systems or is it the ease of use that will seal the deal?
To most consumers, Fintech is like lipstick. Show me your pretty app, and I will fall in love with you immediately. Often, there is very little actual innovation behind this fancy lipstick. In terms of apps, the whole financial sector is a laggard when compared to other industries. The recent success of some “Neo” banks only underscores how deeply underserved consumers were when it came to mobile experiences with simple financial services.
However, Fintech to me is a lot more than fancy apps. Financial institutions see this and regulators see this. We are at a turning point where the Tech component of Fintech is about to switch into a higher gear and deliver real innovation that goes beyond fancy front-ends. For the (invisible) benefit of consumers, institutions and regulators.
This transformation of the financial ecosystem parallels the natural evolution of a city. Fintech solutions that focus on apps are new roads and skyscrapers being built as the old ones are torn down, while the implementation of new infrastructure on blockchain rails is akin to updating our underground waterways and metro systems. Invisible to most, but just as significant as the more tangible elements we interact with every day.
Ease of use in blockchain-based payments is catching up with mainstream finance at a very fast pace. It is a necessity, but it will not seal the deal. What will seal the deal is acceptance. It has to be easy and intuitive for people to adopt new services. This is why laying out the infrastructure and putting in place the regulatory frameworks is the key to success.
Not only mobile, but the blockchain tech is also an important mechanism supporting Sugi payments. How do you see its value in bringing the latest tech to a general audience, especially to those that are not so familiar with the topic?
Our mission is bringing blockchain into the hands of an ordinary individual. We want to lower the barriers to entry into modern financial services on blockchain rails. This is why we have selected familiar forms factors of a mobile app and banking card to cover the whole population.
People do not need to change their habits or learn new things. In fact, most people do not even need to know that our service is running on blockchain rails unless they care. People just want great usability at a great price.
From a Fintech point of view, an increasing number of payment card providers, mobile banks, and crypto payment services all fight for their own corner on the global payment field. Do you think this is leading to an even more diverse and numbered segregation of Fintech in the future or is this potentially a common ground for all of them to connect and offer inter-platform services?
I am convinced that interoperability will happen and that there will be a plurality of providers of payment rails with their relative strengths and weaknesses. Providers of customer-facing solutions will switch payment rails seamlessly to give users the fastest, cheapest and most reliable service to execute a transaction.
In the EU and US, we are still quite used to having credit or debit cards as the most common non-cash payment instrument. Almost every store, public transport, bank, and coffee shop offers customised or even single-purpose cards. With so many of them covering different purposes, do you think the future (crypto) payment cards would extend their use and add different purposes by merging them in one?
The humble payment card has been around for quite some time and is likely here to stay for quite some more time. :) However, going forward, more digital solutions will acquire an ever larger share of wallet in digital payments. This is inevitable. But this is also why I like our Sugi solutions. On one hand, they evoke a familiar form-factor of a payment card. With this, we strive to lower the entry barrier to the blockchain, as mentioned.
On the other hand, we taught this same humble payment card something new, i.e., “to speak blockchain.” And by this, I do not only mean crypto but also more corporate types of the blockchain. So it acts not only as a payment card but also as a security device when used in conjunction with our mobile app that acts as a digital user interface. With this joint proposition, we aim to cater to a wide spectrum of the population: from the very tech-savvy to the not tech-savvy at all. This is what we mean blockchain inclusion.
Being in between the tech part of the Sugi team and the market, what do you think are the biggest challenges when having to accommodate the message about a high-end tech feature to the ears of a general non-tech audience?
I have certainly learned a lot about blockchain and different cryptos over the past few years. It has really been a remarkable learning experience. To make the bridge I am strongly drawing on my experience in strategy and technology consulting for financial institutions during most of my career, where I had to explain recommended changes to top management. This taught me to talk about technology in terms of outcomes: either for the users (better experience, lower churn, propensity to buy) or how this impacts the institution (lower cost, higher revenue).
What are your thoughts on crypto asset regulation — do you think bringing a governmental take on this matter will make the end-user base trust crypto Fintech more or will it do just the opposite — impede a faster adoption of cryptocurrencies? Do you see regulation as a necessity for the benefit of the users, or do you think it cuts into the bare concept of the blockchain, the decentralisation and reducing the need for a middleman?
I think that the crypto market has realised quite some time ago that in order to progress, the whole industry needs to work together with regulators. I welcome working with regulators even more closely in the future. Over the past couple of years, regulators had to step in a few times to stop groups of individuals who performed unethical or sometimes even illegal practices with the pretext that because this is blockchain, current laws do not apply in the same way.
Legal systems are built on principles that we as a society have agreed to adhere to. Simply changing the technological platform does not invalidate any of the applicable laws. It may, however, uncover select legal or regulatory areas that need a little adjustment so innovation and new business models can flourish more quickly. These areas are mostly identified at this stage. Some have been addressed already, while others are in the process of being addressed.
The purpose of regulation is to protect the weaker party, which, in most cases, is the consumer. So users and providers alike should really see regulation as a benefit, when it is applied correctly.
What is your vision and your wish for the crypto payments space, either short-term or long-term?
Payment services (and Financial services more broadly) are a commodity. They should be available to everyone, everywhere and with no inclusion barrier. Simple and with a transparent cost structure. This is why we want to become a universal power outlet for financial services — just plug in and pay. Irrespective of currency, sender, receiver, and provider.
Any blockchain in the palm of an ordinary individual. Always accessible but subtle in the background.
The Sugi Card is still available at a limited-time Pre-sale discount.
Compare the features of Sugi to those of other hardware wallets and make an informed decision for your crypto assets.