Bitpanda on the future of investing
On this episode of TELUS International Studios, we're joined by Lukas Enzersdorfer-Konrad, chief operating officer at Bitpanda. The company is an all-in-one digital platform used for investing in stocks, exchange traded funds (ETFs), metals, cryptocurrencies and crypto indices.
Tune in to hear Lukas' take on hot-button issues in the investing space including memestock, building trust in the face of crypto scams, like Squidcoin, and what the future of investing might entail. Grab a note pad; you won't want to miss this!
To learn more about TELUS International and our digital CX solutions, contact us today.
Intro: TELUS International Studios where customer experience meets digital transformation.
Patrick Haughey (PH): Welcome to TELUS International Studios, a podcast series brought to you by TELUS International, where we meet global leaders in customer experience, innovation, and digital technology. I'm Patrick Haughey, and on this episode I meet Lukas Enzersdorfer-Konrad who is the chief product officer at Bitpanda. Bitpanda is an all-in-one digital platform used for investing in stocks, exchange traded funds (EFTs), metals, crypto currencies, and crypto indices. If you are interested in things like the future of investing in crypto currencies, financial regulation, fintech, and just business in general, you are really going to get a lot from this interview; Lukas is a real thought leader in this space.
If you enjoy what you hear today, please do subscribe to Apple podcasts or follow the series on Spotify; that really helps more people discover this series.
Let's get straight to the conversation with Lukas Enzersdorfer-Konrad. Lukas starts off by describing the problem but Bitpanda has set out to solve. **
Lukas Enzersdorfer-Konrad (LEK): Investing in general in Europe, and you have to bear that in mind it's not yet very common, right? There are way too few people invested into capital markets and this is only one side due to education and financial literacy, but definitely on the other side also due to two high barriers in the end to start investing. Because if you traditionally want to buy one stock, for example, and you have never invested before. And the best example is always the Amazon stock, which is currently at three thousand US dollars or above three thousand US dollars in price. To buy that, you already need a large amount of money, and the easiest way to try things out still is to have super low amounts of money. Meaning one year or five years or 10 years, and to invest it into a fraction of an asset to exactly try out and get into that. And that's super crucial from that perspective.
PH: Ok, so and Bitpanda, you created Bitpanda and you're helping people to make these kind of investments?
LEK: Exactly. We started Bitpanda with the main idea to make investing into bitcoin as easy as possible and super convenient, mainly due to the technical challenges which blockchain technology has in 2014/15. But this evolved on the one side to bring this simplicity and easiness to all different kinds of crypto assets on our platform. We have more than 80 currently, but especially also to bring that simplicity and easiness to other asset classes to lower the barrier for investing. And this assets are stocks and ETFs and what we at Bitpanda enabled simply besides our quite successful crypto business is to enable customers to invest already starting with one euro into a fraction of an asset like a stock or an ETF, and to trade it twenty four seven, which is non-existent in Europe at all that you can trade stocks and ETFs outside of normal exchange opening hours.
PH: So the industry in general, Lukas, has it grown up a lot in the last two, three, four years?
LEK: Yes, absolutely. I think what you can see is that after 2017 and 18. On the one side, regulators step stronger into the spaces of crypto, for crypto regulation to build up a proper framework of how to handle this or how to handle this new asset class. And on the other side, also the existing players in the space stepped up their game. Also, we've grown from 2018, where we have been roughly 60 people in our company to nowadays 600. We are regulated all over Europe and all different countries, even that we are based on originally from Austria. And so we serve more than three million customers in Europe with exactly our offering of this easiness and simplicity to invest into crypto, as well as also stocks and ETFs on our platform.
PH: And what - this growing regulatory environment, what does that mean for you on an operational and a business perspective? Has it made life harder or has it actually made life easier or in terms of opening up the space?
LEK: Regulation in general is a very good thing. Why? Because it brings security, compliance and safety to an industry and to an asset class which was completely unregulated before. So this helps, especially when it comes to retail investors, to the trust in the intermediaries and the markets. Then the other side for us, it also helps to have clear guidance and clear rules by if you play with these rules and by these rules, then you in the end are safe also as a company. And we believe that regulation is fostering simply also the maturity level of the industry of the crypto industry in general. And you can see that in the US as well as you can see that in Europe all over the place. It's also other countries where regulation gets stronger and stronger in crypto. As long as that regulation is not killing the business or simply, yeah, making it much harder for people to use the technology of blockchain technology. But this is something the European regulators and we are in constant exchange with them, with the European Central Bank, with the European Banking Authority, with the ESMA to ensure that also industry best practices are baked into that regulation.
PH: And is that regulation constantly evolving and changing? Or do you feel is it at a level now that it's going to stay out for some time?
LEK: For sure, maybe it depends on the country, but we have definitely not yet reached the level of the maturity - for maturity of regulation. This will come in Europe. It's called MiCA, which is the crypto regulation which is currently being fleshed out and introduced and then to harmonize the regulatory landscape of Europe when it comes to crypto and in the US, it's quite similar there, also there. It's still evolving on a constant basis from a regulatory perspective. Why? Because also the technology and the possibilities the technology gives you, for example, decentralized finance. DeFi is constantly evolving and quite innovative. So I also believe that there will not be a state where suddenly the regulation is here and then it's done. Those are the regulators have to ongoingly in the future adopt to technological innovation and disruption in that space.
PH: So - and has there - is the technology growing at a really interesting and phenomenal levels compared again to three or four years ago? Are we in a totally different place?
LEK: Yes, it definitely can be, I think you only have to bear it or also bear in mind where the crypto industry was standing four years ago, right? It was earlier mid-2017. This bull run back then was in the middle of a lot of retail customers for the first time in their lives. Heard about this bitcoin thing. So in the last few years, a lot, a lot evolved. Nowadays you have traditional players, you have hedge funds, you have traditional banks starting to offer encrypted to their customers. There is an Australian bank with six million customers who we know our customers can buy and invest crypto directly in their own stuff, which was in the last year is not even imaginable, which happened at the super rapid pace in India and leads to adoption. And we will see exactly that even stronger over the next years of adoption and integrating crypto in traditional financial service industry use cases and on the other side and completely new ones like the DeFi space, the NFT space and some others.
PH: So along with the technology and the regulation which creates trust, what are some of the other big drivers of crypto adoption in the last and - recently?
LEK: Only once had I said regulation is there for security for traditional players, institutions, banks, the other topics in preretail interest, which has grown even stronger and has gone away from seeing crypto as some speculative asset. But especially something which is very, very interesting. Use cases to play around with this can be use cases like staking, but also other use cases where you can simply buy an NFT on an NFT marketplace platform, which represents a certain piece of art which represents a certain character in the game, which represents a certain scheme in a metaverse universe. So there is always a strong retail driver still, the whole crypto space.
PH: And what about the pandemic the COVID 19 pandemic? Has that brought about a lot of change - bought about a lot of change?
LEK: I think the pandemic independently of crypto just simply accelerated the transition of our whole society to technology of all different levels of ages, and it fostered executive people got even more into technology. And yes, as part of that, you can see that all over the markets, also in traditional capital markets, retail exposure and engagement with investing money also got stronger and thinking about what to do with their money and for crypto, then a combination of people getting more into technology and also therefore getting more interested in the blockchain technology. And on the other side, facing the topic of how to invest money and where to invest money in times of negative interest rates in times of higher inflation now and their crypto is an interesting asset.
PH: So what kind of customers would you have? Are they typical? Are they, you know, kind of, is it like a B2C operation in terms of - or is it people who want to invest a little bit of money? Or is it a different type of customer?
LEK: Bitpanda is serving all different age groups, so it's not that we only have young 20 year old students who want to invest their spare money into bitcoin. It's all different kind of age groups throughout all different countries in Europe, for sure. Austria and the Dutch region is our home market, but also other countries were very strong within our customer portfolio in Western Europe, Spain, France, for example, also in eastern and northern Europe. Nevertheless, the typical customers so from an age perspective, it's completely distributed, but also from a wealth perspective, right? You have people who invest 10, 15, 20, 200 euros, but then you also have people who are more wealthy or who are wealthier, and to invest in larger amounts of money in the assets they believe in and also within the crypto space. So I would say Bitpanda is a written investment platform, catering the individual needs of all different kinds of people, either age groups or also wealth levels.
PH: And as a Fintech company, do you face some pretty unique customer operations challenges?
LEK: I think the topic which, when it comes to customer operations to take it from that angle, is always, we are an online platform and therefore people cannot just walk into one of our brick and mortar facilities or so to ask questions. We are strongly fostering on the one side to have enough educational content and self-service out there so that people can simply get the information instantly if they require it. On the other side, we focus strongly on providing a superior customer support experience and therefore you can also look that up on Trustpilot. We are really highly ranked and rated through our customer support, and this is especially in the crypto space not that common because there have normally executive short term market movements, which brings a lot of new interested customers. And as part of that, normally also suddenly a stronger load in customer service efforts which are required. But I think what we learned over the last year is expected to handle, our customers the best way possible in that regard.
PH: And I guess when it comes to people's money, there's a level of emotion that comes to a call with an agent, for example, a customer experience agent. And on top of that, the technology may be a little bit more complex than they are used to. So I guess you need an agent who can both have that empathy to deal with the emotion part, but also is technically skilled and versed enough to be able to handle that part.
LEK: Absolutely, I think and just training, but especially hiring the right people for a customer service (https://www.telusinternational.com/solutions/it-lifecycle/it-service-desk) and customer quality excellence is crucial to ensure that you as a company are represented the way you always envisioned it from service level and quality level to the customers in the best way possible. And this is simply where we really, really focus on our customer service operations to ensure that even in times of high volatility and therefore high market load.
PH: In terms of that, we've spoken about the trust element, but we're seeing scams related to cryptocurrency growing, there are more of them, for example, squid coin being a high profile one. How are you handling the issues that this throws up and how is the industry trying to build greater trust in cryptocurrency?
LEK: This leads me back to the topic of the one set of regulation, because it simply was a trust sector on the other side of having players in the market like us, who are strongly fostering on ensuring and facilitating the trust sector of retail investors into not just the industry, but especially the intermediaries they are facing with and dealing with like us. But on the other side, for sure, it's also super interesting to be in such an innovative space and to invest in that area or to buy an NFT and to collect some of them in that regard. So I think the topic of trust is also quite community driven and built by a community of people who believe in that asset and asset class.
PH: Yeah. Well, that's a thing. So you do - there is a kind of a - there's that core community and do you ever see it becoming a mass market thing or would it always remain within even if the community, of course, will grow larger? But will it always be less than the mass market?
LEK: I personally believe that in the future, everyone will invest into crypto, but for sure they will not invest the largest amount they put 40 or 100 percent into it. You have to take it into your normal investment strategy accordingly or you use the use cases or around the blockchain technology has set for all different kinds of services and there I believe we are just at the beginning. Over the next years and the next decades, we will experience so many different applications come out of blockchain technology and on top of it, because it will be like with the internet in the 90s and afterwards in the 2000s, where everybody already thought, oh, social media is exactly that's what the internet is now about. And now we are in 2021 and we are experiencing the next step of the internet. And also, they are completely new applications and exactly that will happen with blockchain technology in an even more disruptive way.
PH: And on that topic of growing the community and growing adoption. What are some of the big challenges, some of the obstacles? What's preventing greater crypto adoption right now?
LEK: What's preventing it? I think it's currently a simple process of maturity, and we are in the middle of it. And this simply takes also a certain amount of time. So it's not about something preventing it. It's mainly about the curve of adoption within all different levels of society.
PH: Ok. And that relationship between traditional legacy banks, let's say, and the industry. Has that changed over the last couple of years? Has it got better because it certainly wasn't particularly good a number of years ago?
LEK: It's a really good question and topic to touch base on, because when I started doing this space right, no bank in Europe, but also in the U.S. wanted to get engaged or even or wanted to bank with any customer related to crypto. And this was super hard back then for a company, but also for an individual to be exposed and involved in the crypto scene. And on the other side, having a normal bank relationship, and this simply has gotten much, much better nowadays. Nowadays, even asset banks are looking at how they can offer crypto, how they can have blockchain use cases, and how they can interact with the whole industry. And that was definitely to a certain degree driven by regulation and by simply therefore taking away the uncertainty for companies and especially banks when it comes to crypto and how to deal with it.
PH: Well, it seems like regulation has really - is making the difference in so many different areas of what we've spoken about today. Are there any regions of the world that are not developing regulation fast enough? And is that having an impact on the industry?
LEK: I think the best example in that regard, especially in the industry, is always China, where they have chosen simply a completely different route and not putting crypto under the normal financial market regulation to have a grip on it and to control it to a certain degree, but to simply be much hasher and to try to get rid of it to that degree, at least especially about the speculative aspect of crypto, the high volatility in the markets. So I think that's an example of doing it differently than the US and Europe, where the regulators mainly focused on how to enable growth within a controlled environment because the European and the US regulators in countries, governments trust all these fields about money laundering in customer protection where they simply don't focus strongly on. While China has for sure different goals in controlling and regulating their market and country.
PH: And is it likely that China's goals will become more aligned to the Western world goals at any point?
LEK: I think to answer that super tricky because it turned already in the last years a couple of times in one or the other direction. So what I really believe is for sure, you cannot forbid crypto in any way as a country, it will always be super hard to do that. And if Europe and the US can show that there is a super regulated way of still fostering the technology and the industry and also owning and using crypto, then suddenly also the Chinese government sees that as a chance for the country. But let's see,
PH: Let's see exactly - well answered. In terms of the transformation of the corporate world, will crypto transform the corporate world over the next five or 10 years, do you think?
LEK: With the corporate worlds, do you mean normal companies, for example, and the way they do business or anything specific, you're thinking?
PH: Yeah, that. The way normal companies, large enterprise companies, is it something that they have adopted? Is it something they are likely to adopt? And how is that transforming them?
LEK: Yes. So what we can already observe nowadays on the market is the large companies. And it's not just Tesla, but also European ones are investing into crypto for balance sheet management reasons. So from a Treasury perspective, a cash management perspective, they are already starting, but it's a very, very financial topic. The other thing is, it's much more interesting is the NFT example with the National Basketball Association, the NBA in the US, for example, right, where they are using the blockchain technology and the NFT space to create a completely new way of business and the new way of giving their fans ownership about moments and experiences in sports, we'd simply build an NFT represents a certain video scene of a basketball game or, for example, Michael Jordan in the 90s. And this is where the real power of blockchain technology is still lying around and will be utilized over the next years really strongly. I believe in all different kinds of applications and therefore all different kinds of companies and use cases.
PH: Yeah, very interesting. And tell me a little bit about, is it mem stock or meme stock? I'm not sure about the best, most common pronunciation.
LEK: Yeah, from my perspective, it's meme stock.
PH: Let's go with that.
LEK: Exactly. As always, that's not that clear. Yeah, I think the main topic when it comes to meme stocks or meme coins, right? The big difference is to invest into, for example, bitcoin, where there is a certain thought behind technology or a technological basis or other coins where there is a strong project team behind and they have your goals. Meme stocks and meme coins are mainly driven by community and internet movements. So we have people simply gathered around a certain asset to drive that. For whatever reason, that can be for fun. That can be for bringing a hedge fund with, like GME GameStop earlier this year. Is that idealistic fight down who shorted that asset or just simply due to a movement out of some internet forums like Redditors? Right? So in the end, this topic shows us one thing very, very strongly about social trading and gathering a group together and invest in one asset and boost it in one or the other way. Got much, much stronger over the last one to two years and is nowadays definitely effective, which has to be factored in in the topic of capital markets and investing in general interest.
PH: It's changing at such a pace, and I guess one of my final questions then, we've spoken about how far the industry has come over the last couple of years because of technology regulation, trust, greater adoption. Can I be very unfair and ask you to take out your crystal ball and maybe tell me a little bit about what you think the space will look like in another two or three years? Is there certain types of technology that you're very excited about or is there new regulation coming that you feel would be transformative?
LEK: Yeah, for sure. I think to answer that question is always hard, but I will give it a try. Ok, regulation, I think it's more or less on track. There won't be any larger changes. That's mainly about adoption and maturity. The other topic is really about applications, and there it's super hard to guesstimate what will happen. But what we definitely could already observe over the last months with not just NFT and DeFi, but also other forms of application, is that we are entering now this phase of adoption, where suddenly a creative community of software engineers and creative idea givers are getting into the space and taking blockchain technology, which already got more and more efficient and effective and faster to bring all different kinds of applications. It doesn't matter if it's financial services applications, which suddenly become decentralized if it's online games based on blockchain technology, if it's having ownership in a tokenized way of assets of all different kinds of types of assets and so on. So long story short, in two to three years, we will see much more applications of blockchain in our everyday lives. This is really what I believe and also in the topic of the internet in the future. This will simply be baked in the use case for blockchain into that.
PH: OK. And I and I take it from how you've spoken about this industry and the excitement you speak about it with that you don't regret your move into this whole world, you don't feel you'd like to be back in the world of traditional banking.
LEK: Never, really. For me, it's definitely the following, right? Crypto is the future. And also how, if you would, as of today, invent capital markets, they would look like bitcoin and crypto. Why? Because of all the restrictions, traditional markets have opening hours. The minimum investment into at least one share and so on. It's only due to legacy and historical reasons, right? And if you would, technologically wise, invent capital markets and therefore also financial services industry as of today or with this year, they would look completely different. And what we will see over the next year is exactly evolving of the traditional world into that modern and very, very technologically driven world we are already with crypto as an example.
PH: That's an excellent place to leave it. Lukas Enzersdorfer-Konrad, Thank you so much for taking the time to join us here at TELUS International Studios.
LEK: Thank you very much. Was great to be here. Thanks for the time.
PH: And thank you for listening to this episode of TELUS International Studios. If you enjoyed the interview with Lukas, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts or follow the series for free on Spotify. Check out some of the other great interviews on the series with global leaders in customer experience, innovation, and digital technology. Hope you can join us for the next episode of TELUS International Studios. Take care.