An interview with Janos Barberis
Founder of The SuperCharger Fintech Accelerator Program and Fintech HK, Janos Barberis, speaks to FST Media about the program and how it will help fintech innovation in Hong Kong.
FST Media: What was your vision behind The SuperCharger Fintech Accelerator Program?
Barberis: The SuperCharger stands for a vision and a belief. The current fintech industry emerged out of the 2008 financial crisis and whilst “fintech” is a new name, the sector in itself has a decade-old history. This shift has opened an opportunity for my generation, the millennials, to impact the financial services industry. This occasion only happens once and, as we know, timing is a critical factor in one’s success.
I have the opportunity to be at this junction in time. As a millennial, I strive not to just be another market for the financial services industry, but instead be one of many that are re-shaping finance, either by building fintech companies or joining established ones. This is ever so important as our generation has witnessed what happens when a crisis, not innovation, disrupts finance. In the last 24 months, I went through my personal accelerator and most recently I had the honour to be recognised for my contribution to the sector by being listed within the top 35 fintech decision makers globally.
FST Media: How did this journey begin?
Barberis: This journey started with a policy paper advocating reform to China’s financial system in order to create more stability as people, not banks, are too big to fail. It also saw regulation as a key part of developing innovation, provided that you can create a win-win framework. I then joined a challenger bank whose business model allowed the creation of an identical level of services, irrespective of the customers’ deposit size. I met an outstanding Mentor, Huy Nguyen Trieu, who shared his 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and is now the managing director of Citi. This encounter shaped me. Likewise, Susanne Chishti, with whom we co-created the Fintech Book and my PhD Supervisor, Professor Douglas Arner, reinforced my desire to share knowledge, whether in the form of a Book or an academic paper, to empower future entrepreneurs.
All of the above have a common denominator. Fintech is not just about financial capital. It is also, if not primarily, about human capital. I believe that the financial services industry is changing and, most importantly, so are the people within. From banking professionals to recent graduates, there is an aspiration to improve finance, ensuring that Fintech is not just a new name, but also reflects a cultural change and ambition. Having both experienced entrepreneurs and young startups in the same room for 12 weeks allows all parties to share insights and promote mentorship.
FST Media: How will The SuperCharger become a regional hub for fostering fintech innovation?
Barberis: Being built for and from Hong Kong, The SuperCharger is placed to be a key hub within a broader fintech Silk Road along which established (e.g. London and New York) and emerging (e.g. Shanghai, Sydney, Tel-Aviv) Fintech hubs can share their experiences and trial their solutions. Hong Kong is not just bordering the largest fintech market in the world – China. It is also within a five hour flight of 1.2 billion unbanked individuals and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) that are facing a US$300 billion funding gap.
It is the perfect moment for established (post Series A+) EU and US Fintech companies to scale in Asia. Over the last 12 months, investment in fintech has quadrupled reaching US$3.5 billion (compared with US$ 800 million in 2014). Asia is a land of opportunities that enable you to diversify your revenue, but you should also “go East” with the right partners. Scaling in Asia needs to be structured in a way that allows companies to fully focus on business and marketing, as opposed to time-consuming logistical issues.
FST Media: How important are strategic partnerships for scaling in Asia?
Barberis: Our partners reflect the importance of being inclusive and choosing wisely when scaling in Asia. The SuperCharger embodies the financial services sector as a whole from a Bank (Standard Chartered) to a Stock Exchange (HKEx) perspective, and it also incorporates actors that are shaping the evolution of finance, from a university-backed science park (TGN) to China’s largest search engine portal (Baidu).
FST Media: What is it that ultimately sets The SuperCharger apart from other fintech accelerators?
Barberis: The SuperCharger was built with a vision that situates it within the logic of a fintech ‘road for the future’. It is driven by passion because there is a duty to make this time count. Importantly, this is shared by our partners.
Our success is partly a result of this great network of people and corporates that is made available to the teams of the SuperCharger. We are not just “another” fintech accelerator. We were founded on a story that I am sure echoes the experiences of many.
If we look at the importance of the Apollo Mission to the US, and the world more broadly, we can see that this historic mission had a monumental impact in a variety of facets that we hope to draw on as inspiration for our SuperCharger initiative as there are many great parallels between the two.
The economic impact of the Apollo program in the USA went beyond the Moon landing. A new generation of visionaries emerged, ending up fuelling up Silicon Valley with talent as the Apollo program was discontinued.
Similarly, The Supercharger was founded to inspire generations of fintech entrepreneurs in Asia by providing a unique environment for individual guidance, but also a cross-fertilisation of ideas between established success stories and young startups.