Today, with Bocconi Students FinTech Society, we have the pleasure to have a thorough and insightful coffee chat with Orlando Merone, Country Manager Italy at Bitpanda, a company with more than two million customers all over Europe active primarily in the trading of cryptos but also of stocks, ETFs and metals.
Hi Orlando, thank you for accepting our invite for the interview! Your path is very interesting for every student passionate about entrepreneurship and Fintech. Could you tell us a little bit about your professional experience? Did you choose to work in the FinTech field for a particular reason?
I now have about 12 years of experience in the digital market as I worked for many years with Digital Magics, while also starting my own company in 2014, when in Italy nobody talked about FinTech. I created a pay-by-link service that won a business competition, which was certainly an excellent start for my career. This is where my passion for FinTech began which, after many years, allowed me to end up at Bitpanda. Before coming to Bitpanda I joined Circle and Revolut, leading their business development and partnerships in Southern Europe.
What it is important to say is that my study background is communication-based, and I think this is a demonstration of how many anomalous routes lead to unbelievable evolutions, even if different from the starting principles.
At first, Bitpanda was an exchange platform focused only on digital currencies, but now people can find other assets like stocks, ETFs and metals. What is behind this expansion? And why is this important for you?
First of all, cryptos will always be a core part of our business, they are an asset class that is here to stay. It’s been established in the financial sector as a serious asset class and is better than gold in my opinion. So, why are we shifting? Honestly, we aren’t. Our goal has always been to create an investment platform that works for everybody and that means offering as many assets as possible.
The Italian market is not an easy one and, when focusing on cryptos, many have trouble understanding the real potentiality. What are your plans to make Italians understand the potential of your platform?
We want to double our user numbers, and this is the main goal for 2021. We want to have a real local presence to be able to expand our business, while also supporting our Italian users who faced many barriers up to this moment. An office will soon be set up in Milan, underlining the importance Italy has for us. Bitpanda also aims at education for its users and Italy will make no exception, also because we are usually distant from having a true investment culture.
Moreover, I feel it is important to talk about Bitpanda Ecosystem Tokens (BEST), which is the one of the most popular cryptocurrencies on Bitpanda’s platform, similar to the utility tokens that you can see on other exchanges. The number of tokens on the market is constantly controlled by the company, which also holds burning events to keep the market cap working at its best. Bitpanda tokens are not recognized as an investment in the company, but more as a way in which users can enhance their experience on the exchange and lower the trading fees.
Do your clients believe strongly in your BEST strategy (we currently see a great growth in their value)? And do Italian investors use them a lot, or is there still much skepticism about them?
Our Bitpanda Ecosystem Token (BEST) is the key to our platform and the market price of the token explains that very well. While it may seem like an overnight success, the rise was steady, and the strong growth of price was fueled by the large increase in usage, with two important reasons for this. First and foremost are the advantages for our users that come with using BEST. With BEST, users get a discount on trading premiums of 20 %, which is a fantastic perk that makes paying fees on Bitpanda much cheaper. It is not about staking, but about the engagement of clients. Italians love using them and getting the rewards as well as all the other users across Europe.
Everyone is now talking about cryptos, but we would love to hear the opinion by someone who is actually an active player in the industry. What do you see in the future of cryptocurrencies? Do you think that national e-currencies are going to represent a threat?
It is very difficult to talk about centralized digital currencies since the real nature of cryptos is to be decentralized. But we have to look at how central banks are developing, and we think that this will bring positive feedback effects and allow a cultural shift in the use of digital currencies, especially after the growth brought by the pandemic. The digitization of the economy is an evolution that we are expecting, and it will be prolific for the affirmation of FinTech as an even more concrete reality.
If cryptos are going to be used as actual currency actions need to be taken in order to improve its expendability. Do you believe that there must be a change?
Yes I do, and we are already doing something indeed. Bitpanda launched last month a debit card that has a dynamic balance. Our card is the first debit card that makes any investment spendable. To be more precise here: Users can connect any asset they want to the card, instantly, using the Bitpanda App. So this means card owners can choose between crypto, stocks and precious metals and fiat, at any time. For us, this is the link between the old and the new world.
Here comes the million-euro question. Have financial markets been democratized? What is your opinion on this hot topic?
The idea of “Wall Street without walls” is what excited me the most when I joined Bitpanda. Making investments available for everyone sums up the aim of the company but it is a goal that is still far from being reached since the number of people that can invest freely and safely is way lower than its real potential. 24/7 trading tackles a real and serious problem with the way that financial markets have been set up. It means that people who are working during trading hours can still access the markets at a time that suits them. After parents have put their kids to bed, when someone comes off a night shift, whenever works for that individual’s situation. No one should be locked out of the financial markets because of their circumstances, and we’ve successfully used technology to achieve that.
And now let’s close this nice chat we had as we usually do, what advice would you give to young students thinking about beginning a career in FinTech?
The main advice I can give is to be curious, because curiosity leads to questions and good questions bring useful answers or new opportunities. Try to always discover more, dig for data, search for answers and most importantly, do not be shy - there is no need to be afraid when approaching companies. From my experience, I can tell you that new opportunities come if you like what you do and you keep searching for knowledge.
Bocconi Students Fintech Society