In our Meeting the CEO’s of October item, we have a chat with all our European October CEO’s in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. In this episode we sat down to have a chat with Luuc Mannaerts, CEO of October Netherlands.
Tell us something about your background; what did you study, and what work experience do you have?
I studied in Rotterdam a Master in Business Economics, with a specialization in Finance and Strategy. When I was around 40, I went to INSEAD where I did the Advanced Management Program. I can advise everyone to do that half way your work-life, it’s energizing and gets you sharp again.
I worked in banking for around 20 years. Initially in M&A working with large companies, most of them listed on a stock exchange, as well as with private equity. Then I moved to the commercial banking side, working with large companies with a turnover of €50 – €500 million. And in my last role, I was CEO of ABN Amro Commercial Finance working a lot with SME’s. In this last role I also worked a lot with data. We created an environment where we would use data to objectively assess whether we could finance a company – the beauty of data is that it is not only objective, you can also explain to a client how you use it. And that actually brought me to October.
Can you explain a bit more about the evolution of your countries’ financing landscape? What are now the challenges and opportunities for October?
The big picture is that we have had 3 large banks in the Netherlands for 25 years. They have around 80-90% of the market. That was impacted quite big by the 9/11 that triggered the need for the banks to safeguard us from terrorist organisations, sparking huge additional tasks, and hence cost, we call KYC and compliance. And that still continues. This led to lots of cost cutting in other parts of banks. And if you are a small company, it is much more difficult to speak to a banker. Sometimes, a bank can be a black-box for an SME client. And that can be upsetting because financing for a company is like the most important raw material for running your business. That is the environment we’re in.
What is also interesting to notice is that in the Netherlands, we have a digital mindset. When I started October in 2018, SME companies were quite used to digital. What they really liked about us, is that you can approach us digitally but we do give companies a call. We combine the tech with the human touch.
This digital mindset already led to two unicorns in the payment service environment (Adyen and Mollie). And I’m sure we will soon have another unicorn.
How do these challenges differ from other October-countries?
I can start by sharing something that we have in common which is to build a reputation for October. Over the last 25 years, if you were an SME, and you needed financing, you would turn around and go to your bank. Over the last 10 years that has become more difficult. And that’s a gap October fills in. Yet, in the beginning, when someone heard the name October, the question was “Who is October?”. Finding a spot in the market is something I think we share.
As for the differences. We only have three banks in the Netherlands and now we have had two crisis: a financial crisis and the covid-19 crisis. Dutch entrepreneurs realize that they need bank and non-bank financing next to their bank. This is more and more accepted. And the difference in NL is that the Dutch government is actively promoting this. This is also the interest of the Dutch economy to have a more divers landscape.
At the start of the covid-19 crisis, the government realized that there would be so many companies in needs of financing. So they opened up their guarantee scheme fairly quickly to non-bank financiers. We were the first non-bank to get the license to provide guaranteed financing. And we are very actively using that.
A very big difference is also that in The Netherlands, we have limited access to financial statements. In Southern Europe, we – as October – can automatically determine how much we can lend to a company based on a public register with financial statements of all companies. In The Netherlands we do not have a register in which all financial reports of SMEs are registered and accessible in a structured and digital manner.
Accountants can play an important role in this, as they do have all the financial reporting in a structured manner in their possession. We are working hard to get access to that with a tool called SBR Nexus (SBR stands for Standard Business Reporting) where accountants jointly with clients could unlock their reports directly into our tech. That could really be a game changer in the Netherlands.
What is your target/goal this year in your country? What will you focus on?
We have three objectives for this year:
- To double the number of clients we help compared to last year combining tech and the human touch.
- To simplify our products even more so that clients and financial advisors can easily request a loan through our app and that we could very quickly give them an answer which is correct in 95% of the cases.
- To develop our reputation through a partnership with a bank and/or an accounting organisation (or both) to service SME companies even better and faster.
What do you think is typical about October?
We are super focused on the client. If I compare my time over the last three years with October to the years before: everybody is focused on helping the client, and as soon and as good as possible. Our sales, credit, product and tech team are all obsessed with making sure the client has a good experience.
Which October value do you identify most with?
I will steal the idea of my colleague Grégoire, CEO of Spain: professionally I believe ‘customer experience’, first stands out.
Personally, I feel very connected to ‘Let the sunshine in’ – being transparent in everything we do is really a challenge. It forces me to be honest, first towards myself and also to our colleagues, our clients, our investors, the regulators, in fact to every one with whom we are working.
Tell us something about your most memorable project?
We have so many good projects. I’m going to mention 3.
We were opened one month in the Netherlands, when a client called Adaptive services came to us. It was the week before Xmas. He was to take over the company before the end of the year. So we managed to raise the funds during Xmas. Before we went to the Xmas week-end we put the project on our platform and the Tuesday afterwards it was funded. That was the 28th and he had the money in time.
Another project is the Magic Table, Brigitte Macron is actually a big fan of that company. It is a digital table helping people with dementia to play games. By playing the games, their minds are being triggered and they remain in better shape. It also helps the care takers, because people with dementia are actually busy playing a game rather than wandering around. This Dutch company exports their tables to France, Germany and many other companies. We funded their expansion into the United States.
The last one is a software company that is expanding internationally as well. All the school here in Netherlands, primary and secondary schools, know the software. It is actually beautiful to see how it is changing the life of students and their communication with teachers, helping them to be independent. They grew very much during the covid-19.
These are beautiful projects that show how digitalization can help our society and improve the lives of many.