The Italian asset manager Azimut and Step, an international operator focused on digital services to businesses, yesterday announced the launch of Azimut Marketplace, the first fintech ecosystem dedicated to SMEs. Step is an ambitious project on a global scale conceived by a group of executives and former executives of the Santander Group: Marco Montagnani, Nuno Couceiro Cortesao, and Alberto Almoguera Marton. Its goal is to create a digital ecosystem that can become a single point of reference for SMEs. Also involved in the capital of the company Step 4 Business Spa, created for the development of the business and software, are Andrea Bertini (former Illimity Bank and ING) and Pierluigi Giannico, former managing partner of Accenture.
Azimut Marketplace srl is a company owned by Azimut, with a 43% share destined to grow to 100% upon the achievement of a series of conditions and objectives and, among others, by Step 4 Business SpA. Step 4 Business SpA plans to launch its marketplace solution in other markets such as Spain (by the end of the year), and Portugal, leveraging the scalability of the all-cloud platform and the best technologies available on the market.
Azimut Marketplace by Step aims to be the privileged access point for SMEs to a range of financial services from the best financial technology companies on the market, including fintech companies participated by the Azimut Group such as Opyn (the former Stock Exchange of Credit) and Mamacrowd, through a digital platform, simple and secure, which takes full advantage of the potential of PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) and open banking. This new initiative stems from a twofold consideration: on the one hand, the growing difficulties for companies to access adequate financial services, and on the other hand, the increase in the market of fintech offerings of very effective vertical solutions that lack, however, a single point of access where entrepreneurs can find the fintech solution they need.
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On Azimut Marketplace, SMEs will be able to access on a single platform to:
Extraordinary finance operations (minibonds and equity) to support growth projects, structured by Azimut Direct (formerly Epic), the Azimut Group’s fintech dedicated to the real economy;
The aggregation of Italian and foreign accounts, integration with electronic invoicing and digital cfo and facilitated finance solutions from CRIF;
October’s instant lending, which allows companies to request a loan in just a few seconds with a completely digital process;
Workinvoice’s digital solutions for financing working capital, in particular the invoice advance, which allows companies to receive 90% of the number of their invoices within 48 hours;
International cash flow management solutions offered by Ebury, a leading European fintech company active in 23 countries worldwide, specializing in payments and collections in over 130 currencies and in the management of the related exchange rate risk, through fully digital services and without transfer fees;
Acceptance of digital payments by Satispay, an established player on the Italian fintech scene with more than 2 million private customers and 165 thousand merchants;
Value-added services for SMEs offered by Amazon, the largest big tech company in the world.
Azimut decided to focus precisely on SMEs, particularly those with a turnover of 1-10 million euros, because “they are 7 times more interesting than retail customers in terms of marginality,” Montagnani specified at the press conference. To design the products, Azimut has adopted a “working backwards approach”, talking to entrepreneurs and organizing focus groups to better understand their needs, and then launching products that meet them.
Azimut Marketplace adopts a marketplace model, Amazon-style, which includes: signaling and integration of Italian and international fintech third-party services through APIs, fully digital onboarding, and account aggregation using PSD2. Big data is at the heart of its strategy: Azimut in fact wants to present SMEs with products based on their transactions and profile, with a customer-centric approach. The business model consists of introducing new customers to fintechs, receiving referral fees for referring new customers to the fintech. “The model has extremely low fixed costs, so with revenues from partner referrals we expect to break even in 2023, with revenues of 13.5 million from the various products integrated on the platform and 82 thousand customers in 2026,” Montagnani said.
Thanks to Azimut Marketplace, consultants in the Azimut network have the opportunity to propose new products to customers via the platform, which thus becomes a means of promoting the acquisition of new customers and cross-selling of products. In addition, “there will be a code that identifies which advisor has brought a certain SME on board. Consultants will receive a one-time fee for their business reporting activities,” clarified Paolo Martini, CEO and general manager of Azimut Holding.
Azimut Marketplace, launched last July after the closing with Step (which took place last April) now has over 200 registered companies. Last December, the platform was launched in Spain and will soon be launched in Portugal and Brazil. In the future, Azimut Marketplace counts to add further services beginning from insurances, deposits, current accounts for the enterprises, and other vas (value-added solutions), once obtained the authorizations from Ivass and Oam.
Marco Montagnani, CEO of Azimut Marketplace, explained: “Azimut Marketplace by Step is the new fintech ecosystem entirely dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises. From today, Italian entrepreneurs have a single point of reference where they can find the most effective, convenient, and digital solutions to their main financial needs, and more. The marketplace model makes it possible to take full advantage of new digital technologies that, together with open banking as an enabling factor, make possible a customer-centric platform that is completely free of charge. Azimut Marketplace is a unique selling proposition that simplifies the life of small and medium-sized enterprises thanks to the best digital partners on the market, designed and created together with customers and for customers”.
Paolo Martini, CEO and General Manager of Azimut Holding, commented: “After democratizing real economy investments with Azimut Libera Impresa, we are now making financial services more accessible for SMEs. Technology and digital e-commerce platforms have revolutionized many sectors, from travel to real estate and online shopping, Azimut Marketplace has the potential to transform financial services and banking by reducing complexity and costs and increasing the speed of processes and overall efficiency. This is a true revolution in fintech to support the 5 million companies in Italy.”
Giorgio Medda, CEO of Azimut Holding and global head of asset management for the group, said, “Lending is no longer the main activity of the banking system, which now plays the role of a service supermarket. Despite the increase in deposits, lending activity in Italy has decreased: the ratio of loans to deposits has fallen to 0.92, for the first time below 1. We are in the ice age of universal banking: a melting of the value of banks is taking place, with a transfer of value towards fintechs and other innovative payment systems. Azimut then proposes a synthetic bank, offering a neo-finance, where Azimut raises patient private capital also through Azimut Marketplace. We embrace a p2f2p (peer to fund to peer) model thanks to technological leverage, which aims at an efficient allocation of investments. An evolution that we at Azimut undertook some time ago and that today leads us to manage 3.5 billion of assets on the private markets with over 25,000 clients. The project indicated as a synthetic bank, which has been strengthened with the establishment of Azimut Direct, has already provided loans of 300 million euros this year, with a target for 2022 of 1.1 billion. We are currently analyzing 110 deals across all segments, particularly in SMEs, from which banks are moving away. Since the beginning of 2021, we have analyzed more than 2,000 companies.” Medda highlighted that “Azimut will not become a bank, but thanks to open banking, fintech and PSD2, asset managers can play in the value chain, which makes shadow banking possible.”
The Azimut Marketplace project is part of a broader commitment to support SMEs and the real economy that has already raised 3.5 billion euros in private equity, private debt, venture capital and real estate products, some of which have already been invested in around 200 companies, 120 of which in Italy and 80 worldwide. Specifically, the following have been raised: 1 billion in private equity, 0.1 billion in venture capital, 0.3 billion in ESG infrastructure and 1 billion in private debt. Medda pointed out that Azimut allows diversification even within the single asset class, for example in private debt it offers products to invest in: alternative public credit, non-performing private debt, performing private debt. Recall that the Azimut group had announced in September 2019 a major turning point in its industrial strategy, with the aim of investing in private assets at least 10 billion euros in the next 5 years, launching a series of investment vehicles largely dedicated also to the retail public.
As part of the strategy of investment in illiquid assets, last March Azimut and SiamoSoci (manager of the Italian crowdfunding portal Mamacrowd and 25% owned by the Azimut Group itself) launched ALICrowd, the first venture capital Eltif. In the same month, Azimut launched Azimut Token (Azim), the first token for investing in the real economy, issued in collaboration with Sygnum Bank, the first digital asset bank in the world, authorized by the supervisory bodies of Switzerland and Singapore.
In addition, last September, SBI Group, Sygnum, and Azimut Group today announced the launch of a venture capital fund with an endowment of up to $75 million, based in Singapore, which will invest in startups in the digital asset sector. With SBI Ven Capital as lead manager, the fund’s investment strategy will focus primarily on pre-series A and series A companies developing blockchain/distributed ledger technology (DLT) infrastructure, decentralized finance solutions (DeFi), and reg-tech tools. The launch of the fund had been anticipated in recent months.
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