Christopher Plantener is CEO and co-founder of Kontist, the new banking solution for freelancers that won the “Fintech of the Year” award in Berlin in 2016. He spoke to Leo Molatore about the needs of the new technical generation and why cooperation with Wirecard helped him meet the financial needs of freelancers.
Christopher, what is exactly that makes Kontist so technically innovative?
It starts with the opening of the account. It has to be fast and uncomplicated, take only a few minutes, without the necessity of personal information or other paperwork. Freelancers often travel a lot – so a good solution must work via Smartphone from wherever they happen to be. Our solution provides all the classic banking features like payouts, account retrieval, and a list of transactions. The creation of a separate business account allows the complete separation of business and private finances, which saves a lot of time, money and stress and offers automatic accounting. We also enable in-depth integration into Debitoor accounting software, which we are using currently but other providers are soon to follow.
Kontist also includes automatic tax assessment, because the account calculates the pro-rata income and value-added tax on revenue and expenditures and sets aside reserves on virtual sub-accounts. Last but not least, we are now offering a credit-based MasterCard, thanks to you, our partner Wirecard.
A state-of-the-art banking solution for #freelancers is digital, mobile and integrated #Kontist
How important is it for your product to be able to offer the MasterCard?
The MasterCard enables the clean separation of private from the business finances. This is an extremely important factor, because now we can offer a complete package, which truly covers all the needs and desires of self-employed customers. Previously, many people who were self-employed had had to use their private cards for business expenses, but now this mixture of personal and private expenditures has come to an end.
Until now, they could only transfer money, but now they can pay all business expenses with the MasterCard that is directly linked to their Kontist account. So now, the output can be perfectly controlled. In addition, the app calculates the value added tax and the tax deduction and automatically transfers the amount to a sub-account designated for this use. After each transaction, the customer receives a push notification and is prompted to put the payment into the appropriate tax category.
Through Wirecard’s experience and technical competence, we can now offer a virtual credit card in addition to the plastic credit card. This is a very practical solution for ordering airline tickets and much more. There are millions of worldwide acceptance points for MasterCard, and for a small fee it is also possible to get cash from ATMs. And the icing on the cake is that you can also pay with an NFC chip. All in all, we now offer a state-of-the-art solution that we are very proud of.
How did you originally come to founding Kontist?
The personal experiences of working as a freelancer has certainly played a part in the process. I have been self-employed for 15 years because I always found it ideal for me to be my own boss. But at the same time, my frustration grew because of the way traditional banks treated me as their client. It took about ten years to receive my first credit, and so far, my previous bank has never given me a credit card! And many freelancers from among my acquaintances have had the same problems.
Why is it that traditional banks have so far shown so little interest in this growing target group?
This is probably due to the fact that their internal risk assessment is far too negative in regard to self-employed customers – and this is often unjustified. As in any industry, there are certainly a few black sheep among the self-employed whose finances are somewhat shaky, but this certainly is not the case with all freelancers.
Kontist co-founder and CEO Christopher unboxing the new Mastercard
And so, you came to set up Kontist?
Not yet directly. After I discovered this market niche, I first spoke to various banks about it to find out if they could develop a good tailor-made product especially for freelancers. In deciding to found Kontist, I greatly benefited from my intensive, 10-year experience as a freelancer during which I was able to collect information in areas of accounting software, more recently at Debitoor. And, of course, I had ongoing discussions with many, many other self-employed colleagues and founders, and realized that everyone wanted a good banking solution. And then we were able to convince the Danish investors, who were very open-minded to all intelligent digital solutions. Then we could get started!
How to turn customers into fans: Kontist users are happy their banking solution now also includes a MasterCard
Have you considered offering this service to European or international markets?
First of all, we want to concentrate on the German market, since there is more than enough to do there. But clearly, in the long term, we can imagine expanding into other European countries. Because we currently do not have any competitors who offer a product comparable to our solution. In addition, the iPROS Study of the EU encourages us – the abbreviation stands for “independent professionals” – and there are more and more who deliberately opt for their independence. In the period from 2004 to 2013 alone, the number freelancers in the European Union rose by 45 % from just under 6.2 million to 8.9 million; we are moving from a traditional industry to a flexible service and knowledge-based society. It is clear that there is a need for an intelligent and comprehensive banking solution – there is no doubt about this.
Thanks for taking time for this interview, Christopher, and we wish you continued success!