Founded in 2018, Satchel.eu has become one of the leading EMIs based in Lithuania. Combining years of experience, advanced technology, and proprietary financial infrastructure, the fintech startup develops solutions to provide secure, simple, and smart money management tools for clients worldwide. The financial realm can be volatile but nothing compares to the tumult that the war in Ukraine has triggered. “All members of the Satchel team are safe at the moment – they were successfully evacuated on individual plans. Our team is used to working under pressure,” Sergey Barybin, CEO of Satchel.eu, told The Baltic Times Magazine.
One of the evacuations, he said, was led by a Lithuanian who agreed to drive all the way to the east of the Kyiv region to pick up a Satchel team member and her family and take them to safer western Ukraine.
Since you're employing Ukrainians, objectively speaking, how is the Ukrainian IT workforce? Are there any traits that set them apart from the others?
To be honest, I find a lot in common between Ukrainians and Lithuanians. Both nations are hardworking, iniciatyvus (in Lithuanian), well educated (a Bachelor's degree is the average minimum among Lithuanians and Ukrainians) and, most importantly, always ready to learn something new and discover things. Nevertheless, the Ukrainians still have a drawback - we are too open-hearted and outgoing, which the Balts perceive with a certain degree of suspicion. (laughing)
In a nutshell, what is Satchel.eu all about?
Satchel is about simplifying people’s financial lives - we call it "silent banking". Money in the account, cards management, currency exchange, and payments should never cause you stress. To achieve this, the company focuses on quality, not quantity - a very banal saying, but fintech unicorns often forget about this, chasing constant growth and client base increase. This results in less client-centric approach to retail clients and lack of understanding of corporate clients’ business.
How did you start the company?
Back in 2017, we saw an opportunity in the readiness of the Bank of Lithuania to welcome innovative fintech ideas, complemented by a fast and simple licensing process. At that time, we were actively involved in core-banking software development and decided to establish our headquarters in the EU, applying for an EMI license. Since then, we’ve had our ups and downs and a challenging learning curve, and the Bank of Lithuania continues to play an important role as a caring regulator.
What major milestones have you marked so far?
As the CEO of the company, I am happy to say that Satchel.eu broke even and became profitable at the beginning of 2022. In the fintech industry, it is an important goal for every team to prove that their business plan is working well.
Satchel.eu, despite being a young company, has quite a lot of achievements compared to its size. We are the first electronic money institution to become a principal member of Mastercard, which gave us unlimited freedom to create payment products (for example, Paysera still uses the UK provider Contis to issue payment cards). For instance, our “Proud to be Lithuanian” payment card tariff costs less in use fees than a traditional bank’s offer but we are still able to generate profit.
Our mission goes beyond retail banking though. Currently, we are actively developing our Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution and successfully implementing projects in the emerging niche of embedded finance. BaaS allows for more innovation to flow into the financial market, as it drastically reduces the time to market for ideas of companies that do not have their own financial license but have state-of-the-art technology and innovative algorithms.
What are your plans for 2022 and beyond?
We have seen how unstable life can become. In these moments of uncertainty, the best we can do is to help our clients maintain their income and improve their spending. That's why we're working on cashback and discount automation products that benefit both end-users and merchants by reducing marketing and customer acquisition costs, while increasing customer satisfaction.
2022 and2023 will be busy years for us. We have achieved profitability, and now it is time to reinvest in new ventures that would complement the silent banking concept.
For instance, investing in financial literacy. Not everyone knows that keeping funds in an EMI is safer than in a bank. Regular bank deposits are protected up to EUR 100,000; in comparison, in accordance with the law on the segregation of client funds, deposits held by an Electronic Money Institution (EMI) will be returned to the client in full under any circumstances. EMIs are also not allowed to expose client money to any risk, such as using it for loans or investments. One of our financial literacy projects, Safeguard money, provides comprehensive data on this topic and we plan to continue expanding our financial education by explaining more on various topics of financial life and money management to seniors, adults, and children.
What are the projects you will be working on during the upcoming years?
Expanding into the German market, bringing the same market culture learning ideology. This is a top-secret topic, so for now this is all I can share with you.
Women in Fintech – we want to recruit more women and give them the opportunity to grow as fintech professionals.
Satchel Charity – this will be a charitable organization dedicated to helping rebuild Ukraine during and after the war.
Satchel Events – we are creating an alternative event management platform that will make it easier for coaches, bloggers, and influencers to launch events as part of their post-pandemic boost.
We also want to strengthen our relationship with the Rytas basketball team, launching their first basketball digitization mobile app and experimenting with embedded finance.
Finally, we will participate in the POC of the Bank of Lithuania for SEPA instant payments.
Where do you hold an edge over your competitors?
There is no gender pay gap at Satchel.eu (for instance, Revolut, Monzo, Starling, Wise all have a gender pay gap of around 20%). We promote a culture of respect for everyone regardless of their background.
Larger fintech players treat their clientele as statistics and ROI, spending large budgets on advertising and customer acquisition so that they can meet the commitments and goals set by investors and venture capital funds. By conquering jurisdiction after jurisdiction in an attempt to make a profit, they act with no strings attached. At Satchel.eu, we took a different approach, understanding the culture of the market we operate in and offering products that match our customers' values. A good example is our support for the Rytas basketball team and building awareness of the Satchel.eu brand around the most precious part of Lithuanian life – their passion for basketball.
As we say, "Our competitors are in their clients’ minds and we are in our clients’ hearts." We said no to chatbots, only live communication via chat or phone calls. Each potential business client has the opportunity to elaborate on their business idea, which positively helps the onboarding team to make an informed decision.
Another aspect that differentiates us is the support for sustainability. We care about nature and every card recycling fee goes to “The Plastics for Change”. This way, we make our small contribution and act as advocates of our planet.
Who are the people on your team, your key decision-makers, and those great folks behind the scenes?
What makes Satchel.eu a successful company is, without a doubt, its people. Our team consists of professionals with experience in Danske Bank, Bank of Lithuania, Revolut, Medicinos bank, and IBM. We are also welcoming a new colleague from Amazon in the upcoming weeks. Each of us is surrounded by bright minds who think alike and have a strong motivation to never give up.
The structure of the company is organized very transparently, with a minimum of bureaucracy, yet still in compliance with the requirements of the regulator. This customization accelerates decision-making processes, which we divided into three categories following the McKinsey framework: big-bet decisions, cross-cutting decisions, and delegated decisions. It has worked very well for us and has proven its worth in today's turbulent times. We set goals for our team, not processes, giving them the freedom to generate creative solutions and take ownership. I definitely recommend this approach to everyone.